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Web site puts fun in financial planning

MINNEAPOLIS — Suzi Pritchett makes no bones about it. She hates financial planning.

"I'm no dummy, but when it comes to figuring out IRAs, mutual funds, stock quotes, where to invest . . . I feel like a virtual idiot," said Pritchett, a college-educated woman who works in the entertainment industry in the Los Angeles area.

But when she saw an ad on TV for IHateFinancialPlanning.com, she decided to start readying her financial future.

Pritchett is just the type of client Minneapolis-based ReliaStar Financial Corp. was thinking of when it designed the irreverent Web site that went online last April 15.

"This site is for the millions of Americans who find financial planning boring, tedious, intimidating and confusing," said Randy

Schuldt, a vice president with IHateFinancialPlanning.com. "It's not for day traders or people who put more stock in the lottery rather than a common-sense financial plan for their hard-earned money."

The site has all the basic advice. Serious topics — developing a financial plan, saving for retirement and recipes for reducing debt — are balanced with humorous features designed to bring people back for more.

Clients at their wits' end can hit the "Panic Button" to activate a scream of frustration — "Aaarrrgggghhhh!!!" Or take a break with the site's soap opera, "Misery Loves Company: The continuing saga of a bunch of zeros and their financially (and otherwise) depraved lives."

It's that humorous approach that makes IHFP stand out from its competitors and thousands of other Web sites with financial connections.

Users can start investing in a variety of mutual funds — recommended to fit their risk tolerance — for as little as $25 a month, have a personal financial plan created for $150 or get a referral to a financial planner. The site — still being tweaked — incorporates insurance, brokerage and banking services. Offerings include ReliaStar products and those of competitors. Bill-paying services may be added this summer.

By late February, the Web site had recorded about 1 million visits. ReliaStar, acquired by Dutch financial giant ING Group NV last year, also has a site under development in The Netherlands and is looking at other European countries and Australia for additional business.

"The attitude is universal, not just in the United States," Schuldt said.

He said research shows three reasons why most people don't get started creating a financial plan: They don't know enough, they don't know who to trust, and they believe financial planning is too complex or takes too long.