By Dolores Kong
The Boston Globe

It's not your old-fashioned cooperative extension

Long known as an authority on home economics and
gardening, the government-funded service now offers
personal financial advice on the Internet.

Through a variety of Web sites, federal, state, and
local cooperative extension officials are teaching
families and individuals how to save, invest, and
reduce debt.

Among the online features: an interactive budget
calculator, an investor risk-tolerance quiz, and work
sheets to set financial goals and figure net worth.
Users can also e-mail questions to personal finance

"I think it's the wave of the future," said Nancy
Porter, national program leader, family economics, for
the US Department of Agriculture's Cooperative State
Research, Education and Extension Services. "It causes
us to think in a new way. It is a new medium for us."

While the medium is new, the message about personal
finance dates back to the beginnings of the
cooperative extension service more than a century ago,
with the founding of land-grant universities and the
service's emphasis on home economics and other
consumer education.

To some, the phrase home economics may suggest
stitching and stirring, but household budgeting and
finance has always been a part of the education, said
Claudia Kerbel, program development coordinator for
the Center for Personal Financial Education at the
University of Rhode Island Cooperative Extension.

Reflecting a more modern approach, extension services
now usually refer to home economics as family and
consumer sciences.

Many of the state cooperative extension services'
personal finance Web sites expand upon a Money 2000
program developed a few years ago by Barbara O'Neill,
a Rutgers University professor and a cooperative
extension family and consumer sciences educator.

Money 2000, designed to help people set individual
goals for saving money and reducing debt, has a
by-enrollment home-study component and online personal
finance features that anyone with access to the
Internet can tap into at any time.

About 40 states' cooperative extension services offer
the Money 2000 home-study course, either for free or
for about $10. Only about 10 state programs also have
an accompanying Money 2000 Web site available free for
anybody's use.

The 12,000 people nationwide who have enrolled in
Money 2000 home- study courses have reported a total
of $12 million in savings or reduction of debt as of
December 1999, O'Neill said. "Many have gotten with
the program," she said.

The University of Massachusetts Cooperative Extension
does not offer a Money 2000 Web site or a home study
program, since state cuts several years ago reduced
staff. But it has joined other New England agencies in
submitting a grant proposal to address the need for
personal finance education in the region, said Shirley
Mietlicki, assistant professor of consumer sciences at
UMass-Amherst and an extension official. Massachusetts
residents may be able to enroll in another state's
Money 2000 program.

Rutgers's O'Neill has just helped to develop a more
advanced personal finance Web site on investing that
transcends the basics in Money 2000. While the site is
still under construction, much of the information is
already available.

One possible advantage of obtaining financial advice
from the extension service rather than from a
for-profit company site: "Our mission is
research-based information. We're not pushing any
products," O'Neill said.

Here is a summary of some of the cooperative
extensions' personal finance Web sites. Individual
state sites typically offer information about
enrollment in Money 2000 (sometimes known as Money
2000+ or Money 2000 and Beyond); what nominal fees, if
any, are charged; and quarterly newsletters.

- This national Web site,
maintained by Cornell Cooperative Extension, features
work sheets for setting financial goals and figuring
net worth, an interactive budget calculator, and links
to individual state cooperative extension services'
Money 2000 sites.

- Scheduled to be completed
next month, this site on "Investing for Your Future"
offers the ability to e- mail investing questions to
personal finance specialists, a series of steps for
taking action, and an in-depth home study course.
Consumers can either print the 158-page home study
text off the site or order a spiral-bound copy by
sending a $15 check, payable to "HE Programs and
Bulletins," to Barbara O'Neill, Rutgers Cooperative
Extension, 3 High St., 1st floor, Newton, NJ 07860.

- One particularly
interesting feature of this Cornell Cooperative
Extension site is a chart showing how many hours a
year a person would have to work to pay off the
interest on a $1,000 debt, depending on hourly wage
and interest rate. This site also can be reached
through a link from

- The
Rutgers Cooperative Extension site offers the ability
to e-mail questions to certified financial planners,
obtain a form to request your credit file, and order a
personalized debt reduction analysis using a PowerPay
program developed by the Utah State University
Cooperative Extension Service. A self-scored personal
finance quiz will soon be available at this Web
address. This site also can be accessed from

- welcome.html: The
University of Illinois extension site offers more than
a dozen sophisticated interactive savings and credit
calculators, allowing people to answer such financial
questions as "What will it take to become a
millionaire?" depending on a person's age, savings
rate, and other factors. This site also is accessible
from www.