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The Best Funds for Your IRA

March is the month that's sometimes said to come in like a lion, but as every taxpayer in the land surely knows, it's really April that roars.

For all too many of us, the first week of the cruelest month is spent scrambling to make sure that we have all of our, ahem, documents in order. The second is spent in a headlock with tax-prep software or, perhaps, with our father-in-law's trusty accountant/golf buddy, who crunches the numbers while regaling us with long-winded tales best reserved for the 19th hole.

The good news
The good news about April 15 is that you have until that date to make your IRA contributions for the previous tax year. But just because you can put it off until then certainly doesn't mean that you should. Indeed, if you want to be smart and deliberate about your investment decisions (and you know you do, Fool), now's the time for all good investors to come to the aid of their portfolios.

To that end, I encourage you to spend some quality time with the Fool's IRA Center, which, for all you cut-to-the-chase types, comes complete with a 60-Second Guide to getting started with what really is one of the very best ways to save for retirement. In the meantime, here are two quick-and-dirty ways to make smart IRA decisions fast. We'll call 'em the no-brainer and the brainer.

The no-brainer
Two words: index funds.

In a pinch, index funds can be tough to beat, and these days, they come in all shapes and sizes. If your portfolio is in need of, say, mid-cap exposure, you might consider iShares Russell Midcap Growth Index (AMEX: IWP  ) , an exchange-traded fund (ETF) whose holdings include the likes of Sirius Satellite Radio (Nasdaq: SIRI  ) , JDS Uniphase, and JetBlue Airways (Nasdaq: JBLU  ) . For those looking to reel in bigger fish, Vanguard Large-Cap VIPERs (AMEX: VV  ) could be the way to go. That particular ETF is anchored by such mega-caps as ExxonMobil, General Electric (NYSE: GE  ) , Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) , and Citigroup (NYSE: C  ) .

No matter which kind of fund you choose, the bottom line with the no-brainer approach is this: If it's really down to the wire and you need to write that IRA investment check, you could do worse than an index pick.

Then again, you could also do a lot better. Who, after all, wants to make a decision as important as where to invest your IRA dough for the year in a pinch? No one, that's who. And so it's for that reason that we bring you .

The brainer
As big a fan of index funds as I am, I'm a bigger fan of assembling a portfolio that includes both actively and passively managed picks. Why so? Well, just as small-cap stocks sometimes outpace the big boys -- and just as value sometimes trumps growth -- indexing and active management frequently trade polar positions, too. Indeed, over the past seven years, the typical actively managed fund has trumped the S&P by a sizable margin.

And that's just the typical actively managed fund. Imagine the possibilities if, when you went fund shopping for your IRA, you brought the same kind of analytical rigor to bear on funds that some folks bring to stocks.

Actually, you don't have to imagine. That's precisely what we do in Motley Fool Champion Funds, the Fool newsletter that I head up. The funds we focus on sport talented stock pickers with long-term track records of success and sound investment strategies. And for all you fans of passive management, not to worry: We provide plenty of scoop on index investing, too.

The Foolish bottom line
If you think you might be interested, you can click right here for a free 30-day guest pass to Champion Funds. In the meantime, plan to head on over to our IRA Center where, among other juicy nuggets, you can learn how to open an account and whether a Roth or traditional IRA is the better bet for you.

Whatever you do, just don't wait until tax-filing day is upon you to make your IRA contribution decision, OK? If you're anything like me, you're going to be busy enough as it is.

For further IRA Foolishness:

JetBlue Airways is aMotley Fool Stock Advisorrecommendation, and Microsoft is aMotley Fool Inside Valueselection.

This article was originally published on March 1, 2005. It has been updated.

Shannon Zimmerman runs point on theMotley Fool Champion Fundsnewsletter service. Shannon doesn't own any of the securities mentioned. The Fool has a strict disclosure policy.

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