First, let's all heave a sigh of relief: We have until next month to make IRA contributions for the 2006 tax year. Still, the countdown clock is ticking, and there's no sense waiting until the last minute to make such an important decision. Indeed, if you want to be smart and deliberate about your investment decisions (and you know you do, Fool), now's the perfect time to shift into gear.

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 exposure to value-oriented fare, for example, you might consider iShares Russell 1000 Value Index (IWD), an exchange-traded fund (ETF) with top holdings that include the likes of Citigroup (NYSE:C), JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM), and Pfizer (NYSE:PFE).

Those looking to reel in growthier fish, meanwhile, might opt for the same shop's Russell 1000 Growth Index (IWF), which sports IBM (NYSE:IBM) and Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) in its top 10 and Apple and Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) just a little further down the list of holdings.

No matter which kind of fund you choose, the bottom line with the no-brainer approach is this: If you do wait until the last minute and find you need to write an IRA investment check in a hurry, 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. 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 pole position, too. Indeed, between 1999 and 2005, the typical actively managed fund trumped the S&P by a significant 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 newsletter designed to help you beat the market with -- you guessed it -- mutual funds. Those 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:

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

Shannon Zimmerman runs point on the Champion Funds newsletter service. Shannon doesn't own any of the securities mentioned. JPMorgan is a Motley Fool Income Investor recommendation. Pfizer is an Inside Value recommendation. The Fool has a strict disclosure policy