Here on our digital pages, you've likely seen us criticize the excessive fees charged by many mutual funds. We've also railed against other ways that they sock it to shareholders, such as by excessive trading, window dressing, and the like. Well, I'm here to point out that despite all their taking, fund companies also do a little giving.

Did you know that you can contact mutual fund companies and ask for free educational materials -- and that many, if not most, of them will send you some nifty stuff? It's true. Business columnist Chuck Jaffe did just that recently, writing to some 30 firms. He ended up with more than 300 items, a messy office, and an irritated wife, but he also got some enlightening materials (though of course, he notes that there was a good bit of self-promotion mixed in with the education).

Here are some of his recommended goodies, with pointers to some related materials:

  • T. Rowe Price (NASDAQ:TROW) offered a broad "Estate Planning Guide," a "Minimum Required Distributions Guide" that can help you understand your IRAs and 401(k)s, a "Rollover Planner," and a "Goals/Reality" retirement-readiness guide full of worksheets. Call 800-638-5660 for these materials. You'll find additional guidance on all kinds of retirement topics in our newly launched Rule Your Retirement service and in the new book by David and Tom Gardner, The Motley Fool's Money After 40: Building Wealth for a Better Life.
  • Privately held Fidelity Investments (800-682-4438) offered, among other things, "The Guide to Giving," designed to help wealthy folks plan for charitable giving. (People of all income levels are invited to check out our Foolanthropy nook, where we feature five charitable organizations that have wowed us and that we've long supported.)
  • Vanguard, the folks who pioneered index funds, long recommended by your friends at the Fool, offers a "Plain Talk" series of booklets on topics from "Women and Investing" to "Financing College" to "Taxes and Mutual Funds" and "Estate Planning Basics." You can order them by calling 800-662-7447. Vanguard also offers an "Investor Questionnaire" to help you determine your asset-allocation profile.
  • Also recommended were the "Financial FYI" booklets from American Century (at 800-345-2021) and the Invest Smart series from OneGroup (at 800-480-4111). American Century also offers "Investing With a Purpose," which can help you determine what kind of investor you are.
  • If you're interested in socially responsible investing, check out Domini Funds' (800-762-6814) annual guide to proxy voting guidelines and shareholder activism.

Note that you don't have to be a shareholder to request these materials of fund companies. Smart companies will be happy to send you materials in the hope that you'll become a shareholder.

Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian does not own shares of any companies mentioned in this article.