Here's a recent question from a Fool reader: "If my IRA is invested in mutual funds and I want to shift that into an index fund or stocks, can I do that?" The answer is yes, probably.

If your IRA is maintained by a brokerage such as E*Trade (NYSE:ET) or Ameritrade (NASDAQ:AMTD), you should be able to shift around your investments from one mutual fund to another, or to and from individual stocks such as Home Depot, Coca-Cola, or Intel. You won't have to pay taxes on any gains when you move the money, but you probably will have to pay your brokerage the applicable commissions for the transactions.

If your IRA is with a mutual fund family, you can probably switch between its funds with a minimal charge. You might pay steeper fees to switch to other funds, and you may not be permitted to invest in individual stocks at all.

If you don't know how to pick good individual stocks, perhaps stick with mutual funds. Our Champion Funds newsletter recommends a bunch of standouts -- try it for free. Or find great stocks that our analysts recommend in our investing newsletters, which you can also try for free. Our Inside Value newsletter, for example, recommended GTECH Holdings (NYSE:GTK) back in May 2004, and it advanced more than 25% in less than a year. MCI (NASDAQ:MCIP) was recommended and sold within a matter of months, netting a gain of more than 40%. Not all recommendations will soar, but our track record is pretty good.

Setting up an IRA, if you don't have one, is not as complicated as you might think. Learn much more about IRAs (both the traditional and Roth varieties) in our IRA Center and about retirement planning in general in our Retirement area.

Learn more in these articles:

And by the way, if thinking about retirement planning makes your head hurt, look into our TMF Money Advisor service, which features customized independent advice from a variety of objective financial experts.