Real estate and mortgages (5)

Real estate is complicated, whether you're trying to buy a home, refinance a mortgage or deal with an "underwater" property. These sites offer guidance. Wondering how to buy your first home? Concerned you might lose the one you have? The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development offers links to housing counselors and a wealth of information about how to buy, and keep, your home.

Making Home Affordable: This government website offers self-assessment tools to determine whether you might be eligible for new loan modification or refinancing programs.

The Mortgage Professor: Jack Guttentag is one of my go-to sources for mortgage insights, and his site helps consumers navigate the confusing world of home loans. Plus, he has a chart of wholesale mortgage rates that's updated daily so you can see whether you're getting a good deal on your home loan or refinance. Ilyce Glink writes about all kinds of personal-finance matters, but her particular strength is real estate. Articles, Q&A's and videos educate you about everything from buying your first house to swapping commercial property with a 1031 exchange.

Trulia: This real-estate-data site helps you find which home sellers have dropped their prices recently -- a potential sign that they're ready to deal. Zillow and are other sites where you can check recent home sales data.

Free government help (7)

More than half of us pay income taxes, so it's good to know that we can expect more than a strong national defense and occasional newsletters from our congressional representatives. A lot more, actually, and these sites can help connect you to what you may need. Run by the federal government, this site connects you to an array of government programs you might qualify for, and you don't necessarily have to be broke to benefit. If you're eligible and need the help offered, you should apply; you paid into these programs while you were working.

Eldercare Locator: When your older relatives start to need help, this site can point you to government and community services that may be able to provide anything from transportation to home repair to respite services. Bookmark this site; if you don't need it now, you may need it soon.

Federal Reserve: Having trouble with your bank? Trying to avoid foreclosure? Looking for tools to teach your kids about money? The Fed's site has all that and more.

Home Energy Saver: This interactive calculator asks a raft of detailed questions about your home, from the number of windows to how much attic insulation you have. The tool lets you set the payback period so you see only the investments that are likely to pay off before you move. reated to educate Americans about personal finance and the markets, the U.S. Financial Literacy and Education Commission's site includes information on budgeting, homeownership, borrowing and investing. When this site was called the Federal Citizen Information Center, I wrote that it needed a better name. This isn't it, but the site remains the clearinghouse for just about every speck of consumer information put out by the U.S. government. Go, look, learn.

Social Security: If you've succumbed to any of the "5 myths about Social Security," you need to come to the source to learn more about this vital economic insurance program. You can learn the truth about how the program started, its prospects for the future and its range of benefits. Plus, you can check how big your own checks are likely to be when you retire.

Insurance (3)

There's nothing sexy about insurance, but we all need it in one form or another. Getting a good deal and getting the most out of your coverage should be high priorities. These sites can help. Besides offering competitive quotes on most types of insurance, has thoughtful, well-researched articles about insurance subjects.

United Policyholders: This consumer-rights organization, founded after California's devastating Oakland Hills fires in 1991, helps people navigate the insurance claim system, particularly after natural disasters. You'll find tips about how to file and settle claims as well as when to hire an attorney to represent you. Shopping for car insurance can be a real pain, but this site makes it relatively easy to compare quotes.

Doing it yourself (3)

DIY can cost you a small fortune if you do it wrong. These sites can help you do it right.

Fix-It Club: Home repair experts Dan and Judy Ramsey offer free how-to guides on hundreds of repair jobs that you can do at home, including fixing a bike, a doorbell, a fishing pole and more.

Instructables: Get step-by-step instructions for craft projects (including "manly" ones), games, home decorating and repair, personal hygiene and more.

Nolo: Books and software published by this legal self-help publisher offer solid advice on often complex topics, and so does its website. The Nolopedia section has articles on bankruptcy, estate taxes, landlord-tenant disputes, immigration, divorce and much, much more.

Travel (9)

I love to travel and am always prowling around for sites that will help me have a better experience.

Bing Travel: If you've ever watched an airfare tumble right after you booked, you'll want to visit Bing's Travel section. The site tracks price trends and predicts whether fares will rise or fall in the near future, offering advice about whether to buy now or wait.

Kayak: This site "kayaks" the Web for you, searching several travel sites and bringing back the information for you as you wait on the shore. The results pop up in separate windows for easy comparisons. If you want the inside scoop and special deals for Disneyland and Disney World, this is the site. Sign up for the newsletter to be alerted to breaking deals.

OneBag: Sick of dragging around heavy suitcases and paying baggage fees? OneBag can help you break the overpacking habit so you bring just what you need and no more. Save money -- and your back.

SeatGuru: Tired of getting the worst seat on every flight? I don't book an airline ticket until I've checked out this site, which offers color-coded seat maps to identify the good, bad and "mixed" seats while showing where overhead TVs and power ports are located.

Theme Park Insider: The Insider covers the Disney properties, too, but reaches beyond the world of the Mouse to review and rate other parks, including Six Flags, Universal, Cedar Point and SeaWorld.

TripAdvisor: Before you go anywhere, check out the reviews at TripAdvisor. With more than 20 million traveler opinions about hotels, restaurants, cruises and attractions, TripAdvisor has the volume to ensure you're getting the real scoop and not just the ventings of a few cranky customers -- or the phony pimping of people hired to make a place sound good.

TripIt: Forward your transportation, hotel and car reservations to TripIt, and it will automatically build your itinerary, including maps and directions. Pay a little extra for TripIt Pro, and the site will alert you to flight delays or other changes, plus it will keep track of all your frequent flyer miles.

WebFlyer: If you're a frequent traveler, Randy Petersen's site will help you get the most out of all that time you spend away from home. Petersen alerts readers to special offers and changes in their frequent-flier programs, while offering tools to help you compare frequent-travel programs (Head2Head) and rescue miles or points that would otherwise be stranded (its mileage converter).

Charitable giving (3)

Don't waste your hard-earned money on charities that spend more on fundraising and executive salaries than they do on good causes. These sites help you separate the wheat from the chaff.

Charity Navigator: This charity evaluation site has somewhat tougher standards than most. online charity helps you match a gift to a classroom in need.

GuideStar: This site helps you research a charity before you give.