Many investors are familiar with Morningstar, a research firm that provides information and analysis on stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and other investments. I often visit their website when performing due diligence on stocks because it provides a lot of useful information, such as nicely organized historical data about companies. Morningstar gives ratings of a company's growth, profitability, and credit, as well as an overall rating (from 1 to 5 stars) based on a proprietary system for determining fair value and projecting returns. All this information is available for free on their website.
Morningstar also has a Premium program that gives subscribers access to extra information about companies, detailed analyst reports, a comprehensive stock screener, and a few other features. A Premium Membership costs well over $100 per year, with the exact amount depending on the length of the subscription. As a small-time investor who aims to minimize expenses, I try to perform my due diligence through the exclusive use of free resources, so I do not subscribe to the Premium program.
However, about two months ago I discovered that I can get free online access to Morningstar's Premium features through my local public library. I just log into my account on my library's website, go to their list of online databases, and visit Morningstar from there. Some extra information about companies shows up when I visit their Morningstar pages, I get complete access to downloadable analyst reports (besides fundamental data, they also include commentary and bullish/bearish points about a company), and I can use the stock screener (which allows me to filter by star rating, economic moat, 5-year dividend growth rate, and dozens of other criteria). All these features nicely augment my approach to due diligence.
The point of this post is to recommend that others check to see whether their public libraries provide free access to Morningstar's Premium features. In my case, the Morningstar link is buried a few levels deep on my library's website and easy to miss, which is why I never noticed it until I spent some time exploring the website in depth a while ago. I wish I had stumbled upon this resource back when I started investing, but at least I know about it now.
As a final note, public libraries also have other investing resources. The vast majority of the investing books I read (and review on this blog) are from my library. The branch closest to where I live has a print copy of the Value Line investment survey, which provides nice one-page summaries about companies. On a few occasions I have spent an hour or two perusing the Value Line reports when searching for potential future investments. My library also has the latest issues of the Wall Street Journal, Barron's, and various financial magazines (Forbes, Fortune, Kiplinger's, Money, etc.). Thus, the public library can be an excellent place for free investing research.