Despite the growth of so-called exchange-traded funds, or ETFs, many investors remain baffled by them. Are they safe? Are they a good alternative to mutual funds? Check these sites for answers.

Morningstar Inc.'s director of exchange-traded-fund analysis, Jeff Ptak, covers ETF basics in this three-minute video. Morningstar is an investment-research service that has loads of information on ETFs as well as on mutual funds and individual stocks and other investments. Other videos in the Morningstar series available on YouTube include "What makes a good ETF," "How to avoid tax surprises in ETFs," and "The future of international ETFs."

Definitions help a lot. The site, aimed at women (but "men are welcome, too," it says), provides more basics for understanding exchange-traded funds, how they work, and how they're different from mutual funds and other investments. Much like mutual funds, ETFs are baskets of securities, but they can be bought and sold through the day in the same way you might trade in shares of individual stocks.

And, you should know: Additional details on how to find and track ETFs and related investments are in this publication from NYSE Euronext, parent company of the New York Stock Exchange. This ETF fact sheet includes a checklist of the risks involved, most amounting to the fact that - as with most investments outside bank deposits - you get no guarantee.

For an in-depth look at individual ETFs, including current prices and holdings, annual reports, and other Securities and Exchange Commission filings, see this other NYSE Euronext site:

A "60-second guide" to ETFs is here at the Motley Fool site.'s signature guides usually provide enough guidance to let you decide if you want to know more.

And finally, here's the Fool's page on the pitfalls of ETFs.

Contact staff writer Reid Kanaley
at 215-854-5114 or