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Financial Fine Print: Uncovering a Company's True Value


A must-read for any investor serious about knowing what they own. With the help of some of the best financial detectives, Michelle Leder provides a roadmap for delving beneath the surface –– where most investors dare not tread.
–Herb Greenberg, Columnist, and Fortune magazine

"Obfuscators beware! Michelle Leder has cracked the code. In this invaluable guide to combing the footnotes of financial statements for indicators of accounting tricks and attempts to hide the bad news needles in a haystack of numbers. This is a clear, sensible, and, above all, practical guide that will be indispensable for anyone who invests in, does business with, or works for a corporation."
–Nell Minow, Editor, The Corporate Library

"Too many companies would prefer that you not read the footnotes," observes former SEC chairman Arthur Levitt. "That should be incentive enough to delve into them." In fact, not only do companies prefer you ignore the details they are required to report–the pesky particulars on exactly how they account for those whopping earnings–they take calculated steps to make this information as hard as possible to understand. But for those who know how to look, the facts that predict a company's true prospects are usually hidden in plain sight.

Financial Fine Print gives you the tools you need to break down annual reports and SEC filings, make sense of the deliberately cryptic language of footnotes, and get the real goods on a potential investment.

To make money in today's tough market, investors have to make deliberate, well-researched choices. To do this requires not only having the right information, but also knowing how to decode it. With their obscuring tactics, companies won't help you any. So be advised: those who would help themselves–and expect to profit–should get down to the nitty-gritty of Financial Fine Print.

Michelle Leder has been writing about personal finance and investing for the past fifteen years, including ten years spent as a business reporter and later editor for daily newspapers in New York, Florida, and Connecticut. A freelance journalist for the past five years, her articles have appeared frequently in the New York Times, as well as dozens of other publications appealing to a wide range of ages and income levels from AARP: The Magazine to Parents. Previously, she was the personal finance columnist for's "Money" and "Career" pages. As a daily journalist she won numerous awards, including the Society of Business Editors and Writers' prestigious Best in Business award and numerous awards in annual Associated Press contests in New York, Florida, and Connecticut. She holds a degree in economics from Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, and lives in Peekskill, New York, with her husband, Scott, and dog, Kumara. This is her first book. Additional information about reading financial footnotes is available at or by contacting Michelle Leder at



Chapter 1: Don’t Get Fooled Again.

Chapter 2: Reading the Fine Print Like a Pro.

Chapter 3: You Don’t Need to Be a Pro.

Chapter 4: Charge It!.

Chapter 5: Optional Illusions.

Chapter 6: All in the Family.

Chapter 7: Pensions in Wonderland.

Chapter 8: Debt by Many Other Names.

Chapter 9: Five Common Ingredients.

Chapter 10: Changing the World.

A Few Final Words.

Appendix A: A Cheat Sheet for Reading Key SEC Filings.

Appendix B: A Brief Walk through Qwest’s Fine Print.