The first step toward reaching your financial goals is knowing where you stand now — and at all times. And there’s nothing like personal finance software and apps to give you that kind of power over your money.
The best-selling money management program on the market is Quicken (www.Quicken.com). The company has moved to an annual subscription model, so you must renew every year to keep the program active. (If you end your subscription, the company says, you’ll always have access to and ownership of your data.) Current deals are $34.99 per year for the starter version, and $44.99 for the deluxe version; there is also a premier ($67.49) and a home and business model ($89.99).
It’s easy to link your existing bank, credit card and investment accounts securely into Quicken. Then with a click of your mouse, all your information is updated instantly. Most banks allow you to pay bills directly from Quicken, or you can pay at your bank’s website and download easily into Quicken.
Quicken will automatically categorize all your spending into budget categories you can create. It allows you to search payment history — easily tracking how much you paid to any payee, perhaps your doctor or utility bill. The budgeting tool shows your spending categories in a pie-shaped graph or linear report. It even looks “inside” your credit card charges to figure out how much you’re spending on clothing or entertainment! Plus, it will help you plan a budget for the year ahead and keep you on track. Quicken also tracks and analyzes your investments from various sources. Its connectivity to TurboTax is a help at tax time.
The one drawback to Quicken has been that the information resides only on your desktop computer. The latest version allows web access to your information, but with limited functionality to take actions such as bill payment.
Mint is a free app, which you can download onto your phone or tablet. It doesn’t have the extensive features of Quicken, but it does let you stay on top of your personal finances, your spending and your budget. Learn more at www.Mint.com.
It allows you to instantly see the balances in your bank accounts, and what you owe on credit cards — before you make a payment and are charged over-limit fees. It even sends reminders of when regular bills are due — so you will have money on hand to pay them. And if you create a budget, it will let you track your spending by category as well as give you a gentle warning when you’re about to spend more than you planned! It even tracks your credit score.
Mint now has more than 15 million users. It is supported by referral fees from financial services firms, offering users new credit cards or mortgage refinancing. While you can’t currently pay bills from the app (something Mint has been trying to create), you do get a dashboard of all your financial information. Mint offers two-factor encryption for extra security. The big advantage is that it works anywhere you are connected to the Internet.
If you’re looking for a more sophisticated approach to online money management, consider signing up at PersonalCapital.com. This fintech company is known as a robo-adviser, but it offers free, sophisticated tools for securely downloading and watching your investments as well as your spending. You can access it securely on your computer or mobile device.
Beyond its spending analysis, Personal Capital offers tools that include an in-depth retirement calculator, one that analyzes the impact of the fees you are paying in your 401(k) account, guidance on tax-efficient retirement withdrawals, and asset allocation advice. It’s all part of an attempt to get you to sign up for their “robo” money management — a process that combines computerized advice and a personal adviser — for a low fee of less than 0.9 percent annually for assets under $1 million. But you don’t need to use their money management service to access their free money management tools.
If your new year’s resolution was to get on top of your spending, saving and investing, it’s not too late to get started. And that’s The Savage Truth.