Kathy Yakal The Best Personal Finance Services of 2018 Need to make sense of your entire budget, or even just get a better handle on your monthly household spending? One of these top-rated apps can help you keep track of your incoming and outgoing funds. Get Your Financial House in Order Gone are the days when you could tell how much money you had by looking in your wallet or at your checkbook balance. These days, many people only carry debit and credit cards—no cash. You find your checking account balance or check stock prices by reaching for your smartphone.
But how easy is it to discover how much money you've spent on lattes, gas, or work clothes this month? Do you know what the car dealer is going to learn about your credit history when you go in to buy a new vehicle? If you're a self-employed worker, how fast can you find out whether you're on track with your income this month? There are many websites that handle personal finance exceedingly well. We review five of the best here. Quicken, the granddaddy of all personal financial solutions, is now a hybrid solution.
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The software still resides on the desktop, but the 2018 and 2019 versions offer access to a website that contains Quicken's most often-used features and synchronizes its data with your own personal file. So, you can check in on your income, expenses, and investments on the go. Critical Connections Quicken's online companion app is the biggest recent news in the personal finance world. But all of the applications we reviewed have new features, and they share some common characteristics. Most of them support online connections to your financial institutions. That is, you can download cleared transactions and other account data from your banks, bank card providers, brokerages, and other financial institutions, and see all of it neatly displayed in registers in the applications.
Typically, you only have to enter the credentials that you use to log into those financial sites, though you occasionally have to provide additional security information. Once you've imported a batch of transactions, you can work with them in numerous ways. For example, they need to be categorized correctly as income (salary, freelance payment, and interest, for example) and expenses (food, mortgage, utilities, and so on). The personal finance sites guess at what an appropriate category might be, but you can always change it—and you can split transactions between different classifications.
If you're conscientious about this, you'll see charts that tell you where you're spending your money. This information can also be helpful when time rolls around.
Depending on which website you're using, you might be able to add tags to transactions. That way, you can search for those that are related in ways other than through their category assignments. You can add notes and attach files, too.
If you bought something with cash, your bank wouldn't have a record of it. In those circumstances, you can create a transaction manually. CountAbout goes a step further, providing an additional set of tools that let you make recurring transactions (or flag them). A Different Kind of Dashboard. Four of the five personal finance websites reviewed here have what's called a dashboard. It's basically each site's home page, or the first screen you see when you log in.
Sometimes, the dashboard is the only screen you'll need to see, because it displays the information you most need when you're checking on your financial situation. You'll learn what all of your account balances are and perhaps any bills that are pending. You'll see charts and graphs that tell you, for example, what your income is versus your spending, and how you're doing on your budget. You may be able to gauge your progress on any goals you've set and view your investment portfolio, with live prices if it's during the market day. Basically, this overview shows you snippets of the detailed data that lies behind the numbers on this opening page. Click on a checking account balance in Mint, for example, and this link takes you to the account's register.
Click on your credit score in Credit Karma, and you'll learn what contributes to it and how it's changed recently. So the dashboard on a personal finance website can either provide a quick look at your money situation or it can serve as a springboard to a deeper study of the numbers.
Budgets, Goals, and Bills If you're a freelancer or sole proprietor, budgets can be challenging. You don't know for sure how much money you'll make in a given month like a W-2 employee does. Being conscientious about your finances includes trying to curb your spending so that it comes in below your income.
Note: Freelancers and sole proprietors might find that a website is a better fit. The mechanics of creating a workable budget are much easier than the process of specifying your limits. Mint, for example, treats each category as a budget. You select one, choose a frequency for it (every month, etc.), and enter an amount. The site shows you how well you're adhering to each budget by displaying a series of colored horizontal bars that show where your spending is currently compared with your budgeted amount. Green means you're doing OK, and red means you've gone over your self-imposed limit.
You can tweak each budget as you learn more about your spending habits by clicking up and down arrows. Other applications, like Quicken, consider a budget to be a comprehensive table that contains all categories. The software also lets you view your budgets by a variety of time periods (monthly, annually, and so on). Setting goals, like trying to establish an emergency fund, isn't rocket science. You specify the amount you're trying to save and your target date for achieving it, and the application tells you how much you have to save every month to achieve it. NerdWallet, for example, lets you link your goals to the appropriate spending account so your progress is automatically tracked.
Quicken Deluxe includes additional planning tools that help you accelerate debt reduction, plan for taxes, and establish a comprehensive lifetime financial plan. None of the sites we reviewed offer bill-paying tools, but some let you at least record bills and bill payments, because those can figure into your personal finance picture so significantly. Mint is especially good at this.
You can set up a connection to online billers or enter offline bills automatically. The site alerts you when they're due to be paid and lets you record payments manually if they don't get downloaded as cleared transactions from your bank. An Important Number An excellent credit score is gold. Beyond helping you get approved for a credit card, mortgage, car loan, etc., it often helps minimize the interest rate you'll pay.
So it's important to know not only what it is at any given time, but also to understand how it gets calculated and what you can do to improve it. Credit Karma and NerdWallet, both free websites, can meet all of these critical needs. Credit Karma is especially comprehensive and efficient here.
It pulls your score regularly from two of the three major bureaus, and gives you access to your credit reports. One of the ways you can improve your credit score is to use financial products—credit cards, mortgages—that have attractive interest rates and other benefits, making it easier for you to pay off debt as quickly as possible. The three free websites we reviewed (Mint, Credit Karma, and NerdWallet) help pay for the services they provide by displaying ads for products that might appeal to you based on your credit profile. You can also browse marketplaces for additional candidates. Of course, frequently cancelling credit cards to get new, different ones can affect your credit score.
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Still, it's good to learn about these suggested products so that when the time comes, you'll know what the best options are. Other Considerations You may only want to use a personal finance site for day-to-day income- and expense-management, budgeting, and goal setting. But financial sites like Quicken and Mint let you track all of your assets, including homes, vehicles, and investment holdings. If you keep your financial data updated, the applications keep a running tally that, when combined with your debt, give you your total net worth. You probably don't need advanced tools when you're away from your computer or laptop.
But when you're out spending money, it's good to know how much you have. All of the solutions we reviewed offer both. They don't have all of the features found on the browser-based or software versions, but you can at least check your account balances, view and add transactions, and see graphs illustrating numbers related to things like spending and cash flow. You may also be able to get your credit score and check the status of pending bills. Are all of the applications reviewed easy to use? The short answer is yes. Credit Karma and Mint are the most user-friendly, incorporating state-of-the-art interfaces with can't-miss navigation tools.
NerdWallet tries to blend editorial content on personal finance with credit score and limited income/expense-tracking tools; these dual purposes make the site somewhat confusing until you understand how the two co-exist. CountAbout is certainly easy enough to use, but its user interface looks outdated.
And because Quicken has been around for so long and offers so much, its user experience is a little uneven. This blending of old and new content can be a little jarring when compared with a solution built from the ground up to live online. Each of these personal finance solutions offers something the others don't.
But their skill at delivering the tools consumers need, and the cost at which they offer them, varies widely. Mint has won our Editors' Choice before, and it does so again this time for free personal finance services. Quicken, on the other hand, wins the Editors' Choice for paid personal finance services. We'd absolutely send people first to Mint if they're considering online personal finance because of its usability, its thorough selection of tools, and the feedback it provides users who keep up their end of the bargain by visiting it regularly. And, of course, it's free.
If you're looking to keep your life further organized, you can also check out our roundup of the. Pros: Free, fast, and easy. Highly automated. Simple budgeting tools.
Checks credit score. Good mobile support, including Apple Watch. Cons: Only supports US and Canadian accounts. Discontinued bill pay. Weak investing tools.
No account reconciliation. Bottom Line: Mint is a free personal finance service that's in a class by itself. No rival provides such a comprehensive collection of tools if you want to track your spending and budgeting or want a comprehensive overview of your net worth.