4 Online Tools to Fix Your Finances
Go online to budget, learn the basics, save money and ditch the paper.
The Internet has changed the way we shop, get news and keep in touch. But it can also help organize your finances -- sometimes in ways you wouldn't expect. Here are four tools to get your budgets and bills in order.
1. Budget and track. Link your financial accounts to Mint.com. The site downloads and categorizes income and expenditures from your accounts automatically, and offers snapshots of your cash flow with pie charts and graphs. A "Ways to Save" tool homes in on the most suitable banking and investment accounts and insurance policies based on your spending patterns or the information you enter. The "Goals" feature calculates how much cash you'll need to, say, build an emergency fund or buy a car. Check your budget as you shop with Mint's smart-phone application (for Android phones, iPhones and iPads).
2. Save for your goals. Take goal-setting up a notch by contributing to a savings account at SmartyPig.com. It's insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and pays 0.7% interest on balances of $50,000 or less -- fatter than what you'll find at many banks. First open an account with a specific goal, such as funding a vacation. Then have automatic deposits transferred from your regular checking or savings account. You can also solicit donations from family and friends by sharing a link on Facebook and Twitter. When you reach your goal, you have a few options for redeeming the cash: Return the money to the funding account, load it onto a debit card, get gift cards from major retailers (for which you'll get cash-back incentives), or select some combination of the three.
3. Cut the clutter. If you are tired of bottomless stacks of paper, Manilla.com can come to the rescue. Link your financial and household-utility accounts to the site, and it will organize them into a one-stop digital collection, accessible via computer or Manilla's smart-phone app (for Android and iPhone). The site lets you sign up to receive e-mail or text notifications when a bill's due date nears. Plus, you can manage travel-rewards programs, track expiration dates for daily-deal coupons -- from Groupon, for example -- and monitor subscriptions, whether for magazines or for services such as Netflix. Manilla's document-storage service encrypts and saves any files related to your accounts in a secure zone -- which allows you to toss your paper copies. You can keep records on Manilla as long as you want and download them anytime.
4. Get the big picture. For a holistic approach to personal finance, try LearnVest.com. It's aimed at women, but men can benefit, too. The site's budgeting tool downloads and categorizes your financial transactions, although it doesn't offer as much analysis of your finances as Mint does. You can subscribe to "bootcamps" of ten days or more to receive daily advice via e-mail in a specific financial area, such as getting out of debt or preparing for a baby. The site also includes checklists of steps to take when, for example, you start a new job or buy a house. All that is free, but with a premium membership ($40 for three months, $70 for six months or $130 for a year) you can e-mail questions to financial advisers and take interactive courses that will help you build a financial plan.