The picks below are part of Kiplinger’s Personal Finance’s annual Best List, a roundup of the best values in all the areas we cover – from funds, stocks and ETFs to credit cards and bank accounts to cars, college, kid stuff, phone plans, travel and health. Discover all our Best List picks here.
Kiplinger's Best List, 2016
- Best Mutual Funds You Can Invest in for $125 or Less
- Best Mutual Funds for Dividend Investors
- Best Mutual Funds for Rising Interest Rates
- Best Mutual Funds for Investing in Value Stocks
- Best Stocks for Yield at a Reasonable Price
- Best Online Brokers
- Best Rewards Credit Cards
- Best Deals in Online Banking
- Best Personal-Finance Websites, Apps and Software
- Best New Car Values
- Best Shopping Websites and Apps
- Best Ways to Save Time and Money on Travel
- Best Package Tours for Your Money
- Best Travel Discounts for Seniors
- Best Phone Plans for Every Type of User
- Best Websites and Tools to Save on Your Health
Free credit sites
At CreditKarma.com (opens in new tab), sign up to see VantageScore scores and credit report information from credit agencies Equifax and TransUnion. Plus, get alerts of changes to your TransUnion report, such as a new credit card or loan account. To see your FICO score, create an account with Discover’s Free Credit Scorecard (opens in new tab). The service is available to all, not just Discover card customers.
ID theft prevention
News that hackers stole user information from at least 500 million Yahoo accounts in 2014 underscores the importance of using strong, diverse passwords and updating them regularly. Dashlane (opens in new tab) is a password manager that collects and stores passwords for websites you visit. The Password Changer feature allows you to automatically generate new passwords for eligible sites all at once (bank and e-mail accounts, however, weren’t on the list recently). With the Premium version ($39.99 annually), sync Dashlane across multiple devices and back up your account to the cloud.
Way to check out a charity
Charity Navigator (opens in new tab) analyzes the financials of more than 8,000 charities and gives star ratings based on financial health (it recently updated its methodology) and on accountability and transparency. It’s easy to search for charities to support; the top-rated ones are listed by category, including charities that focus on recent natural disasters.
Online tax software
TurboTax (opens in new tab) makes the tax code understandable, which is no mean feat. It also allows you to import documents electronically from more than 1.4 million employers and financial institutions. The biggest downside is cost. TurboTax Premier, which you must use to report investment income, starts at about $50 and rises throughout the filing season to nearly $80 (a state return costs $37 to $40). DIYers on a budget should consider H&R Block (opens in new tab), which is also easy to navigate and doesn’t require an upgrade if you have investment income. Its Deluxe version starts at about $35 for early filers; a state return costs $37 to $40.
Personal finance games
Yes, it takes forever to finish, but Monopoly (opens in new tab) is about more than just real estate. Players need to make wise choices about saving and spending, assess their appetite for risk, and strategically negotiate with others. (Monopoly Junior is tailored to players ages 5 to 8.) Financial Football (opens in new tab) is an app (and online game) that’s adaptable to your age and skill level. Answering questions about banking, debt, ID theft and more determines how far you advance down the field.
Stacking Benjamins (opens in new tab) applies a light touch to a variety of personal finance topics, including quirky investments, money habits that waste your time, and how to endure a time-share sales pitch without falling for it.
College savings plan
Invest in a 529 plan directly from your state if it offers a tax incentive—which will typically win out over lower fees in an out-of-state program. If your state doesn’t offer a tax break—or if you live in Arizona, Kansas, Maine, Missouri, Montana or Pennsylvania, which offer a tax break no matter where you invest—look for a plan that best suits your investing style. For example, for hands-on investors, we like the Utah Educational Savings Plan (opens in new tab). For low fees, take a look at New York’s 529 College Savings Program (opens in new tab). There’s no annual account fee and funds carry a slim, 0.16% expense ratio.
Student loan tool
IonTuition (opens in new tab) makes it easy to see all of the details of your student loans and evaluate repayment options. The site will also alert you if you miss a payment or your loan servicer changes. Its free chat feature connects you with loan counselors who can help you pick the best repayment strategy.
Lisa has spent more than15 years with Kiplinger’s Personal Finance and heads up the magazine’s annual rankings of the best banks, best rewards credit cards, and financial-services firms with the best customer service. She reports on a variety of other topics, too, from retirement to health care to money concerns for millennials. She has shared her expertise as a guest on the Today Show, CNN, Fox, NPR, Cheddar and many other media outlets around the nation. Lisa graduated from Ball State University and received the school’s “Graduate of the Last Decade” award in 2014. A military spouse, she has moved around the U.S. and currently lives in the Philadelphia area with her husband and two sons.
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