Planning for retirement can be tedious and confusing, so much so that the task is often handed over to an expensive financial advisor. However, the increased popularity of financial technology services and associated online tools is prompting hundreds of startups and storied financial services companies to vie for new users. Cheapism.com identified a variety of free tools and services worth trying.
Retirement calculators rely on estimates and assumptions, but they can still provide a general assessment of your financial future. There are many calculators out there and just about every major wealth management company offers one that's free to use. Every good calculator takes into account the number of years until retirement, current portfolio balance, and planned contributions, and adjusts for inflation. AARP's calculator
also considers the presence (or not) of a significant other, pension and Social Security income, and your expected retirement lifestyle. The free calculator at Financial Mentor
takes things a step further by letting you include one-time benefits, such as the sale of a home, and up to four income streams during retirement.
If you have multiple investment accounts, keeping track of your asset allocation can get messy. The website Personal Capital lets you connect multiple accounts, including 401(k)s, IRAs, and checking accounts, for a complete look at your finances. You can easily see how your investments are divided among economic sectors (e.g., healthcare, energy, technology) by percentage and dollar value, check the assets' performance, and track your net worth. An investment checkup, retirement planner, and retirement fee analyzer are included for free. If you have $100,000 or more in assets under management, you can pay a fee (less than 1 percent of your portfolio) to work with a financial advisor.
Half a percent or even 2 percent may not seem like much in the moment, but over time small fees charged by mutual funds and the like eat away at earnings and can have a significant effect on a portfolio. Another bite comes from fees charged by financial advisors and wealth management companies (including many online and automated services). FeeX is a free tool that analyzes your investment accounts for eight types of fees and shows how to reduce or eliminate them. The company plans to offer paid premium services in the future, but services are 100 percent free for the time being.
Recommended by David Weliver, founding editor of Money Under 30, iQuantifi is a goal-centric planner that helps you create a life timeline with goals, and a financial plan for realizing them. One likely goal is retirement, but you can also stipulate travel, a new vehicle, a child, marriage, and other major life events. iQuantifi guides you towards those goals as you pay off debt and build a cash reserve. An initial plan and 30-day trial is free, but continued use incurs a monthly ($9.95) or annual ($89) fee.
When retirement is decades away it's easy to forget that the day-to-day can make a big difference. Saving and investing a little extra today can mean extra years in retirement without financial worries. But how do you find the extra money to invest? Creating a budget
, or even just tracking expenses without one, is an important first step. Mint.com lets you connect bank accounts, credit cards, and loans in order to track monthly cash flow. It also provides access to a free credit score, reminds you when bills are due, and can be used to set financial goals and budgets.
Robo-advisors replace human financial advisors with algorithms that manage investors' money based on factors such as age, risk tolerance, financial position, and goals. Schwab Intelligent Portfolios and competitor WiseBanyan provide this service for free. The former makes money by investing in Schwab funds and the portion of the portfolio kept in cash; WiseBanyan earns money by selling additional services, such as tax preparation. WealthFront, one of the most popular robo-advisors, is free for users with less than $10,000 in their account, or up to $15,000 for those who are referred to the service through an online ad or a friend (the friend then enjoys up to $5,000 more managed at no charge). Intelligent Portfolios requires a minimum $5,000 initial investment, WealthFront requires a minimum $500, and WiseBanyan sets no minimum.
Free Credit Scores. Free credit scores
are easy to come by these days. Some credit card issuers include a free score for cardholders. Financial management services like Mint use a proprietary algorithm to calculate scores for users. Several free services, such as Credit Sesame, Credit.com, and Quizzle, focus on helping users track and understand their credit scores. Maintaining a good credit score can mean thousands in savings when taking out loans -- an especially welcome result for retirees.
Quick Background Checks.
If you decide to work with a financial advisor, be sure to do a quick background check first. Three certification organizations (the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, the Certified Financial Planner Board, and the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors) let you search to see if the adviser is still certified and/or has been disciplined in the past. An additional option is to search for the person's name online to see if they've written any published articles and what sort of material they post on social media.