12 Tools and Apps to Get Your Finances on Track
You Need a Budget (YNAB for short) sells budgeting software (available for a one-time $60 charge) but also offers free tutorials and online classes. The website details the four rules that make up the YNAB Method, which is designed to help consumers start saving and stop living paycheck to paycheck.
Mint is a free service that automatically tracks income and expenses from connected banks and credit cards. It aims to make budgeting and investing simple by putting everything in one place. Mint also includes a free credit score and lets users pay bills through the site. Keep in mind that paid competitors, such as YNAB or Quicken (owned by Intuit, which also owns Mint), may have a more complete set of features.
The beginning of the year is an ideal time to evaluate (or establish) an investment portfolio. Personal Capital connects to banking and credit accounts, then provides a free evaluation and breaks down the overall allocation of assets. The site clearly displays account fees, by percentage and per year, and assesses portfolios for risk. Personal Capital also offers advisors, but they come at a cost.
LastPass is not a personal finance app, but it could help prevent a financially disastrous situation. With data breaches continually in the news, it makes more sense than ever to have a unique password for each online account. LastPass generates strong passwords, stores them within a secure account, and auto-fills passwords so users don't have to remember them all.
There's no reason to pay for credit monitoring when there are no-cost options available. Sites such as Quizzle and Credit Sesame let consumers check their credit reports and monitor their credit scores for free. After signing up, users can receive alerts if new financial accounts are opened in their name, which can help protect against identity theft. Some credit card issuers also give cardholders free access to credit scores, but not credit reports.
Many banks and credit unions now offer mobile apps to account holders. Many apps allow users to make credit card or bill payments, check account balances, and transfer money from a savings to a checking account. Other useful features to look for include mobile check depositing or interactive directions to nearby ATMs.
Two apps make it simple to save or invest automatically. Acorns rounds up debit card purchases to the nearest dollar and transfers the difference into an investment account. There is a fee of $1 a month for accounts with less than $5,000 in assets and .25 percent for accounts with more than that. Digit transfers money into a savings account instead of an investment account. Rather than simply round up purchases, the service determines an amount to transfer based on an analysis of the user's spending patterns and account balance.
Consumers who use several rewards credit cards know that each card can offer different percentages of cash back or rewards depending on where it is used. All-in-one devices such as Wocket and Plastc (coming April 29) let shoppers maximize the returns on rewards credit cards without having to carry a wallet full of them. They store rewards credit card information and let consumers easily switch among their payment choices. One of the cheapest options is Coin, at $99 ($107 with shipping).
With an app such as ShopSavvy, users can scan a barcode in store to check an item's cost against the prices other retailers are posting. If a lower price is found, consumers can shop elsewhere or ask for a price match. Some stores price match Amazon, which has its own mobile app equipped with a barcode scanner.
Unbury.us is a debt-calculating tool. Users input their loans, current balances, minimum payments, and interest rates and choose a repayment method: avalanche (pay off the debt with the highest interest rate first) or snowball (pay off the one with the lowest principal first). The results show the change in remaining principal, principal paid, total interest paid, and monthly payments over time.
There are a variety of financial planning tools aimed specifically at helping people prepare for retirement. Consider free calculators from the AARP and Financial Mentor, check and compare 401(k) fees at FeeX, and do a background search on financial advisors at a certification organization such as the Certified Financial Planner Board.