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Back in the day, long before personal finance software, if you wanted to keep track of your finances, you would have to hand-write all the pertinent information onto spreadsheets, then do the math all by yourself to calculate your returns. Either that, or just kind of keep track in your head. But then computers appeared and lightened your load. Sort of. Remember Lotus 1-2-3? (Did I just date myself?)
Microsoft came along and gave us Excel, which was infinitely easier to use. (Still dating myself, I know.) But neither of these programs really gave you a great way to track your personal financial information. You still had to gather the information from the newspaper or your broker. Al Gore still hadn’t invented The Internet yet.
Many people I talk to now pay attention to their finances in ways that were unheard of before the housing crash. Once you start paying attention to your finances, you want ways to make keeping track of your money easier. Enter personal finance software.
Whether you’re starting from below zero and trying to keep track of all the dollars you need to pay off, or you have so much cash that you have a hard time counting that high, there is personal finance software to help you more easily manage your money.
Personal Finance Software for Starting Off Negative
A common question I see in the Forums is some variation on the theme, “I want to start investing in real estate, but I have bad credit and no money.” Yes, you can invest in real estate with none of your own money — Brandon Turner wrote an entire book about that. But it is so much easier to invest if you don’t have that debt lingering over your head. Using personal finance software can help you get there.
The first step in paying off your debt is to know how much you are spending every month. Once you know how much you spend — and where — you can analyze your spending and create a budget to help you pay down your debt.
Penny helps you keep track of your spending and gives you easy-to-understand information in the form of a chat. As you give Penny more information, she keeps track of and categorizes your spending. Penny can also alert you to upcoming payments.
Penny is great for people who don’t really know much about finances or who have a hard time keeping track of their spending. Penny does a lot of the work for you once you give the initial bank account information.
One standout feature of Penny is that she doesn’t keep your information, and no one can transfer money with Penny — not even you. Instead of keeping track of your bank account username and password like some other types of personal finance software, there is a secure connection using a secret code to access your accounts.
Think of Penny as a friend in your pocket, gently reminding you to stay on track with your spending. And Penny won’t cost you a single cent.
The PayOffDebt app uses the concept of the debt snowball — making the minimum payment to all but one of your debts, then taking every extra cent you have and throwing it at that last debt until it’s gone. Once one debt is gone, you then take all the money you were paying toward that debt, and throw it to the next debt. Repeat with every debt until you have none left.
PayOffDebt allows you to customize your debt repayment plan and choose the order in which you tackle your debt, whether it be smallest to largest, highest interest rate to lowest interest rate, or something in between.
Having it on your phone allows you to keep track of your goals, and the app shows you each debt’s progress and gives an estimated pay-off for each individual debt plus a “planned debt-free date” that changes as your debts change.
This personal finance software is available on iPhone and Android, and costs a one-time fee of $4.99.
The three credit reporting agencies are required by law to provide you with a free copy of your credit report every year. AnnualCreditReport.com is the site they set up to comply with this law, and it does not require a credit card to access the information like other “free” credit report sites.
You can choose to get a copy of your credit report from each of the three reporting agencies or choose to get a copy from just one. Not all companies report to all three agencies, so the reports may vary slightly. However, most companies report to more than one agency, so the reports won’t differ that much. Getting a copy from one company every four months is a great way to keep tabs on your credit status throughout the year, at no cost.
Big advantages of monitoring your credit report include being able to spot incorrect information and have it corrected in a timely manner and keeping an eye on any potential fraudulent activity.
If you didn’t get a copy of your report in 2015, start off 2016 knowing exactly where your credit stands by using this piece of personal finance software.
Credit Sesame (to learn more about CreditSesame, click here) is a way to monitor your credit score, which is different than your credit report. Your credit score is made up of the information contained in your credit report, which holds such items as payment history, account balance, type of credit accounts extended to you, etc.
Your credit score falls between 300 and 850 on the Fair Isaac COrporation scale, or FICO. The higher your number, the better you look as a credit risk. Your score is comprised of three main factors: your payment history, your credit-to-debt ratio, and length of credit history. FICO also takes into account the mix of credit accounts and any new credit. Then they use a proprietary system to calculate your score, which assigns a number to the risk you present to a potential lender.
Credit Sesame allows you to keep track of your general FICO score. I say “general” because every company that might extend you credit will have their own interpretation of the information in your credit report, and they come up with their own number. But while the number will vary from lender to lender, it doesn’t have a drastic swing. It isn’t like Lender A will score you at 792, but Lender B scores you at 650.
Credit Sesame provides you with a free credit score, free ID theft protection, and free credit monitoring. But this “free” comes with a small asterisk. Credit Sesame will send you credit card suggestions. And loan suggestions. And offers for this service or that service. So be aware of that when you sign up for this personal finance software. I still think the service is worth it. I can delete those offers that I’m not interested in.
You Need A Budget is budgeting personal finance software to help you make sense of your finances. The software runs on four basic rules:
- Give Every Dollar a Job
- Save for a Rainy Day
- Roll with the Punches
- Live on Last Month’s Paycheck
YNAB is a little different from other personal finance software packages. They offer support in the form of free online classes and webinars, video tutorials, discussion forums, and a support team to answer specific questions you may have.
YNAB costs $60 and comes with licenses for all the computers you own. There are apps available for iPhone, Android, and Kindle Fire as well, but you must have the desktop software installed.
Personal Finance Software for Keeping Track of What You Have
Once you’re out of debt, keeping track of your money becomes even more important. Knowing how much is coming in, how much is invested and where, and what investments are performing the best will help you become a more successful investor and enable you to grow your wealth better and faster.
Personal Capital is the personal finance software that I use every single day. I check my information, track my net worth, and look in at my stock performance every single day. I cannot say enough good things about Personal Capital because they offer so many awesome tools, all for absolutely nothing. Let me explain.
Personal Capital allows you to link all your financial accounts in one place, so you can see your investment accounts and how they are performing, your bank accounts, your retirement accounts, etc. Personal Capital gives you a complete picture of your entire financial status and presents this data in easy-to-use charts and graphs.
They also offer a Cash-Flow Analyzer, which gives you insight into your weekly, monthly, and annual spending habits.
- Their Retirement Planner checks the information from your accounts to see how you are prepared for retirement. You can analyze your spending and saving habits and make changes if necessary.
- The Investment Checkup Tool analyzes your current investments and makes recommendations based on your financial goals.
- The Net Worth Calculator takes the information from all your accounts and calculates your complete net worth at any time.
- But their Fee Analyzer is absolutely worth the price of admission. Actually, it’s worth way more than the price of admission, which is free. They take all the information you have entered into their system and analyze the fees you are paying. Management fees can eat away at your dollars. Personal Capital’s Fee Analyzer shows you exactly how much of your net worth is going into your broker’s pockets.
Did I mention Personal Capital is free? They do have some investments they will suggest to you, comprised of their own mutual funds, but you don’t have to invest in them to have an account.
Also- our friend Jim over at Wallet Hacks started using it and shares his review of Personal Capital– so be sure to check that out also.
Mint is another way to manage your money in one place. You can keep track of your investments, create a budget, receive alerts for unusual charges or over-budget warnings, see all your bills to make sure you don’t miss a payment, even get your credit score and tips for improvement if necessary.
Mint is free to use and is available on the iOS and Android platforms, as well as Kindle Fire. Mint will also recommend cards, loans and services based on your spending habits and other information, but again, you aren’t obligated to sign up for or use any of their recommendations.
New Year, New Finances
I don’t really like New Year’s Resolutions. They are super hyped-up, and over-the-top, such as losing weight, or quitting smoking. These require major lifestyle changes that most people want, but don’t want badly enough to actually bear down and tackle them.
Many of the tools above have been around for a few years. They have stood the test of time (internet-time anyway) because they offer such amazing value. Most of these products are hands-off after the initial set up.
So I challenge you to try out a product or two from this list. See how you can use them to help you pay down your debt or keep track of your money.
[Editor’s Note: We are republishing this article to help out readers newer to our blog.]
Do you have a favorite financial product that I didn’t list?
Please share below, both the name of the product and the features you like best.