Online personal financial tools and apps have dramatically increased in popularity over the last five years. Many of these new financial sites and technologies offer great advantages for those looking to organize their budget and manage their investments.
In the first part of our two-part series, GuideVine contributor Kerry Hannon reviews her favorite websites and platforms aimed at helping you track your spending, plan for retirement and manage Social Security.
Getting a grip on our spending, reducing debt, learning to save, and ratcheting-up earnings on investments are all crucial to our financial health, but it can be time-consuming, and frankly, overwhelming.
That’s where online tools can make your financial life somewhat easier. In recent years, a slew of web sites, eager to help you take control of your financial life, have launched. To cut through the clutter, here’s a round up of my current favorite apps and websites.
Online Tools to Track Spending and Bills
You might begin by tracking your finances on sites like Mint.com and Youneedabudget.com. For help with your student loans, go to Tuition.io. Finovera and MoneyStream. These free sites are designed to help you streamline your bill paying and dissect your monthly spending.
Understanding Your Credit Score and Best Offers
For years, Bankrate.com has been one of my favorite resources for reliably checking interest rates on everything from credit cards to mortgages and savings accounts.
Before applying for a credit card or another type of loan, however, it’s a good idea to get your latest credit report (free from Annualcreditreport.com) and credit score (free from sites like Credit.com). These will let you see what a card issuer might unearth about your credit history and let you know your odds of being approved.
For a more whimsical approach, check out the free site, FlexScore. It calculates a personal finance “score” for you, after you load in your personal data. The goal is to score a picture-perfect 1,000. The site shows you ways to do just that by making assorted financial moves, say, cutting your mortgage interest rate via refinancing. (One caveat: the site does refer you to financial services firms to help you make these tweaks. And the site does receive a referral fee if you chose to go with one of those firms).
Online Tools for Retirement Planning
Investing in Your 401(k)
Blooom is for all of you who can’t figure out which of your employer’s 401(k) plans’ funds to invest in. We’ve all been there. With this service, your 401(k) stays where it is – you don’t have to open up a new account or transfer it to the online advisor. The site can work with any 401(k) plan as long as it has online access.
Blooom takes over management of your account, though, and selects the funds for you and makes the investment for a recurring monthly fee of $10 or $1 per month for 401 (k) balances under $5,000.
Unlike other 401(k) investing services, Blooom will work with you regardless of who your employer is or which financial services firm manages your account choices.
Nearing or Entering Retirement
As you near or enter retirement, three online tools I like are Fidelity’s Retirement Income Planner, T. Rowe Price’s retirement income calculator and Vanguard’s Retirement Expenses Worksheet. These tools can help you pull together a retirement budget from unavoidable expenses, such as housing and healthcare to discretionary spending, say, the six months sailing in the British Virgin Islands you have on your bucket list.
Online Tools for Managing Social Security
When it comes to retirement planning, one of the best things you can do is to sign up my Social Security. It’s crucial to read this statement and fix any mistakes you find even if you’re decades from retirement. If your earnings record is wrong, you may not receive all the Social Security benefits you’re entitled to in the future. That’s because Social Security calculates your monthly checks based on your average earnings over your lifetime.
As you get older, you can use the statements to help plot your sources of income in retirement.
“It’s probably the most crucial financial planning document for every American,” InvestmentNews contributing editor Mary Beth Franklin, author of the new e-book, Maximizing Your Social Security Retirement Benefits, told me.
Your statement will give you an idea how much you can expect to receive from Social Security, depending on what age you apply for benefits. You can also check the monthly survivor benefits if you were to die this year — for your child, a spouse caring for your child and your spouse starting at Full Retirement Age.
In the final part of our two-part series, Kerry reviews her favorite online personal finance tools aimed at helping you boost the way you save and invest.