Best Personal Finance Tools for Every Financial Planning Stage

Our finances determine our livelihoods. If you make enough money, you can experience the things you want. For example, having lunch served to you on a yacht while relaxing in the glow of the sun. Fall short of your income, saving, and investing goals, and you’ll likely have to settle for less.

The old and more costly ways of managing your finances include dealing with banks, decades’ old institutions, and traditional financial advisors. The new and more efficient ways include dealing with online and financial technology (FinTech) companies and using apps.

androidFinTechs typically operate online, specialize in one area of finance, and seek to disrupt traditional lines of business by leveraging technology to offer customers greater convenience and lower fees. For instance, PayPal changed the game many years ago, when it introduced a payments platform to facilitate online purchases. Also, PayPal allows customers to send and receive money domestically for free. Atom Bank is a startup out of the U.K. that has built a mobile-only bank targeting consumers between the ages of 18 and 34. Atom and many other FinTechs have raised billions in funding because of their growing appeal.

Financial Planning 101

There are six financial planning functions we need to consider.

  1. Cash-Flow Management – Saving and budgeting
  2. Risk Management – Insurance products
  3. Wealth Management – Investing
  4. Tax Planning – Filing and minimizing taxes
  5. Estate Planning – Preparing for afterlife activities
  6. Retirement Planning – A combination of the above

Insurance–life, critical illness, and so on–and estate planning are better handled through financial advisors and experts. However, you can fulfill the rest of the functions on your own. For instance, thousands of investors manage their portfolios through robo-advisors and online brokerages.

Financial Planning, Saving, and Budgeting

LearnVest empowers everyone to take control of their personal finances. They provide expert advice, resources, and affordable financial plans. Also, they provide financial advice via phone and email for premium users. LearnVest offers:

  • A dedicated financial planner, available 24/7 via email.
  • A fully-customizable financial plan that helps balance goals, spending habits, wants, and needs.
  • Online tools, classes, and articles to help put the advice into action.

Level Money helps you plan and save for essentials like rent and bills. Level Money essentially replaces your bank balance with an amount you can spend each month. With this number, you’ll know how much you can comfortably spend on non-essentials like coffee or take-out. Also, you can create trackers for any of your habits to see how much you’re spending month-over-month or total for the year.

Mint makes staying on top of your finances easy. They link together everything from balances and bills to your credit score which you can monitor from a single dashboard. You can create budgets, track investments, and discover new ways to save. Mint automatically updates and categorizes your information so that you can remain up-to-date. Mint is big on finding savings, and as they analyze your accounts, they’ll make recommendations that can help with your lifestyle and financial goals.

Qapital helps users set goals and save money toward those goals. The app also allows users to connect all their checking, savings, and credit card accounts to keep track of their overall financial health. The bigger idea behind Qapital is to help drive behavioral change among its users.

YNAB offers budgeting software to help you gain control of your money. YNAB’s system consists of four rules which assign responsibilities to the flow of money from income to expenses.

Free Credit Score Reports

GraphMonitoring your credit score is important as it impacts your credit facilitates and loan rates. Your credit history determines what loans you will qualify for and the interest rate you will pay. Virtually all lenders use your credit score as a factor when you apply for credit. Whether you are applying for a credit card, a mortgage, a car loan, or refinancing your student loans, your credit score will more than likely come into account.

Your credit score, or FICO score in the United States, is a number that ranges from 300 to 850. It differs slightly in other countries. For example, in Canada, it ranges from 300 to 900. The following companies offer free credit score reporting.

Read “How to Improve Your Credit Score Quickly.”

Personal and Business Loans

If you’re tired of deal with banks and looking for a personal loan, you can visit online lending sites including LendingClub, Prosper, SoFi, Upstart, and Zopa (United Kingdom). For small business loans, visit Kabbage, Funding Circle, and OnDeck. Sites like LendingTree and Lendio don’t fund loans but act as marketplaces to connect lenders and borrowers.

Investing

StocksThe goal of investing is to build wealth over the long term so that when it’s time to retire, you can be financially prepared. How and what you invest in is entirely up to you. For instance, millions of people have portfolios that consist of real estate and financial securities.

I continue to speak at length about the pointlessness of using traditional investment advisors compared with do-it-yourself (DIY) and robo-advisor investing through companies such as Wealthfront and Betterment. To learn more about investment advisor alternatives see my post.

Free Tools

Personal Capital and SigFig offer free portfolio management tools. Personal Capital’s software allows you to develop your long-term financial strategy. You can calculate your net worth, set a budget, manage investment accounts, and plan for retirement. SigFig allows you to analyze and monitor all your investment accounts from a single dashboard.

Tax Planning

Nowadays you don’t necessarily have to fork out money for expensive DIY tax software and accountants. Credit Karma, H&R Block, TaxAct, TaxSlayer, and TurboTax provide free versions of their software. If your income was below $64,000, the IRS has free file software to use.

Bonus – Sending Money Online

Sending and receiving money fall into the cash-flow management category. Western Union, MoneyGram, PayPal, and banks are not the best companies for sending money online (their fees are much too high!). FinTechs shine in this area of personal finance through low fees and transparency. I use and recommend TransferWise. Also, Remitly is excellent for remittance activities.

 

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