WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Here’s one development to celebrate, even in the midst of a recession: The universe of web-based personal finance tools keeps expanding and improving.
A slew of new and almost-new sites are designed to give consumers, investors and savers more control over their money. It seems like every day, there’s another financial site opening its virtual doors.
Many of the web-based personal financial sites are aggregators: Give them your credit card and bank account passwords, and they will pull all of your data and put it in one place. You’ll get to see, in pretty pie-chart form, where your money is going, how your balances look, and how your finances compare to other consumers.
Most offer some version of social networking — you can see how other consumers cut their coffee or cable bills, for example. They offer varying levels of accessibility via Facebook or Twitter, and recommendations on financial products, such as low-rate credit cards and mortgages, that may cost less than what you are already using.
There are lots of new features that will make these sites more worthwhile in the future. For example, they are working toward high-level alerts, says Melanie Flanigan, senior director of marketing for Yodlee, the company that makes software which powers many of these sites. Someday soon, your personal finance page will call or text your cell if you’re in danger of missing a payment or overdrawing your account.
In addition to the big aggregator sites, there are numerous other, more narrowly focused financial tools. Here’s a brief guide to some of the newer ones, as well as tips for making the most of them.
-- Try 'em by the bunch. Once you commit to the site you want to stick with, you'll invest a fair amount of time and effort setting up your accounts, spending categories and the like. So browse the universe first, and then choose the one that has the best features and feel for the way you like to manage your money. You have a lot of choices. Leading personal finance aggregators include Wesabe (www.wesabe.com), Mint (www.mint.com) and Geezeo (www.geezeo.com). Yodlee, the company that sells its software to other aggregation sites, also has its own at www.moneycenter.yodlee.com. PNC Bank, which has drawn praise for its virtual wallet site (www.pncvirtualwallet.com), is one of several banks starting to offer account holders their own branded aggregator site. Other, lesser-known or newer aggregating financial sites include Green Sherpa (www.greensherpa.com), Buxfer (www.buxfer.com), and Money Strands (www.moneystrands.com). A few dozen more may have been launched while you were reading this paragraph.
-- Just focus on your budget. If your financial life isn't complicated, and you mainly want to track your spending, see if one of these sites fits your needs. They aggregate data too, but focus more simply on household and project budgeting: Expensr (www.expensr.com), BudgetEdge (www.budgetedge.com) and Mvelopes (www.mvelopes.com) and My Spending Plan (www.myspendingplan.com).
-- Kill your debts. At DebtGoal (www.debtgoal.com), you can enter all of your debts, interest rates and bills, and it will figure out an optimal payment schedule for you and email you monthly so you don't forget to make those payments.
-- Manage your online shopping. Billeo (www.billeo.com) is an alternative to the hegemony of PayPal. It stores passwords, coordinates your credit cards and online accounts and allows you to pay all online bills through one central site.
-- Get a good deal on a bank account or loan. Want the best bank certificate of deposit? You already know you can shop at spots like Bankrate (www.bankrate.com), but one new site, MoneyAisle (www.moneyaisle.com) does reverse auctions for bank CDs. At Smart Hippo (www.smarthippo.com), you can get low-rate quotes for home equity loans, lines and mortgages, and here's the bonus: You don't have to give any personal information to get them. Ratesurfer (www.ratesurfer.com) downloads software to your computer that will constantly monitor for the best credit card rates and balance transfer deals for you. Remember that none of these financial comparison sites includes every bank or lender, so check a few sites against your current bank before you sign up for a new account.
— Just want to measure up? Online bank ING has put up a retirement-planning comparison tool so you can see if your 401(k) is bigger than everyone else’s. Check at INGCompareMe (http:www.ingcompareme.com).
-- Count therms or minutes. Not strictly a financial site, Wattzon (www.wattzon.com) will let you measure how much energy you're using and show you ways to cut those gas and electric bills. At BillShrink (www.billshrink.com) you can get specific suggestions for where to buy the cheapest gasoline and lower your cell phone costs.
-- Monitor your credit. CreditKarma (www.creditkarma.com) lets you see your credit scores for free (albeit, not the most-used FICO score). It also does credit score modeling so you can see how a planned financial action might raise or lower your score.
-- Get investment advice. Want to preview more than a hundred private investment newsletters? They will probably all cancel each other out, and you'll never have to subscribe. But you can use ZepInvest (www.zepinvest.com) to see and compare all of them.
editing by Gunna Dickson