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Fliboard icon A stylized letter F. Smart Investor. If you're a self-employed worker, how fast can you find out whether you're on track with your income this month? There are many websites that handle personal finance exceedingly well. We review five of the best here. Quicken, the granddaddy of all personal financial solutions, is now a hybrid solution.
The software still resides on the desktop, but the and versions offer access to a website that contains Quicken's most often-used features and synchronizes its data with your own personal file. So, you can check in on your income, expenses, and investments on the go.
Quicken's online companion app is the biggest recent news in the personal finance world. But all of the applications we reviewed have new features, and they share some common characteristics. Most of them support online connections to your financial institutions. That is, you can download cleared transactions and other account data from your banks, bank card providers, brokerages, and other financial institutions, and see all of it neatly displayed in registers in the applications.
Typically, you only have to enter the credentials that you use to log into those financial sites, though you occasionally have to provide additional security information. Once you've imported a batch of transactions, you can work with them in numerous ways.
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For example, they need to be categorized correctly as income salary, freelance payment, and interest, for example and expenses food, mortgage, utilities, and so on. The personal finance sites guess at what an appropriate category might be, but you can always change it—and you can split transactions between different classifications. If you're conscientious about this, you'll see charts that tell you where you're spending your money. This information can also be helpful when tax preparation time rolls around. Depending on which website you're using, you might be able to add tags to transactions.
That way, you can search for those that are related in ways other than through their category assignments.
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You can add notes and attach files, too. If you bought something with cash, your bank wouldn't have a record of it. In those circumstances, you can create a transaction manually. CountAbout goes a step further, providing an additional set of tools that let you make recurring transactions or flag them.
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Four of the five personal finance websites reviewed here have what's called a dashboard. It's basically each site's home page, or the first screen you see when you log in.
Sometimes, the dashboard is the only screen you'll need to see, because it displays the information you most need when you're checking on your financial situation. You'll learn what all of your account balances are and perhaps any bills that are pending. You'll see charts and graphs that tell you, for example, what your income is versus your spending, and how you're doing on your budget. You may be able to gauge your progress on any goals you've set and view your investment portfolio, with live prices if it's during the market day.
Basically, this overview shows you snippets of the detailed data that lies behind the numbers on this opening page. Click on a checking account balance in Mint, for example, and this link takes you to the account's register. Click on your credit score in Credit Karma, and you'll learn what contributes to it and how it's changed recently. So the dashboard on a personal finance website can either provide a quick look at your money situation or it can serve as a springboard to a deeper study of the numbers. If you're a freelancer or sole proprietor, budgets can be challenging.
You don't know for sure how much money you'll make in a given month like a W-2 employee does. Being conscientious about your finances includes trying to curb your spending so that it comes in below your income.
Note: Freelancers and sole proprietors might find that a small business accounting website is a better fit. The mechanics of creating a workable budget are much easier than the process of specifying your limits. Mint, for example, treats each category as a budget. You select one, choose a frequency for it every month, etc. The site shows you how well you're adhering to each budget by displaying a series of colored horizontal bars that show where your spending is currently compared with your budgeted amount.
Green means you're doing OK, and red means you've gone over your self-imposed limit. You can tweak each budget as you learn more about your spending habits by clicking up and down arrows. Other applications, like Quicken, consider a budget to be a comprehensive table that contains all categories. The software also lets you view your budgets by a variety of time periods monthly, annually, and so on.
Setting goals, like trying to establish an emergency fund, isn't rocket science. You specify the amount you're trying to save and your target date for achieving it, and the application tells you how much you have to save every month to achieve it. NerdWallet, for example, lets you link your goals to the appropriate spending account so your progress is automatically tracked.
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Quicken Deluxe includes additional planning tools that help you accelerate debt reduction, plan for taxes, and establish a comprehensive lifetime financial plan. None of the sites we reviewed offer bill-paying tools, but some let you at least record bills and bill payments, because those can figure into your personal finance picture so significantly. Mint is especially good at this. You can set up a connection to online billers or enter offline bills automatically.
The site alerts you when they're due to be paid and lets you record payments manually if they don't get downloaded as cleared transactions from your bank. An excellent credit score is gold. Beyond helping you get approved for a credit card, mortgage, car loan, etc. So it's important to know not only what it is at any given time, but also to understand how it gets calculated and what you can do to improve it.
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