I get asked about personal finance tools quite often.
Therefore, I thought it would be beneficial to give you a consolidated list of the personal finance tools I recommend to my clients on a daily basis. Be sure to bookmark this page as I will update it as new products are reviewed, etc.
Also, you should know that some (not all) of the links below are affiliate links. At no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you decide to use or buy the product.
You should also know that I have experience using each and every one of the products I recommend. I would never recommend something to you just to earn money. That’s not how I roll.
If I think a product can be beneficial to you while still helping you stay the course, I’m going to recommend it all day long. However, do not feel like you need to buy something just because I recommend it.
Checking and Savings Accounts
Personally, my wife and I have all of our accounts (just a checking and savings account) at Ally Bank. They have great rates on their checking, savings and money market accounts as well as their certificates of deposit. Also, their customer service has been nothing but friendly the few times we’ve called them.
If you open a checking account, you’ll get refunds on ATM fees charged by other banks (up to $10 per month) and earn interest on your balance. All of this comes with no minimums and $0 in monthly fees.
If you’re looking for a new bank, I highly recommend Ally.
If you need a bank where you can walk in and talk to someone in person, you should see if you’re eligible to join a credit union. They typically have very competitive interest rates on auto loans, mortgages, etc. Their savings accounts typically pay good rates too (but usually not as high as Ally). To find some credit unions in your area, use this search tool.
You Need a Budget
You Need a Budget or YNAB for short, is what my wife and I personally use to manage our monthly budget. It’s also what I recommend to each of my individual clients and it’s what I show you how to use in my Budgeting For Budget Haters course.
I love YNAB because it helps you give every dollar a job. You’re also able to allocate your savings into different financial goals in the software without needing separate savings accounts. It’s also helpful when tracking your savings for periodic expenses you identify in your annual budget.
The software is visually pleasing and very hands on. If you are in the beginning stages of budgeting, this program will be a tremendous tool. It’s based online and has a great app for on-the-go budgeting.
YNAB is only $5 per month or $50 if you pay annually. They also have a 34-day free trial which is a great way to try out the software without making a commitment.
In my Budgeting For Budget Haters course, I specifically show you how to set up YNAB and use it to meet your financial goals.
Before YNAB, my wife and I used Mvelopes. Mvelopes is an online budgeting program that utilizes the envelope method. However, instead of using physical cash to fund your envelopes, you fund them in virtual envelopes inside Mvelopes. For example, when income comes into your account, you’ll fund the envelopes with the amounts determined by your budget. Then, when transactions are downloaded into the program, you’ll allocate the expense to a certain envelope which in turn will move money out of that envelope. You can then see what’s left for the month. Here’s a screenshot of the virtual envelopes.
There is a free version of Mvelopes that may serve you quite well. However, it does limit you to just 4 linked accounts and 25 envelopes. If you feel that you need more than those limits, you need to purchase their premier version at $95/year.
Quicken, a stand-alone budgeting software, has been around since 1983. And no, that’s not a typo.
Personally, I remember using it on my old Windows 95 computer. I also used it in the early 2000s when your choice was between Quicken and Microsoft Money. While I no longer use Quicken, I still know many people that find it extremely powerful. If you’re looking for something that can stand on its own and can be used offline, you should certainly give Quicken a try.
Mint.com is a popular, free budgeting tool. Personally, I’m not a big fan of their budgeting piece.
Personally, I’m not a big fan of their budgeting piece. I’m not a fan because as Mint automatically downloads new transactions, it categorizes them for you based on the merchant. For example, if you go to Sam’s Club to purchase groceries, Mint may categorize the transaction correctly. However, if you then buy gas at Sam’s Club, Mint will once again categorize it as groceries. You constantly have to monitor new transactions to make sure they are categorized correctly. At that point, you might as well use YNAB or Mvelopes which in my opinion, are superior to Mint.
You should also be aware that while free, Mint has a TON of advertising. If you’re susceptible to marketing, you need to be careful.
**NOTE** The products below are good ways to consolidate your debt. However, before consolidating you must first address the reason you got into debt in the first place.
Personal Capital is an online tool designed to help you track your spending, investments and net worth. It has many great features, such as a retirement planner, to help you visualize your path to financial freedom and ultimately, retirement. Personally, I use it to track my net worth as it calculates it for me automatically. If you’re looking to better track your finances, I highly recommend giving Personal Capital a look.
When it comes to investing, something that’s easy to use, low-cost and tax-efficient is the way to go. You can get all of those features with Betterment.
Betterment is what’s commonly referred to as a robo-advisor. A robo-advisor is a company that provides online portfolio management with limited human interaction. In other words, you tell Betterment what type of account you want and what that money will be used for, and they will build you a portfolio of low-cost index funds to help you meet your goals.
Personally, I have a rollover IRA and a Roth IRA with them. It simply makes managing my accounts and investments easier so I can focus on my business.
If you’re getting ready to make some online purchases (that are budgeted for!), you should always start by going to Ebates.
By using Ebates, you get unlimited cash back on purchases that initiate from their site. For example, if you’re going to use some of your clothing budget to purchase some stuff at Kohl’s, you can use the Kohl’s link on Ebates, buy your stuff, and then Ebates will credit your account with 6% cash back. This is all at no cost to you! Why wouldn’t you use it?
Cell Phone Plans
If you’ve been looking to save on your cell phone bill, Republic Wireless delivers. They offer no contract, unlimited cell phone plans starting a $10 per month. Yeah, $10 per month.
They’re able to offer such low prices because they focus on using your home WiFi before the cell towers. However, if you’re on a call and step out of your house, you seamlessly switch from your WiFi to the cell network which is run through Sprint.
With Republic Wireless, you’ll need to purchase the phone. They currently have two phones available, the Motorola Moto G for $149 and the Motorola Moto X for $299. Even though you need to purchase the phone outright, the price is still in line with other cell phone companies that require you to signup for a two year contract. The Motorola Moto X is even rated higher than the Samsung Galaxy S4.
You can get a plan with unlimited talk and text for $10 per month. If you want data, you can either go with unlimited talk, text and 3G date for $25 per month or unlimited talk, text and 4G data for $40.
With Republic Wireless, you have the opportunity to save a TON of money. Personally, I’m under contract with Sprint paying $180 per month for 3 phones. As soon as our contract is up, I’m making the switch to Republic Wireless. It will save me over $100 per month. That’s $1,200 per year!
You may be thinking to yourself, “well, I have to pay for the phone”. Sure, but won’t you still have your current phone after you make the switch? If so, just pop the old phone on eBay or Craigslist and use the money to offset the purchase price of the new one. You could even walk away with MORE money!
Credit Reports and Scores
Annual Credit Report
The only place that you can get access to all 3 of your credit reports for free is at annualcreditreport.com. Be sure to check out my article on ordering, reading and understanding your credit report for more information.
If you need to know your credit score, myFICO is the best place to get it. The FICO score is your true credit score that’s utilized by creditors. All of the credit bureaus will attempt to sell you their own version of the credit score but it’s not typically the one used to evaluate your creditworthiness and it can be substantially different from your FICO score.
Unfortunately, there is no way to get your true FICO score for free unless you apply for a loan somewhere. For example, when I applied for my mortgage, my broker sent me all three scores in the mail. If you want to purchase your scores, head over to myFICO. The page you’ll land on will recommend their Score Watch service. The first 10 days are free but after that it’s $14.95 per month. I don’t recommend Score Watch unless you need to monitor your scores for an upcoming purchase which requires the use of credit. If you’re just looking for a one-time score update, just click on the logo of that landing page and you’ll find the option to purchase them individually for $19.95 each.
If you just want a close approximation of your credit score and get it for free, check out Credit Sesame. You can sign up on their site and get access to your Experian credit score for free. As I mentioned before, you should take any non-FICO credit score (or FAKO score) with a grain of salt as they are not viewed by most creditors. You may just want to monitor these types of scores to make sure nothing major has happened. If you see a huge drop in your Experian credit score, it might be a good idea to check your true FICO score for more detail.
Also, please note that Credit Sesame makes their money from advertising. They will give you custom ways to save money, etc. Please be very careful when reviewing this information. You’re being marketed to!
My wife and I use GEICO for our auto insurance. Even though we’ve never had a claim, they’ve been great. I did have to call them for road side assistance at one point and it went extremely smooth.
I often call around shopping for lower rates but no one can ever beat them.
In my full-time position, I work with military members quite often. In most cases, they have their auto insurance with USAA and tell me how great the company has been to them. Even though I’ve never used their insurance (because I can’t!), I can honestly recommend them to anyone that can get it.
Although I now have health insurance through work, once upon a time I was in college and in need of a policy. I utilized eHealthInsurance to purchase a great policy that fit my needs and was accessible in my state. They have a great selection of plans from all of the major insurance companies and they are compatible with the Affordable Care Act. They also have licensed agents on staff to answer any questions that you may have.
Earn More Income
Working For Yourself
Chris Guillebeau puts out some great eBooks on breaking free and starting your own business. One of my favorites is titled “Working For Yourself“. If you’ve been thinking about starting a side business such as a website, you may want to check out this guide.
If you’re looking for some freelance work, Elance is a great place to find it. You just sign-up as a freelancer, list your work history and qualifications and bid on jobs. There are several categories including graphic design, web design, copy writing, editing, data entry, admin support and much more. This is a great way to generate some side income while using your existing skills.
Hopefully all of this information was helpful!
If there’s something that you would like a recommendation on, please contact me.