Taking your personal finances online can save time and money
When we add up the time we spend on our money matters, it can feel like enough to be “billable.” From balancing the budget to income taxes to paying the mortgage, there can be a lot on the financial to-do list. Luckily, technology can save you time, energy, and yes money, too. We talked to a few financial experts, and here are what they deem the most useful technological tricks of the trade.
“First and foremost, automate your savings and bill payments,” says Brian Martucci, a personal finance expert at Money Crashers. “Avoiding late or missed payments is critical for maintaining good credit, or to building good credit if you’re not there yet,” he says. “And good credit opens all kinds of doors, financially and otherwise.”
Brian Cort, Certified Financial Planner at Quadrant Private Wealth in Bethlehem, PA, recommends taking advantage of the financial portals your banking and investment firms provide to ensure you are up to date with information on your investments and account balances. “Monthly or quarterly account statements in paper or electronic format provide static account data that is often out-of-date by the time you receive it. Plus, paper statements often do not provide enough information to fully analyze your investments,” he says. “A portal, on the other hand, is constantly updated and key to making the best decisions in real time,” he says.
Beyond these overarching tips, here are some specific tools that can help:
A money management app. A good personal financial app such as Mint will allow you to track how you are spending your money by linking your credit and debit cards, Cort says. “Current is a good app for parents to teach children about spending and encourage them to save,” he adds. “Parents create an account that they link to each child’s account, allowing for easy transfers of money to the child’s account as well as monitoring the purchases they make. Each child has his or her own debit card and can create their own savings goals,” he says.
A quick view. Many people have accounts with several different banks and institutions. To simplify things, Cort recommends finding a platform that consolidates all your accounts—employer retirement plans, bank accounts, HSAs, investment accounts, etc.—into a singular view. “This will give you a more holistic picture of your finances, so you can make the most informed decisions,” he says.
A high-yield savings account with an automatic savings feature. With automatic savings, you can set up regular deposits and transfer into your savings account, so you save money before you get a chance to spend it. “This eliminates the need for manual savings transfers so you can save without thinking about it,” Martucci says.
Online payment providers. Cort recommends payment apps that allow to you leave your wallet at home. “Payment providers like Venmo, PayPal, and Apple Cash, make it easy to exchange money instantly and securely,” he says.
A digital savings account. Martucci recommends setting one up that automatically categorizes and tallies your spending. “This allows you to identify areas of problem spending and trim,” he says.
Digital expense manager. For personal income taxes, Martucci suggests you ditch the shoebox stuffed with receipts and use a digital expense manager to keep digitized copies of tax-deductible and business expenses instead. “Or enter your receipts into a spreadsheet broken down by expense category and/or deduction type (you’ll still need to keep a physical copy of the receipts),” he says. “Either way, an online tax prep program can save a trip to the accountant’s office and avoid the hassle of a paper return.”
Tax filing websites. When it comes time to file your income taxes, Cort says popular websites like Turbotax and H&R Block can simplify the process by guiding you step-by-step, allowing you to download the necessary tax forms and providing live help when you get stuck.
Cort adds that no matter what kind of online financial tools you use, it’s important to remember to keep the safety and security of your personal information in mind. “Use unique passwords (best saved in an encrypted password keeper like LastPass) and enable multi-step authentication whenever you can,” he says. “It’s also important to understand what financial information will be stored, who has access to it, and how you will be notified if there is a breach of security.”