Top-Ranked Personal Finance Software
As we approach a new year, it's a great time to find good personal finance software to get control over your finances as part of your New Year's resolutions. No matter how well you manage your funds, finding easy-to-use software can help you:
- track and categorize spending
- manage multiple bank accounts
- create and maintain a budget
- manage your debt
- pay bills by sending reminders of when they're due (some even manage your bill payments).
These tools would make anyone's financial life easier. Some financial software programs can also manage investment accounts and even currency exchange rates.
First, we'll take a look at the four top downloadable software packages. Then, we'll explore a free online-only package available that does some data mining of your information in return for free access to its financial tools Finally, we introduce you to two good websites that monitor your credit history and credit score for free.
Top Software Packages
1. Keeping It Simple: You Need A Budget
If you need help with the financial basics, such as learning how to build a budget and stick to it, the simplest program out there is You Need A Budget. In addition to building a budget, you'll also get help with banking and bill paying. You'll also find tools for developing your financial goals and sticking to them.
You Need A Budget can be operated from an app on your desktop or using apps on your iPhone, iPad or Android device. The YNAB system is based on four rules:
Rule 1: Give every dollar a job.
Rule 2: Save for a rainy day.
Rule 3: Roll with the punches.
Rule 4: Live on last month's income.
You'll even find a free nine-day course to learn the system before you buy the software.This software is one of the more expensive options we discuss – $60 – but includes a license that will give you free updates for the entire time you use the software.
The biggest negative is that the software does not include financial calculators and has no section to help you prepare for tax season.
2. Managing Finances and Tax Prep: Quicken
Quicken Starter Edition includes basic budgeting, but can be more useful for managing your financial accounts because the software enables you to access your bank and credit card accounts in one place. It will even automatically categorize your spending on these accounts to help you develop and track your budgets more easily. A free mobile app is included so you can access your financial information on the go. A Mac version is also available.
Windows users have three options for Quicken – the starter version we talk about here and two upgrade versions with more features. The more advanced versions enable you to plan how to pay off debts, save for retirement and education, and manage investments.
Another big advantage of Quicken is that the same company that sells TurboTax – Intuit (INTU)– sells this software. When it comes to tax time, you can upload the data from Quicken and more quickly complete your tax returns. The program enables you to categorize deductions and expenses to make it much easier to collect the data you need when you want to file your taxes.
The starter package costs $39.99. The Premier version, which includes investment management tools, is $104.99
Quicken Starter Edition ranked number two on TopTenReviews and website Credit Donkey speaks highly of its capabilities, Quicken is possibly the most popular personal finance software available. It has all the features of a standard accounting program – it can calculate your net worth, track your expenses to a budget, and give TurboTax the information it needs to compute your taxes at the end of the year.
3. Top Personal Finance Package: AceMoney
AceMoney is the personal finance package with the highest ranking on TopTenReviews. This software package competes closely in features with Quicken Premier Edition, but at $39.99 – the same price as the Quicken Starter – you can manage investments at a much lower cost. Another big advantage over Quicken is that you can manage currency exchange rates. There is a version for Mac users, as well mobile apps for this software.
One big advantage of AceMoney is that you can see a snapshot of the balances in all your bank accounts, credit accounts and investment accounts on the opening screen. Left of that snapshot are buttons to pay bills, analyze reports and calculate currency exchange.
4. Financial Package for International Users: Moneydance
If you need to manage your money in several countries using accounts in various currencies, your best bet would be Moneydance. In addition to budget, bank-account management and bill-paying tools that are similar to those offered in the other financial software packages discussed, Moneydance also can track Value Added Tax (VAT) and Goods Services Tax (GST).
While these extras are not needed if you only have to worry about U.S. tax laws, they can be a very useful addition if you operate a business outside the U.S. The software, which costs $49.99, does not include an option to manage investment accounts.
Free Financial Help
If you want to get started managing your money, but don't want to pay for software, you can get started for free at Mint.com. It's a powerful free website that offers auto categorization of expenses, easy budgeting, timely bill-pay alerts, financial goal-setting and tracking, and investment tracking.
While you won't have to pay anything up front, it does come with a different kind of cost. Your financial data is mined, and the website will suggest paid services to improve your financial management. The website makes its money when you choose to buy those services. If that makes you feel uncomfortable, you may prefer buying one of the packages mentioned above.
You can take advantage of some of Mint.com's information without linking your financial information. There is a blog called Mintlife with blogs about ways to improve your financial life. Like Quicken, Mint is owned by Intuit, which also owns TurboTax.
Staying on Top of Your Credit File
In addition to choosing personal financial management software, you should also start monitoring your credit history. Your credit history is what is used by credit reporting agencies to develop your credit score. That credit score not only determines whether or not a bank will lend you money, but also what interest rates you will have to pay. Those with an excellent credit history get much lower interest rates. Read more in What Is A Good Credit Score?
Two good tools for monitoring your credit history are CreditKarma.com and AnnualCreditReport.com.
CreditKarma enables you to track your credit score for free on a weekly basis. It also provides tools for testing what if scenarios to find out how a financial decision could impact your score, such as how many points would you lose if you take out a car loan. You'll also find excellent financial tools, advice and information about financial trends.
AnnualCreditReport.com enables you to get one free credit report from each of the credit bureaus each year. You must order the report by starting at the official website to be sure you get it for free and don't end up signing up for monthly credit reports and high monthly fees. Be sure the link you pick is free with no hidden signups.
It is important to review your credit reports each year to be sure there are no errors and also to be sure no one else is using your credit identity. See Four Reasons To Check Your Credit Card Accounts Online and Credit Report Alert! for more on this issue.
The Bottom Line
January 1 of any year is the perfect time to start your new habit of better financial management. There are many different types of personal financial software packages to help make this easier for you. Pick one and get started.