A Peek Under the Hood: Money Management Tools, Programs, and Services We Use

by Ryan Guina

What are the best financial software programs, banking and investment accounts, products, and services?

That is a tough question to answer. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to personal finance; what works for one person may not work for another. Some people have highly specific and specialized needs, and others prefer a minimalist approach. This article will show you some of the products and services my wife and I use to manage our money, and later in the week I will share an article that walks you through how we manage our money on a daily basis.

How We Manage Our Money – Products and Services

Before we get into the nuts and bolts of how we manage our money, I’d like to state that not all of these products or services will meet your needs. Be sure to research your options and make decisions based on your needs.

Financial Software & Money Management Tools

financial software programs, products, and servicesThe best place to start is with the financial software tool we use to track our budget, income, spending, accounts, and net worth. My favorite money management program is Personal Capital, which helps you aggregate all your financial accounts in one place. With it you can view your banking, investment, and credit card accounts in one place. You can use it to budget, but more importantly, you can use it to see a top-level overview of your investments. The best feature is the ability to see your overall asset allocation across all your linked accounts. This makes it easier to manage a large investment portfolio. You can read our full Personal Capital review here.

Another good option for managing your money is Quicken, which is one of the most robust money management software programs around. Quicken makes it easy to track, categorize, and analyze your income and expenses, financial accounts, investments, and depending on which version you use, health care costs, rental properties, a business, and more. The biggest downfall to Quicken is that it is a desktop program which ties it to one computer. If you use multiple computers, travel often, or otherwise don’t want to use a desktop solution, then consider using Mint.com, a free online money management system which offers many similar features as Quicken, though it is less robust. (Mint.com is owned by Intuit, the parent company of Quicken).

Quicken and Mint aren’t the only good financial management tools though. Here are other great options, depending on your needs.

Other Money Management Software Solutions:

Banking – Savings & Checking Accounts

My wife and I primarily use two savings and checking accounts, though I have actually opened quite a few savings accounts in the process of writing savings account reviews. We primarily use USAA, which is an institution that limits membership to military members (past or present) and their families. The interest rates at USAA are not always the highest, but their customer service and other features are great. USAA also offers investments, financial planning services, and various kinds of insurance, including vehicles, homeowners, life, and more. We also use Capital One 360 and I recently opened a savings account at Discover Bank to take advantage of their high interest rates. We do not use a local bank for our personal banking, though I do have a local bank for my business checking account.

Other Savings/Checking Options:

Investment Services

This is where we are a bit fractured. My wife and I currently have our investments spread over multiple accounts with several companies. A few months ago I consolidated one of my 401K accounts by doing a 401K rollover. That account is now a Rollover IRA housed at Vanguard.

We currently have an account with Vanguard that holds IRAs, taxable investments, and our Solo 401K from my small business. My wife and I each have Roth IRAs with USAA (we may move these to Vanguard in the future to further consolidate our accounts), I have a 401K plan through my day job, and I have a Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) account from my days in the military. My wife has 2 TSP accounts, one from her military service and one from civilian government service. I have an active brokerage account with TradeKing. The long term goal is to consolidate as much as possible under one or two roofs, making asset allocation and money management much easier on us.

Note about TSP accounts: One the surface it would seem like a good idea to roll these over into an IRA at Vanguard, but it is actually better for us to maintain all 3 accounts. The TSP has the lowest expense ratios I have been able to find, and my wife and I also have tax exempt contributions that were made in a war zone, meaning a portion of our withdrawals will be tax free in retirement. (The TSP functions the same as a 401K plan – contributions are made pre-tax and withdrawals are taxed. The tax exempt status of some of our contributions means some of our money will grow for 30+ years and never be taxed on the way in or on the way out.) You can read more about the pros and cons of rolling over a Thrift Savings Plan account in this article at The Military Wallet: Should You Rollover Your TSP Account Into an IRA?.

Other Investment Options/Resources

Credit Cards

My wife and I use rewards credit cards for almost every purchase and pay them off each month. Credit cards have many benefits when used correctly, including buyer protection, fraud protection, cash rewards, and more. But I don’t recommend using credit cards if you don’t pay them in full each month.

I currently use a Chase Freedom® and the Blue Cash Preferred from American Express for most purchases and my wife has a Discover® More® Card and Discover Open Road, one of the top gas rewards cards on the market. These cards offer some of the best cash rewards that are currently available and are featured on a list of the best cash and points rewards credit cards. I also use a business credit card for my small business purchases – here is a list of some featured business credit cards.

Car, Home, and Life Insurance

We currently have almost all of our insurance through USAA, including our auto insurance and homeowners insurance. We currently have our life insurance policy through my employer, but I need to add another policy because we are under-insured. Once or twice a year I go shopping for lower auto insurance premiums but I haven’t been able to beat USAA. In fact, I recently received quotes from an independent agent who told me he couldn’t come within a couple hundred dollars of our current rates. Insurance rates vary based on many factors, so shop around.

Additional insurance resources:

Health Insurance

We recently switched from a group health insurance plan to an individual insurance plan in order to save a couple hundred dollars per month (compare group and individual health insurance). We used eHealthInsurance.com to find our individual health insurance plan. Again, plans, prices, and availability have many variables, so shop around.

Customize Your Own Financial System

These are the products and services we have found that work the best for us. There are many great products, services, and financial institutions that are as good or better than what we are using, and there are others that don’t offer as much. I recommend defining your needs and shopping around for the best products and services that will help you reach your goals. Then customize your financial plan to your needs.

Did I miss anything? If there are other products or services I missed, feel free to add a comment and I will address it in the comments section or add it to this article.

Published or updated September 14, 2016.
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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 fredct

I recently started using Mint after seeing it recommended by financial talk show host Clark Howard, a name I know and trust. I love it.

If you’re the kind of person who’s very cautious about having info online, you may not like it, but if you’re the kind of person that has accepted that everything is already online, use good passwords, and are secure with modern encryption, then the convenience is awesome.

If I’m comparing receipts, I can see the info from multiple credit cards in one place. I can see if a check cleared and if my savings to investment account transfer occurred with just one login… you can see and track your spending by categories, set budget goals, get alerts for large transactions, follow your net worth, etc.

I know Quicken and other desktop software does that as well, but 1) I love the convenience of being able to check something from work or anywhere when I’m not home and 2) I’ve read a lot of bad reviews of software like Quicken (be it interface of buggy-ness – made only worse by the fact that I have a Mac which is often a second thought for Intuit and other financial/business software companies).


2 Ryan

Mint uses the same encryption software that most online banking and financial institutions use, and in some cases is even more secure. They also don’t store your personal information such as your name, address, birthdate, SSN, or anything else. I have a Mint.com account as well as Quicken and I use it for a quick glance at how we are doing. I’m actually considering making the full time switch because it is easier to use and more convenient (but it is a less robust solution, particularly for investments).

Quicken recently released their software for Macs, but I haven’t heard the best reviews. From what I understand, the PC version is still better. So you could run it on a Windows emulator, or use another solution.


3 fredct

Yeah. To play devil’s advocate, the argument is a service like Mint has the tiny probability that if someone *did* hack into your account (either just by guessing your password or by a security flaw at Mint – which *does* happen of course), they do have a lot of info on you. They know what bank & investment accounts you have, what credit cards, etc. And they *may* be able to fool one of those into thinking they’re you.

As you said though, they wouldn’t have your name or address or anything. So it’d still be difficult. It doesn’t even show account numbers as best I can see, so they wouldn’t know that either.

I’m comfortable with that very very tiny risk. Nothing is zero risk. Some people, however, are not (my fiancè, for instance).

A similar risk of course still exists if you use desktop software… more about if your computer is stolen or hacked into, you face the same problem.

Again, nothing is risk free. You could have no online accounts at all, and even then the bank could be hacked or your PIN compromised. You can keep all your money under your mattress, but then you can still be robbed!

For the convenience involved, its more than worth the minuscule risk in my opinion.


4 Ryan

I agree. As a further layer of security, my wife and I use a single e-mail address for our financial accounts and we do not share that address with anyone else. The password for that account is also different than the passwords I use on every other site. Again, it’s not foolproof, but it is another layer of security.

5 Dustin @ Envelope Budgeting

One other downside to Mint (which uses Yodlee) is that they use screen scraping techniques, so they ask for all your security questions and answers. Banks that use OFX allow you to access transaction data with a basic username/account number & password/pin. So even if someone got a hold of that information, they couldn’t log into your account and make transfers or anything. I cancelled my ING Orange account simply because they didn’t have an OFX server. I’m surprised at the number of banks that don’t.


6 Jon in Florida

Wow, switching from group to private health insurance would scare the heck out of me. Then again, I guess every state is different. In Florida, we have no protection from the health underwriting process (which wouldn’t apply if you can participate in a group). I can’t get health insurance without exclusions. So, I’m paying for insurance, but not really getting it. And if I put in a claim for something I am covered for, I expect to be treated like someone that causes an auto accident – they will hopefully cover me, but then raise the heck out of my monthly premiums.

Again, I don’t know the rules in your state, but I’d suggest your readers do a lot of research before subjecting themselves to the private health insurance underwriting process before dropping group coverage.


7 Ryan

John, it’s not a move for everyone, but it can be a big money saver for some people. I agree – it’s best to research the underwriting process and plans available to you before jumping in. Group coverage offers a lot of protections not available to everyone that is on an individual health insurance plan, but it may come at a greater monthly cost. As with every other major financial decision, do your research and act according to what is best for your specific situation.


8 Sue

Sorry Ryan, as good as Mint may or may not be, its just too much for me. For anyone who thinks Mint and all the rest of them are just to much to maintain, I have found MoneySlinger.com to be my salvation. No bank logins required and all data is even encrypted on the server. Totally different concept of cash flow management and just amazing what this has done for me and my family.


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