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

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Financial Products and Services We Use
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…

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. This article walks you through how we manage our money on a daily basis.

Financial Products and Services We Use

How We Manage Our Money – Products and Services We Use

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

The best place to start is with the financial software tool we use to track our budget, income, spending, accounts, and net worth. This is our home base to monitor our financial accounts. These financial apps basically come in two flavors: free and not free. (I would say premium, but that would imply the free apps weren’t as robust as the paid apps, which isn’t always the case!).

Best Free Financial Apps

My favorite money management app (paid or free) is a free online tool called Personal Capital, which helps you view all your financial accounts in one place. With it you can view your banking, investment, and credit card accounts in one dashboard.

You can use Personal Capital to budget and manage your spending, but more importantly, you can use it to see a top-level overview of your investments. The best feature (other than being free!) is the ability to see your overall asset allocation across all your linked accounts. This makes it easier to manage a large investment portfolio.

I find Personal Capital to be a more robust, online alternative to Quicken. It’s easier to use, and works on all platforms (I previously used Quicken on the Mac, and found it to be very buggy).

You can read our full Personal Capital review here.

Alternative options to Personal Capital: Personal Capital covers most financial needs. But there are other great software programs and apps worth your consideration. Another good option for managing your money is Mint.com, a free online money management system which offers many similar features as Personal Capital. My wife and I used Mint.com for several years. It is one of the premier free online budgeting tools and excels at budgeting, monitoring your financial accounts, and reviewing your credit score. However, Mint.com is less robust when it comes to tracking investments. If you are looking for a free money management tool, your best options are probably Personal Capital and Mint.com.

Which is better – Personal Capital or Mint.com? Here’s the quick and dirty: Mint.com excels at budgeting, and does well at most everything else, with the exception of investing. Personal Capital is the best free investment tool out there, by far. And it does a great job at many other tasks. This article compares Personal Capital and Mint for a more in-depth review. But since they are both free, it doesn’t hurt to try them both and see which one you prefer.

Personal Capital and Mint aren’t the only good options. Here is a list of more free financial management tools. Below, we list some of the better paid apps. Many of the paid apps are great tools, but you may find that you don’t need to spend money to get the results you need.

Best Paid Financial Apps

Since we are focusing on the financial services we use, I’ll keep this short. I previously used Quicken for managing our finances. Quicken is one of the most robust money management software programs around. It has the ability 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. There are two big downfalls to Quicken: 1) it is a desktop program which ties it to one computer, and 2) it has a rather steep learning curve. I stopped using Quicken in favor of Mint.com, and later, Personal Capital.

Other Paid 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 and opening new accounts for sign up bonuses (what can I say, I like free money!).

Personal Bank Accounts

We primarily use USAA for our banking, 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. Rate chasing is not something I like to do, so I look for a mix of high interest rates and other good features. I also have a local bank for my business checking account.

Other Savings/Checking Options:

Business Bank Accounts

I also run a small business, so I need a business bank account. Every business has different needs, so I can only share what works for me. I opened a local business bank account so I could make deposits and visit the branch when needed. Check out Chase Business Checking, which has a large nationwide presence and offers several different options for businesses of different sizes.

I also opened a Capital One Spark Business Savings account. They don’t have a local branch where I live, but they offer excellent interest rates (much higher than most business accounts offer). That made it nice to open as a secondary account. It would be a great primary account if you have branches in your area.

You can read more about how we organize our small business finances.

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. I have previously worked on consolidating our financial accounts to reduce overhead and simplify the management.

We currently have an account with Vanguard that holds IRAs, a 401K rollover, 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), and I have a Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) account from my days in the military. My wife also has a TSP account. We also use our HSA as an investment vehicle, which is a powerful way to invest. That account is held with TD Ameritrade.

To top it off, I have an active brokerage account with Ally Invest (perviously known as 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: The Thrift Savings Plan is one of my favorite investment accounts because it offers extremely low management fees (often lower than well-known companies such as Vanguard and Fidelity). All things being equal, it makes sense to keep reduce fees as much as possible, since that has a direct result on your returns.  That said, it can make sense to roll your money out of the TSP to consolidate accounts, or if you want to capture the any tax exempt contributions from a war zone and roll those into a Roth IRA, while rolling the balance of the TSP into a Traditional IRA. This is outside the scope of this article, but it’s important to mention, as many military members are unaware of this process. 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?. And how to rollover tax-exempt TSP contributions into a Roth 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.

There are credit cards for every need or desire, with new cards coming and going every month. My recommendation is to find a card or two that you can use for the majority of your purchases and stick with them. Be sure to pay in full each month to avoid associated interest and fees.

Car, Home, and Life Insurance

We currently have almost all of our insurance through USAA, including our auto insurance and homeowners insurance. 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

I am self-employed, so we switched from a group health insurance plan to an individual insurance plan when I left my day job (compare group and individual health insurance). We were able to save a couple hundred dollars per month with the switch. We used eHealthInsurance.com to find our individual health insurance plan. Again, plans, prices, and availability have many variables, so shop around for your health insurance needs.

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.

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About Ryan Guina

Ryan Guina is the founder and editor of Cash Money Life. He is a writer, small business owner, and entrepreneur. He served over 6 years on active duty in the USAF and is a current member of the IL Air National Guard.

Ryan started Cash Money Life in 2007 after separating from active duty military service and has been writing about financial, small business, and military benefits topics since then. He also writes about military money topics and military and veterans benefits at The Military Wallet.

Ryan uses Personal Capital to track and manage his finances. Personal Capital is a free software program that allows him to track his net worth, balance his investment portfolio, track his income and expenses, and much more. You can open a free account here.

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  1. fredct says

    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).

    • Ryan says

      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.

      • fredct says

        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.

        • Ryan says

          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.

  2. Dustin @ Envelope Budgeting says

    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.

  3. Jon in Florida says

    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.

    • Ryan says

      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.

  4. Sue says

    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.

  5. allison says

    quicken for Mac no longer works with my OS so I have to choose to either pay the annual subscription fee or switch to something else. I am so tied to reconciling transactions, splitting within them, etc that I don’t know if I can do anything besides quicken to do this. Have you found a way to categorize/reconcile within Personal Capital that satisfies this need? Or will I want to use both programs?

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