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.
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
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 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.
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:
- You Need a Budget (YNAB): Excellent for creating a budget
- You Need a Budget and Quicken Comparison. Budgeting vs. full money management.
- Mvelopes: envelope budgeting software system.
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!).
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:
- Here is a list of some of the best online banks and the highest CD interest rates.
- Free checking accounts.
- Bank Bonus offers – earn a sign up bonus when you open a new savings or checking account. (Check out the Chase Bank Checking Bonus, which is among the highest in the nation).
- Be sure to check local credit unions which often have better interest rates and services than many banks.
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. 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
- Best Places to Open an IRA: from mutual funds houses like Vanguard or Fidelity, to discount brokers, and more.
- Compare the Best Online Brokers.
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:
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.