Dozens of web based and mobile apps are making it easier for us to manage everything from bank accounts and credit cards to retirement savings. But with the time it takes to learn a new app, you should figure out what each one excels at – and where its shortcomings lie – before you sign up. Here’s an overview of four popular financial apps you might want to try.

BillGuard: Fraud Protection and Budgeting 

BillGuard helps you detect unwanted, inaccurate or fraudulent charges on your credit card statements, and stay on top of your finances. If you aren’t already in the habit of reviewing your credit card transactions one-by-one at least once a month, BillGuard might help you save money.

To use this free service, you sign up for an account using your email address, then register the credit and debit cards you want to monitor. Choose the bank that issues your card, then enter your login credentials. BillGuard will scan your accounts for hidden fees, billing errors, scams and fraud. 

The user interface shows all your transactions on each card for the preset time range you select: 7 days, 30 days, 90 days, this month, last month, this year or all time. You’ll also see BillGuard’s assessment of how many transactions are OK and how many are questionable. BillGuard prioritizes these transactions for review, too. You can then go over the questionable charges for possible errors or fraud.

Additionally, once your card is on file, BillGuard will scan that account daily and email you if it finds any questionable charges. You can also set up notifications to have BillGuard email you about suspicious charges, new recurring payments and data breaches that might affect your accounts. 

For example, BillGuard might detect two $7.95 charges for Amazon Kindle on December 26 and ask you if one is a duplicate charge. You can then log into your Amazon account and see if you actually bought two Kindle books on the same day that were identical in price.

BillGuard’s user interface also lets you see whether you have any recurring expenses charged to your cards and how they add up over time, along with any fees charged to the card. The idea is that once you’re aware of these charges, you might want to eliminate some of them, such as a subscription service you no longer use that costs more than $100 a year.

BillGuard offers spending analytics, too. This will let you break down your spending categorically, and let you see where you might be overextending yourself. This should help you to reform your spending habits. 

BillGuard is straightforward and easy to use and limited in what it does, but it does offer a more inclusive battery of services these days. It won't give you an overall picture of your financial situation, but in addition to keeping your accounts safe, it might help you stick to a budget, too. 

Compatible with:  Android and Apple devices (BillGuard app).

(For related reading, see 4 Best Personal Finance Apps as of July 2017.)

Mint: Budgeting and Investments

Mint’s free software lets you see all your transactions and balances from your various accounts in one place. You can track everything from your credit cards to your checking account to your auto loan to your mortgage to your investments. This big picture of your finances can give you a better idea of where your money goes. To accomplish this, you’ll need to create an account using your email address and give Mint your login and password information for all the financial accounts you want it to track. 

Mint automatically puts each of your purchases into the spending category it thinks is the best fit. You can manually change these categories if the software guesses wrong or you prefer a different category, and you can teach Mint how to categorize future transactions. Mint also lets you break down a single transaction into multiple budget categories, which can be helpful if you buy groceries, toiletries and clothes at the same big box store and don’t want to put the entire purchase in the same budget category.  

With this information, Mint will help you create a budget based on your income and spending patterns. Pie charts show how your spending breaks down by category and bar graphs show how your income stacks up against your expenses. The accuracy of your Mint budget depends on whether it can acquire data from all your accounts and whether you take the time to make sure each transaction is categorized correctly.

More recently, Mint has offered Bill Pay. This feature allows users to pay bills remotely and quickly. Mint will send you reminders and alerts, too, for things like upcoming bills, bills due, low funds and suspicious activity. 

Mint also recommends financial products and services it thinks you might be interested in based on what it knows about you. For example, you might see an offer for a credit card that offers cash back in a category where you regularly spend money. Mint is compensated by these credit card companies if you apply for the card through Mint, which means the cards you see aren’t necessarily all the cards that might meet your needs or the best ones for your situation. You might find these ads helpful, you might find them annoying or you might hardly notice them.

If you’re willing to provide your Social Security number, Mint will give you a free credit score and a free credit report summary designed to help you improve your score. (For related reading, see FICO Or FAKO? The Limitations of Free Credit Scores.) You can also sign up to receive notifications if you are charged a bank or credit card fee, have a bill coming due or exceed a spending limit you’ve set for a certain budget category. Mint will alert also you about suspicious transactions and send you weekly activity summaries via email or text. 

Mint does not offer an investment management service, but it does let you see all your investments in one place. It also lets you see how your investment performance compares to benchmarks such as the S&P 500 or the Nasdaq. If you see that your Roth IRA as a whole is underperforming the S&P 500, for example, you might decide that you need to change your portfolio holdings or allocation. You can even see how the individual investments within your investment account stack up to benchmarks. But Mint won’t actually help you make changes in your investments or suggest what you should change.

Compatible with:  Android and Apple.

If you lose your phone or tablet, you can remotely remove mobile access to your account to protect your financial data. (For further reading, see LearnVest vs. Mint: What's the Difference.)

SigFig: Automated Investment Management

SigFig is an investment company offering automated services intended to simplify investing, save you money on fees and make sure your assets are properly diversified. You can hire SigFig to manage your existing investment account at another brokerage or have it manage a new account set up directly with SigFig. The account type can be an IRA or regular brokerage account. SigFig can’t manage 529 plans or 401(k)s, but you can add these accounts to your SigFig profile to get a picture of your total net worth. SigFig can help you roll a 401(k) into an IRA, too.  

Once you create an account and link your existing brokerage accounts, SigFig will show you how your current portfolio compares to what it thinks is an optimal portfolio for you based on your risk tolerance. You can try to adjust your own portfolio to mimic SigFig’s asset allocation, but you’ll have to perform ongoing tasks like investment selection, portfolio rebalancing and tax-loss harvesting yourself to keep up with that recommendation.

If you decide to use SigFig’s services, you’ll need at least $2,000 to get started. The good news is, there’s no fee on low-balance accounts, so you can effectively try out the service for free. SigFig only charges an annual management fee of 0.25%, divided by 12 and billed at the end of each month, on balances higher than $10,000. In exchange for this fee, which is far below the industry average 1% fee for investment management, you get a diversified portfolio of index-based exchange-traded funds from Vanguard, iShares and/or Schwab tailored to your risk tolerance. SigFig selects the funds for you and automatically rebalances your portfolio as needed to maintain your target asset allocation.

You’ll also pay the expense ratios on the ETFs in your portfolio, which average 0.15%. It’s typical for investment management fees to be separate from the fees associated with the investments themselves. There are no commissions or other trading fees. SigFig’s investment strategy is also designed to minimize the taxes you pay on investments held outside of tax-advantaged retirement accounts. 

Compatible with: Android and Apple devices (SigFig app).

The service is also available online. For more information, you can call or email SigFig or schedule a 30-minute investment consultation. Compare SigFig with other robo-advisor services like Betterment and Wealthfront. (For related reading, see A Guide to Choosing the Best Robo-Advisor and What's the Best Robo-Advisor?)

Personal Capital: Budgeting and Investment Services

Personal Capital lets you see all your accounts in one place to get an overall picture of where you stand financially, like Mint. It also offers an investment-management service, like SigFig. Unlike SigFig, Personal Capital is not a robo-advisor; as a result, its fee is higher. 

Personal Capital’s financial software is free and helps you see exactly how you’re spending your money, how much you’re bringing in and when your bills are due to help you create a budget and manage your cash flow. Like Mint, it uses pie charts to show how your spending breaks down by category and bar graphs to show how your income stacks up against your expenses. It also shows you any fees associated with your accounts. Personal Capital will email you daily with a list of all your transactions from the last 24 hours across all your accounts. This feature helps you stay on top of your spending and catch any problems early.

Personal Capital also offers free investment tools. Link your existing brokerage accounts to Personal Capital by providing your login credentials for each one. Answer some questions about your retirement projections, and the investment checkup tool will show you your total portfolio balance and overall asset allocation as well as what the future performance of your existing portfolio is expected to look like, based on asset allocation, compared with Personal Capital’s recommended asset allocation. here’s also a free fee analyzer tool that will show you how much of your current savings you’ll lose to fees between now and your projected retirement date. A drawback to this and similar services is that you can’t add 401(k) accounts. 

You can try to rebalance your portfolio yourself based on Personal Capital’s suggestions. Or, if you have at least $100,000 to invest outside of your 401(k), you can hire Personal Capital to manage your investments for a fee of 0.89% annually (fees are slightly lower for balances of $1 million or more). In exchange for this fee, you get investment advice; portfolio monitoring and rebalancing; tax minimization; account custody at Pershing Advisor Solutions, a Bank of New York Mellon Company; and trades made on your behalf. You can get a free financial consultation to learn more if you’re on the fence about using the paid service. Personal Capital’s strategy is to invest in at least 60 individual stocks for U.S. stock market exposure and ETFs for other asset classes, such as bonds. 

Compatible with:  Android, Apple and Amazon devices (Personal Capital app).

You can also access the service on your computer. To learn more, read Online Portfolio Management, DIY or Fee-Based Financial Advisor: Which Is Right For You?)

The Bottom Line

Of the four apps described here, BillGuard is on the more basic side, designed to monitor for unwanted and fraudulent charges and help you reflect on your spending patterns. Mint helps you see all your account balances and transactions in a single interface to help you manage your budget. Mint also provides some basic information about your investment portfolio’s performance. SigFig offers automated investment management for a low fee with a low account minimum, while Personal Capital combines Mint’s budgeting features with a high-end investment management service.

Your level of financial sophistication and your investment and budgeting needs will determine which of these four services, if any, is right for you.

 

 

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