Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Reviewing Online Personal Finance Tools

For a few months now I've been messing around with some of the online finance apps, mainly Yodlee, Mint, and, as of today Quicken Online, which is now free. I've also looked at Wesabe and Geezeo.

I've gotten fed up with the Quicken desktop application. They've forced me to upgrade to an inferior version which then corrupted my data, forcing me to do far more work than I'm willing to do to fix the data file. I'm a long-time user of Quicken, but it provides more features than I use, and I didn't always trust the results it gave me.

My main financial goal is to live within our means. I want to be able to enter recurring and other upcoming bills and find out what's left to spend. I want to be able to use this information as a decision-making tool when I have the gimmes for a new outfit, a GPS, or a trip to Aruba -- can we afford it this month? This is the tool that I've had tremendous difficulty finding, but today I discovered that Quicken Online does an adequate job. It doesn't seem to use the current credit card balance(s) to calculate it's Real Balance (R), but at least it's on the right track, showing me, on the first page What's Left. True, it's completely wrong, but if I look at the Checking account, it shows me upcoming bills and income and the balance at each date so if I input the amount of the upcoming credit card bill(s) I do see the checking account balance that includes all the bills that have to be paid.

Rudder seems to have an app that does what I'm looking for, that is, calculate What's Left based on balances and recurring bills input by the user. But I haven't tried it. It doesn't do much else (not even show you transactions, much less categorize them), and I've scattered our financial information over the web widely enough already. Still it does look like it has the one feature I think every other application is missing. Hopefully one of the other services will snap it up and include its features in their application.

No other online tool that I've found even attempts to show me if we're living within our means this month. Some of them (Yodlee, for instance) are happy to show me how my income and spending compare in past months, but to my knowledge I cannot enter recurring bills and paychecks to calculate something similar to Quicken's What's Left number. Mint doesn't even do a good job at comparing income and spending, showing me a chart where spending appears below the axis, and income appears above, making it visually difficult to compare the two numbers. Geezeo and Wesabe don't seem to have even a chart of spending vs. income over the past few months.

Quicken Online has a long way to go. For instance, it does a terrible job of importing transactions from my bank (same as the desktop version). There is absolutely no identifying information -- I have to open my bank's site and manually enter information for each transaction into Quicken Online. Yodlee manages much better, so clearly the information is available and Quicken is just not using it. Also, Quicken seems terribly slow.

Yodlee has some strengths compared to Quicken Online, which is the current but beatable frontrunner for me. It has a lot of good tools, charts, etc. and categorizes my data well. It also stores our investment information and gives some stats about it. Quicken Online does not appear to handle investments. At least that's what I've read, and so far I haven't been able to link to our modest Sharebuilder account.

I've played a little with the budgeting tools in Yodlee and Mint, and find them inadequate. For instance, Yodlee doesn't add up the various budget categories to give you a total. So if I want to know if I'm budgeting more than our actual income, I have to use a calculator! And I find Mint barely worth discussing. It's pretty, and it tells me what's in each account and gives me a list of transactions, but as for doing any analysis, fergetabowit. I don't understand the buzz about Mint at all -- it's not useful to me.

I looked at Mvelopes a while back, but hated the cost, and found it too labor intensive. I don't feel the need to allocate each dollar of income to a category of spending, although I can see how that would be useful. My needs are of a lower level.

So in the end I'm still looking for the right tool. And I'm willing to pay -- say what I'd pay for a new Quicken over three years. I think that works out to about a dollar a month.


drew said...

Thanks for commenting on my post relating to Rudder. I think that all of the big players in the online personal finance field will be making vast improvements in the not-so-distant future. Hopefully it won't be long before someone really pulls ahead of the pack.

Nice blog and keep up the good work! :)

Shashank said...

> No other online tool that I've
> found even attempts to show me if
> we're living within our means this
> month

Have you tried Buxfer -- http://www.buxfer.com