This is a guest post by Lauren Fairbanks of LifeStyler. LifeStyler is a New York City-centric guide offering tips to young adults in order to promote financial responsibility and fiscally responsible lifestyle choices. LifeStyler offers tips on furnishing your apartment without breaking the bank, where to find the cheapest beers in NYC, how to set up a retirement account, how to flesh out the wardrobe for next to nothing, and tips on sprucing up that resume and charming your way into your next interview.
There are those out there like myself who don’t want to bother with expensive accounting software for their personal finances, but would like an easy, online way to keep track of their spending habits. Now, thanks to online banking software and stringent security procedures, it’s here and there are plenty to choose from. The big question; however, is which one? We did a little homework; added our checking, savings, loans and mortgages into the top three most popular financial websites on the web today. This is what we think about their design, usability, features and overall pros and cons to see which ones make the cut.
Wesabe is a finance manager and social networking site all rolled into one. While it does the tracking and budgeting that the other sites do, Wesabe integrates a network of users to allow you to share budgeting tips with other people. Wesabe’s goal is to set up your finances and pool information from a large network of users to help consumers make better decisions and reach financial goals. The interface is pretty easy to use. There are four main header tabs: Accounts, Tips, Goals and Groups. The Accounts section shows you an overview of all of your accounts, the total of your combined accounts ��’ including debts- a sort of net worth calculator, if you will. You can click on individual accounts to see recent expenses and then click on individual transactions to set yourself as a “Fan, User or Captive” of the merchant. The Tips category offers tips based on your spending trends. The Goals tab is not currently set up, and apparently will provide “tips to help you get to your goals”. The Groups tab is basically a discussion board for a myriad of financial topics, and is a good way to connect with others for encouragement in meeting your financial goals and to swap money-saving tips. You can see an example of some of the discussion topics that are ongoing right here in the sidebar of Generation X Finance. Pros:
- It also allows you to “tag” your expenses to keep better track of them.
- You can create your own budgets to monitor you spending. Wesabe will send you an email or SMS notification if you go over your budget.
- It offers spending and saving tips based on your current spending trends and credit score.
- It allows you to integrate Wesabe into your Firefox browser so that if you’re in an online account, you can immediately add it in to your Wesabe interface making adding new accounts about as quick and painless as possible.
- You can read user recommendations on the alternative spending suggestions that Wesabe suggests. This part reminds me a lot of www.Yelp.com.
- You can participate in discussion groups where you can share tips on budgeting, shopping and investing.
- The Tips section is not completely tailored towards your spending habits. For instance, if I often spend money at Starbucks, it will recommend Pete’s Coffee and Tea and will give me the average dollar amount spent per visit by Wesabe users, how often they go back, and their approval rating of the merchant.
Buxfer’s layout is relatively simple. You can choose from five different headers: Summary, Add Transaction, Reports, Budgets, and More. The Summary tab is a basic summary of all your accounts where you can view your net balance, recent expenses and budgets. A short, detailed list of most recent expenses are laid out on the bottom of the page and a listing of your accounts, tags (for tagging transactions), contacts and groups are listed on the side. By clicking on any of the first three headings in the summary section, you can view charts and get more detailed account information regarding expenses and budgets. Like Wesabe, Buxfer also has an element of a social networking site by letting you interact with other users. However, instead of participating in discussion forums, you use the Contacts section to keep track of friends that you owe money to. You can even send money via Amazon Payments, which is a very interesting and useful feature. Pros:
- The layout at Buxfer is very basic and simple.
- It allows you to add in “tags” to better categorize expenses.
- It lets you create budgets and keeps track of when you go over your allotted spending. If you do go over, it promptly sends out an email stating how much over budget you are.
- You can keep track of and pay IOU’s from friends and acquaintances.
- You can make payments to other contacts in your network through Amazon Payments.
- You aren’t required to enter in sensitive online banking passwords if you’re worried about security. Buxfer lets you manually upload bank statements. Your info is stored on your computer, and not on their server.
- Allows you to receive financial reports every Friday via email and SMS.
- You can access Buxfer via Twitter to add in transactions on the go.
- There aren’t as many different reports as I’d like. Two graphs that show recent expenses – one in pie form and one in bar graph form. And a bar graph that shows your budgets in relation to what you’ve spent within them.
Mint is one of the original online personal finance management sites and the one with the most features. The main page takes you to an Overview of your account where you can see the balances of each of your accounts, budget, net worth and cash flow. Their site is aimed towards making financial management fun and interesting hence the abundance of graphs and the interactive “Trend” tracking. Pros:
- They have a great interface – lots of pertinent information on the home page with a very easy to read layout.
- The “Ways to Save” tab is extremely helpful and will suggest everything from cheaper interest rates on credit cards to cash back programs to more beneficial savings accounts. Although, for it to work correctly you to make sure the majority of your expenses are categorized.
- Mint has a designated section for Investment accounts, including IRA’s, 529 plans and 401Ks, which I haven’t seen on the other two sites.
- It offers a “net worth” section on the Overview page
- Spending trends is very helpful and offers a ton of cool graphs that track where your money is going each month.
- They make it a little easier to categorize expenses by allowing you to apply settings for one merchant to other expenses from the same merchant.
- It has a great “cash flow” chart on the Overview page, as well as a chart directly below it that shows how much you spent vs. how much you made each month.
- It tells you who your most frequent merchants are a great tool to use to target and cut out unnecessary spending.
- Mint sends out alerts when your balance gets low, when there’s an account deposit, and when your bills are due.
- It has a portfolio overview to easily gauge which investment accounts are down and which are up.
- You can create budgets after reviewing your spending trends and compare your spending habits to the national average.
- The automatic expense categorizing doesn’t work all too well, and it can be pretty time consuming labeling non-frequent transactions.
- Their accounts round down to the nearest dollar. For instance, if I have $765.70 in my account, it will show up as $765. It’s not a huge deal being that it’s a conservative estimate, but it’s not the exact dollar amount.
All three sites have extremely easy-to-use interfaces and feature helpful tips for saving and budgeting. But, if you’re looking for something that is strictly focused on financial management, Mint is probably your best bet. Mint offers the most comprehensive package with more useful graphs and trackers. However, if you’re looking for basic financial management, and being part of a network of users is important to you, you may want to go with Wesabe.
Do you use any of these services to manage your money? If so, which ones do you use, and why? Feel free to share your experience.
Author: Jeremy Vohwinkle
My name is Jeremy Vohwinkle, and I’ve spent a number of years working in the finance industry providing financial advice to regular investors and those participating in employer-sponsored retirement plans.
I would recommend Replicon <a href="http://www.replicon.com/web-expense ">time and expense</a> software.
for some reason buxfer fails to download transactions from amex account. it says
Sorry, the financial institution returned an error message [#2000]
Seems like Buxfers getting some of the best reviews out there: http://www.topfinancetools.com/buxfer/
I've been using Mint for about 6 months, and while I thought it was wonderful at first, it has become a huge frustration for me. About half of the accounts I have it cannot download current account information for, even when it used to be able to do so. When I try to re-enter information, it asks me over and over for the sensitive information that I don't feel good about putting in in the first place, and then it announces that I must have put in my information wrong.
On the user forum I've discovered that some banks are no longer supported because they updated their security, and their system cannot log in. They seem to shrug their shoulders and instead work on other features besides the basic account access issues.
It seemed like a really neat thing when I signed up, now I'm completely frustrated and wouldn't recommend it.
What about yodlee,manageME.
they are awesome
I have also bookmarked the upcoming version manageMe7 and yod
I gave Mint a try and loved it. But, for someone like me who needs to be very aware of their spending habits, i found Mint too automated.
Buxfer is awesome and fits my needs. Overall, though, I'm still a bigger fan of Clear Checkbook. It has basically all of the same features as Buxfr, but with a slightly different interface.
Mint sounded interesting, however when i went to sign up for it, I was promoted for a US Zip code, given I don't live in the US it's a no go. I'll be sticking with Wesabe for the time being.
Just because of this post I was planning to use Mint, after realizing that a mayor drawback for this site (that was not menctioned here) is that you cannot upload your transaction history via .QFX, .QIF or .OFX
This was a big big disapointment!!!
I'm currently using both Wesabe and Buxfer until I can make up my mind which I like better. I did not choose Mint (I did try it briefly) because unless I'm just a technomoron (which is a distinct possibility), Mint doesn't handle cash transactions, other than ATM withdrawals. I work in a cash business, so this is super-important to me. A few other features that matter to me that you don't mention...
- Wesabe has a better way of dealing with PayPal account uploads...fiddly and imperfect, but better than Buxfer. Their forums/groups aren't terribly active, which I find disappointing.
- Buxfer has better budgeting features. So I can have a weekly grocery budget, a monthly medical budget, and an annual travel budget. Wesabe only has monthly.
- Wesabe allows you to split transactions, like if you buy cereal (Grocery budget) and medication (Medical budget) with your CC, you can assign the appropriate amounts to the different budgets. If Buxfer has this feature, I haven't figured it out.
I figure sooner or later, one of those sites will have everything I'm looking for, and then I'll remove myself from the other.
I have been using Mint for about 9 months.
I like how I can intergrate the credit card payments, what i'm making in my 401(k), monitor my stock growth, and calculates my net worth based on all the information..
It was a little buggy in the beginning, but I managed to get it working for me, and would recommend it...
Thank you for addressing the security concerns posted here. Putting valuable information online will always be a valid concern - especially when it deals with finances. The potential vulnerability to hackers is a very frightening thought; but, with the constant transition of services to an online medium, I feel confident that companies will always be developing newer security procedures and upgrading them to combat privacy issues.
I also noticed that the Data Security Bill of Rights link was an Error Message... I beleive this one should work.
My name is Allese Thomson and I am the community manager at Wesabe. I just wanted to thank you for taking the time to do such a great review of Wesabe, Buxfer and Mint. I also wanted to take the time to address some of the concerns here about security.
Wesabe has built itself such security and privacy concerns. We offer you four different ways to upload your data, one called the Manual uploade, where you only use your bank credentials at your bank, and they're never stored anywhere (except your head. With the Desktop uploader and the Firefox uploader, your bank cedentials stay encrypted, and on your computer. You might be interested in this blog article which provides a more detailed description (http://blog.wesabe.com/2008/04/23/new-feature-the-wesabe-automatic-uploader/.
Whatever the upload method, we try to collect as little sensitive information from our users as possible. We even go through the bank statements you do upload to us, automatically removing things that look like usernames, account numbers, etc. The idea is that *all* your information is private - we don't need to know it in order to provide our service - so why should we ask for it? The only thing we really need is a list of a user's transactions - how much they spend and where they spend it. Of course that's private too - but it's not the sort of thing that a hacker would care much about.
We also believe that our users' data belongs to them - not us - and we always try to respect that. So, as a result, we try to be honest and open about what kinds of data we collect and how we protect it. We've even written a "Data Bill of Rights," where we detail these promises in writing: https://www.wesabe.com/page/security. We've made the site as secure as possible, but we respect that different people will have different levels of concern - and we want everyone to be comfortable with the site before they start using it.
Anyway, hopes this helps and thanks so much for the great review.
I fully understand everyone's concerns about security, but consider the measures that Mint is taking to protect you: anonymity - they have no record of who you are, just your email; bank-level security - usernames/passwords are not stored at all, just a key to your account that is created when you set up that account on Mint.com; read-only - there is no ability to move money on Mint.com. I don't work for Mint. I'm just a big fan. Read more here: http://www.mint.com/features/security/
Also, I would think if your banking site were breached and money was taken out, you'd still be covered by the FDIC. However, I wonder what the protocol would be if your account was breached through, say, Mint. I'm guessing there would be no type of insurance.
Yes, I use online banking and it is akin to these sites in the fact that they both handle your sensitive information and they can and likely will at some point in time be breached. The difference is the scope of the security breach were a breach to occur. I have multiple bank accounts, so, if one were broken into it would harm that one but not the others, whereas if someone breaches Mint or other sites that would likely breach ALL accounts tied to that service. So in case of a breach of my one bank account it could take up to a month to get the funds back but I'll still have access to funds in my other accounts. If Wesabe were breached it would affect all of your accounts and you'd have nothing to fall back on.
I agree with worrying about security breaches; however, do you guys use online banking? Isn't using one of these sites sort of akin to that? If a hacker can break into Mint, wouldn't they probably also be able to break into Citibank's online banking site as well? I know that a lot of banking sites use Yodlee for security, including Mint.
I have looked at Mint a couple of times. I have used Quicken but then I always revert back to Excel. I too am a little cautious with security.
It seems like the hackers are always one step ahead.
Call me paranoid but I haven't signed up with these sites due to security concerns. I have worked in Information Security long enough to know that no matter how many security precautions you put up, it's only just a matter of time until they are thwarted. No system is perfectly secure. When one of these sites is breached that means that any account information entered to all these different accounts would be likely be breached. By keeping my accounts separate I'm not putting all my eggs in one basket so to speak, so even if one is breached the others are relatively safe.
I am a big fan of excel too. I always kind of weary of the online sites with my banking information.
Nice article. Call me old fashioned, but I've used the old reliable MS Excel for years. Perhaps it's time to checkout Mint.
Thanks for the review.