Innovative products have continually made personal finances more manageable. Not only are resources such as online financial services and mobile banking convenient, they can make people better at managing their money.
There’s a lot to appreciate about technology, and because it keeps moving forward, consumers are increasingly able to deal with their money in ways that suit them — the frequent traveler can deposit checks and monitor her account on the go, and perhaps the credit card-laden businessman will find relief when the gadget Coin comes out next year.
The future of mobile banking and other gadgets continues to unfold, but there’s a collection of other tools that make financial planning more consumer-friendly.
1. Free Credit Reports
By law, each of the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) must furnish a free annual credit report for all consumers who request it. Some circumstances can make a person eligible to see credit reports even more often.
Some people like to request all three reports at once and compare them, while others like to space them out over a year as a way to more regularly monitor credit. The reports may vary in information, and that’s OK, but any inaccuracies should be immediately addressed with the credit bureau.
Incorrect information on credit reports may be a sign of fraud, but even if it’s a clerical error, it could affect the consumer’s credit scores, which determine access to loans and other forms of credit.
2. Free Credit Scores
While consumers shouldn’t fret over the numbers, it’s helpful to have a general idea of one’s credit scores. There are plenty of free credit score tools out there. Credit.com offers the free Credit Report Card, which individuals can use to get free credit scores and review a breakdown of their credit profiles by payment history, credit utilization, credit report inquiries, length of credit history and variety of debt. The Credit Report Card updates once a month, which will show any sudden changes in credit scores, and can help consumers see what sort of credit they may or may not qualify for.
The biggest question to answer when considering homeownership is, “Can I afford it?” But that can be tricky to figure out, and it takes more than just looking at home prices.
The same home will have different costs depending on the buyer, the interest rates they qualify for, the type of loan they can get and many other factors. There are several online tools that help consumers calculate their potential monthly payments.
It’s a similar story when it comes to retirement: The amount needed to live comfortably in retirement depends on the individual’s preferred standard of living. Furthermore, to save the same amount, a young adult is going to have to put aside less each month than a middle-aged worker would, because the younger person has more time to save (and the money has more time to grow). Figuring out how much to save for a life decades into the future is challenging, but much like mortgage calculators, retirement calculators help break down the process.
4. Budgeting Platforms
Plenty of people track their spending with little more than receipts, a check register and an Excel spreadsheet, but that’s not for everyone. Mint.com is one of the more popular platforms, to which people tie their bank accounts for tracking. It funnels every transaction into categories, which can be budgeted, and it makes tracking spending less labor-intensive. Such services can make life a lot simpler for people with several accounts to manage.
5. Credit Monitoring
Most Internet-service users have encountered a data breach — they’re part of being a consumer on the Internet. Strong passwords and other security-minded habits will lessen the impact of a compromised account, but using a credit monitoring service can add a layer of protection. Even the most vigilant consumers could miss fraudulent activity on their credit reports, and a credit-monitoring service could help close that gap in surveillance.
Personal finance is just that — personal. Everyone approaches it differently. While these tools may not make sense for every consumer, it’s great to have options and the peace of mind that innovators continue to try and improve the industry.