My Experience with Personal Capital

I'm kind of a sucker for pretty user interfaces...
I’m kind of a sucker for pretty user interfaces…

Personal Capital is another of the great personal money management websites out there. It pulls information from all connected bank, investment, and credit card accounts to give you an easy-to-digest summary of all your financial activity. I just started using it two weeks ago, deciding whether to switch to it from Mint, and wanted to write a little about my experience with the tool. Being able to visualize the distribution of your money in colorful graphs–whether that’s income, spending, or investments–is a fantastic experience that will help make managing your money easier and more intuitive. With a great companion mobile app, Personal Capital could be a great option for you… but not for everyone!

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A Nice Mint Mojito

Mint.com is not always as good as it could be, but there is hope on the horizon!

If you don’t already use the Intuit web software Mint.com, you should strongly consider it. Mint is the best tool I have found, by far, to keep good track of your spending in a relatively hands-off manner. The highlights are:

  • It automatically pulls data from all your accounts (credit cards, checking, savings, investments) and allows you to view their balances all on one page
  • It auto-categorizes all your transactions, and is pretty O.K. at it.
  • It offers beautiful visualizations of all your spending
  • It allows you to set budgets and goals that it helps you track

Mint, however, often leaves much to be desired. Sometimes the interface is a little clunky and doesn’t do quite what you want, and the developers don’t update it as often as the users wish. As an avid Mint user, I was excited to find the Google Chrome Extension, Mojito. It has several awesome features, like allowing you to sort your accounts from highest balance to lowest balance, hide credit cards that have a zero balance, and pulls your recent transactions onto the homepage. He also finds ways to make the ads on Mint less obstrusive, and combats Mint’s way-too-short page timeouts. It’s a really great extension and makes my frequent Mint-using experience much better!

The developer is just one guy, he even has a wordpress blog (though it’s a little stale), but he put his code up on github which means we might see even more active development. One can only hope. It seems from the comments on the extension that it is being actively updated. What he has done thus far makes Mint infinitely more usable and beautiful.

How an IRA Can Help You

You may remember from my 401k post that there are several good reasons to invest in an IRA (Individual Retirement Account). These include:

  1. Maximum Flexibility: Invest in anything, with any investment manager/bank
  2. Avoid Taxes: Gains in an IRA are not taxed like they would be in a regular taxable account, so you’ll pay the government less.
  3. Penalty-Free Contribution Withdrawals: You can withdraw the money you put in at any time without penalty (though you can’t withdraw the investment gains that have grown on that money). This is good thing, just in case you ever need that money (though please remember that the stock market is NOT the place for your emergency savings).

Let me walk you through some of the basics of your IRA.

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Short-Term vs Long-Term Goals

Sorry for the delay on this latest post, I had some exciting real-life stuff happen: I got engaged! My conversations with my fiance (still so weird using that term!) regarding how to save for wedding expenses are actually what spurred this post.

Balancing your goals is never easy

So often in life, and especially in finance, we are asked to put off our short-term desires in favor of long-term goals. It can take a lot of effort not to buy that fancy Starbucks latte and save your dollars toward that new car instead. Self-control when it comes to finances is something that many find extremely difficult, but without it, you can never achieve big goals. However, big goals can vary in their “bigness”–for example, you may want to save for a house, and also save for that sexy new gaming rig; or maybe you know your car’s going to kick the bucket, so you need to start saving for a newer model, but you also really want to upgrade that college wardrobe of bad T-shirts and that one hoodie you wore for a whole semester straight once.

Sometimes two desired spending goals present themselves at the same time. One might be bigger and longer-term (on the horizon of a year or few years), and the other may be shorter-term (a few months) and a little bit smaller in scope. How do you balance these goals?

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When Work Means Taxes in Multiple States

I myself interned in three different states before taking a full-time job in a fourth!

For many young engineers, internships take them outside their home state, scattering them east, west, north, and south to jobs all over the nation. The summer passes, the school year begins, and pretty soon it’s time to file taxes. What do you do?! You might live in one state, go to school in a second, and work in yet a third state! Does that make you a part-time resident? Do you have to pay double taxes? And once you graduate, maybe you’re moving all over the country for full-time work. What then?

Take a deep breath. As I’ve said before on this blog, taxes are not scary, even when things get a little complicated. I’m speaking from experience as someone who actually messed up her state taxes quite badly the first time I had to file taxes for an internship. I’ll walk you through what I consider to be some of the most common scenarios and help you figure out what you need to do, that way you can avoid making all the mistakes I did.

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Your Credit Score and You

Do you know your score?

With the birth of online credit score tracking on sites like CreditKarma, CreditSesame, and Mint, everyone wants to find out: what’s my number? However, many of us have no idea what that number means. In this post, I’ll cover the following topics:

  • How Your Credit Score Works
  • Why You Should Care, and How Much You Should Care
  • How to Improve Your Score
  • How to Check Your Score

Credit scores are a great way to keep yourself in good standing with various lending institutions. They also help you protect yourself from credit fraud and identity theft. Sometimes even your landlord will care about your credit score when deciding whether or not to let you rent an apartment, using it as a heuristic for trustworthiness. Clearly, it’s important, and is an essential part of learning to handle your finances as an adult.

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How to Handle Your 401k

It’s best to start early when it comes to retirement savings!

Most professional jobs these days provide 401k accounts to the employee. However, employees–especially us young’uns that haven’t seen this stuff before–are often confused about what to do with this account. There are a lot of considerations, like how much to put in there, where to invest your money, what your company match means, how vesting works for that match, and whether you should take the Roth or Traditional option. I’ll guide you through all of these decisions to help you get the most out of this awesome account!

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