Financial Planning for the Masses
Many Web-based personal finance managers do a great job of aggregating account information, tracking your spending, and helping you create a budget so that bills get paid. Simplifi has the bigger picture in mind: Give it detailed information on your income, debt, assets and goals, and it will put together a long-term financial plan.
Designed for middle-class customers who don't have extensive background in finance, Simplifi pleases in part through its attractive design and in part by avoiding jargon and using plain English: For example, during setup you're asked to input information about things you own (that is, assets), things you owe (debt), and things that grow (investments). If you prefer audio tutorials, Sophie--an animated "virtual financial advisor"--is always at hand on the upper right of the screen.
Give Your Finances a Workout
One of the first (and still among the best) Web-based personal finance managers, Mint.com is adding features to assess and improve your financial fitness. Using the account information you may already be tracking with the service, Mint’s Fitness tools help you assess and improve your financial health (including checking your credit report for errors); they also give you grades on your progress toward keeping spending and debt under control and planning for emergencies and the future. Now in invitation-only beta.
Get Your Credit Rating for Free
Credit ratings used to be carefully guarded secrets, accessible only to companies deciding whether to give you a loan or a credit card. But those days are gone. In a matter of minutes you can learn your credit rating--and how to improve it--by filling in a quick form at Credit Karma. It’s free (no credit card submission required), and the query won’t hurt your credit rating.
The site includes graphics to show how your score ranks and how it has trended over time; the ability to run what-if scenarios (for example, how paying off a debt will change your credit score); and offers (such as lower-interest loans and credit cards) to help you improve your score by better managing your debt.
Get Out of Debt Efficiently
Debtgoal’s name pretty much sums up the service: Input information on all your debts (amount, interest rate, minimum payment) as well as the amount you can afford to pay, and it comes up with a payment plan that minimizes the amount of interest you’ll wind up paying. The service then helps you track your progress toward eliminating your debt.
Make and Receive Loans Without Middlemen
Several services at Finovate Startup are aimed at people who wish to cut banks and other financial institutions out of the loan-making and loan-receiving process--thereby reducing interest rates for borrowers and increasing rates of return for lenders.
At Lending Club, for example, lenders can shop around for personal loans to make based on information about what it's for (often, for paying down credit card debt), the borrower's credit rating (and how it's trending), and the rate of return. Lending Club says it allows only the top 10 percent of loan applicants onto the site, and that as a result only 4 percent of the accepted borrowers have gone into default thus far. You pay a small percentage for the service--borrowers pay 2 percent on average, lenders pay 1 percent.
Other so-called peer-to-peer or social-lending services at Finovate included Prosper Loans (which has relaunched after initial difficulties with the Feds and offers features such as secured loans) and Pertuity Direct, a service that mediates the process by issuing loans to the borrowers it approves using funding from investors and lenders.
Get a Better Commercial Loan or Credit Card
If you've ever used the Web to shop around for a loan or a credit card, you know how it often goes: The most attractive rates you see on a BankRate or Lending Tree may well not be available to you personally.
Syphr's RateMatch program looks at your credit rating and borrowing needs, and then matches you up with loans you should actually be able to get. Right now the technology is available only through credit unions, but Syphr later this year plans to offer the service through its own direct-to-consumer site, SaveOnMyLoans.com.
Administer and Manage Loans and Payments
Zimple Money provides an array of free and paid services relating to financial transactions between friends and/or strangers, including calculating payments and creating paperwork to formalize an agreement--be it for a real estate sale or a personal loan. The service can also create records for tax purposes, e-mail bills, and collect payments. The payment calculation and e-mail reminders are free; collections and formal paperwork will cost you--but probably less than what you’d pay to a lawyer or other professional.
Lower Your Property Tax Bill (Where Possible)
The bursting of the real estate bubble has left millions of homeowners paying property taxes on assessed values that exceed market values. But contesting an assessment with the proper documentation and a new appraisal is time-consuming and expensive.
Enter LowerMyAssessment.com, which first determines if in fact you're a good candidate to apply for a lowered assessed value and, if you are, provides all the necessary paperwork for your location, including an appraisal. The service costs $125, far less than you'd pay for the appraisal, much less having someone fill out a bunch of complicated forms.
Learn About the Stock Market
WeSeed's tagline is, "the stock market for the rest of us," but what they mean is "the stock market for utter newbies." The site seeks to teach people who don't know a stock from a stockade the basics of the market, primarily by getting people to set up a fantasy portfolio of holdings in industries that interest them. WeSeed invites visitors to start by identifying their interests and then presenting companies involved in the field: In the demo I saw, for example, the presenter looked up firms with yoga connections and ended up virtually investing in a company that makes clothing for yoga enthusiasts. Registered users can then save and track their portfolios. It's not surprising that thus far, schools are among the heaviest users of the site.
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