Online Financial Tools That Put You in Charge of Your Money
Watch Those Pennies Online!
Helpful Financial Tools on the Internet
In any economy, it's important to watch over your finances. To protect your credit score, you need to pay your bills on time. To protect against identity fraud, you need to monitor your bank accounts and credit reports. And to ensure a happy life and furture, you need to budget wisely and make smart money decisions. Here are four online tools that will help you gain control over your finances. It's your money, be in charge of it!
Automated Payments Can be Safer Than Paper Checks
Online Bill Payment
Most banks today offer Online Bill Payment service, usually for free. Some people are hesitant to sign up for this kind of service because they are fearful of identity fraud, or want to take advantage of check "float" (the time it takes for your check to clear the other bank). However, using a bank's online service is no riskier than sealing a check in an envelope and mailing it, since criminals have been known to steal mail to obtain account information. And check float is basically non-existent in today's electronic banking environment.
The advantages of paying your bills online greatly outweigh any reservations you might have. Use it for two months and I guarantee you'll never go back to paper. With online bill pay:
- You'll eliminate late payments which are costly and can negatively affect your credit score.
- You can receive e-bills from major retailers and businesses and set up to pay the minimum or the balance in full, or somewhere in between.
- You can receive a reminder email, which will eliminate the risk of having insufficient funds in your account.
- Your bank will be responsible for paying on time and will handle any late payment research required directly with the payee. If the bank messes up, they pay!
- Within your bill-pay service you'll have a list of your payees, their contact information and all payments made. This provides a complete picture of your bills, all in one place!
- Do you owe someone money who can't accept an automated payment? No problem, the bank will mail off a check on your behalf!
If you're thinking, "I can just sign up with my utility company. I don't need billpay," think again. Have you ever had an automatic payment continue past the service cancellation? By using your bank's billpay, you're the one in control!
There is an Online Calculator For Everything!
Helpful Online Calculators for Loans and More
Most of us will borrow money at some point in our lives, whether it be for a mortgage, car purchase or a credit card purchase. Before you employ a real estate agent to search for a home, buy that flat screen TV, or head down to the car dealership, take the time to use online calculators to determine what that purchase will mean to your wallet. Once we've made that purchase, we wonder how much difference paying a little extra payment on our mortgage would make. Or we wonder how much interest we'd save if we paid off our car loan early.
A good website to use for personal finance is MSN Money's Personal Finance Section. You'll find informative articles there, as well as a calculator to determine:
- How much home you can afford
- If you have too much debt
- How long it will take to pay off your credit cards
- If you should refinance
Yahoo Personal Finance is another website with helpful, easy to use calculators. You can balance your check book, analyze your home budget, or calculate your net worth on Dinkytown.net. By typing 'Personal Financial Calculators' in your search box, you'll find many other choices.
Jim Cramer's Mad Money
Online Investment Aids
If you hold securities, you might be like me and hover over them when the market is volatile. As a secondary option to signing into your investment bank, MSN Money offers a "Watchlist" option that can provide you with a quick estimate of the value of your portfolio or planned investment purchases at a glance. Set up involves entering the ticker symbol and number of shares you own for each investment in your portfolio. After set up, all you need to do is sign into MSN each day and see how well your investments are working for you.
The Motley Fool has long been a favorite website of mine for investment information. On The Motley Fool website, you can learn about stocks, mutual funds, bonds and EFTs through easy-to-understand and sometimes humorous articles. They also offer an investment watchlist that can provide each investment's value and news articles related to that company or its business sector. Some reports and services require a fee, but a good amount of helpful information is free of charge.
If you've never watched Mad Money with Jim Cramer on CNBC, you're missing out on a fun and crazy way to get your stock market education. If you watch the show and find your head spinning, you'll find videos of each episode on CNBC.com to watch at your own pace, or you can read the Madcap Recap. Click here for a taste of the crazy sounds of Cramer. Boo-Yah!
Plan for Your Retirement
Retirement Planning Online
It's never too early to plan for your golden years. Even if you find it too far away to understand, enlisting retirement calculators and planning tools will help you see your future more clearly.
If you have tools available online through your employer-sponsored plan or investment company, use them! If not, here are a few tools that I've used and find helpful:
CNN Money - Their Ultimate Guide to Retirement provides an great overview of retirement planning and their retirement planning tool will give you an idea of your chances of reaching your retirement goals.
MSN's "Am I Saving Enough for Retirement" is an easy to use planner as well.
The Social Security Website has several good retirement tools too. Use their benefits quick calculator to input your data manually. They also have an entire page of retirement estimate calculators that you can use, based on your actual social security file. For example, the SSA site has a calculator that will help you determine the effect of taking your benefit at different ages, estimates for a spouse, and even a life expectancy calculator.
Do You Watch Your Money?
What part of your finances do you monitor online?
Relax More, Worry Less
By watching over these areas of your finances online, you might be able to relax a little more, and worry a whole lot less. You work hard for your money, so become informed, stay involved and make smart money decisions. With all that information available in cyberspace, you have no excuse not to become cash-savvy!