Ah, remember the good ole days of manually balancing your checkbook with pencil and paper? Did we really use to do that before online banking became the norm earlier this decade? As much as online banking has made our financial lives simpler, it only got us half-way there. Sure, we could log into our financial institution see our current balance and recent transactions. But basic online banking still didn’t get to the heart of personal finance budgeting.
- Am I sticking to my monthly budget?
- Where is my money going?
- How does my spending compare to my peers’?
- What is happening in my other financial accounts?
- Can I get a better rate somewhere else?
Enter the online money management app, the Web 2.0 solution to personal finance. While these apps were founded a few years ago, they’ve become increasingly popular in the past 6-12 months as the recession has caused many to focus more on budgeting and their personal finances. Each of these apps goes beyond simple online banking by automatically importing transaction across all of your financial accounts — checking, saving, investment, and credit card.
Mint.com was conceived in 2005 by CEO Aaron Patzer when he was stressed out about having to spend several hours doing his personal budgeting on Quicken. He figured there must be a more automated way of doing this tedious task. The public beta version came out in September 2007 and its full version was launched in October 2008. It has since been hailed as the premier online money management app on the Web by numerous media outlets.
My user experience notes on Mint.com:
- Clean, graphic-intensive user interface. The pretty charts and graphs make budgeting fun!
- Compare your spending habits against other Mint.com users.
- Granular spending charts in the “Trends” section make it possible to drill down into your spending habits.
- “Ways to Save” section shows exactly where you can find a better rate on a savings account or credit card.
- Cool support features: An iPhone app, SMS updates, and blog.
- My verdict: Robust and graphic-intense, yet still simple enough to set up.
Quicken Online launched in January 2008 at a monthly rate of $2.99 after the 30-day free trial. Thankfully, they’ve since come to their senses, and began offering their product free of charge beginning last October, right around the time when Mint.com was coming out of beta and getting a ton of good press. (Nice timing!)
My user experience notes on Quicken Online:
- The layout and user interface is almost identical to Mint.com’s. Very clean.
- Get helpful reminders about when bills are due. (Avoid those nasty late fees!)
- Homepage offers a basic cashflow summary of money in – money out for the month.
- Cool support features: A mobile version and blog.
- My verdict: Simple and very easy to use.
Wesabe launched in December 2005 and has always been free of charge. Unlike Mint.com and Quicken Online, the Wesabe experience is focused on the community aspect of the site as opposed to the application itself. The idea behind Wesabe is that pooling spending information can aid in better financial decision making.
My user experience notes on Wesabe:
- The UI is a bit clunky compared to Mint.com and Quicken Online.
- Compare your spending habits and shopping loyalties to those of other Wesabeans.
- Unfortunately, there is currently no support for investment accounts.
- The user manual is a major buzzkill. Things that “just work” shouldn’t need a user manual. Case-in-point: do you remember getting one with your iPod? Didn’t think so.
- Cool support features: A mobile version, blog, and ability to talk directly to CEO Marc Hedlund.
- My verdict: The community aspect of Wesabe makes it stand out from Mint.com and Quicken Online, and hopefully they’ll add support for investment accounts soon.
If you have an iPhone, Mint.com is definitely for you. You’ll love the clean interface the iPhone app gives you. For those who love TurboTax or don’t have an iPhone but demand mobile access, Quicken Online is worth a try. If you don’t have investment accounts (or don’t care to track them) and if you want the added value of a community experience, I’d recommend giving Wesabe a try. Do you have a favorite online personal finance app (perhaps one not listed here)? Feel free to leave a comment below. We’d love to get your input.