4 Free Ways to Organize Your Finances

01/03/2012 9:28 am EST

Focus: MONEY MANAGEMENT

Terry Savage

Author, The Savage Truth on Money

It’s the New Year. That means you get to start over. And if you need a little help keeping your financial resolutions, these services can come in handy, writes MoneyShow.com personal finance expert Terry Savage.

Instead of berating yourself for financial mistakes and missteps in the year past, this is the time to look forward to the financial opportunities that may come your way in the year ahead.

The first step to getting ahead is to get organized. Not only is that the first step, it is the most difficult emotionally.

Here are four free ways to get control over your finances for the New Year. The time to start is now!

Mint.com
Opportunity: Stay securely on top of your budget and your spending—no matter where you are.

If you haven’t signed up for this free service offered by the parent company of Quicken, the popular financial software, this is the time to do it. Just go to Mint.com and start tracking your money on a real-time basis.

You can watch the online video to help you get started. The set-up process is easy—allowing you to add your bank, credit card, home loan, and investment accounts. Then, using bank-level security, you can check in to see your balances instantly at any time on your smartphone.

The drawback to Mint is that you can’t “move” money with it—so you can’t pay bills or transfer money between accounts. Then again, no one else can use your Mint account to move money either! This is strictly an informational service.

All of your spending is categorized, and can be matched to the budget you create. Plus, Mint will notify you when regular bills should be paid, or when you are nearing the maximum that you have budgeted for each category.
The service is free because you’ll also receive messages from financial services companies offering you better deals on home loans or credit cards.

Of course, if you want complete control over your finances, you can go to Quicken.com and download the 2012 version of the software for $49.99. The difference between the two is that Quicken sits on your home computer where all the data from all of your accounts arrives securely protected by your password.

With Quicken, you can actually authorize payments from your bank account. Or you can download the payments that you make at your bank’s Web site into your Quicken tracking program, where it will be automatically categorized and easily searched.

That makes life easier at tax time. But unlike Mint.com, you’ll have to be sitting at your computer to use all the information in Quicken.

Manilla.com
Opportunity: Never miss paying a bill on time, or lose a paper bill amidst junk mail. Your bills arrive securely in your online Manilla file.

In a recent column, I described this new online financial management service. Unlike other programs which require you to gather up your paper bills and pay them online from your checking account—or else go to biller Web sites—Manilla does the work of “collecting” those bills for you.

When you establish your account at Manilla.com, you tell each company to stop sending paper bills and instead send them to your secure Manilla.com account, where you can read the bills in detail and authorize payments directly from any of your checking or money market accounts.

Manilla even sets up a calendar for you to remind you when bills will come due. You can safely access all this information online or using your smartphone.

Yes it’s free—because the service is paid for by the companies that bill you. Now, instead of wasting paper and postage, they can send your bill securely online to your Manilla account. They can even post notices like rate changes and privacy policies online for you to see.

And each bill contains all the information on your paper bill—so you can contact the biller directly to complain about a charge.

FinancialEngines.com
Opportunity: Personalized financial advice for your 401(k) investments and withdrawal planning.

FinancialEngines.com is a service created by Nobel prize winning economist Dr. William Sharpe. It is typically provided to employees of large corporations—a service that gives personalized and appropriate investment diversification advice for 401(k) plan participants.

Individuals have to pay for this advice—except if you go through the link on my Web site: www.TerrySavage.com.

Click on the link, and you’ll receive one year of free investment advice based on your own goals, age, and investment opportunities. Financial Engines provides this free link to my readers as a public thank you for my efforts to get people to save and invest, and I thank them for this recognition. There is no financial relationship, and the automatic link leaves no trail at my Web site.

Free Financial Organizer
Opportunity: Get your entire financial life organized with this form you can print out and fill out.

When you go to TerrySavage.com, you’ll see a yellow pop-up box asking for your name and address. This automatically puts you on the list for my free, occasional newsletter. And by return e-mail you will receive a link to my Personal Financial Organizer form. You can print out as many copies as you want—distributing them to friends and family members.

Filling out the form will remind you of things left undone—your will, life insurance, health-care power of attorney. And it is a handy way to organize documents ranging from a list of your credit cards (and the toll-free numbers to call if your wallet is stolen) to listing names and numbers of your important advisors: stockbroker, financial planner, attorney, accountant, etc.

Put this form in a safe place where your family could access the information in case of emergency.

So now you have four free ways to organize your personal finances to get off to a new and better start in the New Year. All you have to do is take action.

I’m betting you’ll do at least one of these things—and be glad you did. That’s The Savage Truth.