It’s the New Year. That means you get to start over. 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!
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 smart phone. 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 website 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.
Opportunity: Never miss paying a bill on time, or lose a paper bill amid 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 websites, 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 smart phone.
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.
By Sun Times Financial Goddess Terry Savage