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We’ve always been fans of Quicken here at Consumerism Commentary, and we’ve got a lot of reviews floating around to prove it. But you don’t really need reviews of Quicken from five years ago. You just need to know what to expect from the latest version: Quicken 2017.

Here, we’ll give you the highlights, and we’ll also talk you through the basics of using this interface.

quicken guide

The Highlights

Quicken still provides everything you’ve come to expect, including the ability to track all of your money in one place. If you’re big on tracking your net worth, it’ll help you do that. It tracks both assets and debts, and it will also track investments. (Though if you’re a serious investor, you may want to upgrade to Quicken Premier.)

What’s new with the 2017 version? Not a whole lot has changed, but there are a couple of upgrades you should know about, including:

  • Mobile: Now you can download the Quicken app to track your investments and budget on the go. The mobile app has a nice interface with everything you’ll find in the desktop version. Plus, you can add budget line items as you spend.
  • Advanced Search: You can find mobile transactions more easily with the mobile advanced search feature.
  • Refresh: Quicken got a refresh this year. The screen looks nicer, and the interface is a little more user-friendly. It’s not a major overhaul, but it’s easy on the eyes.
  • Zillow: You can connect with Zillow to automatically import your home’s estimated value. While Zillow may not be the most accurate option if you’re actually getting ready to buy or sell a home, this is a simple way to get a ballpark idea of your home’s value when calculating your net worth.
  • Alerts: You can get alerts sent to your phone or email inbox when bills are due or when you’re about to go over your budget.
  • Receipt Storage: Need to track expense receipts, but tired of paper clutter everywhere? You can snap photos of your receipts and store them with the mobile app.

Related: How to Track and Manage Receipts with Google Docs

Once you get set up, keeping track of everything in Quicken is relatively simple. Here’s what it all looks like:

First, import your accounts

As with other popular budgeting and financial tracking software, Quicken will automatically sync with your bank and credit card accounts, as well as your investment accounts. This makes it easy for you to track transactions without having to enter them manually.

In fact, the very first thing Quicken asks you to do after you enter your credentials is to sync a new account. To make it happen, you’ll just need your account’s login information. You can import all sorts of accounts, even to the basic version of Quicken, though investment tracking is more robust with the higher-level versions.

Next, check your recent transactions

When your accounts are imported, it can seem a little overwhelming at first. Quicken automatically categorizes your transactions, but you’ll likely have to go through a recategorize many of them. Quicken will give you the last thirty days’ worth of spending information to work with.

I do like how the system breaks everything down graphically. Once you set all of your transactions into categories, you can see what percentage of your budget goes to each category, and check out a corresponding chart breaking down your spending. It looks like this:

Quicken 1

You can see that Quicken will alert you when there are uncategorized transactions. You can click into that directly to see those transactions. Then, you can sort your transactions by account, date, and type of spending (with or without taxes).

You can also click into spending categories to figure out which transactions Quicken has placed into which categories. Chances are you’ll want to change some of those if you’re a budgeting stickler!

Quicken 2

Related: A 10-Minute Budget That Actually Works

Try the bill reminder system

Once you’ve been in the spending category interface, you can use the bill system to remind you when your bills are due. It’ll look at your last two months’ worth of transactions and find recurring bills and their due dates. The system will also track any paychecks you have automatically deposited to your bank account.

Quicken 3

You can then set up the reminders, which will alert you when bills are due and project your checking account balances over the next 12 days, based on your upcoming income and expenses.

Quicken 4

Since it’s not accounting for one-off spending like groceries and gas, this balance isn’t very accurate. At least not for me! But it can be a helpful way to stay on top of your bills so you don’t miss any due dates.

Learn More: Track Your Cash Flow with Google Docs

You can also sign up to have Quicken actually pay your bills for you. This requires a validation of your bank account and a monthly payment of $9.95. Since many banks offer free bill pay services, this one may not be worth the additional spend.

Create a budget

As with other pieces of this interface, Quicken will automatically create a budget for you based on past spending. However, this spending is according to Quicken’s categorizations. If you think Quicken has gotten a few things wrong, it’s best to re-categorize your existing transactions before delving into the budget tab.

Once you do, though, you can get access to a quick budget that you can change from there. The budget interface now looks very similar to Intuit’s Mint.com, which features slider bars to show how close you are to the budget limit in each category.

Quicken 5

You can, of course, change the budget for each category depending on your preferences and needs. You can also look at the budget in terms of only certain bank accounts, toggling between transactions in each account on the left sidebar.

One of the interesting things about this budget interface is that you can run various reports. These come out as very nice, color-coded documents that you could print off or store electronically, for an over-time view of your personal finances.

You can run reports for a variety of scenarios, including spending by category, spending versus available budget, income versus expenses, or spending for the month versus average spending by category. These over-time reports will become more useful the longer you use Quicken, which gives it more data to pull from. But some of the reports look like this:

Quicken 6

These reports could be really helpful if you’re trying to meet specific financial goals, like reducing spending in a few categories or tracking your budget over time.

What about upgrades?

My review has been based on the Quicken Starter option, but there are other options currently available, too. Here’s a quick breakdown of what they offer:

Quicken Deluxe

Quicken Premier

Quicken Home & Business

Quicken Rental Property Manager

Is Quicken right for you?

Quicken offers a load of great features, and its new interface is definitely more user-friendly than the last version I reviewed in 2014. If you want a one-stop-shop for tracking all of your personal finance details — from budgeting to investments to debt — then Quicken may be a worthwhile investment.

With that said, I don’t think I’d pay for the basic version of Quicken when free tools like Mint.com can do basically the same thing. My personal preference for budgeting is YNAB, though it does come with a $5/month fee.

However, if you want to add investment tracking and detailed financial planning into the mix, Quicken Deluxe might be a good option for you. And, of course, if you run rental properties or a small business, you can’t go wrong with the robust business-oriented versions of Quicken.

So, tell us: do you think Quicken is the right option for your personal finance tracking needs?

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Have you been looking for a new online checking account? Preferably one with a higher-than-average interest rate? Then the FNBO Direct checking account may be the answer.

FNBO Direct checking

I’m a bit particular when it comes to my checking accounts. I don’t like paying any monthly fees, regardless of how much money I keep in the account. I want to be able to easily withdraw my money; I want a debit card, and I want to be able to manage my funds (including paying my bills)… oh, and I want all of that for free.

Narrows the list down a bit, huh? Luckily, the FNBO Direct Checking with BillPay offers all of that and more. Here’s what you’ll get with this account:

  • A completely free online checking account with zero monthly service fees, no matter how much money is in your account
  • Interest earned on your balance – currently 0.65% APY (as of April 7, 2017)
  • Minimum opening balance of $1 – yes, one dollar
  • Free online banking, bill pay, and account alertsfnbo
  • Complimentary FNBO Direct Visa® Debit Card
  • One overdraft fee forgiveness every 12 months (typically a $33 fee)
  • Free incoming wires
  • Free stop payments (I’ve paid as much as $35 for this before, so it’s a great bonus in my book!)
  • 24/7 access to over 2 million ATMs worldwide (no fees charged by FNBO for using out-of-network ATMs, though the machine operator may charge their own fees)

BillPay

popmoney

Being able to automate my bills is one of the biggest perks. The FNBO Direct checking account allows you to not only pay your bills online, but also set up automatic, recurring payments. That way, you’ll never miss another electric bill or charitable donation.

Need to send money to a friend or pay your babysitter? You’ll also have access to the free person-to-person money transfer app, Popmoney®, which is conveniently linked directly to your checking account. It allows you to easily and quickly send (or receive) money via mobile and email.

Earn Interest

For me, one of the best perks of this account is the interest rate. While it is subject to change, of course, the APY currently sits at 0.65%. This is significantly higher than many online savings accounts… let alone checking accounts!

The high yield – and absence of any fees – make this account a must-have for anyone looking to earn as much as they possibly can off of their money.

If you’d like to learn more about FNBO Direct checking with BillPay, or are interested in opening an account, check them out online here.

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A while back, I wrote about the opinions of Scott Adams on his eventual success as the creator of the comic strip Dilbert. I focused on the failure aspect of the article he wrote for the Wall Street Journal and I wanted to revisit the topic, as only touched lightly on the success factors. Specifically, I want to talk about systems — a methodical way of approaching any particular effort — as one of the core components of success.

A household uses systems all the time. For example, you may have a system for effective grocery shopping. Perhaps you keep a notepad and pen on the refrigerator, write down anything you need to purchase when stocks are low, and take the list with you on your shopping day. For the most part, this should prevent you from veering away from the list too much when you shop.

Or, you might have a different system for grocery shopping. You may schedule an automatic shipment of groceries to be delivered to you from Amazon.com every two weeks, each time with the same basic order.

Can You Save With Amazon Subscribe-and-Save or Amazon Pantry?

If you read Consumerism Commentary regularly, it’s likely you have at least one system in place to improve your savings over the long-term. It’s a concept I’ve discussed many times in the past. And it’s such a basic piece of financial advice that you’ve no doubt heard of it even if you haven’t been reading my writing for long.

So, why automatic savings? And how can you set up this sort of system for your money? Let’s talk about that a bit today.

You must make your savings automatic.

By creating a system that handles your savings automatically, you eliminate or greatly reduce the chance of not reaching your goals. It’s a technique that someone at any income level can put into practice. Having a bank account (or an account at a credit union) makes it easier because financial institutions have technology that assists in this approach to money management.

Every once in a while, if you read about money management, you might come across a rule of thumb. “You should save 10 percent of your income” is one such common refrain. You can look at this either as a position to start or as a goal that might take some time to accomplish due to other factors. Even starting a savings system with 1 or 2 percent of your income is better than haphazardly setting money aside.

The point here isn’t setting your sights on a particular percentage. The point is to make a habit of savings, even if it’s only a few dollars a week. Luckily, there are plenty of easy ways to make that happen, including:

Direct deposit of your pay. The fewer hands that touch your money from the moment you receive it to the moment it is used, the better. Most modern employers offer direct deposit. Rather than receiving a paper check, you provide your banking information to the employer, and the company sends an electronic payment directly to your bank. In most cases, you receive your pay as much as a business day sooner, so you have the opportunity to pay bills or collect interest faster.

Today, about 82% of workers are paid through direct deposit. Luckily, that makes it easy to build savings. Often times with direct deposit, you can split your income between two or three different bank accounts. So you can have some percentage sent to your savings account before you even see your paycheck.

Even if you can’t sign up to split your check between accounts, moving your money straight to your checking account makes it easier to take advantage of the following options for automating your savings.

Automatic bank transfers. Almost every bank with which I’ve had an account — and that number is likely around forty — has some method of creating automatic transfers.

Let’s take my Wells Fargo account. When I sign in, the option to schedule an automatic transfer is one of the primary options in the menu. With income directly deposited into your checking account, and with a savings account earning at least a little bit of interest, you can create a savings system that you set once and forget about. After a few weeks of regular transfers (completed behind the scenes by the bank’s software), you won’t even notice the money isn’t in your checking account.

But a brick-and-mortar bank might not be the best option for savings. Sometimes your checking and savings accounts will be at two separate banks. In fact, often it’s better to separate these accounts so you can keep your savings in a bank that you’re not tempted to visit every day, like an online bank.

Related: The 4 Savings Accounts Everyone Should Have

Online banks often offer better interest rates, anyway. Over the last few years, the lines between online banks and brick and mortar banks have blurred. More traditional financial institutions are offering accounts you can only use online, for example.

The great part about many of these online banks, such as Capital One 360, is that you can link your online banking account with an account from another bank. You can then schedule automatic transfers to your online savings account, just like you would if your savings and checking accounts were with the same bank or credit union.

Value-added services. A few years ago, Bank of America introduced its “Keep The Change” program. When introduced, it was one of the first programs of its kind. Now, there are numerous banks doing the same thing, but they’re all a great hands-off savings option.

Here’s how it works: Every time you make a purchase with your debit card, the bank will round the transaction up to the nearest dollar and transfer the remainder into your Bank of America savings account. The bank’s savings account earns paltry interest compared to some other banks, but this systematic savings could still be substantial.

It’s like the old coin jar at home. At the end of the day, when you used to take the change out of your pocket and place it in your coin jar, saving your remainders. Since more people have moved away from cash transactions and started exclusively using plastic — credit cards and debit cards — the coin jar doesn’t receive as much attention as it used to.

See How Albert, Another App, Can Save Your Money Automatically

This, despite all the problems with Bank of America, was a clever extension of the coin jar metaphor into the digital age. Keep in mind, though, any interest you earn on savings in a bank account can be easily negated by account maintenance fees. You need access to free banking, especially if your savings isn’t large enough to produce interest that outweighs those fees.

Third-party services. Several penny-rounding and similar apps and services have popped up in recent years. These operate on a similar principle as the Keep the Change program, but are created by other entities.

One such option is Digit. This app tracks your bank account spending to watch for trends and habits. Then, it will transfer small amounts out of the account when you can afford it, to begin building a savings stash. When you’ve built up a little stash of cash (or on a weekly, monthly, or other regular basis), simply transfer it to your savings account and begin earning interest.

Another option is Acorns. This app hooks up to your bank accounts to track your spending. It rounds up the amount of each transaction to the nearest dollar, just like Keep the Change. When you get to a certain level of savings in the queue, it uses those funds to invest in low-cost EFTs.

Acorn is a little more sophisticated than past savings apps, since it invests your money rather than putting it into a savings account. With a $1 per month fee for accounts under $5,000 or .25% fees on balances of over $5,000, you could probably find lower-cost investments elsewhere. But if you have trouble saving, this could be an easy way to start investing without having to change your habits much at all.

There’s a drawback to automatic savings.

The advantage of creating this system for saving money can also create a money management problem. Once you stop actively making one particular decision with your income each pay period, it’s easy to forget what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. You need to continue to look at your financial status on a regular basis. Frequently evaluate whether the choices you made and set into motion with an automatic system continue to be the best options for you.

How Much Should You Be Saving? Check Out the 50-20-30 Rule

If you started by saving 2% of your income but your situation improved, have you also increased your savings rate? Can you get to 10% two years after starting your system? If you have been saving 10% and don’t feel any stress, is it safe to move to a 20% rate of savings? Once your system is a natural piece of your process — so much so that it is invisible to you — you could be giving up some control or awareness of your financial situation.

Personal finance is about making conscious choices with your money. That includes not using money without considering the circumstances. The present scenario changes over time, and a system does not relieve you of the need to see every pay check as a money-saving opportunity.

Automatic saving leads to success.

With that said, automating your savings could lead you to better success with your personal finances. With more savings, you can avoid expensive debt and reach financial independence sooner. Just set a reminder in your calendar to check back on your automated savings plan at least once a year, if not quarterly.

With review and tweaking, a system like automating your savings can make your personal finances less stressful and more successful.

How do you automate your savings?

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While I’m generally happy with my Capital One 360 account for a good portion of my savings, I’m looking to spread the money around to take advantage of some higher interest rates. One of the banks I’ve targeted is FNBO Direct, the online arm of First National Bank of Omaha, currently offering 0.95% APY as of March 2017 (subject to change).

FNBO savings

FNBO Direct is a member of the FDIC, so deposits at the bank are insured. As long as balances stay below the limits set by the FDIC, I won’t have to worry about the safety of my money.

Banking Deal: Earn 1.05% APY on an FDIC-insured savings account at GS Bank.

Opening my account at FNBO Direct

Opening a savings account at any bank takes several days from start to finish, and FNBO Direct is not an exception.

Step 1: Visit FNBO Direct and fill out an application [click to continue…]

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How to Create the Ultimate CD Ladder

by Rob Berger
cd-ladder

The low interest rates offered by even the highest-yield savings and money market accounts are disappointing for savers. Even as the Fed starts to raise rates, savings account yields haven’t budged. So, do we just give up the idea of earning anything on our savings? Well, not necessarily. One alternative is to create what’s called a CD […]

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Can You Earn More With a Fidelity CD Ladder?

by Mark Hull

It’s been a long time since banks offered savings accounts with decent returns. The Fed may raise interest this year, meaning rates could finally rise. In the meantime, what do you do? If you’re looking for a quick way to create an investment vehicle that is FDIC insured, and promises greater returns than online savings, […]

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Today’s Best Bank Deals, Promotions, and Bonuses

by Stephanie Colestock
bank-deals

When opening a bank account, there are a few things you should be looking for: low (or no) fees, the highest interest rates possible, and promotional bonus offers. With the latter, you can often score free money without doing anything extra, which is a win in my book. After all, promotional bonus cash is better […]

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Think Only the Rich Have Accounts at Goldman Sachs? Think Again

by Kevin Mercadante

You’re probably familiar with Goldman Sachs, at some level. The multinational banking firm, best known for investment banking, goes all the way back to 1869. But did you know that they also have a web-based arm known as Goldman Sachs Bank USA, or simply GS Bank? It’s an online bank that pays far higher rates […]

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Ally Celebrates National Online Bank Day with CD Bonus Rate

by Stephanie Colestock

In case you didn’t know, today is National Online Bank Day! Exciting, huh? (Don’t worry, I didn’t have it marked on my calendar, either). Some online banks are offering promotional discounts and interest rates to celebrate, with Ally being one of them. Ally Bank is one of the more popular online banking institutions, offering a […]

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Wells Fargo Fined for Creating 2 Million Fake Accounts to Collect Fraudulent Fees

by Stephanie Colestock
Wells Fargo

Everyone hates bank maintenance fees. (If you don’t, email me – I have a few you’re welcome to take.) So, what would you think if you discovered that your bank had been charging you fees for an account you never opened? In fact, THEY secretly submitted an application and opened that account on your behalf. […]

2 comments Read the full article →
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