Looking for a way to simplify how you manage your finances, from your spending to your credit cards to your investments? Personal Capital’s financial dashboard may be just the tool for you.
This all-around financial management tool is easy to use, tracks all of your financial information, and offers investment advising, to boot. The free version of Personal Capital doesn’t come with personal advising, but the financial dashboard does offer a robust array of tools you can use to figure out your retirement plan on your own.
Here’s what you can expect when you use the free version of Personal Capital:
Link Up and Analyze All Your Financial Accounts
One of Personal Capital’s strengths is that you can use it to manage more than just your investments. It securely hooks up to your bank accounts, credit card accounts, mortgage account, and other loan accounts. This allows you to track your total net worth, taking all of your accounts into consideration. Oh, and they also have an app, available on both Apple and Android devices.
The process of linking up accounts is really simple. Just type in the web address you use to access those accounts. When prompted, enter your usual login information and you’re good to go. Some accounts will ask additional security questions, which match those that you use when logging directly into that account.
I found it easy to link up my bank account, credit card accounts, and 401(k). However, I had trouble linking up my mortgage account, because my mortgage is with a smaller lender. As with many other financial tracking tools, Personal Capital doesn’t connect with every financial service or provider online.
So you may have to put in a support ticket to ask the company to connect with your smaller bank, credit union, or lender. The other option is to input the account information manually. I was able to add my home as an asset, and then add my mortgage as a manual account.
The home estimate comes automatically from Zillow, though you can override it manually if you’d like. The manual mortgage account only allows you to track the current mortgage balance, so it doesn’t track payments or amortization.
The bottom line here is that accounts with bigger-name institutions are easy to link to your financial dashboard. And Personal Capital pulls tons of helpful data from those accounts. The manual accounts feature leaves something to be desired, though.
Track Your Cash Flow
The main dashboard shows your overall cash flow for the last 30 days, broken down into categories. The categories are automatically assigned, and may not be completely accurate. But they give you a good at-a-glance estimation of your income and spending for the past month.
You can click into the cash flow tab to see a more detailed breakdown of your spending. This tab also allows you to toggle your tracker to 30 days, 90 days, six months, this year, or last year. This can be a helpful view if you’ve been trying to change spending habits and want to see general trends.
You can also toggle the view to show all of your accounts or just certain accounts, which can be helpful if you’re tracking just credit card spending, for instance.
Personal Capital will give you a list of the transactions it’s pulling in from all of your accounts. You can then re-categorize those transactions as needed. Taking time to do this can give you a better overall idea of your spending and income.
If you’re the type of person who prefers a more streamlined budget process and doesn’t need to track every dime, the financial dashboard may be perfect for your needs. However, keep in mind that this dashboard is only tracking actual spending. It doesn’t let you pre-set budget categories and then see how your actual spending matches up with your budget. For that type of detail, you need a tool like YNAB or Mint.
Track Your Net Worth
Along with basic budget tracking, Personal Capital allows you to track your net worth. In fact, net worth is one of the first things you see when you pull up the financial dashboard. The net worth chart looks pretty blank when you first start your account. But as you stick with Personal Capital, it’ll continue to graph out over time.
Again, you can click into the net worth tab to find out more about your overall net worth, cash on hand, investments, loans, and other aspects of your net worth. If you have specific goals for raising your savings or decreasing your debt, this is a helpful, visual way to keep track of those goals.
Retirement Planning and Investment Allocation
Of course, one of the main reasons to choose Personal Capital over other financial tracking tools is that it pulls in your retirement savings. The dashboard is compatible with a variety of retirement savings vehicles, including 401(k)s, IRAs, and more. And it will automatically pull in data from your retirement account, as long as that account is with a compatible provider.
I hooked up Personal Capital to my work-related retirement account with Charles Schwab. Again, the process of connecting the accounts was quite simple, and the dashboard pulled in a wealth of information. On the main financial dashboard page, you’ll see your portfolio balances for the last 30 days. You’ll also see your portfolio allocation.
You’ll also see a list of your current holdings, which highlights the holdings that have recently increased in value.
As with the rest of the financial dashboard, you can click any of these options to see more detail. The holdings detail will show you gains and losses in your investments over time and will compare those gains and losses with the S&P 500.
The Allocation tab will visually break down your account allocations into cash, international bonds, U.S. bonds, international stocks, U.S. stocks, and alternatives. The breakdown tells you exactly what percentage of your total savings is in each of these vehicles. It also tells you the dollar amount you have invested in each option.
I really like the at-a-glance overview of portfolio allocation, as it makes things easy to understand. If you have multiple retirement accounts connected to Personal Capital, you can toggle between accounts to see the allocation breakdown for each individual account.
Overall, the retirement and investing aspects of Personal Capital’s financial dashboard are its strong suit, which isn’t surprising. This, after all, is what the platform is all about. But being able to see what’s going on with your retirement accounts isn’t even the best part about the free version of Personal Capital. You can, in fact, get some pretty solid retirement and investing advice without paying a dime.
Advisor Tools for Free
The three most helpful free tools Personal Capital offers are the Investment Checkup, Retirement Planner, and 401(k) Fee Analyzer tools.
For the Investment Checkup, the tools is mostly looking at your investment profile to see if your allocation is appropriate for your age, projected retirement age, and risk tolerance. The breakdown looks like this:
Once you run the Investment Checkup, you can look at the historical performance of your target allocation versus your current allocation. It will show future projections for your target and current allocations. You can also gauge your level of risk and return at this target allocation.
You can also compare your current allocation to Personal Capital’s target allocation, like this:
It’s always wise to take any investment advice with a grain of salt. You should also do your own research before moving your investments around. But if you’re new to balancing your investment portfolio, Personal Capital’s Investment Checkup could be a great place to get started.
With the Retirement Planner tool, you’ll be able to see how your current savings and savings rate stacks up against your overall retirement goals. You can include how much you plan to spend in retirement, and even how many kids you plan to put through college.
Again, the visual aspect of this tool is really helpful. It includes a graph of the most likely scenarios for your retirement savings, age, and spending goals. You can include both yourself and your spouse, as well.
One helpful aspect of the Retirement Planner tool is that it’ll automatically pull information from your dashboard if you’d prefer. For instance, it can base your retirement spending goals on your current spending information, and your retirement savings goals on how much you’re currently saving for retirement each year.
You can then play with each piece of information, from annual retirement savings to annual Social Security income, and see how that changes the outcome. The eventual outcome will look like this:
The retirement planner adjusts for inflation. It will also show you the assumptions for the annual rate of return and volatility. These are based on your current portfolio asset allocation.
This tool is far from perfect. It doesn’t, for instance, account for rebalancing your asset allocation as you near retirement age. However, it can give you a good idea of whether you’re on track to retire when you want with plenty in savings. It can also allow you to see different ways to meet your retirement goals, from saving more each year to decreasing your retirement spending needs.
401(k) Fee Analyzer
Sneaky hidden fees are one way to wreck your retirement savings. It’s astounding how much these hidden fees can eat away at your hard-earned savings. That’s where Personal Capital’s 401(k) Fee Analyzer tool comes in.
This tool will dig into your 401(k) to find both up-front and hidden fees, such as custodial fees, inactivity fees, and 12b-1 fees. It will then tell you about how much you’re paying each year in fund fees, and how much those fees will cost you over time.
The fee analyzer will also dig into any mutual fund holdings you have and will show the expense ratios for these mutual funds. This can help you decide where to invest your mutual fund holdings for the lowest cost.
The Bottom Line: Is it Right for You?
So, what if you’re not ready to pay for Personal Capital’s financial advising services? The free financial dashboard could still be a great tool to help you manage your money. Again, if you’re looking for a detailed budgeting tool, this isn’t it. But it could be used in conjunction with a budgeting tool like YNAB or Mint to get a better overall picture of your finances.
Since it’s primarily an investing platform, Personal Capital’s strengths are certainly in the investing arena. Whether you’re just starting out investing for retirement or you’re ready to take more control of your investments, the Retirement Planner and Investment Checkup tools are great. They’ll give you insight in your allocation and savings plan. It can be a really good place to begin in your DIY investing journey.
Updated October 8, 2017 and originally published November 1, 2016.