Quick – can you tell me your net worth?
How about the balance on your credit card (okay, cards)? Your savings account balance?
For many folks (okay, face it, most of us) the answer to those questions is only available after a multi-hour session of digging through statements, online accounts, possibly tax returns, and the like. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Getting a handle on questions like this doesn’t have to cost a lot of money, when you use free account aggregation tools.
One of the first tenets of sound financial planning involves an understanding of where we are right now. What is our current financial picture? What assets do we have? What liabilities do we owe? What is coming due soon? What income can we expect? Without an understanding of where we are, it’s hard to figure just how we’ll move toward our goal, be it financial independence, comfortable retirement, or a new home.
I have written in other posts about the various ways you can use the internet to help you with your financial records, and so in a way this is just an update. The difference is that we’re focused primarily on organizing our information here.
One very good free options that I have had experience with is Mint (www.mint.com). This type of site is commonly referred to as an “account aggregator”, meaning you will have all of your account information in one place once you’ve set things up.
Mint provides you with the ability to link all of your accounts – checking, savings, retirement, IRA, credit card, etc. – in one place. This takes a little while to set up the first time, because you have to go through all of your accounts to set up your aggregation with the passwords, account numbers, and such. Once you’ve gone through this process, you’ve got all of that information available at your fingertips, and this is where the real power of the site comes in…
Now, you can see at a glance what all of your balances are, up-to-date as of the moment you clicked on “update”. I’ve tested this out, and, while your mileage may vary, Mint has been current on activity that has happened within an hour or two. I went to the ATM and withdrew some cash, and within an hour or so I went to Mint and updated, and voila!, the account was already current.
In addition to the ability to see your balances, Mint will notify you when a bill is coming due (such as for a credit card), as well as to project your income and bills for the coming month or two. There are built-in tools that alert the user when spending in a particular category is above the norm. A rudimentary budget can be automatically built for you as well, with alerts sent to you when you spend more in a particular category than the plan, for example.
Granted, Mint is not the only aggregation tool out there, and it will probably not be the only tool you will use to organize your finances. You could also use the likes of Quicken or other checkbook-type organizers, which include online account aggregation tools as well – but many of these products comes with a price tag, albeit pretty low cost in the scheme of things.
With free tools like Mint available, there is little reason to *not* get your information organized these days. And for many folks, just getting things organized is the small step that becomes a giant leap for your personal financial situation. So get going – Aggregate!