Review of LearnVest – Personal Finance Tools for Women

LearnVest Budgeting ToolI’ve recently discovered a site, LearnVest, which is geared towards helping women improve their personal finances. LearnVest offers a variety of tools, from daily email tips to online tracking of your budgets and personal goals. Their budgeting tool is really attractive and easy to use. One of the best features of the site is that they offer useful checklists for step-by-step, manageable ways to make a personal finance goal and reach it. Awesome.

According to LearnVest’s info below, I am not alone in this quest to try to figure out and manage my finances better. It’s a life-long journey that you have to commit to. But there are plenty of tools that can help nowadays!

Women have come a long way financially over the last three decades. Women today make up half of the professional work force and are found to buy or influence 80% of all consumer purchases in the United States yet they continue to lag behind men when it comes to managing their personal finances.  According to a 2006 Prudential financial poll,  80% of women say that they plan to depend on Social Security to support them in their golden years and 38% of women 30-55 years old are worried they will live at or near the poverty level because they cannot adequately save for retirement.  So even today–despite coming so far in many ways–too many women are still ignoring their finances.  LearnVest provides a solution that is relevant and timely – it is something women need.

Saving for retirement is not the only solution that will allow people to retire, and social security may not be an option at all for someone like me, ‘retiring’ in 30 years when all the baby boomers have practically cleaned out the social security funds. Retirement is a larger issue because of the culture of our society, and the large debt that our entire society and economic structure has created over the past 100 years. We have to own our own finances, but some people, especially those later in life, need responsibility from their employers, from the government, and from society as a whole to develop new, more efficient, programs that take better care of our elderly and do not separate the wealth and class system even further than they do today. For instance, even with me aggressively saving for retirement, which I unfortunately cannot do right now, the online tools that I have used suggest that I will never reach the goals that I want to retire and live at a ‘comfort’ level at which I live today.

One of the goals check lists that I tried out was a little to simple for me at this stage, but I wish I would have had it a year ago when I was trying to tackle all of this “on my own!” Its important to note that not all of thier advice or ‘to-do’ lists are 100% fitting for you or your lifestyle. For instance, the “I’m Ready to Tackle My Debt” checklist has “Cancel a Credit Card You Don’t Use” as the 8th step. I had thought this would be the financially responsible thing to do also, but after much research and actual experience, I realized that your credit score actually takes a hit when you cancel a credit card. AND, you do absolutely should NEVER cancel a credit card that you have had a long time, because the length of time your card has been open helps your score. So, before following any financial advice, even a step by step program, I recommend that you do your own research and make sure its the right step for you. Review your credit score every year by using free tools or the free site where you can actual get a free copy of the whole report.

(UPDATE: LearnVest informed me that they do have a warning for you about the impact to your credit score when you decide to complete this step)

Overall, the LearnVest site has a lot of quick, getting started options for those that don’t know where to begin with topics from having a baby to investing. For someone like me, who has already spent a lot of time learning this stuff the last year, the site was a little less useful. And of course, the stuff I really wanted to know, like how to be a more educated investor, was only offered as a “premium” service. At less than $10, it could definitely be worth the investment though, hard to say unless I try. And I realize they have to make their money somehow by offering such a great set of online tools.

Learn VestIn general, this site is a very attractive, user-friendly site that offers a lot of tools for you to improve your Financial IQ. Give it a try: LearnVest.com.

Visualize with Wordle

If you haven’t happened upon it, check out the site Wordle.net. Its a great free tool for fun, or to use as part of your process to visualize your goals. Somehow making a nice picture out of words from what you are working on can really help you focus.

The one above is a tool that categorized weights not to TAGs like a TAG cloud does, but as a word cloud from the most frequently used words on my blog feed. Guess you can tell what I’ve been writing a lot about lately: GOALS.

You can enter words, a blog feed or a de.li.cio.us bookmark list and it will automatically add frequent words. You then can sort colors, direction of words, and play around with the settings on the fly. After which you can print, save or share the wordle publicly if you want to.

Pretty fun tool to get the creativity started! Rating: ★★★★☆

Best Online Goal Tracking Tools for 2010

Review of The Best Online Goal Tracking Tools for Personal Use

There are many online tools available for keeping track of and measuring progress on your goals. Many corporations have started to incorporate goal systems (Success Factors is one example) and S.M.A.R.T. goals. Not all goal systems utilize this method, however, it is widely accepted as an excellent way to achieve results with your goals. The following is a look at how to measure your personal goals and a review of some of the best online tools for measuring your goals.

So, what are S.M.A.R.T. Goals?

S – Specific (the more specific the better)
M – Measurable (The criteria that you will use as measurement that you have completed a goal, such as getting your degree, etc)
A – Achievable (Do you currently have the skills and resources needed to reach this goal?)
R – Relevant (How does this goal tie to your passion or purpose?)
T – Time-dimension (When will you aim to start and finish the goal, will there be milestones to reach along the way?)

Many of these goals start with the questions (that you then fill in the blank for):

  • Why do you want to achieve this goal?
  • Next ask yourself, what specific benefits will come with achieving it?
  • When will you achieve it by? (time factor)
  • How you plan to achieve the goal?

There is a growing philosophy that if you share your resolutions or goals with others, your friends, family, or a social community can help encourage you to stay on track and keep your goals alive. The same often holds true for other areas in life, such as getting in shape, isn’t it more fun to do when you have a friend that will meet you at the gym and hold you accountable for sticking to your work out goals? So, some of the online tools focus on the social sharing element of goal tracking.

Best Online  Goal Tracking Tools of 2010:

GoalsOnTrack.com Rating: ★★★★½ $68/year subscription

Goals on TrackThis simple, easy to use tool does a great job of allowing you to track your goals, visually chart your progress and see reports, create specific action plans, manage daily tasks associated with your goals, track specific time spent, as well as keeping a journal for your additional thoughts and inspirations that you want to capture. You can assign visual pictures with your goals, set overall categories with specific goals beneath that category, and assign any type of progress metric you want to show your measurement (dollars, percentage, etc). It follows the S.M.A.R.T. goal model. You can print out your goals, your daily tasks, and really use this tool to get on track. You can set email reminders, import and export your tasks to CSV or for iCal format, and much more. Just check out their full list of features on the site. This tool costs money, yet I believe its worth the investment if you want a full suite of highly effective goal tracking tools.

SuperViva.com Rating: ★★★☆☆ Free
Super VivaSuperViva is a social sharing goal or “life” tracking site that allows you to create  goals to share or keep private. SuperViva was created in 2006 (runs ads and accepts donations to support it). It allows you to set up weekly reminders to check in with your list of goals. Super viva offers something closer to the SMART goal method by allowing you to group your goals, set specific goals within an overall list, assign what “Life Dimension” your goal applies to (Personal, Family, Finances, Community, etc) and also set the start and completion dates, priority, effort needed and budget needed. You can mark a goal as completed, on the backburner, or remove it. There is a section to find ideas from the community and ‘get inspired.’ Nice overall concept for a free tool, however, I find it difficult to navigate and you cannot visually see and chart your progress on a goal.

Goalmigo.com Rating: ★★★½☆ Free

GoalmigoGoalmigo is also a social sharing goal tracking tool. You start by adding your goals, and adding who is going to help hold you accountable or your ‘Supporters’ for your goals. You enter your completion date, and can set up reminders in day, week or month increments. A great feature is that you can assign a tracking log (they have some already listed such as weight, calories, etc). You can assign tags to help you to share your goal in the social environment. Once you set your goals, you can mark them as complete and also add milestones in your “Log” which display in a bar chart format. Beyond that, you can visually see a reminder of how long you have remaining to complete you goal such as “One Month Remaining”. You can also add notes to your goals. There are ads on this site, but otherwise its a pretty clean and user friendly interface.

eLifeList.com Rating: ★★★☆☆ Free

eLifeList is another social sharing tool which allows public or private goal tracking. What’s awesome about this tool, is that it has very useful categories and goals already entered in it. I’m not sure if there are from the community or were created ahead of time, but they can help you get started. You can add descriptions, photos or videos to your list, and also set reminders to be sent to your email. The site is pretty user friendly, though some of the features you don’t edit until after you’ve set the goal, such as reminders. I would think you’d create everything when you are creating the goal. You can mark the goal as complete, and see a progress indicator (from 0-100%) of how far you are toward reaching your goals. From the design of the site, it appears to be focused on a younger demographic (perhaps college students?). Overall, it does the job for simple goal tracking.

LifeTango.com Rating: ★★★☆☆ Free
Life TangoLifeTango is a very clean and effective goal tracking tool. As the other tools, you can choose if you want public or private goals. You can sort by priority, date, and other categories. You have to manually update the progress you are at in your goal by a percentage from 0-100%.  Ongoing, periodic goals are considered “Tasks” and are tracked using their “Task Tracker” (as opposed to goals that you want to assign a specific due date for). And example of a Task Tracker goal would be to workout every day for 1 year. You would then set these recurring tasks and mark your progress daily. They assign stars that you click on to indicate that you have completed your recurring task goal (kinda cute like when you were a kid and got stars for getting something done). There is also a fun little sticky note for “reminders”. Overall, I like this site for their Task tracking but I think it is a little confusing for tracking larger picture life goals.

Stickk.comRating: ★★★★☆ Free

Stickk

Stick is a tool meant to motivate you to stick to your goals through the use of accountability with other people and putting a bet or monetary value at stake if you don’t meet your goals. It is much more focused on coaching and pushing you to achieve your goals than any of the other tools. You start by setting a goal (Referred to as a Commitment Contract, much more formal and committed sounding!), then setting the ‘stakes’ or what’s at risk to complete it (You literally have to pay out money to your selected charity or person if you miss your goal deadlines), then you ‘get a referee’ or a person in your life to to push you meet your goals, and you can also add friends to help you achieve your goals. Many of their pre-set goals are around losing weight, quitting smoking, or other life-changing habits that it often takes a ‘coach’ to help with. However, it can be used for other goal tracking as well. You can set the category, whether it is a one-time or recurring event, get reminders and view your progress. Oh, and you don’t HAVE to set a “Stake” of financial value, you can still use this tool without the pressure of a stake. For many people though, I can imagine that this method (fear of losing your money!) works great for actually getting them motivated and on track. This is by far the most unique of the tools I’ve seen.

GoalsTogether.com Rating: ★★☆☆☆ Free

Goals Together Logo

This free social sharing site offers the ability to create and track your goals, and share them with the community. You can choose to have private or public goals. You can search for other goals for people in the community. It allows ‘basic’ goals which are manually updated for progress, and ‘checkpoint’ goals which you set the checkpoints or milestones needed to attain the goal at the beginning of the tool. When you have completed a task in the goal, you mark it as complete by checking it off, like you would on a to-do list. Overall, I would say that this tool is very basic, and not all that useful for the serious person trying to implement a SMART goal process or anything much more than a task list. There are ads on this site.

43Things.com Rating: ★½☆☆☆ Free
I saw this mentioned often as a goal tracking site, but it really isn’t. This site is really just a simple social site to measure trends for goals and resolutions with the answer to 1 question: “What do you want to do in the year 2010?”. To me, it seems similar to Twitter and many other social sharing tools, so who knows if it will be used a lot. Cute idea, but not that helpful for achieving your goals.

Which one to choose?
You decide. Just keep in mind, when searching for a goal tracking tool, I would recommend determining if you simply want to have to do lists, or if you are ready to have specific goals with associated tasks. Goal tracking is about all of the small tasks (from your TO DO Lists) that add up to one overarching goal. Sometimes, you may have random TO DO’s that don’t really seem like they fit into any goal, but you feel that they have to get done anyway. Go ahead and add them to the list and perhaps even do them, but first consider: WHY am I doing some task if it doesn’t help me reach any of my goals? This can lead to the type of self reflection that will ultimately help you to reduce the amount of mindless, or purposeless tasks that you are doing, and help you to find the best use of your time.

Let me know your thoughts on these tools or if there are some great ones that I have missed.

Review of GratitudeLog – “The Happiest Place on the Internet”

Science has proven that people who express their gratitude daily are 25% happier and significantly healthier than those who don’t—and doing it takes as little as a minute a day! – Gratitudelog.com

Gratitude GratitudeLog.com is a fun social site that takes the basic concept of short updates from sites such as Twitter, and applies it to a specific concept, Gratitude.

You are able to mark someone’s comment as “Awesome!” or reply to it. You can follow people and they can follow you. Beyond that, you can send people “Appreciation” gifts (for free), which are simply little icons with a thoughtful note (like you can send on Facebook).

Rating: ★★★½☆

Pros:

  • People on this site really seem to respect the type of content that can be posted and shared, you will find inspiration from what other’s are saying!
  • It can integrate with your Twitter account to post your updates
  • There is something both cool and scary about publicly sharing your personal thoughts on your gratitude for your life

Cons:

  • The list of updates on the main page shows those that you follow’s comments, but I find it somewhat difficult to navigate as a running list.
  • If someone isn’t a member of this site, you can share a gift with them, but you can’t really interact much further than that… So, I suppose they’ll have to join!

I have made a pledge to myself to login and put something that I am thankful or grateful for every day. So far, day 5, I’m doing pretty good. Reflecting on what I am grateful for on this site has been  great, but the best part is that I am starting to expand that further into other aspects of my life through out the day. My husband and I have made a commitment (thanks to a posting I saw on this site) to express something we are grateful for to each other every day as well. Already, this starts off or ends the day with a smile.

No matter your religion, your spirituality or your place in life, it is without a doubt helpful to give thanks for what you have in your life that you appreciate. I am convinced that a commitment to maintaining a pattern of expressing my gratitude will play a key part in keeping me motivated and maintaining my perspective.

Review of YNAB 3.0 You Need a Budget Software for PC or Mac

Best Envelope Budgeting Software: You Need a Budget YNAB 3.0 for PC or Mac

YNAB Electronic Envelope Budgeting Just when I thought I had it all figured out by using online tools like Mint, I repeatedly saw mention of one of the top rated budgeting software for download on your PC or Mac, YNAB 3.0 (You Need a Budget). YNAB is a budgeting software that incorporates the envelop method of budgeting. This may just be the next step for me in advancing my money management and control of our finances. The tools that I am currently using are easy to import my financial information and great for big picture trending, but we still haven’t really done well at isolating how to break some of our patterns and stick to our budgeting goals.

One of the goals of this tool is to help you get off of living only paycheck to paycheck. This is accomplished through the “YNAB Buffer” or by organizing your money in a way that you are able to save enough to off set one month of bills.

Your YNAB Buffer is the equivalent of one month’s income which, once saved, will allow you to use paychecks received during the current month for the following month, removing you from the “Paycheck to Paycheck” cycle.

This tool is not for the faint of heart. It is for people that are truly committed to managing the budget and investing the time and energy necessary to do so. When your are ready to get serious, give this tool a try.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Type of  Tool: Downloaded Budgeting Software for PC or Mac, imports .OFX, .QFX or .CSV files (Download from your online banking)

Price: $59.95

Compatiblity:
Windows 7 / Vista / Vista 64 / XP / 2000
Mac OSX
Linux

Pros:

  • Simple, user friendly interface includes “Accounts”, “Budgets” and “Reports”
  • Intuitive categorization
  • Flags for follow up
  • Excellent reports for trending with ultimate control of what you are looking at and exportable to Excel or to Print
  • Helpful how tos section and blog for getting started
  • Helps set up and manage your funds for one time expenses
  • Helps save for larger 1 time expenses
  • It can help you track EVERYTHING you spend – even cash which I hate because its usually disappears without a trace.
  • Very helpful for people with variable income

Cons:

  • Getting started can take a long time to set up. Unlike some other tools (Mint.com) that auto categorize the majority of your expenses, you need to manually categorize all of your expenses, at least at first.
  • Cannot auto-import your information, you must download it and import it into the tool (This could also be seen as a PRO for some that are weary of the online only methods for security reasons)
  • Not as full featured as Quicken or MS Money for investment and business tracking

Screenshots:

Reports Trend for YNAB


Review of Conspiracy of the Rich Book by Robert Kiyosaki

Key Points from Conspiracy of the Rich

I am reading a lot of financial books right now, and I plan to provide the key take aways that I get from the books, not necessarily a full review of each chapter. In fact, I’m not even going to outline the full “8 New Rules of Money” from Conspiracy of the Rich, instead, simply the main points that I found of value and how I’m going to apply them to my life. I have seen a lot of controversial blog post about whether Kiyosaki offers sound advice or just fluff, whether he has a legitimate story for his background or not, etc. My feeling is that he offers some good big picture suggestions that you then have to spend time researching on your own and deciding what will work for yourself.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Historical Key Points:

There is a lot of information about the history of the dollar, why banks can ‘print money’ and how our government will essentially never stop the bail out cycle because its in the federal gov’t and rich classes’ best interest to bail out the big banks. The purpose of outlining his beliefs of the conspiracy is to motivate those that read his book to action. To take control of their own financial situation, make educated and sound financial decisions, and increase their financial IQ as he calls it.

Financial Education Key Points:

Key Point #1 Invest in all four areas of investment for true diversification.

1 – Business (Owning one)

2 – Income producing investment real estate

3 – Paper Assets (Stocks, bonds, funds)

4 – Commodities (Gold, silver, oil, platinum)

This may be easier said than done, but it makes a lot of sense to me. If you simply own your home (a liability as I have found out as of late) and have a few savings and a 401k accounts, you are putting all your eggs in very limited baskets.

How I’m applying this: The items from above that I have control over now are #1, #3 and #4. I am and have been a small business owner, but I want to be more strategic about a business plan in 2010. I own stocks, bonds and funds in my 401k,  but I am not happy with them. I’m going to move my Traditional IRA to a Roth IRA when I can figure out how to do it, and determine what is best to invest it in. I plan to look into and research investing in commodities because this is something that can be done with a smaller initial investment.

Key Point #2Learn how to sell. Him & Trump recommend doing a network marketing type of business to learn the ins and outs of selling.

How I’m applying this: Whether you agree with this point or not, it is inevitable that to be successful you have to build confidence in yourself, who you are, and what you offer. Don’t mistake confidence for arrogance or not being humble. They are  different things. I’m working on building my brand for myself, and what that means. I am in the marketing profession right now, and understand that if you don’t get people’s awareness and interest in your offerings, your business will not succeed. I believe you can sell your products or services without compromising integrity, value and trust with your potential customers. That’s what I plan to do.

Key Point #3Derivatives. Kiyosaki discusses how money can be a derivative of your financial knowledge. He defines derivatives as simply being a off shoot of something or something that comes from something else. So, instead of selling his own books by himself, Kiyosaki sells licenses to reprint his books to many publishers, and gets a derivative of his book, the product, through royalties.

How I’m applying this: I like this concept when applying it to yourself and what you can offer the world. Stop thinking about your hourly wage and start thinking about what value you bring and how to make it into value for others. This will lead to derivatives of, well, you. I have already been thinking of ideas for some time now. Applying all or any of these iddeas, and focusing your efforts (which Kiyosaki also says is key) is the hard part!

Key Point #4 – He challenges his readers to push the boundaries that they have set in their life. He says that you shouldn’t think, look or act poor because the world treats you as you treat yourself. This concept gives me a lot to ponder. He uses examples such as: he managed to drive his dream car by bartering services. He managed to live by the ocean by trading services as well. This point was of interest to me. As humans we often don’t think of creative ways to solve our biggest problems because we are so stuck in what we know or believe. However, there is always another way, it usually just involves accepting different options, and putting yourself out there. The concept of bartering is back big time these days since so many of us are struggling financially, and cool websites like Swap Mamas and various others make it easy to do nationally or locally. When you don’t have enough money to get what you need, its a great idea to find someone willing to trade you for something you do have or can do that has value.

How I’m applying this: I have often traded my design services with others for what their business offers. This is a win-win for both of us. I’m interested in finding new, creative ways to make what I want happen in life.

Despite the fact that Kiyosaki spends a little too much time (1/2 the book) on the history, and a little too much time discussing his game, Cash Flow, I found this book to be very useful and thought provoking for my next steps towards learning and improving my financial knowledge.

What are your thoughts on Conspiracy of the Rich? What are you going to apply to your life?

Store & Share Family Addresses & Events Online

Easily Keep Track of Family Addresses, Birthdays and Events Together

Around the holidays, I always send out emails to family members and friends alike in a frantic attempt to mail holiday cards. Why do I keep repeating this process? Because people move, or I get forgetful and don’t update the many places that I store addresses.

I was thinking about starting a Google Doc to share a long list of family contact information, but before I did, I did a quick search to see if there were any useful online tools that already solve this issue for me.

And of course, there is! FamilyCrossings.com

At Family Crossing you can get a free or premium account. You can ask your family to join, and then everyone can store their addresses as well as pictures, videos, and also very handy, a family calendar of events. I’m very much hoping I can convince my family members to at least use the address and events calendar. I’m thinking that if I put videos of my daughter on there and share them, that might just be enough to entice them to start using the site.

Beyond those features, you can also store family history, recipes, chat, and more. I don’t know that my family will utilize ALL of the features, but it will be a huge help if we just can all update our addresses, birthdays and key events on the family calendar!

Review of Free Credit Score Analysis Tool: Credit.com

Credit.com Offers a Different Perspective from CreditKarma.com

credit.comCredit.com offers an additional resource that can complement your use of CreditKarma.com (read my review) or other credit report services.

Though Credit.com doesn’t offer as much detail or tools as CreditKarma.com, it did give me a higher overall score, which I found interesting. It ranked me as A to A- for all categories, where as on CreditKarma.com I had D in a few different categories such as length of open debt. From what I’ve read, the discrepancy is based on the recency of the data as well as which credit agency it is using to determine your score, and supposedly CreditKarma doesn’t go back in date as far as Credit.com does.  This factor alone is enough to take a closer look at Credit.com for accuracy.

Rating: ★★★½☆

Credit.com determines your score to be based on the following categories:

  • Payment History (35%) Simply put – you have to pay your bills on time.
  • Debt Useage (35%) Keeping low balances and having higher limits for your debt increases this value.
  • Credit Age (15%) If you have accounts that have been opened for a while, this helps this score. (CreditKarma and Credit.com have very different perspectives on this)
  • Account Mix (10%) Types of debt that you have (mortgage, credit cards, other loans)
  • Inquiries (10%) Its a good idea not to have too many inquiries to your score (I’ve read that if you shop around, say for a mortgage, and have multiple pulls of your credit in a 2 week period, this doesn’t affect your score as much, but don’t quote me on this)credit.com logo

Keep in mind that for the full detail on actual accounts that are included on your credit report you’ll have to purchase one or get your free annual report. Under the FACT Act you are required to have access to at least 1 free credit report a year, and you can get that at http://www.annualcreditreport.com. This looks at the three major credit bureaus, Equifax, TransUnion and Experian. They will also report on court records for lawsuits, judgments and bankruptcy filings.

You can also possibly obtain your free credit report from your local credit union. The one I work at in Boulder provides a review of your credit report free to its members.

Its always a good idea to check your credit report, if at minimum to monitor and ensure that you don’t have any fraudulent activity. Also though, to learn how to improve it as I am.

Here’s a nice comparison: http://www.consumerismcommentary.com/2009/09/30/credit-report-cards-credit-com-vs-credit-karma/

What do you use to monitor your credit score and credit report? Do you use a credit monitoring or  identity theft service?

Review of Free Credit Score Analysis Tool: Credit Karma

Think Twice Before You Cut Up Your Old Credit Cards

A Truly Free Credit Score and Helpful Analysis of the Factors Affecting Your Credit

cut cardUnlike many of the ‘free’ credit score sites out there that say they are free, Credit Karma truly is free.

Credit Karma provides secure access to your credit score with many features that help you analyze how your debt and payment has affected your overall score.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Not only does this tool provide you with your credit score, it shows you:

  • A Report Card of the factors that affect your score and where you fall
  • Your score and how it shifts over time with charts and graphs
  • A snapshot of where your score is compared to the national average
  • A comparison of your credit to other members of the Credit Karma community
  • A credit simulator that suggests how changes will impact your credit score (My score went up 8 points if I added a new credit card with a 3500 limit, crazy!)
  • They also have helpful debt calculators such as mortgage affordability, debt payoff calculators, etc

credit-karma-logoWhat I found most interesting was the section called “Report Card”. It ranks certain criteria that is used to determine your credit score from A through F. It was very helpful for me, because I realized something critical in the way I have been managing credit cards and how I will manage them moving forward.

I have to admit, I was one of the typical college students that fell prey to the open 3 or 4 credit cards during the freshman orientation. I didn’t spend a lot on these cards, but when I wised up, I took the advice of someone that I should close any cards that I’m not using as that negatively affects my credit. So, I’ve been doing that over the years. When I don’t want a card any more, I close it. WRONG!

It turns out I have a “D” score on my credit score (which is overall “good” right now at 729) for Average Age of Open Credit Lines as well as Total Accounts. I’m very intrigued by the fact that doing something as simple as keeping some of my unused credit cards open will improve my credit score. I had NO idea. And as such I always close old cards that I’m no longer using.

Another thing I found interesting was that if you opened and did a balance transfer, with the simulator your score went down. However, if you just open a new credit card, your score goes up. I suppose this is because it indicates that you can handle more debt.

I highly suggest trying this tool out, if you are willing to overlook the offers and sales pitches on the page, it is a great way to actively monitor and improve your credit score.

Review of SmartyPig Online Savings Account and Budget Tracker

Best Online Savings Accounts – SmartyPig: Easy, Simple, Savings Account and Tool

Smarty Pig Savings ToolLaunched in the US in March of 2008, SmartyPig is a very unique tool that combines budgeting for savings tools with online interest-bearing savings accounts. Not only can you start saving, but you can also open up your savings accounts on social tools such as Facebook and others for your family and friends to contribute to as well as watch what percentage you are towards your goal. It is a partnership with DataVision, Inc. and West Bank in Iowa and the founders are Mike Ferrari and Jon Gaskell.

Rating: ★★★★½

Pros:

  • Very easy, simple account sign up and set up process
  • Automatic deposit from your other bank accounts is simple
  • Calculator estimates when you will reach your savings goals
  • Helps you stay on track with budgeting through charts and visual tools
  • If you want to, you can share your savings fund on Facebook/Twitter or other social tools and get deposits from friends and family
  • FDIC ensured savings (with high rate, as of today 11.09 its 2.01 %APY)

Cons:

  • Not that easy to withdraw funds (no checking account, etc, this is a savings only vehicle, withdraw by gift card with booster or ACH back to your account elsewhere)
  • Some say its geared towards retail spending since they will give you your money back in the form of gift cards if you want (which also give you a ‘boost’ of cash to use if you redeem for retail purchases)

I’ve added their nifty widget to my blog… So far, I’ve set up 2 accounts. I would like to have a Roth IRA and some actual investment tools, but for the moment, some simple savings funds will work great for starting the habit of saving for different goals. I have a contingency (emergency) fund started already that I will be adding to, and I also will be starting a savings account for saving for passive income opportunities in the future.

I am very impressed with the user interface, concept and execution of this savings account and social tool.

Its a common misconception that you can only get your money back in the form of retail cards, but that’s not true. See thier FAQ below:

Can I transfer my funds to an existing funding source, like my bank, or get my money by check?

Upon closing your goal, you may transfer your funds back to your existing checking or savings account for free. This process typically takes 2 business days for the funds to post to your bank account. We do not offer the option of receiving a check.

A recent review on the New York Times: http://bucks.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/11/17/smartypig-savings-accounts-come-with-discount-vacations/