In addition, everyone managing their finances online should take certain steps to protect themselves, says Robert Schmansky, a certified financial planner in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. He suggests:
- Make sure your virus protection software is up to date.
- Use a different, non-dictionary password for each online account.
- Don't keep password lists where they can be accessed by people or by a computer virus.
- Make sure wireless Internet connections in your home are secure by making them password-protected.
There are at least a half-dozen sites that aim to consolidate your financial life in one place. One, Geezeo, is available only through a bank or credit union. Here are three popular ones that are open to all:
This is the largest online personal finance service and is owned by personal finance giant Intuit, maker of the popular TurboTax and Quicken software packages. It tracks a wide range of financial accounts — checking, credit cards, loans, investments and more — that you have set up to access online.
Eleanor Wynn of Portland, Ore., feels comfortable with the site. "It's easy to use, the screens are well laid out and it's very intuitive," Wynn says.
- To get started: You'll have to register and enter the account numbers and passwords for your accounts. Once you have your information ready, setting up a Mint account takes about 10 minutes. Mint also is accessible through a smartphone app.
- Features: Information from your accounts is updated each night, and the new data are used to refresh charts that categorize your expenses, such as how much money you've spent in restaurants. "This feature gave me more self-awareness of what I was doing with my money," says Wynn. Mint will also recommend credit cards or back accounts that could save you money, based on your spending patterns and any financial goals you set. You can also see how each of your investment funds is allocated and compare its performance with a market benchmark.
- Security: This is a read-only system, so you can't use Mint to make transactions. The service has received the VeriSign security seal. "Not only do we have security verified by third parties, but we pay people to try to break into the software. No one's ever succeeded," says Aaron Patzer, founder of Mint.com and Intuit's vice president of innovation.