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Budgeting Your Money Online: Fiscal Management Made Easy

Powerful websites can help keep your spending on track. Here are 3 to consider.

En español | Where did all the money go?

If you're asking yourself that question every month, you might find the answer at one of the free online services that help you track your finances.

These websites collect and analyze information from your bank, credit card, loan and investment accounts, then help you craft — and stick to — a household budget.

See also: How bad credit costs you more.

Piles of receipts-online financial management can help you with expense tracking and analyze spending

Photo by Masterfile

You may want to keep track of your finances online.

For example, these fiscal management sites can organize the myriad purchases you make with checks, debit cards and credit cards, assigning each one to a category such as "groceries" or "auto." Your spending patterns are displayed in simple charts on your computer screen.

Many sites allow you to receive alerts by email or text in a number of situations: when a bill is due, when an account balance falls below a specified amount or when unusual spending activity is detected.

Other services include help with setting and tracking financial goals, monitoring the performance of your investments and tips on paying your highest-interest loans first.

The downsides? On some sites, be prepared for a lot of ads urging you to open a bank account or upgrade to a paid service. That's how they can offer you financial management tools for nothing. And some services are better than others at automatically collecting data from your online accounts.

Keeping your financial data safe

Some of the websites ask for the online passwords for your accounts. This allows them to fetch your financial information automatically. That's convenient, but is it safe to hand over passwords and account numbers?

The sites claim that it is, and independent reviewers agree. Typically, the sites offer high grade "bank level" encryption of all activity and allow only a few high-level employees to access passwords. The sites are continuously monitored to prevent network intrusions, and servers are under physical guard at all times.

If you want an additional layer of protection, you should choose a money management site that offers "read only" accounts. This means it can download details of your past transactions, but no one — not even you — can use it to transfer or withdraw money from any account.

Next: Protect yourself when managing finances online. >>

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:

  • 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 and Intuit's vice president of innovation.

Next: Concerned about your spending habits? Use this website. >>

Yodlee MoneyCenter

  • To get started: You'll need to register — a process that requires more security steps than at Mint — and enter the account numbers and passwords for each of your accounts.
  • Features: Like Mint, Yodlee collects transactions from the banking, loan and investment accounts you enter. You can display charts that summarize your spending by category and generate reports on your net worth or cash flow. Unlike Mint, Yodlee helps you track rewards programs like frequent flier miles, and it provides direct links in case you need to visit the accounts you've consolidated.

    Probably the biggest difference, though, is that Yodlee is not "read-only" — it allows you to pay bills and transfer funds online.
  • Security: Yodlee says that customers' personal data is "completely secure and private." Third-party services Thawte and VeriSign authenticate its security.

If you're uncomfortable with providing your account information and passwords, and your biggest concern is your spending habits, you might want to look at

  • To get started: You need to register and set up an account. Because you won't be disclosing account numbers for automatic downloading from your financial institutions, you will need to invest considerable time entering specific transactions.
  • Features: You set up categories, depicted by envelope icons, to keep track of expenses. Graphs and charts show how much you've spent in each category. "Auto-assign budget" technology recommends budgets for you based on your spending habits. You can also set up budgets for special events, such as a vacation or wedding.
  • Security: The site is a licensee of the TrustE program, a member of the Better Business Bureau, and is secured by GeoTrust.

Art Dalglish contributed to this article.

Beverly Blair Harzog is a credit card expert with, an independently owned website about credit.