As your parents get older, they might appreciate a bit of help with managing their finances. Of course, many seniors are content to look after their finances by themselves and are more than capable of doing so. In some cases, however, aging parents need assistance paying bills and monitoring investments.
If a parent does ask for assistance, there are a variety of free tools available to make the job easier. Most of them don’t require handing over passwords or the control of an account, which benefits both of you. Your parents may be uncomfortable giving you full access, and you may not want the responsibility anyway (unless you have power of attorney).
Of course, these ideas don’t apply only to parents. You could just as easily be helping a child, other relative, or vulnerable friend. That being said, here are seven tools to help parents with their money.
7 Tools to Help Your Parents with Money
1. Personal Capital
Personal Capital is a safe and popular tool which aggregates your (or your parents’) accounts into one easy-to-read dashboard. You provide the user names and passwords for the checking, savings, and other investment accounts. Personal Capital will then connect to these financial institutions and download account balances and transactions. When bills are due, you can choose to receive an alert. It can also analyze investments to provide an asset allocation and a breakdown of the fees. This is useful for keeping track of bills and daily expenses, and also for managing one’s portfolio.
Personal Capital will alert you when a bill is due. This can be handy feature to help parents avoid missing a due date.
Another popular tool, Mint, is owned by Intuit (the makers of Quicken) and is similar to Personal Capital. It’s stronger in budgeting and managing goals than Personal Capital, but Personal Capital has the edge in managing investments. Just like Personal Capital, you connect your financial accounts to see everything in one place. You or your parents might prefer one tool over the other, but there’s nothing to stop you from using both.
3. Google Sheets/Google Docs
Google Sheets makes sharing and collaborating on spreadsheets a breeze. Although Sheets can update the price of a security automatically, there’s no way to connect your accounts to download information. Some people might like this option, though, if they’re wary of disclosing online banking credentials. You just create a spreadsheet with the values of your parents’ accounts or investments and update it periodically for everyone to see.
4. A limited-value bank account
It’s not necessary for your parents to hand over complete access to their accounts in order for you to help them pay bills. An easy compromise is a new bank account into which they transfer a small amount of money (perhaps monthly), that you then use toward payments. This is separate from your and your parents’ primary accounts, and is only used to cover certain expenses. When choosing an account, be careful about those designated for online savings, as federal law limits them to six withdrawals a month.
Dropbox is a tool for sharing files. You can use it to access the same files from your laptop, smartphone, or tablet, or to even share those files with others. The ability for remote access makes it the ideal place to park important documents such as copies of wills, powers of attorney, and bank or credit card statements. It’s easy to organize documents into folders, and for both of you to upload or access the files.
6. A money binder
We covered the Money Binder in Dough Roller podcast 207. It’s a binder designed to give someone (such as your spouse) everything they would need to handle your finances should you be unable to do so. In this case, you could help your parents build a binder that will help them, and you, when the time comes. Dropbox is an ideal place to store a money binder, but there are other options.
7. Online credit score services
You can help your parents request their credit reports once a year to monitor for identify theft. Even more effective is the use of online continuous-monitoring companies such as Credit Sesame. These tools will show you if new accounts are opened with your parents’ social security numbers, changes occur to their credit scores, or their spending patterns alter. There’s no need to disclose online banking credentials in order to see this information.