Good money management involves budgeting, saving, investing, and planning. All of that takes time, but technology makes it easier. Need to plan for retirement or calculate your net worth on the fly? There really is an app for that.
But as you get more accounts and then more apps to manage them, the time savings can turn into a time suck. The solution? One app to rule them all in this case, Personal Capital.
Personal Capital connects to all your financial accounts so you manage them in one place. One login. One interface. Lots of features. Better yet, it’s free.
We asked Dough Roller founder and personal finance expert Rob Berger for his thoughts on how the app works, pros and cons, features, and more.
Can Personal Capital connect to any account?
Short answer: Pretty much.
It can connect to just about any type of account, Berger says. I’ve connected checking, savings, 401k, IRA, SEP IRA, and HSA accounts from multiple financial institutions. You can also connect real estate via a Zillow integration, which updates the value of the property.
Here’s a breakdown of the types of accounts you can connect to the Personal Capital app:
- Cash - Your bank accounts, both savings and checking.
- Investments - Both taxable and tax-deferred, including HSA, IRA, 401k, and brokerage accounts.
- Credit cards - Visa, Mastercard, American Express, and department store cards.
- Loans - Student loans, car loans, and bank loans. Mortgages are broken out into a separate section.
- Real estate - Your current home value as estimated by Zillow.
Benefits of connecting your accounts to Personal Capital
The primary benefit is that it gives you a single app to see your entire financial picture in one place, Berger says.
That financial picture includes all the accounts listed above, whether you have just a few or, like Berger, over two dozen. Instead of logging into your accounts separately, you log into Personal Capital, which updates in real-time with the latest numbers.
Once all your accounts are connected, Personal Capital then allows you to see the data in multiple ways, Berger says. For example, you can track your net worth, analyze your investments, or plan for retirement.
You don’t have to be big into personal finance to appreciate the contagious excitement of debt getting smaller or your nest egg slowly growing.
Personal Capital’s features fall into two main categories: tracking and analysis. Tracking is helpful when it comes to knowing what’s going on with your money - how much those monthly subscriptions are adding up to or the gains your IRA is making.
But the real power, Berger says, comes with the insights Personal Capital can give into your finances. His favorite features include the cash flow tool, net worth tracker, retirement planner, and asset allocation tool.
Here’s what each of those features entails.
Cash Flow Tool
This tool records the money coming in and going out. It automatically categorizes your income by source, so, for example, you can separate your paycheck from interest earned on your investments. It also tracks expenses, from your morning coffee to your mortgage.
Net Worth Tracker
For those eyeing financial freedom, this is a fun one. The net worth tracker takes a big-picture view of your financial situation and answers the ultimate question How much do you actually have if you paid off everything you owed? Or this familiar equation:
Net Worth = Assets - Liabilities
Berger calls the net worth tracker his scoreboard since that number is the culmination of every financial choice you’ve made to date.
Here’s another goal-oriented feature. Personal Capitals retirement tracker is one of its best tools, Berger says.
You can plug in your projected retirement date and how much you’ll spend per year in retirement, and the app uses your financial data to calculate how on-target you are for retirement. That result is your Retirement Readiness Score.
You can also dig deeper by playing with the numbers:
- Adjust inflation - Test how inflation-proof your retirement plans are.
- Change your retirement income - Calculate if annuities, social security, or pensions affect when you can quit for good.
- Add in one-time expenses - How much would that dream trip to Fiji set you back?
- Change the retirement date - See how the numbers change if you plan to retire later or, better yet, earlier.
Asset Allocation Tool
Want to understand your investment portfolio a little more? Personal Capital can help.
First, it evaluates the asset allocation of all your investment accounts. Then it shows you that data in easy-to-read charts. There are separate asset classes, such as U.S. Treasury bonds and foreign stocks, so you can get more information on how those specific investments are performing.
Even better, the app is smart enough to suggest changes to your current asset allocation. And it estimates how much more you stand to gain if you implement those changes.
- Budgeting - Track your monthly expenses by category, such as groceries, entertainment, clothing, etc., and see if you stay within your budget. You can also tag transactions within categories, such as a kitchen remodel tag within a home maintenance category.
- Bill Tracking - Get notifications when bills come due so you don’t miss a payment. Berger says he likes using this tool to track when their travel and cash-back reward credit card payments are due.
- Portfolio Balance - This chart shows your overall portfolio value from all your investment accounts in the past 30 days. You can also see day-to-day changes.
- Emergency Fund Planner - Using your budgeted expenses and current savings, Personal Capital can calculate the health of your emergency fund. It shows if you have enough cash to cover the recommended 3 to 6 months of living expenses and, if not, how much you still need.
- Debt Paydown Planner - If you want to pay off your debt, but don’t know where to start, add all your loan accounts to Personal Capital. The Debt Paydown planner tracks everything you owe and recommends which loan to pay off first for the maximum financial benefit.
There are other apps out there with some of the same features. Many specialize in one or two areas, like budgeting or investments.
YNAB (which, appropriately, stands for You Need A Budget) walks you through how to set up your budget, starting with making a list of monthly expenses and building your emergency fund. Mint, another popular budgeting app, focuses on helping users track and categorize expenses and save more.
Paying down debt
The Debt Reduction Calculator is a free calculator that lets you enter your various debt balances, rates, and terms to help you figure out which ones you should pay off first. You can also see how long it will take you to be debt-free.
Morningstar has a portfolio tracker that keeps up with your asset allocation, individual investment performance, and more, all accessible from your smartphone.
Another free calculator, the Ultimate Retirement Calculator, lets you plug in your current age, projected retirement age, and a host of other details, such as inflation, annual returns, cost of living adjustments, and even life expectancy.
The challenge here is that now you’re back to the initial problem - too many apps and tools to manage.
Frankly, no app compares with Personal Capital, Berger says. There are other apps that do some things very well. YNAB is an excellent budget tool, for example. But I’ve not seen another app that does everything that Personal Capital does.
Read More: Personal Capital Alternatives
Steps to get started with Personal Capital
1. Create an account
Enter your email and phone number, and create a password. As with all passwords, be sure to choose something secure that you aren't using anywhere else.
2. Link your accounts
The app can link to most financial accounts, from household names like Chase, Fidelity, and Vanguard to lesser-known ones like Alliant (a credit union) and Webull Financial (a broker).
3. Check the overview screen
Now that you're set up, you want to get familiar with the layout. On the desktop, the left-hand column lists totals for all your accounts while the dashboard shows charts to help you track how you're doing and where you're headed.
4. Dig deeper by clicking on the charts
If you want to know more about a specific graph, like your net worth, you can click through for more insights.
Any app promising convenience should be a breeze to use, and Personal Capital is no exception. It takes just a few minutes to set it up and learn to navigate the interface. Berger's walk-through video shows you how.
We’ve covered the basics of working with the Personal Capital app. If you’re ready for the next level, here are some pro tips.
Set up your email subscription
You can opt-in for an email that sends you a snapshot of your finances.
Berger likes to get an email daily. It shows recent expenses, top gains and losses in your investments, and accounts that may need your attention.
Filter your cash flow
You can adjust the view to see exactly how much your investments are making month by month.
It’s basically a budget tool, Berger says. I like to look at the income, but limit the view to just our investment accounts. This shows me how much we’ve earned each month in dividends and interest.
Check for hidden fees
Fees on mutual funds and ETFs will impact your bottom line over the long haul so you need to know exactly what you're paying. This is where the Fee Analyzer helps.
It not only calculates the mutual fund expense ratios of your investments but also shows you how these fees will affect your wealth over time, Berger says.
You might be surprised how those “nominal fees accrued year to year can add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars over a lifetime. As Berger explains, it’s better to know now and adjust if needed than find out when it’s too late to do anything about it.
The bottom line
Fancy features aside, that’s the real benefit of Personal Capital. It gives you the tools to understand your financial situation - and you can use that information to reach your goals. Knowledge, as they say, is power.