8 Financial Tools to Help You Start 2018 Right
With only a few days left in 2017, millions of us are frantically jotting down our resolutions for the new year. Among the decrees to exercise more, quit whatever vices you have, and be kinder to others, finances are also a popular topic of year-end reflection and resolve. Of course, such money goals can be much more easily achieved with a little help — namely the assistance of various apps, services, and other tools that can help guide the way or even earn you cash.
Before the ball drops on the new year, I thought I’d offer my list (think of it almost as “Kyle’s Favorite Things”) of the top 8 financial tools that can come in handy in 2018:
It seems like forever ago now but it was really only last August (2016) that I first checked my credit score, initiating what I called my “financial awakening.” Since then, I’ve been hard at work trying to not only raise my credit but also improve my money habits overall — and blog about them, of course. So I suppose it’s not too much of a stretch to attribute my current career to Credit Karma.
There’s a reason why Credit Karma is the most popular free credit site on the web. The easy-to-use site allows you to view educational versions — meaning not FICO — of your Equifax and TransUnion scores. It also offers suggestions for how you can improve said scores. Additionally the site features some other helpful tools such as an unclaimed funds finder.
I should mention that Credit Karma isn’t the only free credit site worth checking out as WalletHub and Credit Sesame both have their own perks. That said, when graded on a rubric (which I recently subjected all three to), Credit Karma is the overall winner.
Just as Credit Karma has grown to become the most well-known source for free credit scores, Mint is without a doubt the biggest budgeting app on the market. Once again, this honor is earned as Mint offers some great features for understanding your spending, building your budget, and sticking to it. With the ability to create custom spending categories, set bill due date reminders, and view your net worth at a glance, Mint is one free
tool you need in your financial life.
While Mint is undoubtedly great (especially their desktop site), Clarity Money‘s approach to a financial app helps it stand out from the crowd and makes it worth checking out. One thing that makes Clarity different is that it presents all of its information in feed form. The result is comparable to the “Today” screen on your iPhone and makes it easy to quickly update yourself on your financial stats thanks to a series of graphs and widgets.
Another thing I like about Clarity Money is how dang pretty it is. With an eye-pleasing color palette and effective details like adding brand logos to transaction, the app presents your information in a straightforward but engaging way. Some of the widgets found in Clarity’s feed are also particularly helpful, such as the tool for totaling your weekly, monthly, and yearly spendings at a certain retailer (*cough* Starbucks *cough*) and the ability to automatically set aside money for a number of savings goals. Bottom line: it’s worth having both Mint and Clarity installed on your smartphone.
Speaking of savings goals, one money milestone you should definitely strive to reach in 2018 is having an emergency fund. For such a goal, pretty much any savings account will do (the key is to keep your emergency funds as liquid as possible in case you need to access them quickly), I’ve become a big fan of online savings account for one big reason: much better interest rates. In fact, while some traditional savings accounts offer rates as low as .01%, my Discover Bank account currently offers me a 1.30% APY on my savings. As a result, I have a place to stash my cash that also adds a little to the top each month.
A word of warning, however, online accounts like Discover, Ally, and Synchrony have limits on the number of transactions you can make per month and outbound transfers can be a bit slow. That said, I’ve been able to get around this issue but also opening a Discover checking account, allowing me to instantly transfer funds from savings and either write a check or visit an ATM to access my money.
It was only a couple of months ago that I finally got to try Dosh out for myself, but I’ve quickly fallen in love. This smartphone app allows you to earn cash back from certain brick and mortar and online retailers just by linking your credit and debit cards (and using their in-app links for e-retailers). Moreover, Dosh offers plenty of chances to earn bonus cash for doing simple tasks like linking new cards — $5 for your first and $1 each for your next few — or referring friends. Beyond that awesomeness, this app also now holds a special place in my heart as my video review of it has quickly become one of the most-viewed clips on my YouTube channel. 😉
Admittedly, I’ve had an interesting relationship with Acorns. At first, I was super excited about the app’s “invest your spare change” premise and set up my account with gusto. Unfortunately, I eventually found that my $1 monthly fee was erasing most of my earning and decided to cash out my account. So why then is this app on my list? Frankly, it’s because I don’t think I gave it a fair shake.
With an app like Acorns that invests your funds in real stocks and bonds, it’s kind of unfair to blame it for you losing money. In fact, considering the run the stock market has been on since my departure, I’d probably have a much different story had I stayed the course. Moreover, I only had the app rounding up my debit card transactions, meaning I wasn’t contributing much, thus limiting my earning potential. For those reasons along with the addition of Acorns Later for retirement investing (currently in beta), it’s time I get back into Acorns — and perhaps time for you to give the app a look as well.
Back in April, my year of experimenting with Quickbooks Self-Employed paid off as my tax time preparations went swimmingly and my wife and I even managed to scare up a refund. Thanks to Quickbooks features like mileage tracking and transaction labeling, it was easy for me to relay my deduction to my tax preparer (A.K.A. my dad) and keep my tax bill as low as possible. In fact, if it weren’t for Quickbooks bringing certain transactions to my attention, I almost assuredly would have forgotten about them and let some earned deductions slip through my fingers.
Of course, I should mention that this tool is really only helpful if you, like me, are self-employed, but keep in mind that might also include side hustles. So, if you plan on joining the gig economy in 2018, I’d recommend investing in a subscription to Quickbooks Self-Employed to make your bookkeeping life a little — nay, a lot — easier.
Last up on my list of recommendations is a tool that is only a tool if you use it as a tool (did I say “tool” enough?). To be sure, getting a new credit card is not right for everyone. However, if you are in the market for a rewards credit card, the Uber Visa card is a strong pick — especially since it has no annual fee.
Since giving in and signing up for the card in November, my wife and I have managed to accrue more than $175 dollars in cash back, though that does include the $100 initial bonus that comes after you spend $500 in the first three months. This impressive stockpile is the result of the card’s generous cash back categories, including 4% back on dining, 3% on travel accommodations (flights, hotels), 2% on online purchases, and 1% on everything else. Germane to my interests, it also offers 0% foreign transaction fees along with some other great perks. Best of all, despite the Uber branding, you can not only use your points to get free rides but can also transfer money back to your bank account, take a statement credit, or pick up some gift cards. All in all, this no annual fee card is one of the best I’ve seen in that arena, making it my top credit card for 2018.
Regardless of whether your 2017 was sweet or rotten, a new year means another chance to meet your money goals. That said, while these favorite apps and tools of mine can help you get your finances on track, it’s ultimately up to you to do the hard work required to pay down debts, build up your savings, or cut your spending. So, with that, I wish you a happy and prosperous 2018 — and be sure to check back in the new year as we continue our financial journeys together.
Also published on Medium.