When managing your personal finances, it would be a shame not to utilize the many tools available on the Internet. There are a slew of websites that can supplement or even replace your personal budget to help you track where all your money has gone throughout the month, year and beyond.

Even though you may have already heard about some of the more famous sites, there is no point in signing up for anything just because you read or heard about it in the news. It will only give you another aspect of your finances that you now have to keep track of.

Story Highlights:

  1.  Learn about personal financial management (PFM).
  2.  Only use a secure, well-known PFM site.
  3.  Banks will only organize their own accounts.
  4.  Other sites aggregate all your accounts.

Therefore, decide what you want from an online personal financial management (PFM) tool and then choose your best option. Keep in mind many banks are expanding their own websites to include PFM, allowing users to organize all their bank finances in one place.

First, you should consider why you are using external tools at all.  Do you want to see where your money is going throughout multiple banks and accounts? Do you want to set up online bill pay? Do you need tips on how to save?

If you see a few sites that you like, you should consider security and ease of use as the biggest factors before you investigate further. You must guard your financial information as if your life depends on it because financially, it does.

That said, many sites offer the ability to link your bank and credit card(s) accounts to track all of your spending in one convenient location. Full access to your spending allows the site to make recommendations and utilizes interactive graphs and charts.

If you want this level of transparency all of your bills will be imported by this third party, and you will see exactly how much you spend on food, shopping, cable and going out. You can also input cash transactions and break down their categories to mark your own distinct spending habits.

Keep an eye out for a tool that has the right features. If your bank’s site does not have an extensive PFM tool, you can look through other sites like Mint or Yodlee MoneyCenter.

As a college student you should look for:

  • Account consolidation
  • Expense categorization
  • Budgeting
  • Bill pay
  • Fund transfer between accounts

The first two features are essential; they will show you all the money you have as well as auto-categorize where you spend it. For example, one expense that may concern you is how much you pay in bank fees or at restaurants.

The last three are supplements and just make your financial life that much easier.

While there are even more features out there that will help you consolidate IRAs and other investments, as well as manage air miles and other rewards, for now stick to the simple stuff. You need to understand your debts and track all your bills.

As you delve deeper into these tools and understand them more, you can develop a budgeting system that works for you. PFM is exploding and banks want to ensure that their consumers don’t stray from the homepages to understand their finances.

Look for your bank’s tools (and apps) to see how well they can satisfy your PFM needs. If they cannot or if you have multiple bank accounts, you may want to check out a different site.

Key Takeaways:

  1. Online banking is morphing into PFM.
  2. PFM is an advanced budgeting tool.
  3. Sites like Mint.com can help you view all your accounts in one space.
  4. Banks are beginning to provide competitive PFM tools.
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