Review: FlexScore, The book and website

There are many personal finance books and tools out there, useful to people in all stages of personal finance. I have a lot to learn before reaching financial independence, and the editorial elves thought it would be useful if I shared some of what I learn with you.

My recent reviews include “The Smartest Investment Book You'll Ever Read” and “Soldier of Finance: Take Charge of Your Money and Invest in Your Future.” This week, I'm reviewing “FlexScore: Financial Advice for the Rest of Us” by Jeff Burrow, CFP®, and Jason Gordo, AIF®.

CFP stands for certified financial planner and AIF stands for accredited investment fiduciary. Burrow and Gordo used to work for some of the big Wall Street brokerage firms, but they became disenchanted with that culture. Haven't we all?! They believed people should have access to advice that isn't tainted or distorted based on the interests of the company or salesperson giving it.

To address this need, they founded FlexScore, which is an online tool that “gameifies personal finance.” It's in Beta right now, and while I have been poking around a bit, it's not yet fully functional. So in this review, I'll be discussing their book, which explains the system and their philosophy. In my next review, I'll talk more about my experience using the site and reveal my own personal FlexScore.

Philosophy behind the book

Burrow and Gordo believe that one of the biggest reasons that people don't plan for the future is that it's really difficult to see how to get from here to there. Many people have a vague sense of whether they're doing well financially or not in the moment (though many other people don't). However, even if you have a good idea of where you stand now, do you know whether you're actually on track to achieve longer-term goals? Do you know if your goals are even achievable?

Take retirement as an example of a goal. Burrow and Gordo define retirement as the time when you are both mentally and financially prepared to leave the working world. Some people have all the money they'd need, but love their work and don't want to stop. Others have pinned all their hopes on leaving the daily grind behind at age 62, but haven't saved nearly enough to make that dream a reality.

If you're in the former position, rock on! If you're in the latter position, you have three main options: 1) delay retirement, 2) continue working part-time to supplement your income, or 3) scale back your standard of living expectations to a level that is sustainable given your assets. FlexScore's aim is to give you all the information that you need to decide which option (or combination of options) is going to work best for you.

Maybe you can't quit work at 62 and travel the world with your partner three months out of every year. But there are many roads to retirement. If you continued working full-time until age 65, transitioned into half-time work until you were 70, and downsized your house, you could afford to vacation one month out of the year. That's still pretty awesome!

What I didn't like

Your FlexScore is based on a 1000-point scale. Five hundred of these points are a sort of “financial snapshot” of where you are now. The other 500 points are “if you stay on your current trajectory, this is how likely you are to achieve your goals.” A score of 1000 points means that you have reached financial independence and are ready to retire (assuming you're also mentally prepared).

That seems simple enough. Knowing that 1000 means “okay, retire today if you want” takes the potential sting out of a lower score. And knowing that you can raise your FlexScore by modifying your goals to make them more realistic is also helpful. After all, goals are the gateway to financial success. But is there a way to determine what a good score for a particular age range is, regardless of your goals?

As someone who was a grades-obsessed honors student, I assumed that I should be shooting for 1000 straight out of the gate, but one of the examples given is a 27-year old guy with a FlexScore of 245, which is described as “middle of the pack among his contemporaries.” What does that mean for me?

What I loved

There are several of examples based on clients Burrow and Gordo have worked with in the past. These examples explain what score people with different circumstances got, why, and what someone like them could do to improve their situation. As someone whose favorite aspect of personal finance is “spying” on people to get takeaways for my own life, this was pretty awesome.

There's also a huge focus on trade-offs. What are you willing to sacrifice now so you can have what you want later? Or maybe what you want later will never be possible — how are you going to scale back your expectations to something that you can achieve? They recommend the SMART system for goal-setting, to help you set goals in a way that makes tracking progress easier.

It's clear that their primary goal is to help people get a realistic understanding of their finances. From there, they work to provide a transparent system where people can see exactly how an action they take today will pay off five, ten, or 30 years from now. And because the online tool will award the “points” for taking action right away, personal finance becomes a game you can see you are winning.

Who should read FlexScore

“FlexScore: Financial Advice for the Rest of Us” is available on Amazon in both ebook and paperback versions if you're interested. I imagine that using the online tool in conjunction with the book would enable you to get the most out of both. Thus, I'm antsy for the online tool to be fully functional so I can see if it lives up to its promise.

Philosophy behind the website

As I mentioned in my previous review, the aim of the FlexScore tool is to “gamify” personal finance. What does that mean, exactly? They make 1,000 a perfect score of sorts, meaning if you score a 1,000, you can probably retire today without a problem. Your initial score is determined in part based on your demographic information, your debts and assets, the insurance policies you have in place, and your goals for the future.

Once you have an initial score, the tool creates an individual action plan for you. FlexScore assigns different values to different activities, and by completing those activities you can gain additional points. Examples of activities you could do to gain points are:

  • Getting life insurance, or increasing the amount you carry if you have it
  • Completing or updating your estate plan
  • Opening an Emergency Fund

Sometimes getting points is as easy as reading articles on the FlexScore website or watching their informational videos on a variety of topics. The tool will recommend that you watch specific videos or read certain articles based on your action plan. However, you can access all the articles and videos on their site via the FlexScore learning center.

One of the ways the tool will be monetized is by having sponsored links to companies that provide the services. For example, if “get life insurance” is on your action plan, the site will link to one or more companies that sell that product. However, as long as you get the life insurance and update your profile accordingly, you don't need to buy from a sponsor to get the points.

What I didn't like

My main complaint in the review of the book is that there was little information about what constituted a “good score” for a particular person. The main reason for that, of course, is that scores vary widely depending on factors like age, current financial situation, and goals. The online tool gives you not only your FlexScore, but also tells you how your score compares to that of your peers (based on age and location).

While the tool did provide more information on what a good score is, I didn't find the compare feature to be all that useful. This was mostly because it just seemed to compare my raw score to that of my peers'. While my FlexScore suggested that I was right on track with my peers, I suspect that's because my student loan is the size of a mortgage and, well, I don't have a mortgage.

Maybe I'm just nosy and want to know exactly what my “peers by age” are up to. I think making the comparison tool more robust and comparing scores not only holistically but also by category would be awesome. I do expect that the tool will become more robust with time, however, so maybe it's coming someday!

Also giving access to your accounts means they will have access to your data (as Mint does) and can send you marketing offers they believe you may be interested in.

What I loved

My favorite part of FlexScore was the “breakdown” tool. What this does is put variables on a sliding scale and let you play with the effect that changing your goals would have on your score. The variables are:

  • Retirement age
  • Monthly income goal in retirement
  • Current monthly savings
  • Assets
  • Debt
  • Current cost of living

By sliding each variable up or down, you can see the effect that delaying retirement, decreasing your current cost of living, or paying off a debt would have on your FlexScore. Then you can decide what trade-offs you're willing to make.

The learning center is also pretty neat. I watched a couple of the videos and they're not too long or technical. They seem to be designed to explain basic concepts and inspire you to take action. For more in-depth explanations on various topics, the articles are extremely comprehensive.

Who should use It

My FlexScore was 400, indicating that I have a long ways to go before retirement. That's news to precisely no one! However, I learned my peers have an average FlexScore of 380, which puts me about on track for my age and location.

One of the questions I asked Jeff Burrow and Jason Gordo, co-founders of FlexScore, was what makes FlexScore different from something like Mint. They said that Mint is extremely robust for day-to-day budgeting. However, it's harder to get a sense of where you stand in a holistic sense, or understand how changing one aspect of your financial life can impact your ability to reach future goals.

With FlexScore, the action plan and points are part of the game. Sometimes it can be hard to get up the motivation to do something tedious and/or boring, like compare policies and obtain disability insurance. FlexScore is predicated on the belief that by getting points today, you're less likely to put things off until it's too late.

FlexScore isn't a site for micromanaging your daily finances. You're not going to be categorizing each transaction you make. This is a site for people who want:

  • A big-picture understanding of their finances and how it relates to major life goals
  • An action plan that is customized to their specific situation
  • One central location for information on a variety of financial topics
  • Are inspired by competition and games (you don't compete against others, but can compare yourself to others, and compete against yourself)

A note about swag: While I was provided with early access to FlexScore for review purposes, my opinions are entirely my own.

What's your current method for setting goals and evaluating your progress toward them? Do you think FlexScore sounds like a potentially useful tool? Do you have any questions about the online tool for me to keep in mind while I'm poking around in Beta?

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MoneyAhoy
MoneyAhoy
6 years ago

That sounds like a really neat way of looking at the savings/acquiring assets side of things. I’ll have to check it out once it is out of beta!

Matt @ Your Living Body
Matt @ Your Living Body
6 years ago

“Burrow and Gordo believe that one of the biggest reasons that people don’t plan for the future is that it’s really difficult to see how to get from here to there.”

That seems to be like it’s a whole other can of worms to be opened up about what it says for confidence and goal planning. It’s kind of sad if you ask me.

Honey Smith
Honey Smith
6 years ago

I see your point, but I also think that it’s hard for someone in their 20s, say, to really understand the long-term consequences of some of their actions.

And for folks who only get their act together in the last 10 years before retirement, I think having *concrete* ideas of the trade-offs will help them make better decisions.

Brian
Brian
6 years ago

Sounds interesting, sound like a simple approach for those not interested in learning all the finer details of retirement savings. Something to add to the to do list in about 13 months once my debt id paid off.

Honey Smith
Honey Smith
6 years ago
Reply to  Brian

@ Brian, one of the things it helps you do is prioritize where you should be sending debt payments (or if you would be better off saving for whatever reason), so it might be useful sooner.

Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life
Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life
6 years ago

The flex score system sounds interesting. I think the points system gives people who struggle to find financial footing a sense of where they are and a tangible, measurable way to improve. I wonder where I fall on the scale.

Diane C
Diane C
6 years ago

I’ve achieved FIRE, so this sounds interesting, but only from a distance. I think it will be infinitely useful for those just starting out.

I’ll be the one to raise my hand to ask: What does “Beta” mean in this context?

Heather
Heather
6 years ago
Reply to  Diane C

Beta-testing! In this context, it’s an application that’s new and needs to be tested by a few users to work out whatever bugs are left. It’s generally VERY close to a final product (in fact Gmail was in beta up until 2009), but if there are some bugs, customer service people generally work with you very closely to fix them!

Honey Smith
Honey Smith
6 years ago
Reply to  Diane C

@Diane C, Sorry for being unclear! Heather’s right on.

Elissa @ 20s Finances
Elissa @ 20s Finances
6 years ago

FlexScore does sound really interesting. The points system gives a good perspective on one’s savings, which some people really need. It can be hard to tell where you fall.

FI Pilgrim
FI Pilgrim
6 years ago

It’s still a cool concept. Once of the coolest parts to me is the fact that “1,000” is the finish line. That’s more exact that most people think about, they just work until they are 65 regardless of how much is in the bank, when some folks could probably retire at 50 if they manage it properly.

Honey Smith
Honey Smith
6 years ago
Reply to  FI Pilgrim

Yes, knowing how close you are to the finish line is one of the neat things about this. And if you don’t like what you see, the site will show you that you can either move the finish line back, or adjust your expectations about what it will look like.

MITMBlog
MITMBlog
6 years ago

Awesome. I just signed up for beta access. It’s a great concept and will hopefully move us beyond “Monopoly” and “Cash Flow” as the two money games.

Matt YLBody
Matt YLBody
6 years ago

Interesting. I’m going to have to check this out for myself.

Money Saving
Money Saving
6 years ago

I’ve started reading the FlexScore book and I love it so far. I think this service will definitely help a lot of people ensure they’re on track financially!

Shobir | Find Some Money
Shobir | Find Some Money
6 years ago

Very interesting concept, I’ll definitely look into it. I’ve always wanted to make my personal finance journey fun and I guess turning it into a game where you aim for 1000 might just be the ticket to success. I can really see this concept taking off. Thanks for the review, and great site.

BIGSeth
BIGSeth
6 years ago

Website doesn’t seem too functional. No confirmations on form submission… Inability to actually log in…

I’d be wary of using an identifiable email address until they get their act together.

Jane
Jane
6 years ago
Reply to  BIGSeth

I wasn’t able to log in, either, BigSeth. I tried twice using two different e-mail addresses and p/words. Nada.

Honey Smith
Honey Smith
6 years ago
Reply to  BIGSeth

I’m not sure what you mean by “no confirmations on form submission,” and I never had an issue logging in, but I did experience a couple of bugs when I used the site, so you have to use it with a grain of Beta salt at the moment 😉

Laura
Laura
6 years ago
Reply to  BIGSeth

I’ve had login issues and problems with the forms, too. I’ll add things, navigate away, it’ll seem like I never added anything, and then it’ll pop up later. Half the time when I go to a screen, it’s blank. What a mess. Hopefully they fix things up.

Christine, Random Hangers blog
Christine, Random Hangers blog
6 years ago
Reply to  BIGSeth

I think he means that when we tried to sign up/log in this morning, nothing happened. It didn’t confirm that we had signed up, it didn’t take me beyond the first page, nada. It seems to be working now though!
…false alarm. I’m able to log in, but can’t do much on the site itself. Guess I’ll just have to keep checking in occasionally. I like the idea.

Honey Smith
Honey Smith
6 years ago

The fun part will be when the “link accounts” feature is live, and you don’t have to enter everything in by hand. I totally get why they are rolling it out the way they are, they don’t want access to people’s sensitive account information until they are absolutely certain it is protected!

Peggy
Peggy
6 years ago
Reply to  Honey Smith

This is intriguing and I would like very much to try it out. After reading through other readers comments, could you please let me know the following: – you mention ‘linked accounts’ as being part of this in the future. Does that mean the site would draw information directly from our bank/investment accounts? – how detailed is the information one provides to get the initial score? Does it require specific residence address, or a ZIP code? – does it ask for DOB or just age/age range? – do we have to use our full name anywhere? Thanks for your help.… Read more »

Honey Smith
Honey Smith
6 years ago
Reply to  Honey Smith

@Peggy, it doesn’t have the link accounts feature yet (and even when it does, it looks like it will be an option, if you want to manually input stuff then I think you will always be able to).

It does need your zip code and DOB, but I am sure you could put in a fake name if you were so inclined.

Monica
Monica
6 years ago

I’ve tried it, but the website is very buggy and finishing my profile was trial and error, at best (accounts wouldn’t load, would disappear). The concept is great, but they need to fix their website. I can’t even log in.

Mark
Mark
6 years ago

I think the ability to get a score based on your personal financial goals and not just some random benchmarks is unique and will catch on. I have strongly help personal finance is more about discipline than anything else and I can see flexscore can help you stay on course.

Jeff Burrow
Jeff Burrow
6 years ago

Hi Everyone. This morning the FlexScore site experienced a database error which caused the site to be down temporarily. Because we are still in Beta, we expect these things to occur occasionally…yet, it’s still not fun so we are sorry for the inconvenience. The site is now up and running with no issues. We sincerely apologize for the earlier glitch. Please email us at [email protected] to report any other issues you experience.

Jeff Burrow, CFP
COO and Co-Founder
FlexScore.com

T
T
6 years ago

I think you may have addressed this as the site’s weakness, Honey, but to double check — is the only way to check if you’re “on track” to check against your peers? I feel like I’ve seen a fair amount of news about how the majority of Americans aren’t/ won’t be financially prepared for retirement, so if the average is the benchmark, it seems like a rather poor one.

Honey Smith
Honey Smith
6 years ago
Reply to  T

@T, the site says your peers are determined based on age and location. However, while the site does allow you to compare your FlexScore with your peers, your FlexScore itself is dependent on where YOU stand currently and what YOUR goals are.

So if you have it together, you should be scoring higher than your peers. That’s part of the “game” factor. As Charlie Sheen would say, “winning!”

thegooch
thegooch
6 years ago

I read this over a few times and cannot find any value in it. The Financial Peace course already has all of this covered, Also, I don’t hand over my personal information to random web sites. Sorry.

it sounds neat, but after the initial ‘wow’ factor is over , I don’t see people using it.

jim
jim
6 years ago

I tried signing in too. Got thru a couple of “pages” then the site just froze up. Tried again a couple of times more and couldn’t even get in.

jim
jim
6 years ago

oh and their address to retry, i.e. our site is up and running now again – totally doesn’t work.

Sheri
Sheri
6 years ago

At first glance it seemed like kind of a neat concept, but the more I thought about it the more it felt like “preaching to the choir,” especially where GRS and its financially savvy readers are concerned. As someone already mentioned, the majority of Americans are woefully unprepared for retirement. What’s the point of comparing ourselves to our peers when we already know those peers aren’t doing as well as we are? Is it just to be able to say, “Yay, I’m winning?” And as far as the “woefully unprepared majority” goes they, too, already know how poorly they’re doing,… Read more »

Honey Smith
Honey Smith
6 years ago
Reply to  Sheri

@Sheri, I see what you’re saying, but I’m not sure I agree. Comparing yourself to your peers is only *one* of the things the site does. The more important (to my mind) thing that it does is create an action plan to help you reach your goals. Even if you are doing things mostly right, there’s still more you can do. And if you aren’t doing things right but have no idea what to do, the site doesn’t just compare you unfavorably to your peers. It tells you EXACTLY what you need to do to catch up. For someone who’s… Read more »

William Charles
William Charles
6 years ago

It’s interesting to see gamification being introduced to sectors like finance and health, where most pundits thought they’d stay in the lifestyle niches (fitness for example).

Will be interesting to see what flexscore is like when it’s launched.

Catherine
Catherine
6 years ago

I tried it, so far I think it looks pretty clunky, and frankly, for someone who is even moderately financially literate, I don’t see a lot of value over a more functional and established site like Mint (I realize Mint does not give you a total score, but you can set up personalized goals and it will let you know how you are doing with those). As others have mentioned, I also don’t find being able to compare with my peers all that good of a metric.

phani
phani
6 years ago

This is interesting review of FlexScore. I am wondering if you can take a look at Mofinto.com whose goal is to educate and help with personal financial planning. It makes it easy to start planning for many of life’s goals with a series of wizards but is flexible enough to let you tweak the plan. Creating an account is easy and using should be easy as well.

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