What are the best financial accounts and tools available?

As a personal-finance blogger, it's my responsibility to keep up-to-date on the latest in the financial industry. Whose advice is worth heeding? (And whose advice sucks?) What are the current tax rates? Where's the best place to save for the future?

In the Olden Days, it wasn't tough for me to stay informed. I paid attention. I read books and magazines and blogs. PR agencies sent me buckets of email. Plus, GRS readers constantly sent me tips and recommendations.

But I've essentially taken the past couple of years off from the world of personal finance. I'm out of touch. I no longer know which credit cards are best, where I ought to have my savings, or how to best track my investments.

That'll change in time, of course, but I'm hoping the collective brainpower of the Get Rich Slowly community can give me — and other readers — a sort of crash course on the current state of the financial union.

Savings Accounts

Let's start with that old favorite, the online savings account. When I first started this blog, savings rates were respectable. Online banks offered yields of five and six percent, and it was fun to find hidden gems.

Nowadays, the landscape's very different. Things have looked bleak for savers since the market crash five years ago. My savings is still in the ING Direct account I started in 2008. (Except it's not ING Direct anymore, is it? It's Capital One 360!)

I used to have several targeted savings accounts at ING; today, I have only two. I carry a more-than-adequate $5000 emergency fund. Plus, Kim and I have a shared “Dream Fund” that currently has a balance of $22,273.07.

Sidebar: Kim and I aren't sure how we'll use this Dream Fund. Most of the time, we say it's for our “beach house” — a hypothetical second home in a warm-weather climate. But maybe we'll use it for an RV. Or to fund a year of travel around the world. Who knows? Right now, it's a place for us to dump our windfalls. When I sold my comics (about which more soon), for instance, this is where I stashed the cash. When we turn in our change jars, that money goes here too.

So, tell me: What's the best place to save nowadays?

Credit Cards

I'm also out of the loop on credit cards.

When I first started Get Rich Slowly, I was anti-credit card. With time, though, both Kris (my ex-wife) and you the readers helped me to see that credit cards aren't necessarily evil. They can be dangerous, sure, but so can a chainsaw. Just as you'd treat a chainsaw with respect, you need to treat credit cards with respect. And used carefully, they can even be a valuable tool.

Based on your advice, in 2007 I picked up a Capital One No-Hassle Cash Rewards card. That's still my main card for personal expenses. (I also have a Chase card that earns British Airways miles — documented here — and two cards for business, including a Costo Amex card.)

At gatherings of personal-finance bloggers, I've heard my colleagues chatting about new, improved cards. What are they? What do financially savvy folk keep in their wallets in 2013?

Apps

Next, I'd like to know what sorts of apps people are using to track their money.

I'm still stuck in the stone-age, or so it seems. I've been using Quicken for almost two decades, warts and all. Like most folks, I loathe the most recent Mac versions (WTF, Intuit?), so I cling to Quicken 2007 — a seven-year-old desktop app. Sure, parts of it have been “sunsetted” (WTF, Intuit?), but otherwise it does the job.

I've never found a web-based app that works for me. I was a fan of Wesabe before it went under. I've tried Mint, but it doesn't work for me. It chokes on my Fidelity investment accounts.

The only other money app I use is a tool called Personal Capital, which is available for iOS devices like the iPhone and the iPad. (There's also a web version.) I haven't used Personal Capital for account management; I use it only to see all of my accounts in one place. I like it. If it would sync with my credit union, I'd love it. (Maybe I should do a review…)

Tom recently reviewed a bunch of investment apps. What about you? What sorts of financial apps are you using, whether on the desktop, web, or mobile device?

Books

Lastly, I've also let my personal-finance reading decline. That's a shame because I receive constant requests for book recommendations.

Because good financial advice never gets old, I don't mind suggesting old favorites like Debt is Slavery, The Four Pillars of Investing, and Your Money or Your Life. But it'd be nice to have some modern weapons in my arsenal.

I know two of my colleagues recently published books: Jeff Rose wrote Soldier of Finance and Carrie Rocha wrote Pocket Your Dollars. Plus, I've received some other books in the mail, including The Story of Rich, The Power of Passive Investing, and All The Money in the World.

But what books have you been reading? Which do you recommend? Which were disappointing?

Sidebar: Blogs? Like everyone else, I'm a fan of Mr. Money Mustache. (In fact, Pete and I will be seated next to each other on a flight to Ecuador later today.) Plus, I really like Paula Pant's Afford Anything. What else should I be reading?

So, that's it.

I, your humble guide, am requesting help. Give me a crash course in what's current. Tell me what I've missed over the past two years. Help me rediscover the modern world of personal finance.

More about...Apps, Books

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Jon @ MoneySmartGuides
Jon @ MoneySmartGuides
6 years ago

For savings, I too use Capital One 360. It’s free and a breeze to use! For credit cards, I just use my Amex Gold Card. My fiance and I are using our points to pay for the majority of our honeymoon. Once that is taken care of, I might look into a cash rewards card instead. Apps – I’m a huge fan of Personal Capital. I feel it is more geared towards investing however. I love this fact but don’t think everyone is. For those that aren’t I like Power Wallet. It’s basically like Mint, but for me, it actually… Read more »

Jeff
Jeff
6 years ago

One of the things I like the most about Capital One 360 (formerly known as ING Direct) is that I can create multiple savings accounts under my name within minutes and fund them immediately. It makes it much easier to manage savings goals when I can segregate funds for vacations, auto maintenance, loan payments, etc into separate accounts. This makes tracking the goal progress in Mint much easier plus it removes the danger of accidentally spending money that was already allocated for something else. Also when creating one of these sub accounts you can make it a joint account with… Read more »

Ed ikula
Ed ikula
6 years ago

Thank you for the article and to all for the interesting comments. One of the most unique programs out there is called ‘Getting on the Map’. It’s very high quality 4+hours (broken up into 15 short chapters) DVD of classroom and one on one instruction. People are taught how to gather, organize and understand their personal finances. People become much better stewards of their money. They will discover many areas that can be tweaked or eliminated resulting in spending much less month after month. These savings can total thousands of dollars annually. Find out more at prosperitytraining.com

robert
robert
6 years ago

NEFCU Go Green Checking at 2.5 percent. Yes it’s a credit union but I think many of the credit unions in their big “Credit Union family” offer this. There are caches but it would cover your 22k fund well.

Matt @ Your Living Body
Matt @ Your Living Body
6 years ago
Reply to  robert

I almost disagree with the whole savings thing. It might be an okay thing to do if you’re holding a lump sum of money but I prefer the approach to invest it into an asset that outpaces inflation instead.

Louise M
Louise M
6 years ago

For apps I use my bank’s and a spending tracker called Wally (free). You can group expenses by category (food and drinks) and subcategory (takeaway coffee) and also use aspects to see if they were basic, personal, work or vacation expenses. It lets you review the data in a myriad of different ways. Do check it out.

A-L
A-L
6 years ago

Savings Account After trying to search out the best deals for our savings account (credit unions from around the country offering a high rate like 4% on the first $10k in an account), we decided to stop because the banks always changed their policies for the worse, making the hassle not worth it. We now bank with a local bank where we actually get the best interest rate I’ve seen. It’s an overall 1.05% right now on our account, but it’s staggered (something like 2.5% on the first $25k and then .75% or something on the rest…I don’t keep up… Read more »

Mrs. Pop @ Planting Our Pennies
Mrs. Pop @ Planting Our Pennies
6 years ago

Savings Accounts – We’re with Ally, though the rates recently dropped and I think are about 0.84%, albeit with no minimum balance and we’ve never been charged a fee. Credit Cards – We’re strictly cash back rewards cards with no fees. Discover It, Chase Freedom, and AmEx Blue Cash Everyday. A lot of our travel gets paid for by work, so miles programs etc are just frustrating for us. Apps – I actually dislike personal capital so far. Biggest pet peeve – the weekly updates on how much my portfolio is up or down. It makes it much harder to… Read more »

Scott
Scott
6 years ago

Saving Account: Captial One 360

Credit Cards: Captial One No Hassle Cash Back 2% Gas & Grocery, 1% Everything Else

Apps: YNAB!!!!!!!!!!! It blows everything else out of the water, hands down. Awareness produces change.

Alex
Alex
6 years ago

My wife and I keep our savings accounts with EverBank and Ally Bank. At the time of my research, they offered fairly competitive rates (though still nowhere near as high as they used to be industry wide). On to apps…+1 on the YNAB recommendations. We’re light-years ahead of where we used to be in terms of our financial consciousness. One of the best things about YNAB, and it’s a bit counterintuitive to some, is that it doesn’t automatically download transactions from your bank and credit card accounts. You enter your transactions manually, which immediately makes you more aware of your… Read more »

spiralingsnails
spiralingsnails
6 years ago
Reply to  Alex

We started our mattirage using a combination of Excel & Microsoft Money, which was clunky and still didn’t work perfectly for us. Then we discovered the wonderful world of YNAB (ok technically my husband had to talk change-averse me into it) and things have gone fantastically ever since!

lmoot
lmoot
6 years ago

For savings, overflow checking, and CD’s, I use Ally. It’s currently .84% for savings, and 1.05 for raise your rate 2-year CD. I used to have ING but the rates bombed after it became Cap 1 360. I recently got a Venture One card trough Cap 1 because I plan on traveling often in the shorterm and the miles rewards are a slightly better value than the cash-back cards I have. I don’t have experience with apps b/c I’ve never owned a smartphone, but I am interested in using online budgeting tools, so I’ll be reading the comments closely for… Read more »

Brian
Brian
6 years ago

Great post and comments. I’m still using excel to track my budget and need to upgrade my tools as I work on my debt repayment.

TB at BlueCollarWorkman
TB at BlueCollarWorkman
6 years ago

So you sold your comic books? I remmeber you talking about that before! You were having a tough time though because it’s your collection! Congrats on that man.

Taynia | The Fiscal Flamingo
Taynia | The Fiscal Flamingo
6 years ago

I’m a big fan of Smarty Pig for savings. You can set up different “goals” and allocate your savings across them. When you’re ready to cash in, you can increase your cash through a rewards program or just take out your cash + interest.

Phoebe@allyouneedisenough
6 years ago

APPS: There is a free app called Easy Envelope Budget Aid (EEBA) that I really like. It is pretty simple – it allows you to put in your income and then open as many virtual “envelopes” as you want. As you make payments you record it in the envelope and the bar graph diminishes by that amount so you can see what you have left in that category. The best part is that it sync’s between phones so my husband can pay for something, enter it in, and it diminishes what’s left in that joint envelope for both of us.… Read more »

John S @ Frugal Rules
John S @ Frugal Rules
6 years ago

It isn’t the highest paying, but we go with USAA for our savings as their service is top notch.

For credit cards, we’ve started a bit of churning ourselves. We’ve earned enough to pay for FinCon travel and a trip for my Birthday in January. Chase Preferred is our main card and have churned the Southwest Rapid Rewards card and Barclaycard amongst others.

Jeremy
Jeremy
6 years ago

I wholeheartedly recommend Simple bank for savings (and checking!). It’s a new bank backed by Bancorp (FDIC insured). Simple is great because it doesn’t require you to set up separate accounts just to separate your money. In my savings account, I have a $5000 emergency fund. I simply dragged $5000 of my money to a box that I named “Emergency fund”. I also have a vacation coming up, so I told simple I want another box that will save $1000 over the next 6 months. I can drag my money around into different ‘sub accounts’ and the save-over-time feature is… Read more »

scooze
scooze
6 years ago

Personal capital rocks! Check out the 401k fee analyzer – its super helpful. And the site allows you to check your overall allocations.

Randy
Randy
6 years ago

I read this article recently about the highest interest rate accounts out there. It’s the best I have seen on the subject.

http://moneystreetsmart.com/best-high-interest-savings-account/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=best-high-interest-savings-account

ThomasC
ThomasC
6 years ago

Apps: I’ve beem using Money Dance for Mac, and I’ve been happy with it. Quicken was the only reason that I was still using my old desktop PC, and when they deactivated their direct connect because my copy was too old I decided to find a Mac alternative. I like Money Dance much better than Quicken.

Ivy
Ivy
6 years ago

Credit cards: you have to pick a good match for our spending patterns. We have the following (all cash back)
Amex Blue Cash Preferred: 6% on groceries (up to 6K a year), 3% on gas
Pricline Barclaycard: 2% on everything
Chase Amazon: 3% on Amazon purchases

Books: mostly from the Begleheads: “All About Asset Allocation”, “The Bogleheads Guide to Investing”, “The Bogleheads Guide to Retirement Planning”. And I am frequenting their forum http://www.bogleheads.org/forum/index.php

Steve
Steve
6 years ago

Savings account: Barclays savings account at .90%

Credit card: Amex blue cash preferred: 6% groceries and 3% gas with $75 annual fee.

I know you didn’t ask for investment vehicles, but check out Lending Club. Peer to peer lending with at least %5-%6 annual return (that’s on the safest end). It’s basically investing in bonds where the borrower is actual people like you and me.

Mr. Utopia @ Personal Finance Utopia
Mr. Utopia @ Personal Finance Utopia
6 years ago

It’s so very easy to get out-of-date on the latest and greatest in the personal finance arena. Fortunately, there are sites like GRS that help with that! I like the idea of asking readers – it’ll be interesting to see the collective responses.

Corey
Corey
6 years ago

BOOKS: While not specifically about personal finance, I just read The Power of Habit, and it had me thinking A LOT about my spending/finance habits. I highly recommend it.

Patty
Patty
6 years ago

For apps, we use YNAB for budgeting, Check to keep track of bills and when they are due, and CreditKarma.com to kee track of our credit scores. These three tools have changed our lives in less than 2 months!

Jen
Jen
6 years ago

I LOVE mvelopes.com as a way of tracking bank accounts and savings and spending. It idoes have a fee but have found it so helpful I just signed up for a lifetime membership. They have good customer support if you have application problems or questions. You can run reports, create a budget, and reconcile deposits and spending in real time. It has revolutionized our family’s finances.

celyg
celyg
6 years ago

Side question — have you and Kim discussed how to handle that account if you break up? So many people have been burned by shared assets outside of marriage or contractual obligation. Do you have any sort of agreement or plan in place? I assume you both have access to that account, so theoretically one of you could empty it at any time. Some of the most interesting posts at GRS are about relationships — if it’s something you’d be comfortable sharing, I for one would be interested. You are a very smart person so I assume you have a… Read more »

Honey Smith
Honey Smith
6 years ago

Of the books I have reviewed, I thought More Money, Please by Scott Gamm was the best. Though I don’t think you’re the audience he is aiming for!

I will be reviewing Soldier of Finance next! I’m excited about it, it’s in my desk drawer right now waiting for lunch hour. I even postponed starting the Mortal Instruments books for it 😉

Blake
Blake
6 years ago

For finance apps, YNAB (You Need A Budget) is really good. Better than what I remember from Quicken.

Jacque
Jacque
6 years ago

For software, I’ll give a plug for Fidelity Full View, since you already have accounts with them. It is free and the dashboard is useful. That said, I’m still feeling out their latest update and am a little less impressed with their reporting features compared to what they had before.

Dave
Dave
6 years ago

Savings – Haven’t moved from ING/Capital One 360. It still links to my Sharebuilder account and makes investments easy. It’s tough to beat $4 per trade. Credit Cards – I’m a churner, whole hog. It takes some effort, but so far it has provided flights for a two week European vacation and flights and a week of hotels in Tokyo – probably $6-7000 in value. We still have enough points sitting around or coming in for another round or two of flights anywhere in the world and at least a week of hotel stays. When I don’t have a bonus… Read more »

Alea
Alea
6 years ago

There is another similarly titled book that I am currently reading – Your Money and Your Life: A Lifetime Approach to Money Management by Robert Aliber(Author).

Some of the chapters on Social Security(and the convoluted ways they calculate your benefits) and Retirement are quite good, but you have to really pay attention.

stellamarina
stellamarina
6 years ago

Love your analogy of credit cards and chain saws. Will have to remember that when talking to the kids about credit cards.

rosarygosa
rosarygosa
6 years ago
Reply to  stellamarina

I love that one too and have quoted it a few times.

Danielle
Danielle
6 years ago

Other than my emergency fund, I use Smartypig for savings. I agree with you on Afford Anything, I really look forward to Paula’s posts! I love the Chase freedom credit card, it has rotating 5% cash back on different categories (gas, groceries) every quarter. I’m currently looking for a good international travel card, without foreign transaction fees. I’m thinking about getting the Capital One VentureOne card for this purpose. Mint — I’ve had the same issue with my Fidelity accounts not syncing, and I’ve basically stopped using Mint because of it. Instead, I’ve been tracking my account balances/net worth in… Read more »

cathleen
cathleen
6 years ago

I actually like Quicken for Mac. (I’ve been using Quicken since it first came out and I ran my biz on Quickbooks) I like that I can enter all my monthly bills once and discretionary budgets so I can actually see cash flow out 3 months. If I need to tweak it I can make small changes to line items and the cash flow will cascade. I’m very visual so it helps me see that while there may be $10K in checking today, for example, it’s all spoken for already! , As for savings, I have everything deducted automatically from… Read more »

LMaS
LMaS
6 years ago

I use USAA for banking, they have a great all around service and convenience for an online bank, even though they have not quite top tier interest rates. Credits cards – Chase Freedom, or Discover rewards cards, not much to say about those. And I would just say that I love Mint, it connects with all of our accounts and the Trends, Transactions, Goals, and general overview are great. It is definitely worth another look if you haven’t tried recently because they are always adding more account support. Some of our accounts used to have weekly updating issues, but it’s… Read more »

Katherine
Katherine
6 years ago

I still swear by CalendarBudget.com for knowing exactly where my money is at all times (and predicting account balances based on projected inflows/outflows).

As for books, I recently read “Cash-Rich Retirement” by Jim Schlagheck … I believe that it is geared toward a more advanced stage of personal finance so it gave some new ideas/perspectives rather than the same run-of-the-mill advice that you otherwise tend to hear everywhere.

PawPrint
PawPrint
6 years ago

I use Smarty Pig for targeted savings. My credit union offers dividend rewards checking to I keep $10K there to get the max interest. Like you, I still use an old version of Quicken. Works for me so why spend the money to update the software or the time to research something to replace it. Don’t have a smart phone so no apps for me. I tried Mint once, but it didn’t work well for me. I started using a Southwest card for the miles and bonus miles, but then Southwest quit direct flights to the places I go the… Read more »

Paul
Paul
6 years ago

Cards: I have not seen this mentioned in prior posts. Penfed.org has a good value visa cash rewards card that is giving you a good saving on gas. 5% on your statement. Will work if you buy gas at a club or station. For other purchases the rebate is less than 1%. The 5% is deducted from the statement gross billing and you pay the remaining 95%. Another nice feature is the ability to auto-pay the amount using a linked external account so that you do not need to do a funds transfer into penfed each month or an internal… Read more »

A-L
A-L
6 years ago
Reply to  Paul

Penfed is reducing the percentage back to 3% for gas. It’s also adding a $25 annual fee. I think you can still get 5% with no annual fee if you have a mortgage or line of credit with a balance, or a checking account with direct deposit.

sarah
sarah
6 years ago
Reply to  A-L

Penfed just send me a memo that their 5% back gas card (Cash Rewards) will have a $25 annual fee starting next month (October 26, 2013). This is not yet noted on their site as it still lists the card for $0.00 annual fee, but during a quick phone call to them today, they saud as of Oct 26, this will be a charge.

BEN MARTIN
BEN MARTIN
6 years ago

Dear JD, GRS Community; Here’s my 2 cents – I subscribe to several E-newsletter sources. One of them is Money Management International, which is one of the more established Consumer Credit Counseling Service groups in the U.S. I received a newsletter with a link to an article called How Finances Affect Problem Solving. It discusses how people who worry constantly about money and financial concerns (like Yours Truly) have the same reduced mental capacity as someone who has just stayed up all night. Which means that the worrying keeps you from solving the problems which started you worrying in the… Read more »

Al
Al
6 years ago

http://Www.momentumcard.com used in a smart way will yield 6% annually which is better than any bank out there. There are fees but again used intelligently will still give you a very nice return. Any book by Julie Stav or Robert Kyosaki is a must read. The book 4 day work week gives you a ton of ideas to maximize your life thus saving money in the process

GraysonIP
GraysonIP
6 years ago

The Affluent Investor is the best book I’ve read in years. Highly recommend it, and better yet, I got it for less than $5 through Amazon’s ebook download. I use Check (formerly PageOnce) for keeping track of accounts. As for apps, I like Zite, which allows me to follow personal finance from various sites. I’m also a fan of Learnvest, which has a variety of personal finance tools (although I only read the articles). And I’ll give an old school plug to Consumer Reports, which I recently learned I can read for free online with my local library subscription. I… Read more »

Tahnya Kristina
Tahnya Kristina
6 years ago

Love this post and good to see you’re back JD. As a financial planner I have to say that we are the best resource available – but my opinion may be just a little bit biased.

Maximus
Maximus
6 years ago

I use Mint/Personal Capital.. works for my needs. I do want to use SigFig but it does not support my 401k brokerage.

Toni Bynon
Toni Bynon
6 years ago

I think this is among the most vital info for me. And i’m glad reading your article. But wanna remark on few general things, The website style is wonderful, the articles is really excellent : D. Good job, cheers|

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