Updated: May 3, 2013 12:14PM
Quick: What's the balance in your checking account? And how much more could you charge on your credit card before getting hit with an over-limit fee? And by the way, how much did you spend on clothing or entertainment last year? And what bills should you pay in the next few days to avoid late fees?
Instant knowledge about your financial situation leads to complete power over your money. That's the revolution that's happening right now when it comes to personal finance: all your information, instantly accessible, anywhere, anytime -- with complete security.
Online financial aggregation
It all comes under the heading of "online financial aggregation." That's the industry term for Web sites that scurry securely around the Internet to give you all your current balances from checking and credit cards at one secure site. They also offer automatic categorization of spending, budgeting tools and tips, and a community of users who support each other.
The current "players in the space" are Mint.com, Wesabe.com and Geezeo.com.
I wrote about Geezeo last fall, when the site announced a huge innovation: not only gathering your balances, "delivering" that information to you on demand by text message on your cell phone, a practice others now offer in various formats. This space is very competitive, with announcements of new features coming on a regular basis.
Currently, none of the sites allows you to pay a bill, or transfer money from your accounts. Only Geezeo collects information on your investment accounts. And, unlike bank Web sites which update your transactions instantly, the information you receive at the aggregators' sites is current only as of the night before, except for Geezeo, which updates in real time. But it's only a matter of time, and technology!
Now Quicken, the pioneer in online money management, is answering the challenge of these startup services with an online version of the popular desktop software.
In its early stage, here's what Quicken Online will do for you:
Create a daily aggregation of all the transaction information and balances for each checking and credit card account you register. More than 5,000 financial institutions are participating.
Automatically categorize all of your spending from your checking, debit card and credit card accounts, and display it by category in either a list form or pie-shaped graphic. You can create your own categories if theirs don't work.
See a reminder of monthly bills that you should be paying now -- and have those reminders sent by e-mail, or to your cell phone by text message.
Display a simple, but powerful graphic of "Money In -- Money Out" with an adjustable date range, to help you manage your cash flow on a monthly or quarterly or annual basis.
One thing that QuickenOnline won't do is sync up with the information on your desktop version. But the trusted Quicken name is sure to draw more users to this concept of instant, accessible and total online financial information.
Free 30-day trial
At www.QuickenOnline.com you can sign up for a free 30-day trial, and then the cost is just $2.99 a month. The other online sites offer their services for free, but since they're supported by advertising, you'll get all sorts of offers from financial companies.
All these Web sites play directly to a generation that wants both instant access to information and commiseration about their finances -- with group discussions of everything from how to deal with debt to advice on savings or shopping wisely. (Let's just hope this isn't the blind leading the blind!)
One thing is sure, now there will be no excuse for ignorance about your personal finances. And that's The Savage Truth.
Terry Savage is a registered investment adviser. Check out Terry's answers to reader questions at suntimes.com, and click on Business. Distributed by Creators Syndicate.