Investors who like to track their own investments used to have one decision: choose either Microsoft’s Money or Intuit’s Quicken. Both were leading personal finance software apps.
Things have changed, forcing investors to reconsider their options.
Several years ago, Microsoft announced plans to stop upgrading and supporting its Money personal finance software system. Microsoft is still making the software available, for free, as a download. The software, though, has very limited ability to download either bank account information or stock quotes.
Investors who hope to track their portfolios have several top candidates that are still actively supported.
•Intuit’s Quicken software. Quicken was the first personal finance software package to win widespread adoption. For skilled computer users looking for an actively supported software program, Quicken is really the only game in town. It features advanced asset allocation, tax and other planning tools that few alternatives can rival.
With that said, user reviews of the latest version of Quicken — Quicken 2012 — have be very negative at Amazon.com. Most of the complaints center on Quicken’s 2012 budgeting system.
But investors are still disappointed with the software’s ability to download transactions from some financial institutions, advertisements that show up (including the splash screen) and a clunky system to track mortgages.
•Other personal-finance desktop solutions. Other than Quicken, the players in the personal-finance software business are fairly few. Money Dance is a software app many users say works for them, especially when tracking checking and savings accounts. Money Dance can track investment accounts, but not to the level of sophistication of Quicken. For Mac users, iBank is an option.
•Financial institutions’ own sites. Most of the big banks and brokerages have improved their Web sites to the point they might be adequate for many basic users.
Additionally, due to new rules, brokerages are required to maintain the cost basis for most individual stocks. Tracking how much you paid for stocks, or your basis, is one of the most important things investors use personal finance software for.
The danger, though, in relying on financial institutions’ sites is losing data if you ever move an account to another brokerage firm. Additionally, most consumers have banking and brokerage relationships at several institutions. Having a bird’s eye view of all these accounts in one place is something software programs such as Quicken, or some other alternatives mentioned below, do especially well.
Some financial institutions allow you to track your accounts held at other institutions. But if you leave the institution, say if a bank raised fees, you could lose all your historical transactions.
•Web-based personal financial trackers. The number of Web-based alternatives continues to grow. All of these log into your brokerage accounts and transfer the data to their Web sites. That requires a lot of trust, because you’ll need to give these companies your brokerage user names and passwords.
Mint.com has been the leader in providing consumers tools to track their money online. Mint is geared toward consumers interested most in controlling their spending and saving for goals. There is functionality to help investors track their portfolios, but it’s not nearly as powerful as what you find in Quicken.
Some sites are springing up with the intention of bringing Web-based tracking tools primarily to investors.
Personal Capital, which was built by former Intuit employees, provides a robust Web-based tool to monitor investments. It can even help investors see how much of their portfolios are in the key asset classes, ranging from small and large stocks to value and growth. The site is free. The catch is that you must also enter your account information, which also is the case with Mint and the other Web-based tools. Personal Capital uses this to find leads for financial advisors to sell their services.
SigFig is attempting to go for investors looking for simplicity when tracking their portfolios. The site’s strength lies in scouring your financial information for ways you’re making mistakes, such as paying too many brokerage fees, and making suggestions to improve. The site suggests alternative brokers or financial advisors, and makes money if you switch to these suggested providers.
•Mobile apps. Consumers are increasingly using their phones for many of the things they used to do on their computers. Tools used to track stocks and portfolios are getting increasingly sophisticated. Several brokerages, for instance, provide apps for various tablets and smartphones to track portfolios. There are also portfolio apps from stand-alone companies like PageOnce. You can read reviews of various investment apps from the marketplace of your smart phone.
Life used to be so simple: You’d just choose Money or Quicken. But while Money isn’t actively supported, in a way, there are more choices than ever.