Your guide to online budget services
-- Linda Stern is a freelance writer. Any opinions in the column are hers. You can follow Linda Stern's financial notes on Twitter at www.twitter.com/lindastern --
By Linda Stern
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Is it time to move your financial life online? A crowded field of new and established websites promises to give you all the record-keeping and budgeting advice you'll ever need -- for free.
Meanwhile, the world of desktop personal finance seems to be getting less robust. Microsoft has decided to get out of the desktop financial software business, ending sales of Microsoft Money. That leaves Intuit's Quicken as the main player in that category, and Intuit has been putting more focus on its web and cell phone programs and less on its desktop software.
Folks dependent on the Microsoft program have a good reason to switch to one of the newer online services -- by early 2011, they won't be able to use any automatic downloading or updating features on their software. Quicken users may be in less of a hurry to migrate. In addition to the time they've already invested in filling that program with personal data, they have the security of knowing that their financial details remain on their hard drives, and not the world wide web.
But as more companies enter the online personal finance field, and older companies refine their programs, it grows more tempting. Some slice and dice your budgets in a way the desktop programs don't, and they make it easy. Most also support iPhone applications, so you can check your balances or add new expenses while you are on the go.
They are also becoming less threatening to folks already comfortable banking online. "We are all using Internet standard bank-levels of security," says Avinash Karnani of LendingTree, which has just launched one of the newer sites, called MoneyRight, here
Other players in the category include the most popular, Mint (www.mint.com), Quicken online (here), and Wesabe (www.wesabe.com.) Thrive (www.justthrive.com), another online personal finance site, was bought by LendingTree and will remain separate, but similar to LendingTree's MoneyRight program.
All of these sites work essentially the same way: You type in the bank name, account number and password info for your savings, checking and credit cards accounts, and the sites will pull that data together every time you sign in. They will tag, categorize, analyze and amass your data in ways that should make it easier for you to review and control your spending habits. But they all vary, and the site preferred by one person may not work as well for another, based on personal preferences and financial lifestyles. Continued...