New Online Tools Help Manage Credit, Debt and Expenses -- for Free

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Using ballpark figures for tracking your personal finances is about as effective as managing your diet by making ballpark calorie estimates on hot fudge sundaes: Whatever you guess, it's probably not going to be accurate. But when it comes to your money, there's no need to wing it: Several new online tools debuted at the Finovate Conference in San Francisco this week to help take the vagueness of out how much you really have, owe or are owed.

Managing Your Debt

Debt Coach from Bills.com offers side-by-side options for getting out of debt, including a cost-benefit analysis of refinancing, debt counseling, and different payment strategies. It also reveals -- in a first for consumers, says CEO Brad Stroh -- the concession or settlement rates that credit card companies use if you decide to make a deal to pay off your balances.

The tool takes a soft approach to collecting your data, which makes it less intimidating. No account numbers are necessary and you don't have to enter your Social Security number. It relies on your own input -- so you'll need to know you credit score and how much credit card debt you have -- and also gathers debt information from credit-data company Experian to build a complete profile. The user prioritizes what is most important to him or her, such as paying off as quickly as possible or minimizing stress and impact on family. Debt Coach also outlines the pros and cons of each way out of debt; for example, it shows how debt consolidation may be a faster solution for you but how it can affect your credit score.

Managing Your Credit Score

Mint.com, already a popular platform to create online budgets, unveiled a new tool for managing credit scores on a mobile device. The new tool is useful for people who are heading toward a major financing event, such as buying a home or car. "Credit is in a black box," says Aaron Forth, vice president of product for Mint. "We are judged on it in a profound way." Forth says for consumers who want or need to keep track of their credit score, Mint's new tool sends a mobile alert when he or she crosses a debt or spending threshold that could impact a credit score.

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Using Mint's site can be an eye-opening experience on the personal budgeting front. Based on the accounts a consumer shares with the Mint (such as credit cards and checking accounts), the website categorizes spending and recommends a budget. For example, it will show you exactly how much your daily latte habit adds up to over a month.

"It's a powerful moment for a lot of people," Forth says. One of the early complaints about Mint was that its categorization required too much hands-on maintenance, but Forth says the company has improved those features. The categorization tool is 85% accurate, and it now learns more quickly, evolving its choices based on the previous categorizations an account holder has made.

Managing Receipts and Expenses

As small business gets more micro and mobile, the line between business expenses and personal expenses is increasingly blurry for many entrepreneurs, and keeping track of charges and receipts has become a job unto itself. Expensify.com has already established itself as one of the premier online tools for tracking expenses. Last week, Expensify unveiled an even easier way to do it: Automating expense reports from photo scans of receipts.

Using a mobile-phone app, users can take a photo of a receipt, upload it, and add it directly into their expense report, complete with amount, vendor and date. If the user has also entered a credit card to track expenses, the scanned receipts will be compared against credit card charges to eliminate double-counting. It's an excellent tool for business travelers, freelancers, small business operators or anyone who needs to submit expense reports.

Managing Shared Bills

Nearly anyone who has ever had a roommate understands the aggravation of tracking down the payments for shared bills. New start-up PayDivvy.com has launched a social bill-paying platform to allow users to track and share ongoing expenses like cable or rent, or to easily split one-time bills like dinner at a restaurant.

Users create a "divvy" -- an expense record -- with the names of people sharing the bill and the percentage or dollar amount each person owes. Each person makes direct payments for the bill through PayDivvy for his or her portion, and the website tracks who has and has not paid. It also includes a handy option to nudge delinquent payers with email alerts. CEO Mike Melby says the social layer allows bill participants to create Facebook-like comment threads for bills (and rib your roomies for ordering pay-per-view) and transforms bill paying from a burden into something more personable. It's a great tool for roommates, or for groups trying to split a bachelor-party bill.

Catherine New is a reporter with the Huffington Post Media Group.
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