Zendough: Become one with your money

In early January, TransUnion will launch a new personal finance tool called Zendough that, instead of focusing on every transaction you make, aims to help you become one with your money. WalletPop was able to get an early look at the service -- which you can test out with a free, seven-day trial -- and we're impressed overall with the amount of information provided and the easy-to-understand manner in which it's presented.

The first thing you'll notice when you start using Zendough is that the Zen theme runs deep, but rather than being corny, it works. Perhaps it's the calming effect of a bonsai tree, stacked rocks and a Koi pond that makes knowing exactly how much debt you have less of a heart rate elevating experience.

Because Zendough is part of the TransUnion family, it's able to present you with a significant amount of information right after you log in. Essentially what you see is a dashboard of your financial life with your credit score, identity theft risk, debt-to-income ratio and yes, every debt you own. Along with the details, each component is also represented with a graphic so you can see at a glance if you're OK or in trouble -- and that's all just on the front page. If you want to know more about any of these items, you can click for more detailed information.

Knowing, with just the click of the button, the amount of debt I'm in, to whom I owe it, and what categories they fall into is an enlightening experience. Especially since knowing exactly what I still owe has proven difficult for me to quickly monitor, thanks to the number of student loans my wife and I have with various lending companies, many of which have poor online access.

Tour of Zendough:
Here's a sample of what you immediately see when logging in to Zendough; below each of these informative graphics you also get a high level view of what goes into that particular value.

From this main screen, you can enter any of the three main components of the Zendough service to access more details. We'll start with a look at the "My Credit" Section. I particularly like the "Six Principles" that explain how your VantageScore is calculated and the ability to click right below that to see the factors that lower your score, view your credit reports from all three companies and learn more about credit. While the VantageScore, which is between 501 and 990, will give you a feel about how you're doing,Zendough could provide more value in this area by providing you with your actual FICO score.

On top of providing your VantageScore, you also get access to your credit reports at all three credit agencies. You can get these for free once a year at annualcreditreport.com but Zendough lets you pull them at any time and makes getting all three simpler; not a reason alone to buy Zendough, but a nice extra.

The next component is the "My Identity" section, which details your risk of identity fraud. If your Social Security number is turning up too often in databases, this score will be higher and you'll be given advice on what to watch out for. Another perk of the Zendough service is that if your identity is compromised, you get a case manager who will offer advice during the estimated 160-hour, identity-cleanup process, contact creditors on your behalf, and provide other assistance to help you get your identity back.

The "My Accounts" component provides a detailed listing of your credit accounts broken down by type of debt and other factors. In addition to quickly showing how much you owe in each category and your monthly payments, you can see your credit card usage in graph form or your debt by account type in a pie chart.

Additionally, when you look at any off the accounts you have you can mouse over an account name to get contact info for the lender, which makes fixing mistakes a little easier. That's a definite service.

With all this information easily accessible to me, specifically all the debt I owe toward student loans, it would have been easy to get freaked out, but what really made the service for me was that after you see all this data, you can use Zendough to plan for the future.

Yes, I owe a lot of money, but I can get a pulse on my current situation and the service showed me a path to follow that would explain just how to accomplish goals that are important to me, like saving for a house, mastering my credit and staying on a budget. Of course, you can access similar information for free online, and sites such as Wesabe offers groups that work towards common goals as part of its personal finance tool, but Zendough offers an introduction and checklist of items to get me started on my path. That said, I do wish the "My Path" section had links to more detailed information about each task to aid in the process.

The real purpose of Zendough isn't to track where you spend your money or to provide you with an in-depth solution to getting out of debt or buying a house. Rather, it provides you with an easy way to see where you stand in a dashboard-like view. It's offering you a simple -- and accurate -- big picture of your personal finances.

Zendough separates itself from free sites like Mint.com by showing you, instantly, who you owe money to and how much you owe without account numbers and login info. For those of you with a mortgage and two credit cards, this won't be big value. But if you have student loans with several different lenders, many of which, as I mentioned, have poor online access, the free trial is an easy way to see where you are.

Lots of people, myself included, have not taken the time to know exactly how much debt we are in. If you don't know how much you owe it's hard to take the appropriate actions to get out of debt and easy to just put it off. If you've been putting roadblocks in the way of getting your finances in better order, and one of those is not knowing your entire financial picture, then the free trial of Zendough is a good way to get a jump on your New Year's resolutions.
I can't recommend spending $180 a year for the entire package; but Zendough does provide enough value that I couldn't find on free services. For me, a young consumer with student loan debt and limited time, the free trial is well-worth the effort.
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