I know that managing your money isn't easy, and it's generally not much fun. But I've just learned about four new tech tools for your computer and smartphone that can relieve the pain. Better yet, they can help you cut debt, access records smoothly and securely, or assist a family member in a financial jam.
I discovered the tools at Finovate, an annual financial-technology trade show in New York City, where dozens of entrepreneurs demonstrate their offerings to prospective customers, investors and the media.
One of eight demonstrations rated "Best of Show" by the Finovate audience, Credit Sesame is a one-stop website where you can get a handle on your debt and lower your loan and credit-card payments. After you answer a few simple verification questions, up pops your personalized "credit dashboard" created by Stanford University, which is pretty cool.
The dashboard gives you a simple, visual snapshot that shows your free Experian credit score, how well you're managing debt, the value of your home (if you have one), how much you're overpaying on your loans and credit payments, the amount you could save by refinancing, and alternative loans and cards to shave your debt. (Hmmm, looks like I could save a boatload by refinancing my mortgage.)
Just for fun, you can also see how your debts compare with your peers', which could give you bragging rights or added incentive to tackle your credit issues.
The site won't provide a free credit report, though. You can get that at annualcreditreport.com or pay $9 for it at CreditSesame.com.
If you or a child are still paying off student loans (my condolences), I strongly encourage you to sign up for this helpful, new free website and mobile tool, Tuition.io, which can save money and aggravation. By the way, did you catch the pun in the site's name? Say it out loud without the "dot."
Co-founder and CEO Brendon McQueen came up with the idea after trying to keep track of his 12 -- count 'em -- student loans from Columbia University (total student loan debt for the former film major: over $120,000). As with mortgages, these loans are often resold and packaged, which can cause confusion for the nation's 37 million student-loan borrowers.
"Figuring out exactly who I owed and how much was incredibly hard and time consuming," McQueen told me. His site's co-founder, Steve Pomerantz, added: "We thought, this is stupid. There should be a simple yet elegant and sophisticated solution. So that's what we created."
To get you organized, Tuition.io shows you what company currently services each of your federal and private student loans and where to make payments; your individual monthly payments; how much you still owe on each loan; and when they'll be paid off. It sorts your loans graphically, letting you see which ones have the highest interest rates -- they should be paid off first.
To help you save money, Tuition.io then notes all the repayment programs you're eligible for, and its EasyOptimize process electronically fills out any forms you want. That way, all you need to do is sign them and send them in.
This service, which just went live this week, is a little hard to explain, but stick with me. (PayTap's presentation was another "Best of Show" at Finovate, so I'm not the only fan.) Basically, it's a way for family members to help each other pay bills.
It could come in handy if, say, you and your siblings need to split costs associated with care-giving for your parents. Or if you have to pay some or all of your son's phone and cable bills each month. Or maybe you and your relatives want to chip in to buy a big-ticket appliance as a housewarming gift.
Here's how it works: Your family member sends you an email or Facebook post or a tweet asking for a certain amount of money to pay a bill and where the cash should be sent. You (and whoever else will fork over the cash) sign up at PayTap, specifying whether you'll pay by credit card, debit card, bank account, PayPal or Dwolla, an electronic payment network. PayTap then charges each user $1 per transaction, transfers the money to the company expecting the cash and emails the family members who paid the bill as well as the one who issued the request.
If you've agreed to pay a bill in the future, PayTap will send an alert near the due date.
Like Tuition.io, PayTap grew out of a personal experience. CEO and founder Sean-Michael Daley and his older brothers wanted to help take care of their mother's medical bills. But they struggled to find a fail-safe way to ensure that every bill would be paid on time. They wound up creating an Excel spreadsheet. "It was a lot of hassle," Daley recalled. "I realized this must be the type of problem every family goes through."
With PayTap, said Daley, "we support the family so they won't need to worry about the bills getting paid."
Think of My Virtual StrongBox as a protected electronic safe deposit box. It lets you and your family members see vital financial records such as your will, insurance policies and stock certificates on any computer or smartphone. You can even take a photo of a document with your iPad and transfer the digital snapshot to My Virtual StrongBox.
Ron Daly, CEO of My Virtual StrongBox's parent company, Digital Mailer, laid out this potential scenario at Finovate: Say your daughter is traveling or in college and gets into an accident. The doctor needs to see her medical history. If you have that in your strongbox file, you can email a copy to her smartphone and she can hand the phone over to the doctor.
Because the software saves the encrypted digital documents using three layers of security at data centers controlled by DigitalMailer, it's safer than storing them in the cloud, where hackers could potentially break in.
Here's the catch: Your bank, broker or credit union would have to offer you this service, because the software isn't being marketed to individuals. So far, Northwest Federal Credit Union, based in Herndon, Va., and Digital Federal Credit Union of Marlborough, Mass., are the only ones making it available to their customers.