Tag Archives: digital finance

Motif Investing vs ETFs: Digital Finance Tech

Mint.com, you finally — finally — provided a relevant offer that piqued my interest. Instead of offering ways to deal with the debt-that-i-do-not-have, you shared an investing company I had not heard of yet — Motif.com, and enticed me with an offer for $150 to sign up, and sign up I did.

The general concept of Motifs is that, much like ETFs, they provide you the opportunity to diversify in a specific industry without buying a ton of individual stocks. But instead of being limited to existing ETF funds, they offer “Motifs” — themes with a group of stocks that they recommend looking into for investing. You can also customize the Motif so you can make it more to your liking and still pay the same fee for buying the diversified batch of stocks. Instead of boring ETF themes they can be very niche, such as the high-performing “fracking” theme (see screenshot below), yet enable you to diversify within this motif for a $9.95 trade fee. That’s quite high compared to the cost to buy an ETF at Vanguard or even Sharebuilder (where I enjoy autotrades for $3.95 to buy), but it does provide some interesting means to go after short-term growth. Continue reading

The Personal Finance Blogger Network

Some of you may remember an old blog that I kept on a separate URL – The Personal Finance Reader. Basically, I had trouble keeping up with all the great personal finance blogger content out there and started a site that had a running public RSS feed of my favorite blogs. Then Google Reader (which was powering the site) shut down, and so did the site.

I figured out how to launch a similar public feed on this blog. Woohoo. You can check it out at the link in my menu called Finance Network. I’ve included many of the top personal finance bloggers, and it displays the last two posts each blogger has written within the last year. If you’re a personal finance blogger and I missed you from the list, please let me know in a comment or email me at hereverycentcounts@gmail.com

PersonalCapital.com vs Mint.com: Innovation After Intuit

PersonalCapital.com's Portfolio Risk Manager

I’ve been a long time fan of Mint.com, raving about the features and design for anyone trying to track multiple accounts of income, savings, spending, and investments. But ever since they were acquired by Intuit, I felt the level of quality decreased. Innovation ceased, or was focused on building an iPad app I personally had no use for, while the website stopped connecting my accounts properly.

When I lost all of my investment data before January of last year (due to account connectivity issues), I pretty much stopped using Mint, except to check my budget every now and again. Google docs was much more useful than a site where my account connections kept breaking.

The entrepreneur in me always felt there was a great opportunity for another company to swoop in and do a much better job at finance management. At the same time, Mint was clearly focusing on people with credit card debt, trying to affiliate marketing better credit card rates, among other targeted advertisements. It’s budgeting tool, which once let you see how much money you could save in a year, was changed to be month-by-month only. It’s investment analysis, besides losing my data, was sorely lacking. And recently I’ve wondered (and have good reason to believe) Mint might not be around much longer. It doesn’t make sense in the Intuit portfolio of pay-for products, and they’ve just killed the quality that made it so great in the first place. Sorry Intuit, I love TurboTax, but you’re killing Mint and I haven’t been happy about it.

It was only a matter of time when another company stepped in to pick up where Mint left off. PersonalCapital, which apparently launched in September but I just heard about last night, is being talked about as “Mint.com for rich people.” Ha. The site provides a much deeper view into your investments (while letting you easily auto connect accounts like Mint). They want to make money by providing an optional service of 1% of your account for deeper investment advice, but otherwise provide a free service which shows you how your portfolio may be out of whack. If a focus on investments and long-term growth is Mint.com for “rich people,” then call me rich, and call me interested.

Now, I’m not sure their business model makes sense, so I’d be hesitant to give up Mint entirely (there is great value on historic data, even if Mint lost all of my Sharebuilder account data for the last three years!) and who knows if PersonalCapital can make it, or how the business model will change. I’d imagine they’d do better charging everyone for site access, but a small monthly fee ($2.99 / month) and perhaps add on fees for more insight. Not that I want to pay for this service, but I’d rather pay for a product that works well at this point then invest my time into something free that doesn’t. I imagine if they are going after the “rich” like me (with my $120k networth, ha) then the sentiment might be similar across the board.

The site’s UI is not as intuitive as Mint (guess that’s why Intuit bought Mint, ba dum dum.) They’ve clearly focused their resources on the investment portion of the tool, which makes sense. Already, I’ve been able to quantify just how unbalanced my portfolio is regarding international exposure, which I already knew, I just didn’t know what percent I should focus on investing abroad next year (go Asia go… I’m in the marketing for a good China & Japan dividend ETF, any suggestions?)

What’s missing is the budgeting and ease of categorization tools, which means a lot for tracking your finances. The worst part so far is trying to re-categorize all of my spending. I haven’t figured out if you can create your own categories and the ones they offer are limited. Many items come up uncategorized and trying to change them is a pain (you have to scroll through a long list, there isn’t even a way to type in the category and have it “guess” what you’re writing so it pops up. I’ve given up at using Personal Capital as a budgeting tool for now. The worst of it is that my spending always includes a lot of work expenses, which I have to mark at reimbursements, otherwise my entire spending report is massively out of whack. Maybe if this is Mint.com for rich people they could partner with Expensify and/or provide an easy way to note your work expenses so they don’t get all mixed up in your spending reports.

In any case, I’m excited about Personal Capital, because — even though a lot of the PF journos think Mint.com is the clear winner in this market — there’s a lot of room for innovation here. I’ve long wanted to make a site like Mint that actually provided useful input about one’s overall portfolio. It looks like Personal Capital beat me to it, but given I’m already working at a successful startup and I’m buried for the next year writing a business book, I’m glad they did. My scattered portfolio desperately needs the insight.

 

Joining the Yakezie Challenge

Proud Member of the Yakezie ChallengeI’ve seen “The Yakezie Challenge” around on a few of my favorite personal finance blogs, so I decided to check it out. Apparently, it’s a group of personal finance and lifestyle bloggers joined together to help each other break 200,000 in Alexa Rankings (I’m currently 1,686,423 so I have a long way to go!) But it’s not all about site rank.

The reason I decided to join the challenge is that it requires a dedication to blogging 2-4 times per week for next six months. While I went through a period of my life where I blogged a lot, I stopped writing for Her Every Cent Counts for a while. While only a few readers would frequently comment on my posts, I knew there were others who were repeat visitors who probably wondered what happened to me.

Incredibly enough, I started this blog in 2007. I really don’t have enough posts to show for it. Additionally, and most importantly, this blog is designed to keep my finances in check. When I blog about my spending… I’m less likely to splurge. I know I have you, my reader, to hold me accountable. So, with that, I’m committing to the Yakezie challenge. I’m doing well so far… this weekend I’ve written 7 posts that will show up over the coming days. I look forward to reading your comments on them… some are quite controversial.

Dear Mint… How I love thee, let me count the ways…

After finding out about personal finance sites like Mint, Geezeo and Wesebe in their early days, I’ve been enamored with the concept of using technology to make personal finance easier to grok. While Geezeo and Wesabe (and Cake and Covestor, etc) had some decent features, Mint ultimately took the cake… with the frosting.

Even though I was a little worried when they were bought by Intuit, I’m still a fan. I can’t say I contribute to their wealth as I’m pretty smart about my credit cards and cds, so they never have any good deals to offer me. (Mint, take note of BillShrink.com, which is offering a cool find cheapo gas near you feature… which is actually useful for me. Though I’m not sure how they’d make money off of that feature, other than hoping you get a CD or Credit Card through them on an educated whim.)

Anyway, what has me all buzzing about Mint today? Their planning tools that they rolled out a few months ago. They weren’t that useful to me online only, but now that I have my shiny new iPhone having the Mint app makes my financial life a thousand times easier and better.

Just tracking my expenses and income per category, and having access to that at all times, is giving me so much more control over my financial life. And it feels good. Minty good.

While this month my expenses have been (scary) more than I’d like, starting in 2010 I’m going to use Mint to carefully BUDGET (like really budget) and account for every little thing I spend. It’s so easy to do that because Mint knows. Every once in a while I have to adjust a category or categorize a check, but that’s easier than inputing everything by hand. I am so excited to embark on a year of incredible savings and budgeting thanks to my Mint iPhone app and Mint.com (and yes, even (M)intuit.

Lending Club: First Impressions Part II

I haven’t made my first loan on Lending Club, but it seems I’m set up and ready to go as soon as the loan is funded. One very distinctly different thing about Lending Club versus Prosper is the lack of “person.” That is, on Prosper you get photos of smiling people (often with cute little kids) to tug at your heart strings and make you want to “invest” in them, even when you shouldn’t.

On one hand, I like that because it makes me feel ok about defaulting every once in a while… I feel like I’ve helped someone out, even if I lost my money. At Lending Club, I’ll probably be a lot more upset if someone defaults… because there it really sets you up to be a bank, not a charity. Which is fine, it’s how P2P lending should be, I’m just not used to it being that way.

So I’ve picked my “notes” — which seem to be set at $25 each (I don’t understand how to put more money into a note yet, or if I need to buy multiple notes at $25) and now I guess I just have to wait for them to be funded for the loan to begin.

Since I’m using “free” money I went for a little more risky loans… a C1 rating and a F3 or something… the rates average to 15% or thereabout. I’ll give these loans a little while before deciding if I want to put any of my tax refund into P2P. I know P2P is going to be big in 2009 and surely Lending Club will profit from it… I’m just not so sure I feel comfortable with the risk, especially as everyone seems to be losing their jobs, houses, and ability to pay off debt.

Lending Club: First Impressions

The Internet is a wonderful place. Thanks to a few tweets back and forth with the CEO Director of Product Strategy for Lending Club, I landed myself a few bucks in my account to test out the growing P2P site. I’ve invested about $500 into Prosper over the past two years, but it’s in a silent period now and I’ve got a hankering for P2P lending, so it makes sense to try out the ever-popular lending club.

I haven’t done much so far. Signing up was easy (then again, I remember signing up for Prosper was easy too. It’s always easy to sign up when the company wants you to give them your money.) The interface is nicely designed and clean… at least from a noob perspective.

I’m about to make my first loan… I just need to figure out how to do that. It seems like the rates are set by credit scores and such, as opposed to somewhat randomly ala Prosper. I guess that’s good? I failed at Prosper by lending $50 to a person with a B credit rating who was looking for money to study abroad. It was her second time posting the listing. Yea, that one defaulted. Everyone else has been paying on time. I’m not seeing the interest rates I’d like… even though the performance is still wayyyy beating all my stocks.

Ok, so I’ll write more about Lending Club once I’ve figured out how to pick my loan(s). They first took me to a page that – similar to Prosper – would set up an investing plan for me based on my desired risk allocation. I never used that on Prosper… I like to hand-pick my loans. So that’s what I’m going to try to do… I’ll report back when I figured it out and get my first loan set up.