Personal Finance Apps
3rd Review in the Series: Personal Capital Finance
According to the guidelines for my personal finance app review for my Android phone and/or tablet, in this series of assessments, I’m looking for how the app and I “get along.” I’m not looking to “interface” with an app. I don’t want to have to go through even a 5-minute tutorial but want instead, something that’s very intuitive. That said, what’s intuitive to me may not be to someone else, and vice-versa.
Here’s my review based on my previously-established criteria:
- Account Connectivity (x5): If the app can’t connect to my bank, credit union, lender or broker, there’s no point in the app taking up space on my mobile devices.
I hadn’t heard much about Personal Capital before this year, so I was highly skeptical that such an unknown would be able to connect to my accounts with a local credit union that has several steps to go through to access my balances. From time to time, I have had to manually press the “refresh” button on my credit union accounts, but overall the connections have worked well. I’ve been very pleased that most (not all) of my accounts have been available for review within a single app. Way to go, Personal Capital!
5 out of 5!
- Stability (x5): Equally frustrating is an app that crashes regularly or predictably. If the app closes unexpectedly at some point during my mobile experience, it will receive a 2. If it crashes my phone or tablet, it’s a zero.
I’ve had this app on both my Android phone and my Android tablet on and off over the past seven or eight months and don’t recall a single stability issue with it. Hallelujah, and pass the stock certificates!
5 out of 5!
- Mobility (x5): This is, after all, a review of mobile apps, right? If the app is not fully mobile (i.e. it requires desktop activity to add account, adjust budgets, identify expenses, etc.), it’s going to get less than a 5 on my scale.
Personal Capital is truly a mobile app. I have no need for a desktop. My accounts are listed on the main screen (including the financial institution’s name, my account nicknames, the last 4 digits of the account number, the type of account – checking, savings, 529, Investment, IRA, Credit, Mortgage, etc. – and the current balance), with notifications and summaries down the left-hand side of the screen. If action is required (such as categorizing a purchase from a local retailer), a finger-touch is all that is required, rather than having to key in a category name.
5 out of 5.
- Multiplicity of Accounts (x4): If the app only connects with my bank or credit union checking and/or savings accounts, it will get a 2 or 3. I want an app that connects to my mortgage account as well as my small credit union checking account; that connects to my IRA account as easily as my bank’s saving account.
Checking accounts, savings accounts, 401(k), 403(b), IRAs, credit cards, mortgage loans, student loans, auto loans, even pre-paid cards and some finance companies (of the strip mall variety)… they’re all here if you want them. About the only thing missing that I can think of off the top of my head would be accounts like cell phones, utilities and collections. At the moment, anyway, you can’t have everything, so I’m still giving my top rating for the great variety.
5 out of 5.
- Budgeting Tool (x4): As a budget and credit counselor, I can’t NOT require this in a mobile app I recommend. If the app doesn’t easily help me create a forecast of my income and expenses, it’s going to get a 3 or less. If the app requires that I input the budget, it’s going to definitely get a 2 if not a 1. I can enter expenses and income in a spreadsheet, but I want the app to do this for me.
The expense tracking option is wonderful. The auto-categorization of daily expenses does pretty well, although it’s only as good, understandably, as its familiarity with local and national businesses. The best part of the expense tracking includes all of the visuals. Want cash flow by week? There’s a bar graph for that. Want to see what you’re spending your money on? There’s a pie chart for that. Same chart for income.
I may be hoping for too much, but the one thing Personal Capital does not have is a tool for projecting future expenses and notifying me when the water bill or the mortgage is due, then noting that in the corresponding budgeted category.
3 out of 5.
- Security (x4): I’m not going to rate the level of technology (that’s beyond my expertise), I do want to rate the security’s intrusiveness and my level of comfort with it. If I have to enter a 15-digit pass code into my smart phone every time I want to use the app, well, let’s just say I’m not going to use the app. On the other extreme, if there’s not at least a four-number pass code to punch in, I’m going to be uncomfortable having my financial information on my mobile devices.
Personal Capital requires the user to log in with a User ID and a password the first time. Thereafter, a 6-digit PIN is required to enter the app. I love this approach! It’s not so heavy on the security that I break into a sweat trying to remember the right password out of the scores in my brain. But in conjunction with the fact that my phone already has a lock on it (shouldn’t all of our phones have one?), the 6-digit PIN seems just the right amount of additional security and convenient access.
5 out of 5.
- Intuitiveness (x3): This is a mobile device, for goodness sake. If the app requires either a Ph.D. in computer programming or that I refer even ONCE to its help page or online manual, it’s getting a 1 or less at best from me.
As I think about this app’s intuitiveness, I don’t think I’ve even considered looking for it’s help button or manual in the months and months I’ve been using it.
Personal Capital’s user interface includes an easy-to-access slide out menu that lists options from net worth to transactions, from spending and income to investment portfolio, and even links to a blog and research resources. It’s warning notifications make it obvious which accounts need login “repair,” and its layout is designed so well that I’ve not been stumped as far as where to go to look for something. @PersonalCapital, give your UI designer the biggest Thanksgiving turkey this year! He or she (or they) deserve it.
Additionally, when looking at a graph, the categories are color coded to facilitate navigation.
5 out of 5.
- Expense Tracking (x3): Not to be confused with the budgeting tool, an expense tracking feature should tell me where I’m spending my money and how much I’m spending in general categories. To receive a 5, the app would have to determine automatically from my connected accounts how much I’m spending at restaurants and fast food joints, on entertainment and recreation, on utilities, on loans and credit, etc. If I have to enter the transactions myself and, gasp! categorize them myself as well, the app is getting a 1 or 0 in this category.
I believe this is fairly new to Personal Capital, but they do have a nice wheel cart that automatically categorizes your spending. Although its categorization is not 100% accurate (how are they supposed to know that you bought motor oil at K-Mart rather than household merchandise), you have the option to re-categorize any expense with two simple finger touches. I particularly like the ability to categorize what looks like a purchase but is actually a transfer. It also has a similar chart for income, categorizing it into salary, investment, retirement, and other types of income. Nice forward thinking here.
5 out of 5
- Extra (x1): At this time, anything beyond the above criteria is a bonus. And while I love bonuses, they are not the main course. If it comes with a free credit score, a breakdown of my investment portfolio, or an analysis of my daughter’s driving habits, that’s great, but not necessary. Still, I’ll give a few bonus points for any nice add-ons the app might have.
Personal Capital includes a section that lists investments by type (bonds, stocks, cash, international, US, etc.). It also indicates the percentage of each type of investment within the portfolio. Very handy for annual reallocations. I also like the Net Worth listing at the top of the main menu. It keeps the concept of wealth building – rather than spending – front and center… so to speak (it’s actually in the top left of the screen).
5 out of 5
As you can see from the ratings (and my 95% weighted score), I love Personal Capital. From my teaching days back in graduate school (WAY back), I do not like giving a perfect score, because it gives the impression that there’s no room for improvement. However, Personal Finance pretty much delivers on almost every point I require in my mobile personal finance app. Other than a true budgeting tool, they’ve created a truly beautiful app. So much so that there’s a danger you’ll want to spend more time looking at it and playing with it rather than actually earning money.
Have a great week!