By Liz Weston
LOS ANGELES — Earlier this year a tax pro mentioned the FileThis organizing app to me. Within seconds of installing it, I wondered, “Where has this been all my life?”
I have tried an absurd number of software programs that promised to simplify, streamline and de-clutter our family’s financial life. Most fell short, offering too little benefit, steep learning curves or both. A few insanely useful ones, though, made it to the mobile Hall of Fame, otherwise known as my home screen.
If you are trying to get a grip on your money, you may find these to be helpful:
1. FileThis. The app does what I frequently forget to do since going paperless several years ago — download account statements.
It also gives you an overview of your accounts and gives you bill due-date reminders.
I use FileThis’ free version to automatically fetch statements from up to six “connections” or links to financial institutions.
I have multiple accounts at each institution, so I am able to track far more than just six accounts. The free version offers 500 megabytes of cloud storage.
To get more connections and storage, you can pay $2 a month for up to 12 connections and 1 gigabyte of storage or $5 for up to 30 connections and 10 gigabytes of storage. Users also can opt to have documents downloaded to a number of other storage sites, including Dropbox and Evernote, or to their computers.
2. ItsDeductible. We donate a ton of clothes, toys, books and household goods to local charities, but I always put off attaching values to the donations until our taxes were due and it became a big, unpleasant chore.
The free ItsDeductible app from Intuit (INTU) allows me to record contributions as we make them and offers values for common items. I print out an annual report for our tax pro, although TurboTax users can download the information directly into their returns.
3. DropBox. Accessing files from any device or location is essential for my work, but cloud-based storage also helps when we travel and in preparing for natural disasters. So I regularly upload travel documents, insurance policies, appraisal reports, home inventories, scans of old tax returns and other important paperwork.
I used the free service for years but recently approached the 2 gigabyte storage limit and upgraded to 1 terabyte of storage for $99 a year.
4. Mobile banking. I dismissed mobile check deposit as a fad until I actually tried it. Now I agree with financial planner Michael Kitces, who calls it “a crucial aspect” of his financial life.
“The only time my wife or I have set foot in a physical bank branch for the past two years was to get a legal document notarized. It’s glorious,” said Kitces, research director at Pinnacle Advisory Group in Columbia, Maryland.
All the other stuff my bank app does — transfer money, pay bills, send alerts, find fee-free ATMs — makes this one of my most-used mobile money tools.
5. Mint. Intuit’s free personal finance aggregator allows its 2.5 million monthly users to track their spending, monitor their credit scores and spot potential fraud by automatically downloading transactions from bank, credit card and investment accounts.
It is also a favorite among financial advisers.
“Mint allows you to combine all of your finances into one location so that you can take a high level view,” said David Almonte, a certified public accountant in Providence, Rhode Island.
If you are an active investor, you might prefer Personal Capital, which has a better free portfolio manager. I liked Personal Capital’s elegant, ad-free dashboard. I didn’t like, however, being emailed and called about signing up for its fee-based investment advisory service, which is the site’s raison d’etre.
While some worry about security with aggregator sites where you have to hand over your account login credentials, I am comfortable with these sites’ privacy and security policies.
As the victim of several database breaches, including those at Anthem (ANTM) and Sony (SNY), I know that staying offline is no guarantee of safety. Too much of our private information is stored in insecure databases over which we have no control. With these sites, at least, I have some choice over what I share.
(The author is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are her own.)