4 Online Budgeting Services Reviewed

SmartMoney reviews four of the most popular, or at least best-publicized, online budgeting and finance-tracking services: Clear Checkbook, Mint, Wesabe, and Yodlee Money Center. They’ve created a simple chart comparing features, to help you decide which best meets your needs—for instance, whether you want text message alerts, or the ability to manually enter transactions, and so on. The most robust offering of the four is Clear Checkbook, although it’s missing a couple of nice features that the otherwise paltry Mint offers (specifically, text message alerts and merchant-based spending breakdowns).

As several of our readers have pointed out in comments on recent Mint-related posts, the big problem with any online service is you’re inviting a new player into your tightly woven web of passwords and security measures—which means you’re creating a new door, however well-guarded, that can be exploited to steal your sensitive data. SmartMoney gets quotes from security experts who say the biggest risk is from having your own computer stolen, but they also admit that the more popular any online service grows, the more likely it is to be targeted by data thieves. Their advice on protecting yourself and choosing a reliable online service:

To protect yourself, install and update firewalls, antivirus software and antispyware programs frequently. Also, regularly change your passwords for both the budget program and your bank accounts, taking care to use a complex combination of letters, numbers and other characters.

To choose wisely, search blogs and personal review sites like Epinions.com to see what other users are saying about a particular finance site. Also, look for security seals from companies like HackerSafe, VeriSign and Thawte. These icons verify that certain security measures are in place to protect your information. Once you’ve narrowed your options, read the site’s privacy and security policies carefully to see how your information is protected, and under what circumstances (if any) it will be shared.

View the comparison chart at SmartMoney.

“Budgeting Software: A Free Way to Manage Your Finances” [SmartMoney]

Clear Checkbook
(Image: SmartMoney)


Edit Your Comment

  1. QWGHLM says:

    Do any of these sites offer the option to manage student loans? I can’t imagine joining any of them if I still have to work out a large chunk of my monthly spending separately.

  2. hapless says:

    The article explains that the major reason I should be willing to give up personal data to these unknown third parties is that the $20-30 for Quicken and MS Money is too much!?

    Sheesh. If you REALLY can’t stand to pay $30 for Quicken, there’s always GnuCash. It’s not pretty, and there are no wizards to speak of, but it’s a solid double-book accounting application that can match your transactions imported from your bank / credit card / other quicken-friendly financial institution.

  3. XTC46 says:

    Its a well rounded review and does at least mention the fact that it is a risk to put everything in one place. It also mentions that the biggest risk is the user them selves, which I agree with as well. Much better than what consumerist and lifehacker did when reviewing mint (mint is included in this review).

  4. To be clear, I don’t think Clear Checkbook ever asks for account numbers or passwords—it really is just a hosted service where you can keep your spending data and balance your statements each month.

    I think SmartMoney confuses this in their chart, because they say Clear Checkbook downloads data directly from your accounts when (based on what they say on their own website) they don’t.

  5. cloudedice says:

    The table is a little misleading. Clearcheckbook.com can not automatically, nor directly, import your financial information from any of your accounts. Instead you can upload your QIF, OFX or QFX files and it will then add in new entries. Most financial institutions can export your transactions to QIF, OFX, or QFX files.

    @hapless: To me, it’s not the cost of Quicken or MS Money, but the ability to be on ANY internet connected computer anywhere in the world and still be able to manage my finances. It’s actually very convenient.

  6. cloudedice says:

    @QWGHLM: Any site that allows you to input your own transactions should allow you to manage student loans. It would be equivalent to using a spreadsheet, as it would not be handled automagically.

  7. Shred says:

    Agreed, this article doesn’t convey how non-invasive (security-wise) Clearcheckbook is. It’s also neglects to highlight that the real reason for manually entering transactions isn’t to keep track of cash purchases, but to keep track of your *actual* account balance rather than the “available balance” which your bank shows you and which is inaccurate. Manually entering transactions is *absolutely necessary* if you want to avoid all those damned insufficient funds fees.

  8. qwghlm says:

    @cloudedice: From what I’ve read, none of the sites actually aggregate your current loan balances, so while I can keep track of how much I’m paying on the loans, I can’t watch them for how much interest is accruing unless I go to the lender’s site.

    At this is how I understand the current situation. I could be wrong.

  9. qwghlm says:

    * At this = At least this. Sorry.

  10. Elle Rayne says:

    I’ve been using Mint, but it’s kinda buggy, so I’d be interested in an alternative. I’m going to go check out the comparison right now.

  11. fofy21 says:

    @QWGHLM: If you’re asking if any of these sites download/monitor you student loans, then the answer would be yes.. Yodlee does. It’s the service I’m using currently. I have accounts for my Sallie Mae student loans, my car loan, credit cards, bank accounts, etc. You can characterize the accounts (ie: loans, savings, investments) and Yodlee will add them up for ya so you can easily see your assets/debts and net worth. It also does account management (not using this part as much yet). I like the system.

    That being said, will probably switch to Mint once it adds loans and investments (just too pretty to resist).