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The Five Best Personal-Finance Websites You've Never Heard Of

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Tools to help you spot where you're overspending -- and stop it.

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Thanks to the Internet, there's no need to sharpen a pencil and make back-of-the-envelope calculations when drafting a budget, planning for college, or managing your credit.

Many people have huge gaps in their spending. Despite their best efforts, they simply don't know where much of their money goes each month. Tracking what you spend can help you spot waste or overspending, and underscore ways to save. (Rule of thumb: The more detailed you make your budget, the more accurate it will be, and the better you'll be able to track your expenses.)

Take action with these 5 proactive steps:

Start with software packages such as Quicken (INTU) or Money. Small-business owners might want to take a look at Microsoft's (MSFT) Dynamics.

Rule of thumb: The more detailed you make your budget, the more accurate it will be and the better you'll be able to track your expenses.

1. Hit personal-finance websites like Wesabe, Mint, and Geezeo. Each one includes social-networking functions that allow you to share personal horror stories and offer advice.

The sites are free and can end the paper chase. Creating an account allows you to compile your financial information, so you can track credit cards, loans, and bank and/or brokerage accounts in one place. The sites zap a message to you when a balance is low -- or you're about to get slapped with a fee.

Caution: While your information is protected by usernames and passwords, remember that you're storing vital financial information online. Guard your sign-ons.

When making a budget, consider setting money aside throughout the year for anticipated expenses such as vacations, home repair, or the deductible on your car insurance. Stash the cash in a savings account so it won't puff up your checking-account balance and tempt you to spend it.

2. After you've nailed the basics, check out the new generation of websites that offer help on planning for college, buying a house, or retiring. Punch in your estimated numbers at Simplifi.net, for example, and get suggestions as to how much you should consider saving and spending to reach your goal. It generates a "goal point average" ranging from A+ to F to help you assess your plan.

3. Playwithvoyant.com takes a similar tack on planning for the future. The key: balance competing needs.

4. Keep a wary eye on expenses to avoid identity theft. There are plenty of software packages and websites that offer tips on protecting your identity and financial information.

Start with www.annualcreditreport.com -- the official website for free reports from the 3 major credit reporting agencies: Equifax (EFX), TransUnion and Experian. Federal law requires these 3 credit bureaus to provide consumers with one free copy of their report each year.

CreditKarma.com gives users their credit score, but not the entire credit report. You'll be asked to provide identifying information, but the website says it doesn't store your Social Security Number.

There are also services intended to prevent identify theft, including LifeLock.com and IdentifyGuard.com. The services cost about $10 to $15 per month and alert you to suspicious moves in your accounts.

5. Many websites offer investing tips, but SocialPicks.com and Covestor.com help users track their investments and compare their performance with analysts, financial bloggers, and professional analysts.

You can also take major banks -- including JPMorgan Chase (JPM), Wells Fargo (WFC) and Citigroup (C) -- up on their offer to provide you with free tips on budgeting and identity protection.

If you're an individual investor, start with a website like TD Ameritrade's (AMTD). There's plenty of room to grow as your knowledge increases. If you're new to mutual funds, try learning the basics from Dreyfus.

The new online tools will help you define the issues and draft a plan. That's the easy part. Like dieting, the key to success is sticking to it.
No positions in stocks mentioned.
The information on this website solely reflects the analysis of or opinion about the performance of securities and financial markets by the writers whose articles appear on the site. The views expressed by the writers are not necessarily the views of Minyanville Media, Inc. or members of its management. Nothing contained on the website is intended to constitute a recommendation or advice addressed to an individual investor or category of investors to purchase, sell or hold any security, or to take any action with respect to the prospective movement of the securities markets or to solicit the purchase or sale of any security. Any investment decisions must be made by the reader either individually or in consultation with his or her investment professional. Minyanville writers and staff may trade or hold positions in securities that are discussed in articles appearing on the website. Writers of articles are required to disclose whether they have a position in any stock or fund discussed in an article, but are not permitted to disclose the size or direction of the position. Nothing on this website is intended to solicit business of any kind for a writer's business or fund. Minyanville management and staff as well as contributing writers will not respond to emails or other communications requesting investment advice.

Copyright 2011 Minyanville Media, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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