Make Even More Money

You’re bringing it in, but are you doing the most you can with it? Invest smarter, save better, spend less—it’s all only a click away

Jean Chatzky
Photograph: Illustrated by Ronald Kurniawan

Mint will suggest a budget appropriate for you based on your spending patterns and will point you toward savings accounts with higher interest rates and credit cards with lower ones (the company makes its money when you sign up for these). But before you dive in, understand that Mint is like a puppy: You only get as good as you give. “The site requires a sizable investment of time in order to get the most out of it,” says David-Michel Davies, executive director of the Webby Awards (which Mint has won several times). It will take a couple of hours to set up your accounts and spending categories; after that, maintenance is fairly minimal. You’ll have to disclose, for instance, exactly how you’re spending your cash in order for the site to get an accurate sense of your spending patterns. Otherwise, all it sees is that you pull money out of the ATM.

Save Money: BILLSHRINK.COM
(App coming later this year)
Consider this site an alternative to calling your phone company and asking for a better deal. Tell BillShrink what services or products you have and how you’re using them (in addition to cell phones, it sifts through rates on credit cards, cable TV, savings accounts, CDs and gasoline). If, for example, you’re a wireless user, it wants to know how many minutes you talk, if you roam, how much you text and if you have family who could be on the same plan. For cable, it needs to know how many boxes (regular or HD) and DVRs you have and whether premium channels are a must. Then it scours the marketplace and matches you with a better plan if one exists. For cell phones, it’s not just price that matters but signal strength at home, at work and on your commute.

I like that you can make a switch directly from the site; you don’t have to jump out and call the cable company. And there is follow-up if you want it. For example, every month BillShrink can reanalyze your cell phone bill to tell you the top five numbers you called. By making those your friends-and-family list, you may be able to change to a cheaper plan. The credit card widget is similarly detailed. It finds you a card based on whether you carry a balance, whether you care about rewards and, if you do, what form you want them in. If you have a preferred airline, it will recommend only cards that work with that airline.

Lower Your Interest Rates: CREDITSESAME.COM
Like Credit.com and CreditKarma.com, this free site, launched last year, is worth a visit just to get a peek at your credit score, which would otherwise cost you $15 to $20. But I recommend it because of the other things it does. When you sign up, the engine takes you through six quick questions (one of which asks for your Social Security number, but it’s OK; the site is secure). Using your answers, the site will automatically gather information on all your debts—including balances, who owns the loans, your monthly payments and the progress you’re making in paying down your debts—and puts it all together, giving the most complete picture of a credit life I’ve ever seen. Then it figures out if you’d benefit from refinancing, consolidating or restructuring any of those loans. It may tell you, say, that you could swap your 30-year mortgage for a 20 at a lower interest rate or that you could get a better car loan by refinancing with a different bank.

Next, it asks if you want to apply for any of those loans. If it doesn’t find anything for you, or you decide you’d rather not make changes right now, it will continue tracking your financial situation, including your debt and credit score, and update you once a month (unless you ask to be updated more often). If something changes—for instance, if interest rates fall, which makes a new mortgage beneficial—the site will notify you.

Like many other sites, Credit Sesame makes its money by getting you to sign up for new credit. What is unusual is that Credit Sesame filters its offers by your credit score. Is it possible that you’ll be denied a new credit card or mortgage after you apply? Yes, says CEO Adrian Nazari, but the chance of being turned down is 50 percent, not 90 percent, as it is in much of the industry. Serial refinancers (like me) and consumers who want to get out of debt yesterday will love it.

First Published May 10, 2011

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