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Get Finances in Order With These Apps

Is one of your New Year’s resolutions to get your finances in better shape? Or manage your expenses more accurately? Maybe it’s both…or more. The good news is there are plenty of powerful, smart, and free apps to try out for the New Year. Here’s a roundup of some of the most talked-about ones by finance experts. All are free and available for iOS (iPhone), Android, and some for Windows.

Personal Finance

No surprise that is one of the most popular personal finance sites out on the market.  Its app offers a secure way to track all of your accounts and credit cards in one location on the go. You can slice and dice account data to create graphs that show you the bigger money picture. You can also set alerts and reminders.

Dollarbird works from a calendar-based design to track expenses and income and also allows you to set up recurring transactions and bill reminders. You can also get a snapshot of where your money is going and even create a five-year financial projection plan.

Credit Cards and Check Management

Billguard monitors those “gray charges” on your credit card statements. It flags questionable or unwanted purchases and highlights merchants who frequently charge for products or services that are unnecessary or oddball fees.

MintBills (formerly Check) This app lets you pay checks from your mobile phone, either manually or by scheduling automatic payments. It also monitors bank or credit card accounts and notifies you if your checking account balance or credit limit is at risk.

Monitor everything about your credit score with the CreditKarma app.  Get notifications if and when there are changes to your credit report and a “report card” on factors impacting your credit score number.

Take the work out of expense reports

Hate keeping tracks of your work expenses? Most find it painful. Whether you’re a small business or employee, Expensify makes it easier with the ability to scan receipts, track mileage, and even link debit and credit cards. You can view usage and even create expense reports. Travel bonus: it allows you to set up currency converters and flight alerts.

For the online shopper

Slice offers its own version of “one stop shopping” for all of your online purchasing needs: track packages, view your spending habits, and also find out if there are price reductions that you can claim with a merchant after the purchase date. It also provides shopping insights and consumer recalls information.

Sharing the cost?

We all know how fun it is to split dinner three ways (or more). Square Cash makes it easy to link your debit card to the software and securely send and request money through email. You can beef up online protection with a security code too. Transactions typically take one to two business days.

Another big player in this market is Google Wallet. It allows you to send money to any user in the U.S. You can also track online orders and view your purchase history when you have the free Google Wallet Card.

So get ready, set, and app up for your personal finance needs in 2015.

How Many Devices is Too Many?

How many devices do you own? Some can list smartphone, tablet, laptop, PC, and e-reader in one breath. And each gadget comes with additional costs for accessories, apps, and repairs. According to Ian Lamont, author of “Google Drive & Docs in 30 Minutes,” “Twitter in 30 Minutes,” and “Personal Finance for Beginners in 30 Minutes,” the spending is getting out hand.

“People are buying more than they need–far more than they need,” he says.

Dennis Restauro, a technology writer with15 years of experience in information technology and emerging technologies, recommends drafting a list of the primary functions that are important to you in any given device.

“One of the best things you can do to save money on electronics is to not
overpay for functionality,” Restauro says. “Many times the more expensive device will be chock-full of functions you will never use.”

Restauro has more than a few tips for choosing between two devices but, for him, the tablet is the most “well-rounded device” especially when it’s coupled with a docking station.

“The tablet will suit most people most of the time,” he says.

But it all comes down to budget, mobility needs, and desired function. If debating between a laptop and a PC, portability and processing power should be the main concerns. Large memory and high speeds are affordable on a PC, but for simple functions like writing, spreadsheets, and email, a laptop often is enough.

When it comes to the laptop versus tablet debate, a laptop is faster performing and better for multitasking, but a tablet is very easy to use for those who aren’t tech savvy. If debating between an e-reader and a tablet, know that e-readers are for consuming books only. Though it offers the best reading experience, it’s also the only device that forces you to own another device, Restauro points out.

“Don’t listen to the marketing hype,” Lamont says. “Seek out informed, quality reviewers who can give the low-down on the features and functionality and help you understand if they are sufficient.”

National Consumer Protection Week:

There’s an easy way to develop good consumer sense. This year, make sure you bookmark to take advantage of consumer protection resources available to you.

The theme of National Consumer Protection Week (NCPW)—Your Information Destination:—helps consumers by offering free resources from Federal agencies, state governments, consumer organizations, and local consumer protection authorities that participate in NCPW. This year’s campaign runs from March 1-7, 2015. serves as a one-stop destination to find tips for avoiding fraud and scams; protecting your identity; managing money, credit, and debt; and much more. Partner organizations offer free resources on these and other topics. The NCPW blog ( also provides advice from consumer protection experts from a variety of federal and nonprofit groups.

Online videos, calculators, articles, and other reference materials at offer the information you need. also features websites and games for young consumers.

Tax Information Checklist

One of the most frustrating things about preparing for tax filing is tracking down all the supporting documentation you’ll need for the IRS forms. In a perfect world, you’d have all this paperwork in one folder, ready to be processed. However, if you’ve got it spread across several locations, use this checklist to make sure you’ve got all your ducks in a row.

  • Social Security or Tax ID number
  • Copy of last year’s return
  • Tax preparation expenses from previous year
  • Past overpayment applied to current year’s taxes
  • Taxes paid with filing of extension
  • W-2s
  • Business income
  • Interest income
  • Dividend income
  • Rental property income/expenses
  • Income from sale of stock or property
  • Retirement income
  • Hobby income
  • Farm income
  • Gambling income
  • Unemployment benefits received
  • Social Security benefits received
  • Retirement fund distributions
  • Alimony paid or received
  • Tax refunds received
  • Foreign bank account information
  • IRA contributions
  • Estimated tax payments made
  • Interest paid on student loans
  • Business expenses
  • Childcare expenses
  • Medical and dental expenses
  • Job-hunting expenses
  • Health insurance costs
  • Self-employed retirement fund contributions
  • Education expenses
  • Student loan interest paid
  • Mortgage interest and points paid
  • Real estate taxes paid
  • Moving expenses
  • Personal property (such as vehicle) taxes paid
  • Investment expenses
  • Health Savings Account transactions
  • Union dues paid
  • Unreimbursed business expenses
  • Casualty or theft losses
  • Jury duty records
  • Charitable contributions
  • Energy credits
  • Bank account and routing numbers

Remember that if you are filing jointly, you will need to have the above information for your spouse too. If you’re claiming a dependent, you will need the Social Security number and date of birth for that person.

Depending on your personal situation, there may be other documents or information you need to compile to complete your tax filing. Consult with a tax professional to understand all your required paperwork.


Does A Refund Anticipation Check Make Sense?

If the government owes you some tax money, it can seem like forever until the check comes or the money gets deposited. And in the mean time, you’ve got bills to pay. And what if you don’t even have a checking account to have your refund deposited into? In the past few years a new option has emerged for helping you get your money faster. But are refund anticipation checks a good idea? Let’s take a look.

Refunds Perhaps before diving into the question of the wisdom of a refund anticipation check (RAC) it would be a good idea to consider whether having refund money coming to you is a good idea in the first place. After all, when you get a tax refund from the government, you have lent them your money – without interest – for up to a year. That is money you could have been using to pay your expenses, establish savings, invest toward a goal, etc.

Some people use refunds as a forced savings account. If you feel that is what it takes to enable you to save, then that may be the best option for you. However, if you feel you have better things you can be doing with your money than letting the government hold on to it, contact your HR department to change your withholdings and get more of your money coming to you each month.

How does it work? RAC’s are often marketed to people who either don’t have a checking account they can have a refund automatically deposited into, or who don’t feel that they have the money to pay for tax preparation up-front. With that in mind, companies that offer RAC’s set up a bank account for you (charging you $30-35 to do it) and have your tax refund directed there. Once your refund comes in, the company takes their tax preparation fees out of your return money, along with any other fees you have agreed to. You are then given a check or a prepaid debit card for the amount left in the account.

Timeliness If you don’t have an existing account into which your refund can be deposited and are worried about getting your check quickly, know that you will only get your money a few days earlier – at most – with an RAC. That doesn’t seem like such a good deal given that you may end up paying over $100 for RAC services.

Free help is available If the cost of tax preparation is your concern, be aware that the IRS provides free tax preparation services for anyone who makes less than $53,000 per year. You can learn more at the IRS website.

Ads for companies offering RAC’s can be very convincing. However, be aware that just because you don’t have a checking account or money saved up for tax preparation doesn’t mean you are at the mercy of companies to perform tax services for you. By understanding your options, you can get your refund money quickly and at little to no charge.

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