Personal Capital’s free tool was built for the person who wants to GSD
I make it no secret that I’m a little disorganized with my money. Or, I should say I was disorganized before I put some systems in place to help me not be such a mess.
I’ve used a lot of things to try and stay organized in the past: spreadsheets, notebooks, post-its. Eventually, I found the free tools that Personal Capital offers and I was hooked. I use it for everything: aggregating our accounts, seeing the breakdown of our investments, estimating how much college will cost, and monitoring our progress toward retirement.
These tools keep me on track and help me easily learn more about my money. As an added bonus, they also make money conversations with Jordan so much easier.
But, it’s not a perfect tool. I’m breaking down what I like and what I don’t. Plus, I’m sharing a video tutorial I created to show you exactly how to get the most from it.
What is Personal Capital?
Personal Capital is an online advisor that can help you manage your money through paid advisory services and free financial and investment planning tools.
The paid advisory services are designed for high net worth investors. To be eligible to use their paid services, you must have over $100,000 to invest. This review won’t cover that service but know it’s an option if you’re interested.
The financial and investment planning tools are free for everyone, whether or not you use Personal Capital to invest. This review will dive into the features, benefits, and drawbacks of using these free tools.
What are the main features of the free tools?
These tools are completely free to anyone who signs up for a Personal Capital account. There’s no need to invest or hold any money with them.
Financial account aggregation
This was the tool that sold me. We have accounts everywhere: checking accounts, savings accounts, mortgage accounts, retirement accounts, taxable investment accounts, and credit cards. Logging in to each of these accounts to get a snapshot of how we were doing overall financially was a chore. A chore that we didn’t get to very often.
When we signed up for Personal Capital, the first thing you’re prompted to do is to connect all of your accounts so you can get a snapshot of your net worth in one place. Each time we log in, we’re greeted by the Personal Capital dashboard. It pulls all of our most recent account balances and gives us a quick overview of our money. Tracking your net worth couldn’t be easier.
Investment Fee Analyzer
One of the things that is talked about constantly with investing is to be wary of high investment fees. But it’s a process to log into your account and look at each fund to see how much you’re paying in fees. Personal Capital does that for you with their easy to understand fee analyzer tool. The tool will look at all of your investment accounts to give you details of exactly how much of your money is being eaten up by fees.
Curious as to whether you’re saving enough for retirement? Your guesstimate that you’re probably going to make it in retirement isn’t enough. This tool will give you a thorough breakdown to let you know whether you’re on track with your retirement goals.
This is so much better than any other free retirement tool calculator as it allows you to include other factors like rental income, house upgrade (or downgrade), and more. It lets you create multiple scenarios so you can compare different savings options and figure out which one will leave you with the most comfortable retirement.
If you’re saving for a child’s college, you know how expensive (and confusing) that can be. This tool was incredibly helpful when deciding how much we wanted to set aside for Henry each month.
We were able to choose a university and see how much we would need to save each month to have a good chance of being able to pay for part or all of his education. This was eye-opening for us. Of course, we had dreams of sending him to Duke, where both Jordan and I went to business school. But once we saw how much we’d need to save each month to send him there, we decided that an in-state university would be a better option for us.
This tool is a little difficult to navigate, so I show you exactly how to use it in the tutorial video below.
Like any good financial tool, Personal Capital also tracks your spending. Because it’s pulling financial info for all of your bank accounts and credit cards, you’ll get a list of everything you’ve spent, broken down by category.
You’ll also get a monthly email that will let you know how your spending compares to spending for the prior month. I love getting emails that let me know that I’ve spent less this month than I did in the previous month.
As part of the financial aggregation tools, you’re also able to take a deep dive into your investment allocation. Want to know exactly how much money you have in bonds? Stocks? CD’s? It’s easy to get an overview. Plus, you can go even deeper and see what type of investments you own.
I’ve found this to be really helpful to see all of our investments combined in one place. We each have our own retirement accounts and we have other taxable investment accounts but seeing exactly what percentage of our investments are in stocks, bonds, CD’s, and cash in total, means we are easily able to make decisions based on our full financial picture.
Who is this best for?
This free tool has something for everyone. Whether you use it to just get a view of all of your accounts in one place or you use all of its robust tools to take a deep-dive into your investments and retirement planning, it will help you manage your money. It’s great for both DIY investors and people who use professional advisors.
What about security?
When signing up for a new service that has access to your financial information, security is probably top of mind. It was for me.
They give a great rundown of their security measures on the Personal Capital site, so I suggest giving that a read to make sure you feel completely comfortable with what you’re signing up for.
The one thing that made me feel much more comfortable was that they are an aggregator. They cannot execute transactions from my bank or investment accounts. Using them as an aggregator also means I’m keeping a closer tab on my accounts, so it makes it easier to monitor for fraud.
Lastly, they never send your credentials to your browser. They’re stored in a safer data center (Yodlee).
What I like about Personal Capital
Pretty much everything.
But really, here’s how it has changed my financial life, for the better:
- It keeps me organized: I was a mess before Personal Capital. And managing money with your partner when you have accounts all over the place was challenging.
- The calculators are superior: Jordan and I are DIY with our money. While we love creating our own spreadsheets, we also appreciate the education and retirement planning calculators that have been built by professionals.
- It improves communication: If you’re managing money with a partner, there can occasionally be miscommunications. With Personal Capital Jordan and I both have access to all of the same information, which makes our conversations much easier.
Where it could be better
It’s honestly difficult to find fault with such a stellar tool that is free to use. But there are a few things that I think could be better:
- Getting some accounts connected is frustrating: when first setting up Personal Capital, connecting some of our accounts took quite a while (looking at you, Wells Fargo). The issue did eventually get sorted out, but from time to time our accounts will become unlinked and we have to go through the process again. It’s a minor annoyance.
- The phone calls: when signing up you have to input your phone number. For the next week or two, I receive a few phone calls from them trying to sell me on their investment services. I honestly didn’t mind these calls because I don’t answer when unknown numbers call, but other people might find this annoying.
- There’s no tutorial: while most of the features are pretty easy to use once you know how I did feel like it took a bit of time to understand everything the tools could do. And some of the tools aren’t that easy to find or use, such as the education planner. But that’s why I’ve created…
Full Video Tutorial: Here’s exactly how to use Personal Capital
If you want to skip ahead to a certain part of the tutorial, here’s a breakdown of when I go through each section:
- Login to Personal Capital (1:10 min)
- Navigate the dashboard (2:00 min)
- Cash flow and budgeting (3:00 min)
- Retirement Planner (5:08 min)
- Education Planner – 529 Plan (9:50 min)
- Retirement Fee Analyzer (15:00 min)
- Investing Allocation (17:33 min)
While nothing is perfect, the free tools from Personal Capital come pretty darn close. Create your own account and learn more about your money today.
Erica Gellerman, CPA
Erica Gellerman is a CPA, MBA, personal finance writer, and founder of The Worth Project: a weekly money newsletter you actually want to read. Her work has been featured on Forbes, Money, Business Insider, The Everygirl, The Everymom, and Lifehacker. When she's not writing about personal finance you can find Erica exploring Europe from her temporary home base in London.
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