Online budgeting sites are bustling in this economy

The recession has lots of people trying to live within a budget, and more of them are turning to online money-management sites to stay on track.

These sites generally collect information from online bank and credit-card accounts. They update your account information regularly so you can see where your money goes. You can also get e-mail alerts when bills are coming due to help you avoid late fees.

And better yet, the sites are free.

The sites started cropping up a couple of years ago. In the past year or so, their traffic has increased almost threefold to about 1.5 million monthly unique visits, says Jim Bruene, editor of Online Banking Report.

Mint, launched in 2007, is attracting about 900,000 visitors a month, Bruene says. Other notable players are Geezeo, Wesabe and Rudder.

Besides help with managing cash flow, sites like Wesabe and Geezeo have social networking features that allow you to share tips and goals or commiserate with fellow budgeters.

Of course, software programs like Quicken and Microsoft Money have a much bigger audience that has used them for years, Bruene says. But these new sites tend to attract younger consumers.

You will have to divulge your bank user name and password to the financial sites so they can access your banking information. That can make some consumers uneasy.

The major sites say they don't store your financial data and that any information you provide is protected by encryption software.

Stick with the major players, Bruene advises.

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