Financial technology is one of the fastest growing areas of innovation, as mobile apps are being created that give people the ability to control their finances right from their smartphones. Millennials and others want instant access to their financial data and the ability to manage their money. Financial services firms know that's where their clients are going, so they are rushing to incorporate these new technologies before their customers move on.
The newest apps range from offering investment advice and enabling stock purchases to crowd funding, online payments and exchanging money (think PayPal or Square). Many involve a "social" aspect, allowing a connected generation to see what others are doing or to share advice and woes.
Quicken, the still-great program that sits on your desktop computer, is so passe. Now, free apps like Mint and Mint Bills have more immediate appeal. Apple Pay makes it easy to purchase goods by touching your smartphone or Apple Watch. Even Walmart is adding smart bill payment to its mobile app.
It takes a conscious effort to keep up with financial technology that can make your life easier. Here are a few examples, most of which I've written about over the past year:
Mint and Mint Bills: These are two separate free apps. Mint came first, offering budgeting advice and categories, along with a convenient dashboard for seeing where all your money is -- and where it went. It's free because it allows advertisers to ping you with offers of lower rate cards and so forth. But the app also sends you immediate notification when you are about to overspend your own budgeted limits for entertainment or dining out!
The one thing that Mint doesn't do -- pay your bills -- has been remedied by the Mint Bills app, which I first wrote about in early 2015. It's simple, allowing you to view all your bills, schedule payments and make sure you have enough money to cover them! It gets my vote for App of the Year!
Acorns: Everyone agrees that there is never enough money to set aside for investments. So this free app makes it easy to find the cash, automatically rounding up all your checking and credit card purchases for accounts you enroll, then sweeping those extra pennies into a stock fund every time you accumulate $5 in extra pennies! You can always add more cash -- and you can get your money back if you need it. But the whole idea is that this almost imperceptible process will help you build a long-term, growing investment account. It's the modern-day version of a penny jar!
BUDGT and Wally: Throw out the old budget book, paper receipts and pencil sharpener. Two apps, BUDGT (not a misspelling!) and Wally, will help you track expenses so at least you know where the money went -- and in what categories. This easy technology is especially helpful if you file an expense report, want to track deductible expenses or simply want to gain control over your spending habits.
SoFi.com: Refinancing student loans at lower rates for college grads that have good credit and good jobs is the specialty of this new service. SoFi has already funded over $6 billion in loans, now adding personal loans and mortgages to its portfolio of student loans. SoFi stands for "social finance" -- a key ingredient in the "do well by doing good" aspect of their mission. Save a fortune in interest if you qualify to refi your college or grad student loans.
Robo investing: There are so many good apps and programs that it's hard to choose the best. But check out Betterment, Wealthfront and Personal Capital. All offer diversification, simplicity, organization and free or very inexpensive advice and investment alternatives. The brokerage industry is worried you won't need them anymore -- and millennials seem to agree!
There will be more new apps and innovations to review in the year ahead to help you gain control over your finances and make the most of your money. Now it's up to you to try them. And that's The Savage Truth.
Terry Savage is a registered investment adviser and the author of four best-selling books, including "The Savage Truth on Money." Terry responds to questions on her blog at TerrySavage.com.