WATCH ABOVE: Globalnews.ca tech reporter Nicole Bogart looks at three online tools that can help you get your finances in order and balance your budget.
TORONTO – Do you have difficulty keeping track of your money, or have a desk drawer filled with receipts you never correctly filed? Do you have any idea how much money you bring in, versus how much you spend per month?
If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions, it’s probably time to get your personal finances organized. Luckily, most of us have access to some of the easiest (and arguably cheapest) financial planning aids out there – a smartphone or computer.
Web and app based personal finance management tools have grown increasingly intuitive, allowing users to track data across all of their financial institutions.
READ MORE: 5 steps to a financial plan
The first step to getting your finances in order is to gather all of your financial statements and receipts and make a budget.
Luckily, if an old-fashioned paper and pen budget seems daunting, there are a number of web-based options available. Take for example MyMoneyCoach.ca, a free Canadian service offered by the CCS that allows users to plot out their budget using an interactive Excel spreadsheet. Bonus: You don’t have to be a spreadsheet expert to use it.
The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada also offers a detailed online budget calculator, which allows users to plug in their financial information (including a variety of sources of income and expenses). Once you’ve plugged in your information, the calculator will break down where you are spending your money and if you’re in the red or black.
There are also more sophisticated services like Mint.com – a free web-based service that allows users to plug in all of their financial information, from bank accounts and credit cards, to loans and debts, and track transactions in real time. Users can create budgets, set savings goals and receive alerts on their Android or iOS devices when they are nearing their spending limits.
“You Need a Budget” (YNAB) – available on iOS and Android, as well as desktop software – helps users balance budgets, save for long-term goals and even calculate how impulse buys will impact their monthly finances (perfect for the impulse shopper). This app also uses cloud syncing so users can check their budgets and record transactions across all of their devices on the go.
But, YNAB is most popular for its free online classes that range from tutorials about the software, to how to handle credit card debt and managing different pay cycles.
The “teachers” running the courses are all YNAB users who found budget bliss using the service.
Are these services secure?
We know what you’re thinking – “Is it safe to input all of my financial data into an app or web-based service?”
Security is top of mind for many people, especially following a year of major data breaches and hacking scandals. But Robert Siciliano, online safety expert for Intel Security, notes that many of these services have to employ strict security measures to protect themselves.
“Consumers should understand that these companies have everything to lose and nothing to gain if they are breached and data is leaked,” Siciliano told Global News.
“Furthermore in most cases if an app will be communicating data that’s tied directly to a credit card or bank account, they generally need to go thru a process to prove their security on an ongoing basis to the bank itself.”
For example, Mint uses “bank-level security” to make sure users’ financial information is safety stowed away. The company safeguards user accounts with unique four-digit pins and allows users to wipe their accounts remotely should their devices be stolen.
Of course, if you are going to use any of these services make sure you are protecting yourself. Use malware protection on your computer to avoid viruses and make sure you have strong passwords for any web or app based service. Additionally, if you have a banking app logged in on your mobile device make sure the device itself is password protected.
What you need to know before using one of these services
Experts agree that using online services to monitor your finances can be helpful, especially when trying to track your income versus spending.
But it’s important to note that granting an app or service access to your account information can violate your bank’s terms and conditions – which could leave you vulnerable in the event of fraud.
“Sharing account numbers and passwords so that data can be automatically pulled into any third-party software might mean you’ve given up protection from fraud. For example, if there was some fraudulent activity in your account where funds were withdrawn or spent, your bank may have the right to deny responsibility if you shared your account info,” said financial expert Preet Banerjee.
“The fine print is slightly different with each institution, and some may choose to deny fraud coverage outright, while others may choose to only forego coverage for losses that occurred in connection to the use of the third-party site.”
“The Cardholder Agreement between Scotiabank and its customers prohibits customers from disclosing their banking PINs/passwords,” said Jeff Marshall, vice president of self-service customer experience at Scotiabank in an email to Global News.
“By requiring bank customers to divulge their confidential access codes and passwords, third-party sites induce breach of contract between Scotiabank and its banking customers.”
Scotiabank recommends that customers familiarize themselves about the risk of security concerns such as sharing their electronic signatures and visit its online security centre for more information about what to do if they are faced with a security concern.
“As you note, there are firms that provide services to clients who share their confidential online banking sign on credentials. In some cases, there is no information provided to these clients on how or where their information is being stored or used. Please note, CIBC has not partnered with, nor endorsed, any of these providers,” said a spokesperson.
“A client who shares their user id and password with a third party would be in violation of our Electronic Access Agreement and not covered by our Online Security Guarantee in the event of a loss. However as part of our relationship with our clients we will generally reimburse clients in cases where the sharing of information with a third party did not contribute to the fraud loss.”
An RBC spokesperson declined to comment on our questions.
However, RBC’s general terms and agreements for cardholders reads, “We are not responsible for and we will not reimburse you for losses to your Account(s) if: (iii) you access Online Banking via an Electronic Access Device that you know or reasonably ought to know contains software that has the ability to reveal to anyone, or to otherwise compromise, any of your Passwords, Personal Verification Questions or an e-Transfer Question and Answer.”
The agreement adds RBC is not responsible if, “(v) you choose to share any of your Passwords or Personal Verification Questions with an Aggregator under Part B, Section 13(b).”
A TD spokesperson did not offer a comment, but directed us to section 5 of its Cardholder Electronic Banking Services Terms and Conditions which reads, “You must keep your Card, PIN and Credentials confidential and take every reasonable precaution to maintain them safely.”
The terms continue you must take “all reasonable precautions to ensure that no one finds out your PIN or Credentials while keying it in or logging into an Electronic Financial Service.”
None of the banks have authorized any third-party financial planning apps.
However, CIBC noted that their online banking site has recently been updated with financial planning tools. Scotiabank also offers mobile banking apps for iPhone and Android that allow customers to monitor and manage their money in personal or business accounts.
If you are considering using a third-party financial planning sites like the ones mentioned in this article, experts recommend checking your banks terms and conditions before signing in with your banking credentials.