MADELEINE BRAND, host:
Back now with DAY TO DAY.
You know, there's an online community for everything these days: movies, health, pets, wine - so why not money? People shop and do their banking online, so a lot of people now want to budget online. There are a couple of new Web sites that pull information straight from your bank account and credit card accounts and crunch your numbers for you. Well, that sounds a little Big Brotherish, but it could also be really handy.
And here to weigh the pros and cons is our personal finance contributor Michelle Singletary.
MICHELLE SINGLETARY: Hi.
BRAND: So tell us about these Web sites.
SINGLETARY: Well, I looked at two sites, wesabe.com - and that's W-E-S-A-B-E.com - and mint.com. And in both cases you upload all your transactional information about your personal finances, information on your credit cards or your bank account, and then they look at how you spend your money. You can create charts and graphs, sort of see what percentage you're spending; for example, eating out. And at mint.com they actually recommend places where you could maybe cut your expenses, like, say, if you've uploaded information about what you pay for insurance.
BRAND: And as you say, then you get advice about whether or not you should cut back on the restaurant expenditures or what have you. What do you think of the advice?
SINGLETARY: Well, you know, I spent more time at the Wesabe site and it's sort of like MySpace and Facebook. You know, it's a community of folks who - and some people even put their pictures of them, some people have cartoons that represents who they are. And they give different advice from, you know, how do you budget to how much you're eating out. And I thought some - most the advice was pretty good.
I like the back and forth, like someone who will offer some advice and then there will be - you can comment on it. So I, for example, looked at someone who gave the advice about trying to transfer credit card balances to get, you know, zero percent interest and so forth. And the basic advice was okay. They missed a lot of points, but the comments section, lots have folks said, oh, that's good but you have to remember the transactional fees. And if you're kind of clueless and you don't have anybody else in your life to kind of give you that feedback, it was helpful.
BRAND: So it's like the wisdom of crowds, that idea, that...
BRAND: That the people out there have more and better information than you do on your own - for your own.
SINGLETARY: Right. But you know, also you don't know where the information is coming from. You don't know, someone maybe worked for a bank or insurance agency. So you don't know if it's truly unbiased information and how accurate it is. You know, if you - if budgeting is an issue for you, I think this is an - it's perfectly harmless to do this. I'm so - it's like having an online community. Like an online Big Mama. You know, I grew with my Big Mama. So it's like having a lot of little Big Mamas online.
(Soundbite of laughter)
BRAND: You know, Michelle, it sounds really good, but I get a little afraid that my financial information would get hacked somehow.
SINGLETARY: If you are afraid, and I was too, I did not download any of my bank information. But you can still - on wesabe.com you can set up an account and you still have access to the comments, the goals section, the tips section. And that's what I did. I didn't input in my personal information, but I did find the forum very useful. And so that's what I did.
BRAND: All right, Michelle. Well, thank you.
SINGLETARY: You're welcome.
BRAND: That's Michelle Singletary. She's our regular expert on personal finance, and she writes the nationally syndicated column The Color of Money. And to hear more from Michelle, you can check out her NPR podcast. Go online at npr.org/colorofmoney, and Color of Money is all one word.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.