Sometimes the best things in life are really free after all. Well, OK, personal finance services and strategy rarely fits in the ‘best things in life’ category, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t important in helping you to focus more on the things that are truly the best in your life. Many of the services I will mention have ‘non-free’ (paid) alternatives. What’s particularly great about this list is that the free offerings do not suffer in their quality in comparison to its paid competitors. In fact, many are industry leaders – or will soon be someday – in their niche.
And some of these things aren’t services at all, but rather, ways that you can get free money that you might be missing out on. No catch, other than the fact that you have to be motivated and execute, which is always easier said than done. What better time of year than the beginning?
There has been widespread concern that new consumer protection from bank overdraft fees would wipe out the ‘free’ part of free checking accounts. Many banks have eliminated free checking accounts, but some of the best online banks have not followed suit. CIT Bank is my favorite for e-bank, due to their online focus, reputation, and high interest rate yields. CIT is a legit FDIC-insured bank (a division of First-Citizens Bank & Trust, which runs hundreds of banks in 19 states, but the CIT division is geared towards online). They have have some of the best CD rates I have seen, including 18-month CD and 11-month no penalty CD if you need to withdraw funds. They also offer attractive online savings, e-checking (with ATM fee reimbursement), and money market accounts – with no overdraft or maintenance fees.
Free Investment Trades
Many online investment accounts offer commission-free ETF trading with no fee for buying and selling those ETFs (in addition to stocks and bonds). This is a great way to keep your investment costs low.
Free Credit Cards
When the Credit Card Act passed a few years ago, there was widespread fear that it would lead to more credit card issuers charging annual fees, particularly on cards with cash back rewards. Many of them did, however, the best rewards cards out there still have no annual fee. Check out my money saving products page for a few recommendations.
As with all credit cards, in order to make them ‘free’, and even get cash back in a meaningful way, pay your balance in full each month.
Free Credit Score
Credit Karma is a completely free credit score reporting service that offers up your TransUnion credit score. Although not the FICO score used by lenders, it should give you a close approximation to what your FICO score might be. There are no hidden free trials (then get screwed with a monthly charge) and no credit card is required to sign up.
Credit Karma also announced that they are now offering free credit monitoring! This is a service that usually costs $15/month!
How does Credit Karma offer this free service? Much like the Mint.com monetization model, Credit Karma will offer up partner services as a way for you to save money.
Free Tax Software
Like it or not, it’s always time to be thinking about your taxes. Tax software makers Turbotax and H&R Block both offer up free 1040EZ federal tax software and free federal e-filing (state is extra on both), which should be sufficient enough for 60-65% of Americans who do not itemize tax deductions (a crazy stat, if you ask me). Check out my picks for the best and cheapest tax software (as well as the cheapest & free ways to e-file).
Free Wealth Tracking Software
If you haven’t used personalcapital.com yet? You can get automated net worth and account balance updates from all of your investments. And it’s all free. Many knock-off services out there are charging for less.
If you’re looking for something that is simple and basic, check out my free to download budgeting spreadsheet.
Free Credit Report
Don’t let marketing companies in disguise offer you credit reports (for free or paid), when you can 3 free credit reports per year. AnnualCreditReport.com (the real-deal website, mandated by the federal government) offers you three free credit reports annually. Otherwise, it’s likely a free credit report scam you’re looking at. Space out your free credit reports every 4 months to consistently check for discrepancies. Also – you can now continuously access your TransUnion and Equifax credit reports from Credit Karma for free.
Yes, you heard me right. Free money. No joke. You just have to have a little patience (like wait until you’re 65 type patience). If your employer offers a 401K match to what you contribute to your 401K, get as much as that free money as possible. Some employers even match up to the maximum 401K contribution (and the employer maximum 401K contribution is higher than the individual limit, so a few take it next level).
While not a “service” per say, many young professionals overlook this very important employment perk and they’ll be kicking themselves later in life for not having taken advantage of it and letting that free money compound over the years. It’s free money, folks! It may be the only time you’ll ever get it.
GE, this is EXTREMELY helpful. I knew about half of these, but the other half I did not (the free checking with interest and Credit Karma I will be checking out). And you’re right, a little reminder for motivational purposes does come in handy. Happy New Year!
I’ve been using Mint for a couple weeks now, and like it. The fact that it has an iPhone app, makes it incredibly accessible, even when I’m away from a computer. Plus, it gives me notifications when I’m reaching a particular budget — pretty good to stay on course with!
I always want to try Mint and I always get nervous about sharing so much information. I know its not a logical worry but its something i cannot shake.
Ally has been a good bank, in my opinion. They always have good rates.
@ Broke – I had the same initial concerns with Mint – and they are valid concerns. I have not heard of Mint having any security breaches to this date, but I suppose that is always on the table.
I did have some concerns as well, I have been using them since December but did a lot of research before I took the plunge. They have bank level security (somewhere below military security according to some independent reviews), and being an Intuit company gave it enough weight to make me feel comfortable about not being scammed. I absolutely love being able to see exactly when my automatic deposits and other transactions take place right on my phone. Seeing my net worth change, the budget alerts and all accounts from credit cards, investment accounts and my HSA are helpful too.
I just want to point out that Roth IRS contributions are actually post-tax. So essentially you pay taxes on contributions up front, but your money grows tax free. Whereas with the traditional IRA, your funds are contribution pre-tax, but you pay tax on the gain.
OK. I probably read that incorrectly. I’m a tax accountant, so whenever I see pre-tax, my brain instantly thinks “contribution before payroll tax,” not already taxed.
There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch
Or as they say, caveat emptor, let the buyer beware. Mint/Intuit use your data to sell you more financial products (those sponsored credit card ads, not necessarily bad, but it ain’t free). They also have agglomerated data based on geographic location, income, age and gender which they will be or are already offering some companies to sell you stuff. The information may not be associated with your name and social security but it is associated with your email and zip code.
If you are worried about it, don’t use mint.
Disclosure: I use mint and quite like it myself.
Have you looked into USAA bank? Their bank offers free checking, free trades on all USAA mutural funds (they have a lot), they will pay up to 15 dollars a month in ATM transaction fees (usually about 5 withdrawls/month), 2% cash back on most credit card purchases, and auto/home insurance that is cheaper than any of the major companies I looked into. Their customer service is also superb. The only catch is that they don’t have many branches. If you recieve a lot of checks, you can deposit them at certian UPS stores or mail them into USAA. You have to be in the military or a direct family member of another USAA customer.
This is extremely helpful, thanks. Normally I would pay for some of these services but this list makes everything much simpler. I’m going to join everyone one of these sites and make a commitment to using the facilities to further my finances. Excellent article and thank you!
I’ve used Credit Karma before, but I really prefer Credit Sesame because they offer free identity theft insurance. Anyone else have pros & cons for CS vs CK?