Monday, May 4, 2009

Steer Your Financial Future with Rudder!

A few weeks ago I was reading articles on Lifehacker and I ran across a reference to the personal finance tool, Rudder. Given that Rudder is free (for basic service), I decided to give it a shot.

The backbone of Rudder is the Dashboard page. This page contains a number of widgets, small components which provide information about various elements of personal finance. The Dashboard provides an instant glance at my financial state. The Account Balances widget lists the current balances on my accounts. The Recent Activity widget is one of my favorites, listing recent transactions. These are updated nightly, however I have found that the updates are not perfect. The Bills widget requires a little setup. It will list reoccurring bills, but I had to enter them the first time. The hallmark widget of Rudder is one entitled What's Left. This widget projects how much money will remain after all of the bills are paid. Two more widgets are available, but not added to your dashboard by default. These are the Savings, and the Spend Meter.

Rudder also includes transaction lists and trends pages. Trends are not that helpful unless you pay for an upgraded account. Rudder's basic services are free. This means however that Rudder will only store 200 transactions (between all accounts). That's not enough to do meaningful trend analysis for most people. Upgraded accounts will hold more transactions. I opted for a one year, unlimited transactions account, which set me back $15.

What Rudder does really well is give me a succinct, up to the minute look at my current financial position. Every night Rudder sends me an email with a snapshot of my dashboard. It's easy to read, and at a glance I can see where things stand. I used to check my checking account balance every couple of days, and with Rudder's emails I don't need to do that anymore. If someone should say, use my debit card to buy train tickets in Europe, it'll show up in my daily emails, and I can call the bank immediately.

The only catch... sometimes it doesn't work. Rudder had trouble communicating with my bank for about a week. Rudder needed me to repeatedly input my user name and password (which is buried on the settings page), yet it could not update my account. Eventually the problem seemed to repair itself. I waited until it worked for a couple of weeks following that event before paying for the unlimited account.

The other disadvantage to Rudder is that it does not talk to company in which I have my investment account. This is important to my daily finances because I use the money market account with that company for short term savings. So Rudder doesn't know that I've got a little money stashed away for summer vacation.

If you are currently using some other tool for personal finance management, and you're happy with it, then stick with it. If you want to give something new a try, sign up for a Rudder account and see what you think.