There are a dizzying number of financial apps and websites promising to help you make the most of your money, with new ones cropping up each day. I'm a longtime devotee of Mint.com and Venmo; beyond that, I haven't quite figured out which new tools are worth my time. So I was excited to attend the third annual fintech competition last week at FinCon Dallas, which bills itself as "the world's largest financial content expo." (See also: 5 New Personal Finance Technologies You Don't Want To Miss)
The competition featured 10 newish consumer-facing apps and websites that aim to solve a personal finance or investing problem. Competitors made a brief presentation, followed by a Q&A session with the judges—J. Money of BudgetsAreSexy.com and Shannon Austin of the Center for Financial Services Innovation—and audience members, whose averaged rankings comprised half of the judging process. The top two entrants were awarded with recognition at the conference keynote, along with a cash prize ($1,000 to the winner and $500 to the runner-up).
The 10 entrants were:
- Birch Finance: A site/app that helps you maximize your credit card rewards.
- Qoins: An app that uses spare change from each debit/credit card purchase to automatically pay off your debt.
- Honeyfi: A tool that helps couples manage and communicate about their money.
- CollegeBacker: A site that makes it easy for friends and family to contribute to a 529 plan (and a robo-advisory that automatically allocates the investments).
- Agreeable: An app that creates contracts between two parties selling/buying from one another.
- Budgit: An automated budgeting and savings service that organizes your bills and spending and helps you save for your goals.
- Squeeze: An app that helps you save on recurring bills like cable, internet, phone and more.
- WizeFi: An app that analyzes your spending and savings and offers guidelines to maximize your wealth.
- Kinfo: A social investing service that lets you follow and track the actions of successful investors.
- Take Command Health: A site/app that helps both individual consumers and small business choose the best health care plans for their needs.
And the winners are... "Best in Show" went to Birch Finance, while Take Command Health came in second place. Turns out, two of my favorite entrants nabbed the top prizes. Here's my two cents:
I took Birch for a spin and was fairly happy with the results. It's simple to set up: You connect your credit card accounts to Birch (founder Alex Cohen says they employ bank-level security and support about 175 credit cards) and answer a few questions about how you like to earn your rewards (cashback, flights, hotels), whether you are OK with annual fee cards, your credit score and more.
Birch then pulls your transaction history, analyzes your purchases against the cards you own and tells you whether you used the right card in your wallet to maximize your rewards.
I was pleased to learn that, according to Birch, I was using the right card on 85% of my purchases in the last three months (thanks for that 2% back, Citi Double Cash Card). But I also left $11.41 on the table: I could have gotten 5% back on restaurant purchases in July, August and September using my Discover card. I also missed a few chances for 3% back on my groceries. Whoops.
Birch also recommends cards that will help you earn bigger rewards based on your spending (that's how the service makes money, through credit card referrals). A location-based service on the app gives you a heads-up on which card to use when you're at a particular store.
I'm adding Birch to my personal finance app rotation to help me make sure I'm not missing any chances for free money. The only ding I have against the tool is that it doesn't tell you which cards to use when you're shopping online, but Cohen says that's a feature they are hoping to roll out soon.
Take Command Health
Second place went to Take Command Health, a unique new service that allows customers to review individual health insurance plan options according to their doctors, prescriptions and specific conditions. The service is for both individuals and small businesses.
According to Take Command founder Jack Cooper, 90% of Americans choose the wrong health plan during open enrollment. Take Command Health helps you choose the right one.
In his presentation, Cooper pointed out that a new, somewhat unknown law allows small businesses to reimburse their employees for buying individual health insurance in place of paying premiums on a group policy. The employee doesn't pay taxes on the company's contribution, and the company doesn't have to pay payroll taxes either.
Small businesses can use Take Command Health to help them take advantage of this law and offer their employees the best plans for their needs, saving both parties money.
The software platform takes consumers through a guided TurboTax-like interview process, asking them about their doctors, health care needs, expenses and more. The site then tells you which individual insurance plans are best for your needs. (I'm told that some plans offered by large employers are also included in the site).
Unfortunately, when I tried to use the service, I was told that only faith-based MediShare plans were in the database for my area, rendering it pretty much useless for me. I'm hoping that the site is able beef up its database so that more Americans can take advantage of it.
Want to instantly increase your credit score? Experian Boost™ helps by giving you credit for the utility and mobile phone bills you're already paying. Until now, those payments did not positively impact your score.
This service is completely free and can boost your credit scores fast by using your own positive payment history. It can also help those with poor or limited credit situations. Other services such as credit repair may cost you up to thousands and only help remove inaccuracies from your credit report.