Official Credit Union of UMass Athletics

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Test Driving Trends - Our New Personal Financial Management Tool

by Sean Capaloff-Jones.

When we finally settled on what our new EZBank would look like and the features it would have, I was excited. The biggest source of my excitement was a Personal Financial Management Tool called Trends.

I have used Mint.com when I did my banking with big banks. Many small banks and credit unions, ours included, do not play well with Mint.com. This has left a gap for me and many of our members. The convenience of having an online Money Management system over Quicken can be hard to give up. 

Now, you don't have to.

Keep in mind, it's been a while since I've worked with Mint.com, but from my perspective, Trends is just as intuitive as Mint.com was. On my first pass through, I logged in to EZBank, clicked on the Trends tab, and was immediately presented with the option to add accounts. I was pleased to discover that I could easily add outside accounts including my Student Loans and Retirement account through a built-in search feature. 

First Impression

As I added my accounts, the first thing I noticed was that each account was put into one of five distinct categories: Banking, Credit Card, Investment, Other Liabilities, and Retirement. It was no surprise to me that "Other Liabilities" was a large category due to my student loan. However, it was nice to see that my Retirement account was higher.

I was also happy to see that my cash flow was being measured (Income minus Expenses) as well as Net Worth (Assets minus Liabilities. In the past, I needed to run my Net Worth calculations manually. It wasn't exactly a deal breaker, but it is nice to have Net Worth calculated - and updated - for me. Additionally, having a snapshot of my retirement account on the front page was wonderful. As a twenty-something, I am fortunate to work for a financial institution and be tasked with teaching people about the importance of saving for retirement, because it has forced me to practice what I preach. Having my retirement account on the same page as my student loans makes me feel optimistic, and it also allows me to track performance much more often than I otherwise would. I am ashamed to admit that I really only check my retirement accounts once a year. Now, if the market changes and some of my mutual funds are not performing as expected, I can adjust my strategy more quickly.

Categorizing my Transactions

I found categorizing my transactions to be a breeze. I did notice that the generic transactions didn't adequately cover the sort of topics I would want. Fortunately, I found it very easy to set my own categories.Payments Step 1

On the bottom left of the pop-up screen that shows up after clicking on a transaction, I saw Add/Edit Your Categories. Clicking on that button brought me to a new Categories screen where I could add my own categories.

Category Step 2

I really wanted a lunch category, so that I could really drill down and understand how much I spent on food and where I could identify savings, rather than just having everything show up as "Other Food & Dining".

Payments Step 3

I added "Lunch Out" as a category, clicked the "save icon".

Payments Step 4

I decided I wanted to add a few more categories while I was here. I included "Breakfast Out" and "Dinner Out" for good measure. Again, I made sure to click the save icon next to each line item so that the record would be saved.

Make Payment Step 5

Now I was able to go back to the original screen, check my categories, and pick one of the new categories I created. Just like that!

From a budgeting standpoint, I find that fine-tuning categories to my liking makes it a lot easier for me to understand what's going on. If you are the same way, you'll probably find yourself in this screen a lot.

Budgeting Tool

Man oh man, talk about easy! The first thing I noticed when I clicked on the Budgeting Tab was an option to use statistical data to assign a budget based on national data. It's easy to fine tune the budgeting options once they're filled in, but it's a great starting point. I will say that on my first attempt to do this, I made an obvious mistake and did not read that it was asking for monthly income, and put instead my annual income. That was fun! Turns out, it's not very helpful to budget based on 12 times your annual salary! If you make this mistake or something similar, you can always delete all of your categories and click on Add New Budget at the top. It will start you over. Of course, if you don't want to use national averages as your starting point, you can use whatever totals you like here.

Goals

I really appreciated this tab. Anyone who has attended one of my workshops knows that I believe financial goals to be the most important part of a budget. It's what keeps us on track, because without goals, budgeting can feel pointless. With a financial goal, you're not sacrificing something with no gain. I added two savings goals here and connected them to my savings account. I can now see if I am on schedule or off schedule for making my savings goals. Cool!

Conclusion

More and more people are moving to Personal Financial Management tools to do their budget and track their expenses in one place. Our new EZBank Online banking provides some great features which do this in a simple and pretty intuitive way. I plan to use this tool to help me improve my budgeting and my attention to detail. Already, I've found myself using this service frequently.

Have you used Trends? What do you think of it?

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