Words On Wednesday

2015-10-21 Financial Summary Document

Finances are a complex subject; I want a way to summarize financial health.

Motivation

I saw a financial advisor a few months back through work, just to get an idea of where I stood, as well as ask a professional if I could improve in any specific ways. My employer offered the service for free, and I figured it can’t hurt to talk to someone who helps people get their finances under control for a living. Not that I was necessarily concerned about my finances, as much as I figured everyone could afford to be a little more frugal and a little more careful with their money.

At the time, I was keeping a budget spreadsheet for all my expenses in order to keep an eye on my Earn-to-Burn ratio. Was it perfect? Absolutely not, but it at least forced me to watch where my money was going and be aware of how much I have at my disposal. At the advisor’s general meetings with groups of employees, she explained that one of the best tools anyone could use was Mint, a financial service that allows users to view numerous accounts from a central hub.

I immediately made an account on Mint and begin linking in various financial profiles. I brought in my 401k, my mortgage, and my credit card. The bank I was with at the time had abysmal online support, so my actual checking account didn’t show up. Even still, having at least a few portions of my financial state all together gave me a better idea of where I stood.

Eventually, I switched checking accounts to the bank with which I had my mortgage, and opened a savings account with them as well. With all the pieces falling into place, I had more detail than ever about where my money was going and what I could afford to cut back on. In preparation of my one-on-one meeting with the advisor, I began to try and collect summary pages about my finances. Try as I might, nothing really seemed to address ALL facets of my financial health. Different features on Mint allowed me to get a distribution of where my money had gone over the past year, as well as general budget spending habits, but nothing seemed exactly comprehensive. I went in with a few PDF documents of various Mint summaries, but luckily all she wanted to look at for the time being was my 401k and she had access to that from her own computer.

A New Tool

Even though the advisor had everything she needed for our first meeting, I was determined there must be a way to pull together a better summary of my finances. Sure, I could bring up various Mint pages and grab snapshots here and there, but I wanted something that I could press once and get a comprehensive overview of everything relevant to my money. I want my income, my budget, my past spending habits, my regular bills, and most of the important information all collected into an easy to read and digest document.

Obviously, such a collection of data could be detrimental if it contained sensitive information and fell into the wrong hands. Account numbers, personally identifying info, and other such data should be excluded from a summary page that individuals may risk losing or misplacing. Even for personal records or sharing with a financial advisor, it may be best to have these fields removed completely, or at least obscured. More secure than physically printing and delivering to someone, I’d like some way for users to share the information digitally and only allow recipients to access it with some sort of password or PIN.

What information should the tool contain? Here’s where I hit a bit of a wall, as I’m not trained in finances or economics and I really don’t know what sort of information is pertinent. I suppose much of that changes based on the what the individual wants to achieve. Someone decades into their career and looking toward a healthy retirement has far different needs from the twenty-something drifter who’s struggling to get on their feet or deal with debt from crippling student loans.

Regardless of personal situation, I think there are a few figures and data points that are important across the board. Income, obviously, dictates how much money you have to work with on a monthly or weekly basis. Spending habits, both standard bills and generally what the individual elects to pay for, are important for determining how much is left from the income. Debt or savings, how much an individual has above or below their normal input/output, gives a good idea of how comfortably they are ahead or how critically they are behind.

Given at least that collection of information, I feel like an individual or their financial advisor would be well equipped to see where they are financially and at least have a starting point for discussion about goals and actions. With a service like Mint, it shouldn’t be terribly difficult to aggregate all the relevant fields into something that is easy to read. Offering intelligent commentary on finances is something that requires an expert, but computers are very good at doing dumb tasks very quickly and efficiently.

I’m looking at you, Mint or some other financial service geared toward giving people a new financial tool. Give me something that allows me to see an overall picture of my financial health without having to track down and record everything myself. If you have access to my bank account, access to my credit card info, and all this information about me, let me see it in a way that shows me where I am and what I’m doing right or wrong at a glance. I want to see the important figures in a big font, and I want pretty little pictures and diagrams breaking down complicated ideas into something I can easily digest. I may be a programmer, but you guys are the financial experts.

Meta:

Words: 1002 | Characters: 5627 | Sentences: 41 | Average Word per Sentence: 25

Paragraphs: 13 | Reading Level: College Student

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