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I’ve been using the Empower (formerly Personal Capital) financial software now for the past few years. However, I’ve only been dipping my toes in with it… until now.
Quicken’s been my go-to software for just over 20 years. I stumbled on it back in 1999 when I first started at the career I just retired from. I was hired in as an engineer to fight the scary Y2K bug and Intuit was giving away their Quicken 98 software for free as a fix to anyone running older versions.
I decided to install the software just to toy with it. I entered in all my accounts and ended up being appalled at what I saw. I owed about $30k in credit card debt and just had no idea it was that much.
I credit Quicken’s Debt Reduction Planner feature with giving me the guidance on getting out of this mess. It was such a great asset and helped motivate me to pay off the credit card debt, my student loans, and my car loans.
If it wasn’t for Quicken, I don’t know if I’d be where I am today.
I became so attached to the software and it helped run my world for two decades. I would ensure I got a receipt for everything I did – dinner, gas, shopping, whatever. And then, I would enter those receipts into Quicken once I got home.
Yes, the software links your accounts so you can download your transactions and I also had that in place. Because I would enter each receipt in manually, the downloads would then match up the new transactions with the ones I had entered. It was a good way to check over my work.
Not only that, but that meant I always knew exactly where each of my accounts stood – to the penny. I probably opened the software to work with and review numbers at least five days a week.
You’re likely raising an eyebrow right now at how insanely crazy that is. Yes, I have a little bit of anal retentiveness with some things… I’m not sure how Mrs. R2R has stuck with me for the past 18 years, but I’m glad she has. She doesn’t have this craziness bouncing around in her head.
So, if it ain’t broke, why fix it?
Quicken has been probably the best tool for me to use over the years to help eliminate all debt. It’s also been vital in planning and reviewing the growth of our net worth.
Here’s the thing though – times have changed dramatically over the past 20 years since I started using it. There have been a number of competitors to Quicken over the years – Microsoft Money, GnuCash, YNAB, and Moneydance are just a few that I remember out there. Some survived and some didn’t… RIP Microsoft Money!
But the Internet and technology have grown up and opened up a whole new world of different options. And one of the biggest changes was the birth of financial software that’s all online. That provides a number of benefits:
- Virtually eliminates potential installation or configuration problems
- No need to worry about running outdated software
- Provides the ability to access the software and your data from anywhere in the world
- Lighter on its feet – programs like Quicken have had to try to modify their software to accommodate the web. Online services are built from the ground up to work solely through the Internet. Additionally, it’s always better to build with security in mind than to try to add it into existing software.
- Makes development of mobile apps a logical and probably easier pursuit for developers
Quicken has tried to adapt and bring in mobile functionality and even web access to certain aspects of the software. However, let’s get real – it’s still a dinosaur that they’re trying to make work with the Internet… that’s a mammoth task! More importantly, I got to use dinosaur and mammoth in the same sentence – Mr. 1500 would be proud!
Intuit realized that this was a major uphill challenge as well and put their focus on Mint instead (as well as QuickBooks and TurboTax). They sold Quicken to another company a few years ago. The developers have made some good strides with the software including online access, but it’s still a tough battle.
I love Quicken, but I want to be less hands-on and I want the ability to just access everything from the web and mobile. This has become even more important as I no longer have a Windows laptop. When I retired from my employer, I purchased a Chromebook for my daily use.
First off, I absolutely love the Chromebook (a 14″ HP Chromebook x360). And for what it’s worth, I was able to get Quicken installed and working through the use of an Android app called CrossOver. Not only is that bad-ass, but it actually works pretty well, too.
But I don’t want to rely on this setup. Right now, CrossOver is free while it’s in beta. But if I become reliant on it, I’m at their mercy with whatever cost they decide to charge down the line. I don’t like that.
Additionally, my needs have changed over the years. Here are a few of the things that were on my mind…
1) I want simplicity.
I no longer need to spend five days a week staring at my screen. But if I want to check a balance real quick, I want to be able to just pull out my phone instead of my computer. Ten seconds on-the-fly wherever I’m at versus ten minutes of being tied to my laptop.
2) I need to focus more on my investments than my checking and savings.
I used to love overdrafting my checking because that meant I wasn’t leaving money sitting in there doing nothing. But now I don’t want to waste time with that. We now keep enough money in our checking to cover a month’s expenses with plenty of breathing room.
Instead, the spotlight for me now needs to be shining on our net worth and growing our investments. We’ve mastered the day-by-day so I’d rather focus on the bigger picture more.
3) I want to be able to see my balances and transactions in our checking account.
Yeah, yeah, I know what I just said above, but that doesn’t mean I want to write those type of accounts off completely. I still have to keep an eye on everything and need to be able to glance at them occasionally. I just won’t be spending an inordinate amount of time with those accounts.
The big problem I had previously was that our credit union didn’t support Quicken – or any online aggregator for that matter. I love my credit union, but we recently moved our accounts to a Schwab Bank High Yield Investor Checking Account in preparation for our move to Panama.
This gave us an opportunity to consolidate accounts. We actually had eight accounts there (a checking and savings each plus accounts for our trust). We now have just the single Schwab checking account since we already have our Ally accounts. Talk about simplifying!
The Schwab account syncs with Quicken, but it also works with online aggregators. That’s big because it opens up new possibilities of what software to use. With Quicken, I was manually entering those transactions in – something I couldn’t do with the online services. Now, this becomes irrelevant and I can still see everything and all my accounts in one view.
I’ve been testing different services for years now alongside Quicken. However, the service that I keep coming back to has been Empower (formerly Personal Capital).
Yes, the same Empower that almost every financial blogger promotes (including me) because it has a nice payout.
But here’s the thing… it actually is really good. I won’t recommend something that I don’t use or believe in and Empower is no exception. And that’s the reason I actually do promote it (along with the kickback, of course!).
Like most aggregation services, it lets you link all your accounts to it – bank accounts, credit cards, investment and retirement accounts, etc. It then pulls all the transactions and numbers from your accounts and updates them once a day as well as when you log in.
What I like about Empower is the interface. It’s easy to see exactly where you stand with all your accounts and your net worth as a whole. That’s the main thing I want to be able to do – just check in periodically and see where we stand…
Additionally, you can still easily drill down into any account and look into individual transactions. But not only that, you’re able to look at transactions as a whole or filter by type (cash, investment, credit, loan, mortgage).
Empower also does its best to categorize everything while still giving the ability to modify it if it doesn’t get it right. It provides views to easily see where your money’s going…
But where Empower stands out is the investment views and tools built in. I love that with one click, I can look at my asset allocations. This is the information that I want to keep an eye on and make reallocation adjustments once or twice a year if needed…
Quicken has some portfolio tools built in, but they’re clunky and I found that I rarely used them. This is simple and easy – I love simple and easy software!
Not only that, but the Investment Checkup tool can be helpful for a lot of folks. I won’t use that very much, but it’s still nice that they include this…
What really turned me on to the awesomeness of this service though was the Retirement Fee Analyzer. I’ve talked about how this saved me big money before – with the click of a button, I realized that I was paying way to much in fees in my 401(k). I made a couple of quick changes online on my 401(k) provider’s site and instantly shaved off about $50,000 in fees over ten years just like that! Amazing!
These couple of screenshots are from my account a few years ago…
Another thing that I liked is the built-in Retirement Planner. You already have all your info in Empower, so by adding in some details and goals, you can see and track your progress. It will let you know your projected chance of success and you can make changes as needed.
Even though I’m now technically retired, I’m guessing I’ll still use this for various planning. It’s very powerful – they didn’t half-ass this feature. It even lets you spin off different scenarios to help you figure out what path might be best for you.
And finally, the mobile app is awesome. They did a nice job keeping everything just as easy to use as the website. Not only that, but most of the same functionality is there. This is exactly what I’ve been after.
As an added bonus, it’s 100% free with no limitations – that’s my favorite cost!
The reason they give away this service is that they’re hoping you’ll use their investment management services, which is where they make their money. Even a small percentage that uses their services makes this a worthwhile business model for the company.
Why not Mint?
The closest competitor to Empower would probably be Mint. I’ve tested Mint on and off over the past few years as well. It’s great financial software and similar to Empower in many ways.
However, Mint focuses on budget tracking and planning whereas Empower puts most of its efforts into the investment side of the fence.
That’s not to say that Mint isn’t good – far from it. It excels at what it’s built for and is actually a great Quicken alternative. However, it just doesn’t fit what I’m after.
My goal is to touch less on the transaction side and more on the side of tracking wealth and net worth. And that’s the area where Empower is a winner.
What’s nice is that you don’t have to just use one or the other. Just because it’s the best solution for me, doesn’t mean that wouldn’t be the case for you. Try ’em both out and figure out what works best for you.
Empower isn’t perfect
So, nothing’s ever perfect, but Empower does nail most everything I want. Here are a few items where the service falls short for me though…
- Can’t exclude accounts from net worth – I mentioned how I want everything in one place. With Quicken, I could add in my daughter’s savings account and 529 plan for instance. These are accounts I want to track, but I don’t consider them to be part of my net worth. Quicken gives you the ability to exclude accounts from your net worth and still track them – I love that. I don’t believe there’s a way to do this in Empower.
- No manual transactions – I’m no longer manually entering in receipts from everything we do. However, a routine that I liked to do with Quicken is to add in transactions (basically placeholders) for business income I’m expecting. That way, I don’t forget about it and can follow up if it doesn’t show up. Sorry, no manual transactions in Empower.
- 90-day history – To get a good snapshot of your finances, 90 days should be good most of the time. But I did like that I could see the growth of our net worth over the years. I also liked that I could do a quick search and see how much I paid for a product or service in the past before I made the same or similar purchase again. Not so much with Empower. You get a rolling three-month window.
- The assigned financial advisor – So, Empower is free, but like I mentioned, they’re hoping to talk to you and bring you under their umbrella of investment management. So when you sign up, if you have $100,000 in investable assets, a financial advisor from the company will call you. They want an opportunity to give you a free hour of consultation. I have no problem with that, but I already have a financial advisor I’m very confident in. You aren’t required to talk to them, but they will call periodically to check-in. I’ve never answered (they leave voicemails), but they will continue to call until they get to talk to you. In their defense, I have heard that the calls can actually be worthwhile. Sam from Financial Samurai decided to go through the consultation to see what it was all about. Here’s a link to his post taking you through the process.
All in all, I’m happy to make the change. However, this has been a big transition for me. 20 years is a long time with one piece of software. My entire financial history is there and I know the ins and the outs of the product.
But, it’s time for me to move on. The only way to grow is to adapt and managing your finances is no exception.
I’m not a Quicken hater. In fact, if you want intricate control over your finances, there is no better product for you than Quicken. It really is amazing.
But for simplicity and amazing functionality built for the web and mobile, Empower is the way to go.
Think I made the right move? Do you use Empower for your finances?