Liz Pulliam Weston

The Basics

9 high-tech ways to simplify your money

New ways to streamline your financial life are popping up all over. Here are some great financial tools and shortcuts shared by our readers.

By Liz Pulliam Weston

Three of the best ways to simplify your finances -- direct deposit, online bill payment and automatic payments -- are pretty well-known.

But there are plenty of other ways to streamline your money using today's technology that aren't as widely used. With the help of posters on the Your Money message board, I'm nominating some of my favorites.

Not all of these options are available everywhere, but you should at least check with your financial institutions to see if they're offered -- and agitate for adding them if they're not.

Programmable ATMs

Any action you do over and over the same way is a good candidate for automation. Some banks are figuring that out and offering you a way to program their ATMs.

Wells Fargo Bank's "MyATM" feature, for example, allows you to set up any of its ATMs to remember how much you like to withdraw at a time, from which account and whether you want a receipt. Instead of wading through several screens after you punch in your personal identification number, you hit one button, get your cash and go.

Get the big picture

Personal-finance software programs such as Money and Quicken have long offered the ability to track all your financial accounts in one place (typically on your computer, although you also could upload the data to an accessible-anytime Web site).

Now some big banks are starting to offer full-fledged account aggregation as well. Several Your Money posters nominated Bank of America's online "My Portfolio" feature, which allows you to track all your BofA accounts as well as those at other banks, brokerage firms, mutual fund companies, credit card issuers and mortgage lenders, along with frequent-flier and frequent-traveler accounts.

My Portfolio helps you categorize and budget your spending as well as monitor your net worth. Here's how poster "Florida Yankee" described it:

"I can track all of my asset accounts such as checking, savings, and retirement accounts as well as my liabilities such as credit cards, mortgages and other loans. From there, you can get a snapshot of your current your net worth, expense analysis, cash flow analysis, credit card utilization, various other reports such as medical expense report or tax deductible expenses report. Another feature is used for budgeting and compares your budget goals to actual expenditures."

Online sites including Wesabe and Mint offer similar capabilities.

Fraud (and other) alerts

E-mail and text message alerts can be enormously helpful in short-circuiting fraud, not to mention bounced checks, over-limit fees and other minidisasters.

A growing number of financial institutions these days allow you to arrange alerts that notify you of certain events. At Washington Mutual, for example, you can set your checking account to e-mail you if a certain check number clears, if your balance falls below or rises above limits you set, or if deposits or withdrawals over your specified limits are made. If you use its bill-pay system, you can also set yourself up to be alerted when bills are due.

Many credit card companies, including American Express and Discover, have similar e-mail alert systems.

If you haven't checked out the alert systems for your bank, brokerage and credit card accounts recently, it's worth an online visit to see what's available.

Automatic rewards

Most credit cards these days come with some kind of reward program, but they typically require some action on your part to claim the benefits. You have book the airline seat, apply the credits or request the cash back.

Not always, though. The American Express Blue Cash card is among the rewards cards that credit your account with cash back automatically, no further action required.

That's among the reasons the card is the favorite of Curtis Arnold, who runs the Web site and is the father of five kids.

"The simpler the redemption process the better," Arnold said.

Continued: Free credit scores

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Discuss personal finance with Liz on the Your Money message board.

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