5 Personal Finance Products To Be Thankful For This Thanksgiving (Especially During COVID-19)
The economy has been ravaged. Your bank account is busted. Somebody’s going to want to talk politics at the dinner table, and you’re looking forward to it like a root canal.
It’s hard to feel grateful during a pandemic, but even in times like these, there are a few things I remind myself to always be grateful for:
- I have a loving family.
- America has the best variety of ethnic food in the world.
- It’s never been easier to safely manage and invest money.
To elaborate on my third point, here are five personal finance apps and websites that I myself am hugely grateful for, since they’ve saved me or my friends bundles of time and money.
High-yield savings accounts
Banks have been around for over 5,000 years. Only recently have they been required to consolidate their ancient, byzantine practices into slick online tools and user-friendly interfaces. For many of these primeval institutions, the process of modernizing has been slow and cumbersome.
Perhaps that’s why Chime keeps crushing it with funding.
Founded in 2014, Chime is not a bank, but a “neobank” that partners with larger banks, allowing them to focus on managing and multiplying money while Chime handles the new-age stuff: a slick UI, customer service, and innovative features.
So what features does Chime offer that are worth some gratitude?
Well, first off, Chime doesn’t charge fees. The average American pays a ton annually in banking fees. With Chime? Nada.
Chime also offers two ways to automatically deposit directly into your savings account. First, they’ll round up each of your purchases to the nearest dollar and deposit the rest into savings. It’s a nice way to feel like you’re always saving, keeps your bank statements clean with round numbers, and more subtly, it helps you calculate how much you’re actually spending.
Other banks do that too, but Chime also lets you automatically redirect 10% of your paycheck and other direct deposits into savings.
Opening an account with Chime is simple and free, and can be done in two minutes. That’s another reason why I’m grateful for it – 6.5% of Americans don’t have a bank account because they’re either intimidated by their complexity or afraid of fees. Neither is a concern with Chime, and even a pandemic-stricken economy won’t affect what’s safely stored in your checking and savings accounts.
Cash back credit cards
Chime is simple, safe, and dependable, but they don’t offer a rewards credit card or other advanced banking features. If you’re ready for some next-level benefits, check out the Chase Freedom Flex℠.
The newest card in the “Chase Freedom” line, the Chase Freedom Flex℠ might be the single best credit card for someone under 30 that I’ve seen so far. That’s because normally, the cards with the best benefits have ridiculous annual fees. One card I won’t name offers a “generous” 3x points on travel and 1x points on everything else with a $95 annual fee buried in the subtext.
Ideally, you’d have a card that charges no fees, offers big cash back on essentials, and could help you finance a large purchase with 0% APR. Welp, that’s the Chase Freedom Flex℠.
Right off the bat, if you spend at least $500 using your Chase Freedom Flex℠ card within the first three months, Chase will refund you $200. That’s basically 40% off of your first $500 of spending. Plus, for the first year, you’ll receive an unprecedented 5% on groceries. Talk about essentials during a pandemic.
Best of all, you’ll always receive 5% on bonus categories that rotate each quarter you activate (on up to $1,500 on combined purchases each quarter), 3% on dining and drugstore purchases, and 1% on everything else.
Finally, if you’re looking to finance a medium-sized purchase soon (not a house), the Chase Freedom Flex℠ offers 0% Intro APR on Purchases for 15 months. (After that, 14.99 – 23.74% Variable).
Robo-advisors have made investing almost too easy (more on that below), but they’ve also made investing accessible to those who previously didn’t have enough capital to even think about investing. Below, are two strong robo-advisors on the market right now.
Robinhood has accomplished this in three steps. First, they’ve eliminated commissions and middlemen. Second, they’ve consolidated the complex trading process into a simple, one-click storefront like Amazon (think “Invest Now” instead of “Buy It Now”). Finally, they have a bonafide library of EDU materials to help new investors learn the trade, avoid mistakes, and multiply their money faster.
In total, Robinhood’s “why” is clear, making investing in stocks, bonds, and ETFs simple. Investing in the stock market has traditionally had a high bar for entry; you need time to learn, money to invest, and a pricey broker to be successful. As their name implies, Robinhood lowers that bar and brings an activity reserved for the rich down to the masses.
Advertiser Disclosure – This advertisement contains information and materials provided by Robinhood Financial LLC and its affiliates (“Robinhood”) and MoneyUnder30, a third party not affiliated with Robinhood. All investments involve risk and the past performance of a security, or financial product does not guarantee future results or returns. Securities offered through Robinhood Financial LLC and Robinhood Securities LLC, which are members of FINRA and SIPC. MoneyUnder30 is not a member of FINRA or SIPC.”
As is true with investing, you’d be wise to have at least one other trading app installed on your phone. Public is worthy of your second choice. You might even choose Public as your primary trading app because, in addition to stability, it offers a few key features that make it great for young investors.
First, Public offers automatic dividend reinvestment, meaning any dividends you receive as a shareholder can be automatically used to purchase new shares or fractional shares. Public also caters a bit more to the social aspect of investing. You can see, like, and even comment on your friends’ trades and they can do the same to yours. Finally, Public offers a robust search functionality. You can search for stocks, ETFs, and bonds just like Robinhood, but you can also search to find which brands a company owns to diversify your portfolio under a single banner.
You can also search by “themes.” Themes are groupings of investment opportunities tied together by a single mission, industry, or noble goal. Some of Public’s current themes include Self-Driving Cars, the Cannabiz, and the ominously-named Rise of the Machines. Within each theme you can see the individual recommended stocks alongside their recent performance, so you don’t have to invest in all of them at once like an ETF.
Free tax software
Now that I’ve covered the stock market, let’s dive into the much more exciting world of taxes! (Can you hear the sarcasm?)
In all seriousness, it’ll be tax season again before you know it and you’ll want to make the process of submitting your taxes as quick and painless as possible. That’s why we can be grateful for Credit Karma Tax.
Credit Karma Tax’s colorful, modern website isn’t a facade; their tools really are slick and youth-friendly. Most notably, the site lets you file your taxes truly free.
Before listing Credit Karma’s other merits, I want to emphasize that point because you’ve probably seen the headlines about… other tax return services that aren’t really “free.” And even if you sift through the B.S. and find that there actually is a free version, it either a) sucks or b) tries to nickel-and-dime you throughout the process, making you feel cheap.
Credit Karma Tax is 100% legitimately free and even comes with a suite of massively helpful features. First, it’s just well designed. This past tax season I gave up on two free filing services just because of their awful, confounding UI. No such issues with Credit Karma Tax, which makes filing state and federal effortless (even for the self-employed).
Second, despite being totally free, Credit Karma Tax offers some built-in insurances and guarantees. Under their refund guarantee, you’ll receive a maximum refund or Credit Karma Tax will pay the difference, up to $100. With their accuracy guarantee, if they miscalculate your refund and the IRS gets upset, they’ll reimburse you up to $1,000.
Finally, and perhaps most impressively, Credit Karma Tax offers free audit defense. If Odin-forbid you’re audited, Credit Karma Tax will go to bat for you and correspond on your behalf to the finger-wagging authorities. They’ll also protect you from identity theft.
Add in live chat support as the cherry on top and you have perhaps the best free tax filing service on the web.
Last on my list of gratitude-worthy finance services are insurance aggregators. If you’ve ever searched for cheap flights on kayak.com, you’ll be familiar with the concept, and inherent value, of aggregator websites.
Sites like Policygenius and Gabi will ask you to choose what type of insurance you need, request some basic info (driver history, etc.), and then display multiple quotes from reputable insurance providers at once.
But as I’ll explain below, insurance aggregators are much, much more than just time-savers.
Policygenius is the go-to spot for purchasing or renewing any type of insurance you can imagine. The site’s competitive advantage is variety; you can aggregate offers for life insurance, renters, auto, pet, travel, even jewelry insurance.
Even if you already have these types of insurance, it absolutely behooves you to shop around at least once a year. That’s because loyalty can cost you; insurance providers charge up to a 20% “loyalty tax” to longtime policyholders simply because they can. It’s a frustratingly common practice called price optimization, one that has led to class-action lawsuits.
A perfect way to immunize yourself from price optimization practices is to stay on your toes and frequently shop for a better quote on Policygenius. Even if you like your current provider and don’t want to switch, you can find a better quote and present it to them for a discount.
Gabi is more niche than Policygenius, currently focusing entirely on home and auto insurance. However, the site’s most innovative feature gives it a strong competitive advantage and a well-deserved place on this list.
Like other insurance aggregators, Gabi will solicit some basic information and produce a list of competing quotes from reputable providers. However, the site will also let you upload your current policy so its algorithms can focus on beating your existing premiums.
Best of all, Gabi helps you cut out the “loyalty tax” by remembering your current coverage and premiums and automatically trying to beat them every six months. Then, at the very least, you can present your new best offer to your current provider for a discount.
I’m grateful to live in a country that rewards innovation and competition since it produces some of the best financial service products. Each of the services and apps on this list has personally helped me or someone I care about weather the pandemic with finances intact.