When Shark Tank first aired, I fell in love with the show.
It was the first time you could get a peek at how entrepreneurs pitched their companies and their products. Some were polished, giving really good pitches to the panel, and some were excellent businesses that fit nicely with one of the Sharks' existing businesses.
One particular app, Fixed, promised to help you fix parking tickets. You take a photo of your ticket, they run it through their “proprietary algorithm” to find errors that may invalidate it, and they send a contest letter on your behalf. If it works, you just avoided a hefty fine, points, and insurance ding. And you pay them a percentage of the fine.
If they failed, well, you were going to pay the ticket anyway and they charged you nothing.
It was ingenious.
Now, there's a new crop of personal finance assistant apps that are modeling that idea and taking it into less treacherous waters. Fixed went up against local governments. Local governments don't like seeing their tickets contested! (Fixed would eventually be acquired by a law firm)
These new assistant apps are brilliant because they don't cost you anything. I'm not talking about microsaving apps that help you save money or the apps that help you manage your money, I'm talking about bona fide personal finance assistants. The money version of picking up your dry cleaning.
What is a personal finance assistant app?
It's an app that you can take over the mundane drudgery you don't want to do.
The best example is Trim. Trim will look at your spending, find recurring subscriptions, and negotiate down the ones it knows how to renegotiate. If you want to cancel something, they can take care of that for you as well. This all happens absolutely free.
Much like Fixed, you only pay when they succeed. In Trim's case, they take 33% of the total yearly savings. If they save you $120 ($10/month), they'll take $40 as their fee. If they save you nothing, you pay nothing.
What can personal finance assistants do?
We've already talked up Trim, which can help you negotiate cable bills, but there's a whole universe of apps that can lower your bills.
With Blooom, you connect your 401(k) and they can give you advice on your investment options. The analysis is completely free and you only pay if you want them to manage your 401(k) for you. Management includes optimizing investment choices and minimizing fees.
You can read our full review of Blooom for more details.
With Truebill, you can connect your accounts to the app and they will analyze your transactions to identify areas of savings. They can cancel subscriptions and negotiate down your bills. In recent years, they've expanded to build a lot of features into their app including budgeting and dashboarding.
There's also a separate bill negotiation tool where you take a photo of your bill, they try to find discounts, and negotiate on your behalf. The companies they are able to negotiate it quite broad, including many of the major cable and internet providers. They charge a 40% success fee on the savings.
Truebill also includes a financial snapshot, since it has your financial accounts, and can help with cash flow management.
With Cushion, you interact with a messenger on Facebook. You connect your credit cards and bank accounts and they look for fees to contest or negotiate down.
They claim their Fee Fighter can negotiate down ATM fees, credit card interest charges, overdraft fees, late fees, wire transfer fees, monthly service fees, foreign transaction fees, account maintenance fees, and minimum balance fees. They keep 25% of whatever they are able to negotiate down and you pay nothing.
Cushion is currently in beta.
Billshark is a service that negotiates down your bills for a success fee.
It's an easy three-step process:
- Step 1: Send a copy of your bill to Billshark on their website, app, or via email.
- Step 2: They negotiate and give you regular updates.
- Step 3: If they save you money, they charge you a 40% success fee. If they don't, you pay nothing.
What is appealing about Billshark is that you don't have to give them access to anything. They just look at the bill and try to do better, which can be comforting if you're concerned about security.
The drop down of companies they can negotiate with include Verizon Wireless, AT&T Wireless, T-Mobile, Spring, Verizon, Comcast Xfinity, AT&T Wireline, Cable One, CenturyLink, Charter, Charter Spectrum, Comcast, Atlantic Broadband, Cox, Dish, Frontier Communications, Optimum, Suddenlink Communications, Time Warner Cable, Bright House Networks, Wow, RCN, Mediacom, Windstream, DirecTV, Vivint, and SiriusXM.
You can do a quick estimate of how much they could save you without registering or sending them anything.
And best of all, they're backed by Mark Cuban, one of the Sharks on Shark Tank!
Can You Do This Yourself?
You can do anything yourself. There isn't a single thing these apps do that you can't do yourself.
But will you? And do you look forward to talking to a Comcast customer service rep for an hour?
You can make the argument that these apps know what they're doing. They're better at negotiation that you are because it's all they do. You're going to have to study a little, struggle a little, but eventually, you will get it right too.
Or you can sign up, use their service, pay their success fee, and save money with minimal effort. That's what they're banking on and that's something you can bank on too.
What If You Want More?
What if you want an actual assistant? There are places you can go online to find a virtual assistant.
My first recommendation is to look in your social network for folks who may already be virtual assistants. You might have some friends, or friends of friends, who wouldn't mind picking up a few hours of work each week doing online tasks. This will rely on a little legwork on your part, which includes vetting them, but it's often the quickest way to find a virtual assistant.
Alternatively, you can go with a service that specializes in virtual work on an a la carte basis. Fin is a digital executive assistant service that charges you per task. They give you a price range for common tasks and your requests are handled by their team.
After a monthly modest retainer fee, which is applied towards any services you get, you just pay each request afterward:
The lowest tier is just $20 a month.
Alternatively, you can sign up for a site like Upwork to find freelancers for task-based work. With Upwork, you have to submit a request, work through the bids, and find someone. If you're willing to wade through some names, it's a great way to find support. If you want something faster and simpler, Fin is better.