When I first started managing my own money, I did everything manually.
Every month, I'd log in to each of my accounts and record the balance in my Net Worth Record. I'd go into my bank accounts, my investment accounts, my mutual fund account, my credit card accounts…
It would take me a solid hour to get every account. It was so bad that I started consolidating and closing accounts just to shorten the process.
For a very brief moment, many years ago, I tried Quicken and subsequently Mint. They were all OK — but they didn't play nicely with my brokerage accounts. Eventually, I abandoned them and went back to manually logging in. (if you are looking to quit Quicken, keep reading, you'll see why I list Personal Capital as one of the best alternatives to Quicken)
Fast forward to today and I spend just 15 minutes each month managing my money.
Just 15 minutes each month plus another five each week is enough to get everything right… and the cornerstone of that system is a tool called Personal Capital. It's free, it's well designed and what started as a test run in Fall 2015 has become my permanent solution (it's my favorite of the Mint alternatives).
I use Personal Capital as a way to quickly collect brokerage investing and banking data for my Net Worth Record, a spreadsheet I use to track our family's net worth. Personal Capital will pull the data from each account so I don't need to manually log in. It separates itself from other services because the investment management portion is not an afterthought and fully integrated into the system.
Many other tools started as a budgeting tool that added on an investment component. Personal Capital started as an investment tool that added in budgeting.
About Personal Capital
Personal Capital was founded in mid-2009 with the mission of “better financial lives through technology and people.” They serve 2+ million registered users (I am one of them!) and manage over $11 billion in assets (that's what pays for the service, fees on those managed investment assets) – that's some serious cash.
The business has two components: a free personal finance aggregation tool and a paid advisory service. This review will look only at the aggregation tool side as I haven't used the paid advisory service.
Located in California, it was founded by Rob Foregger, Bill Harris, and Louis Gasparini. Bill Harris is the CEO of Personal Capital and was formerly CEO of Intuit, Paypal, and several other financial services and security companies.
They've been the beneficiary of quite a bit of capital investment. As of August 2017 (their last funding round), they've raised over $225.3 million in funding (per Crunchbase). Their latest round was a third Series E round of $40 million from IGM Financial (to join a May 2016 investment of $50 million and December 2016 of $25 million).
The Sign Up Process
Signing up was fast and they had every one of my accounts available for linking, including my Maryland 529 plans. Take that Quicken!
The Transactions menu item is where you'll find the budgeting tools that Personal Capital recently added. If you've used Mint or other budgeting tools, it'll look familiar.
You have a list of transactions categorized into Income and Spending, followed by Bills.
Here's a shot of the All Income Cash Flow chart:
Like any tool, there are a few hiccups to adjust post-transaction, especially when you transfer between accounts, but it's a quick adjustment. Until you do that, you sometimes get wildly crazy numbers. 🙂
As I mentioned earlier, Personal Capital started on the investment side and only recently added the budgeting toolset… so the portfolio tools are better. There's no debating that.
Here's what I see under Investing -> Holdings:
This snapshot was taken in the afternoon on October 31st, 2019. The market has moved quite a bit this year but on the 90-day it appears I'm lagging the S&P500 by a slight bit. That's to be expected since my portfolio isn't 100% S&P500, it has a percentage in other assets.
The Balances and Performance tabs are less interesting than the Allocation tab:
Personal Capital is collecting data from all of my brokerage accounts, granted it's just at Vanguard and Ally Invest, and giving me a full breakdown of my allocation. I can click on one of the boxes and it can give me an even granular breakdown:
If you click down one more level, it starts telling you the actual holding and the amounts you have.
The last fun chart we have is US Sectors:
Can't Find Your Institution?
If you are having trouble finding your financial institution, Personal Capital may not have added support for them yet. For quite some time, my brokerage wasn't supported (it is now) but there are workarounds.
First, you can check if perhaps your institution is named something else. The best example is a Fidelity 401(k) – it turns out that it's run through NetBenefits. If you have a Fidelity 401(k) then you won't find “Fidelity 401k” in the account listings – it says Fidelity (All accounts except 401k). For an actual Fidelity 401k, you will need the NetBenefits one.
If you work at Textron and want to find your 401k for them, it's Fidelity NetBenefits Textron. Confusing but at least it's there!
Next, you can manually add publicly traded securities into a portfolio that Personal Capital will track on your behalf. So previously, I just put in all my holdings. 100 shares of Company Y, 150 shares of Company Z, etc. It's cumbersome the first time but then it tracks as normal.
Tracking Other Non-Investment Assets
You can track “other assets” like art, cars, etc – there just isn't any updating functionality because there's no central database of pricing for those types of things.
One exception is real estate, which you can track to Zillow's Zestimate:
I'm not sure how I feel about Zillow's Zestimates as an accurate measure (here are some other free home appraisal tools) but I include my home price because I need something to offset my mortgage. The Zillow information for our house is wrong (it thinks it's a — beds, 1.5 bath house — it has more than 0 bedrooms and 1.5 baths) but I don't care enough to go through the process of updating it.
The other key thing is I don't want my perspective on our net worth affected by this unknown. I just assume it has held the value we assigned at purchase, it now offsets the mortgage, and I'm happy with that. They have a feature where you can tie in a Zillow estimate (Zestimate), but we don't do that.
If you invest in real estate, for rental or otherwise, I can see the Zestimate is a little more valuable because you'll be interested in marking it's value to the market (even if it's a somewhat fictitious one).
Other Free Tools
The free tools section offers the following:
- Investment Checkup: Given what you've shared in your enrollment, they would recommend an allocation. I'll expand on this below.
- Retirement Planner: This looks at whether or not your current pace of savings will be enough to support your retirement. It's a really fun tool I'll have to play with some more. (can you tell I'm a forecasting/stats nerd yet?))
- 401k Fee Analyzer: This takes a look at all the expense ratios in your various accounts and tell you if you're paying too much. The vast majority of our holdings are in Vanguard funds so there's not much to see here.
- Advisor: This is a page where you can schedule a call with a fee only financial advisor. The fee is an annual fee and based on assets under management.
- Invest Now: This is where you'd go if you wanted to enroll in their service.
- Research & Insights: The name for their blog.
So more on the Investment Checkup tab, this will take your investment profile and recommend a target allocation. Here's mine:
Here's where rebalancing comes into play. If things are out of whack, it's important to rebalance each year. This is a good reminder.
They also offer an Advisory Service:
The tiers of financial plans:
- Investment Service (up to $200K in investable assets) – Access to free online tools and dashboard plus Financial Advisory Team, Tax Efficient ETF Portfolio, Dynamic Tactical Weighting, 401k Advice, Cash Flow & Spending Insights, 24/7 call access including weekends and after-hours
- Wealth Management ($200K – $1M in investable assets) – Everything in Investment Service plus Two Dedicated Financial Advisors, Customizable Individual Stocks & ETFs, Full Financial & Retirement Plan, College Savings & 529 Planning, Tax Loss Harvesting & Tax Location, Financial Decisions Support (Insurance, Home Financing, Stock Options and Compensation)
- Private Client (over $1M in investable assets) – Everything in Wealth Management plus Priority Access to CFP®, Advisors, Investment Committee & Support, Investment Portfolio Mix of ETFs, Individual Stocks & Individual Bonds (in certain situations), Family Tiered Billing, Private Banking Services, Estate, Tax & Legacy Portfolio Construction; Donor Advised Funds, Private Equity & Hedge Fund Review; Deferred Compensation Strategy, Estate Attorney & CPA Collaboration.
Personal Capital hired advisors from other firms with a significant pedigree. My “assigned” Advisor is someone who was formerly at Wells Fargo Advisors – Private Client Group. He served as a Board Member of a not-for-profit, graduated from a prestigious university, and his entire profile is available under Advice -> Advisors.
When you talk to an advisor, you'll discuss all the things you'd expect from any other financial advisor. You'll start by discussing your goals, risk tolerance, future funding goals (like a house or a baby), and then build a plan that takes that all into account so you are financially prepared for the future. The management fee is straightforward, you just pay a percentage fee on the assets under management which starts at 0.89%.
Personal Capital's Investment Methodology
If you have Personal Capital manage your investments, their methodology is a mixture of U.S. stocks and bonds, international stocks and bonds, alternatives and then cash. It's based on academic research and modern portfolio theory, developed in the 1950s by Nobel Prize-winning economist Harry Markowitz. I won't get into the details but the idea is that you try to invest in low and negatively correlated assets so that you can maximize returns while reducing risk.
There's this idea of an efficient frontier – where you can maximize returns for that level of risk. The more risk you take, the higher the potential returns. But you want to get an asset allocation that maximizes your return for YOUR level of risk. If you don't, you're leaving money on the table.
I want to dive into the Retirement Planner a little bit because it offers a benefit that few other personal finance tools do well – it's a replacement for Quicken's Lifetime Planner tool. Many people use Quicken's Lifetime Planner to help forecast retirement and beyond, so it's nice to see some of those features replicated in Personal Capital.
With the Retirement Planner, you set your income events – how much you're saving today, plus how much you will receive in retirement from various sources like a pension, Social Security, spouse's Social Security (if applicable), etc. Then you set your Spending Goals, which can be recurring like “retirement spending” or can be one time events, like paying for education. Finally, you can edit their assumptions – withdrawal tax rate, inflation rate, plus your life expectancy.
Then Personal Capital will tell you whether you're on track to save for this, including a detailed cash flow table that will explain how it should all play out. It's a good way to look at the whole picture forecasted out.
Click on “How can I improve this?” and you'll be given a series of suggestions including adjusting your asset allocation, investing more money, selling losers to offset winners, etc.
On top of the tools, the wealth management, and the financial advisor, they also offer assistance in managing three financial challenges you're like to face – 401(k) fun allocation, insurance coverage, and college savings.
With the 401k Fund Allocation, you can send a list of the funds your 401k (or 403b or HSA) offers and they will help you pick the options that fit best with your strategy.
With Insurance Coverage, they look at all of your policies and find where you might new more insurance or add policies you don't already have. They don't sell you insurance, they'll just tell you what you may need.
Lastly, saving for college can be daunting but they offer support that demystifies all the different college savings options available.
A new feature that was rolled out in late-2018 is called Smart Withdrawal. It's only available if you are an advisory client, so it's not free, and I haven't used it first hand.
From what I can tell from the marketing materials, the tool is meant as a calculator for when you are in retirement. It will look at your entire portfolio and tell you the optimal withdrawal order to take advantage of your portfolio's tax situation. It will take your income sources, your retirement needs, and chart it all out for you. If you hit the age when you need to take Requirement Minimum Distributions (RMD), then the tool will take that into account as well.
Since this is only available to advisory clients, this is in addition to working with a financial advisor who you can talk through these issues with anyway.
Personal Capital Fees
Personal Capital is free. The website is free, the mobile app is free, and the tools are all included.
It follows the “freemium” model where the tools are completely free but you can pay if you want tailored investment advice. You only pay a fee if you use their advisors and wealth management services.
The annual fee is based on the assets they are managing:
|Assets Managed||Annual Fee|
|$1 Million or Less||0.89%|
|First $3 Million||0.79%|
|$3 – $5 Million||0.69%|
|$5 – 10 Million||0.59%|
Personal Capital vs. Mint: Is Personal Capital better than Mint?
Personal Capital gets compared with Mint.com a lot.
Mint is a very popular budgeting and money management tool that is owned by Intuit, the creators of Quicken and TurboTax (Quicken is now owned by a private equity firm). In its day, as far as personal finance management went, Mint was the gold standard for aggregation. It's easy to use, incorporates all of your accounts, and can give you a big picture of your finances pretty quickly.
The budgeting tools are great for someone looking to track their expenses and get a better handle on where their money is going. I used it for years and watched it mature from a cool free tool that pulled your data to what it is today.
The big difference is that Mint is coming at the question of management from the income and expenses side. It's primarily a budgeting tool with a robust suite of tools to help you get on top of your spending and servicing of debt. It's less sophisticated in the investing department so its tools are limited in that regard.
So, is Personal Capital better than Mint? Personal Capital is better than Mint if you are focused more on investing than budgeting. If you're looking for a budgeting tool, Mint is better. (and if you're looking to change your budget, You Need a Budget is even better but it has a $6.99 per month fee)
Mint was built to be a budgeting tool, so it's investing tools aren't even close. Personal Capital was built as a tool to facilitate long term planning and investing, with budgeting tools added later. The big knock against Mint is that there's very limited customer service… but it's free (heavily ad-supported) so you can't expect 24/7 phone support. That's unreasonable.
If you're at the point where you're looking at your investments and need a portfolio management tool (AND a decent budgeting app), Personal Capital would be a better fit. It's also free so there's no harm in giving it a try.
Is Personal Capital Safe?
As you'd expect, security is extremely important and should be with any software that even has a peek into your money. Personal Capital uses AES-256 bank-level encryption and has two-factor authentication.
Personal Capital will require you to register each device you use and will periodically request you to re-register them in a bid to keep you as secure as possible.
Internal controls are another strong suit – no employee has access to your information and it's your account information is encrypted and stored at Yodlee. Yodlee has powered a lot of other company's data for this purpose (they were the ones that supported Mint's data for a long time) and they have strong encryption as well.
We asked Dr. James Curtis, professor of IT and Cybersecurity at Webster University, for his thoughts on security and the cloud:
The cloud is generally no less or more secure than a standard organization’s own network system. All computers, storage platforms, or transmission systems have the same vulnerabilities, with people being the single largest vulnerability of all risk elements. Utilizing standard security procedures is a best practice for cloud providers like Amazon, and they are quite adept at ensuring they comply with these best practices and standards such as the NIST standards for cybersecurity.
I do believe there is one area of concern that is more of a perception issue than anything else – the fact that the owner of the data doesn’t have direct control over the data because they are relying on a service-oriented model by contracting with a cloud service provider. So, essentially the cloud provider is asking the data owner to ‘trust’ them to keep their data secure.
I think this is not an issue with a reputable cloud service provider, but it is a risk factor that organizations should consider when deciding to outsource their data to a cloud provider, especially if they deem their data so sensitive that they need more stringent controls over it than is standard.
As for trusting companies like Mint and Personal Capital, he shares:
In some ways this is similar to the cloud security risk management issue. While I would argue reputable companies like Intuit that own Mint are just as reliable as the cloud service providers like Amazon, and that they comply with the same security standards and best practices, there is a different type of risk associated with these applications because they are software-based applications requiring the highest levels of security to protect the data. Many of the issues with cloud services are related to transmission and storage of the data, while financial applications such as Mint and Personal Capital are more susceptible to risks by hackers who target single users or organizations.
About 80% of security risks are associated with the software of a system vice the hardware, transmission media, etc. As long as the user follows standard security protocols such as password protection, firewall, and virus monitoring and management, and other related cybersecurity defenses, these financial applications are as safe as any other mainstream applications
No system is 100% safe but this one is pretty close. We take a much deeper dive into safety and data security at Personal Capital and feel confident in their systems and processes.
What Needs Work?
In the first edition of this review, I had issues connecting with TradeKing because TradeKing had a different authentication system. My original solution was to put all of my holdings in a portfolio and Personal Capital tracked them separately. Ally Bank acquired TradeKing, turning it into Ally Invest, and now everything tracks automatically without my workaround.
You can't import historical data, so you only get about a month of history based on when you signed up. You can't import data from Quicken or upload from historical downloads from financial institutions. You pretty much have from when you sign up (about a month before that, based on how your financial institutions report data) going forward. It's a known limitation and there isn't a plan to add historical data support in the future.
The budgeting tools need more work but it's relatively new so I expect growing pains. It'll improve but it still gives me the knowledge I need, monthly income and expense values, even if the categorization needs more hands-on help.
Right now, Personal Capital is my tool of choice when it comes to managing money and investments. At this stage in my life, investments are becoming a more significant part of our finances and so having visibility into that area is crucial.