Financial services like Quicken, TurboTax and Mint have broadened their customer bases and are offering their financial services online (i.e. you don’t buy the software, download or install it from a CD onto your PC, you just run it inside of your favourite (supported) browser)). From what I can tell, these online versions have pretty much the exact same tools and functionality as the arrangements that folks buy and put on their PC, which is a point in their favour.
Let’s run down some of the advantages and disadvantages of these tools.
- The same functionality and often newer features are added sooner, and you are not constantly updating the software with new updates from the manufacturer. The software runs (usually inside of your browser)
- You can access your records from anywhere, not just your PC at home. You can look at your finances at work, or if you need to while you are on vacation.
- If your PC crashes, you don’t lose your data; you can access it from another computer. Under this exact point, your data is backed up by the financial service provider as well (so it is safe because the backups are not in your house).
- The service provider must now protect your information from Hackers, Malware, Viruses and other nefarious folk.
- If your internet connection is dead, you can no longer access your records. This doesn’t happen often, but it can happen at the most inopportune times.
- On some services (like Mint), you are putting all your online banking information into the tool (including your passwords), so it can automatically update your financial data online. You may want to check with your Bank or Credit Card company because their rules may prohibit you from giving this information out (or they may not protect you if your account gets hacked).
- All of your financial data is no longer under your lock and key (metaphorically) it is now in someone else’s house on their server.
- You are accessing all this information across a network connection, not just on your local PC (which can also be insecure), but all the way along the network there can be interlopers trying to steal your data (encrypted data hopefully).
As you can tell from my posts this week (Financial On Line Security especially), I am really uncomfortable with my information being available online, and putting all my banking information into these services makes me nervous. Accessing this data over any kind of network makes me twitchy as well, but even if you do choose to use these services, remember never to access the accounts via:
- Internet Cafe or untrusted PC’s, those things are always teaming with viruses and keyloggers to steal your vital financial information
- Public wireless access that does not use any encryption (like say StarBucks or other restaurants)
- If you use any shared PC at work make sure your Browser history queue and password cache is FLUSHED when you log off.
This is very important (and I am pretty sure the On-Line Financial Service folks would agree with me on that).
As you could guess, my opinion is to not recommend using the online versions of these financial tools. The tools themselves seem great, but my inherent mistrust of computer networks and knowing of all the Blue Meanies out there trying to steal your information, I just don’t feel comfortable putting this information in an easy-to-find single place. If the service site gets hacked (much like Epsilon was), suddenly hundreds of thousands of folks banking info is compromised, so where do you think the hackers will be concentrating their attacks?
Please don’t take this as me saying these tools are bad, or that you should not use them, but if you do, you should keep in mind the points that I have brought up, and read over (closely) the agreement you “sign” with the Financial Service Provider and read over their Security Rules.
Do use financial tools like Turbotax, Quicken, Mint or the like, they are important to helping you get your finances under control.