I’m no stranger to using web apps to track my personal finances. I currently have 3,417 days of history saved on Mint.com, which I only started using after an earlier program called Manilla shut down abruptly sometime in 2009.
The past few years, I’ve tried several fintech options, including Clarity, Trim, Ibotta, ReceiptHog, and while they’ve all provided a bit of financial assistance to users, they all had drawbacks and fell short of my expectations.
Another fintech company that has been big in the personal finance world the past several years is Personal Capital. As an aggregator, Personal Capital makes it easy to get a complete picture of your personal finances at a glance. No longer do you have to spend an hour logging in to each of your individual banking, credit card, retirement, and investment accounts, and you can even add assets such as real estate (value pulled from Zillow) or your vehicle (value pulled from Kelly Blue Book). I’ve been using Personal Capital for almost 4 years, but as of yesterday: I’m done.
I especially liked Personal Capital when I first started using it, because it’s free fee analyzer tool showed me that I was over-paying within some of my retirement funds. This tool potentially saved me tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars over my investing lifetime.
But for all of the benefits of using Personal Capital as a single-source for getting a quick look at your net worth, tracking spending, and analyzing your funds, you “get what you pay for.” And as a free product, you should realize that they will try to upsell at every turn.
Most notably, once your investment account balances creep up over $100,000, you will start to receive calls from Personal Capital, trying to sell you on their advisory services. It is possible to politely decline and ask to be removed from their call list, but that doesn’t stop the in-app experience from being overly pushy. For the past several months, every time I opened the Personal Capital app, instead of being taken to my “dashboard,” I would be shown a picture of a young man in a suit, asking me to schedule a consultation with a Personal Capital advisor. I wish there was a way to opt-out of this daily solicitation, but apparently there’s not.
Another thing that always bugged me about Personal Capital was its inability to properly categorize many of my investment funds. My previous (and current) job is in government, so I have had 457(b) plans for several years. While the individual investments have normal-looking ticker symbols, these funds are located inside insurance products (I’m told), so Personal Capital displays them as “alternative” investments. My overall portfolio allocation is approximately where I want it, but to look at their charts, you’d think I’m investing ~25% of my investment dollars in the likes of gold, real estate, and crypto, which is not the case at all!
More recently, Personal Capital has tried to get into the high-yield savings space, but since they are not a bank, their high-yield product is actually a sweep to 4 independent banks. With the FDIC insurance limit at $250,000 per account holder, using 4 banks allows Personal Capital to advertise $1,000,000 in FDIC protection, but there have been concerns about how exactly this works in practice. And the reason I include this in the drawback section is that it just means more ads for Personal Capital-branded offerings in the app.
The worst drawback was the inability to keep certain accounts synced with the Personal Capital dashboard any longer, namely my Chase accounts. Since the majority of my spending is on Chase credit cards (to earn the valuable Chase Ultimate Rewards travel currency) along with my main savings account, not having those accounts update in the dashboard made all of the outputs 100% wrong for the past 5 months. I couldn’t even be sure that my net worth shown on the screen was within thousands of being correct.
The Uninstall & DELETE
After much recent frustration, I decided to uninstall the app from my phone and delete my account altogether. The ads could be a little annoying, but the inability to maintain synchronicity with my financial accounts made it so the user experience was incomplete.
But I also didn’t like what was happening inside my head. During the recent wild swings of the stock market, I got used to seeing daily differences of $4,000 to $7,000 up or down, and I can pretty confidently say I am at a point in my investing career that I can stomach those swings. But I found myself checking multiple times daily. It’s not like my accounts were actually syncing or changing multiple times a day, but I would look at the “holdings” tab to see what was happening in the S&P 500, International markets, and Bonds, as if those things actually made a difference in my daily life. I would find myself anxiously waiting for 6:00PM so my retirement accounts would update for the day’s changes and I could see how much richer (or poorer) I was due to the trading day.
In addition to the tech issues and the behavioral changes, I also haven’t liked recent changes to the user interface. The aforementioned Holdings tab used to allow you to see your holdings compared to the S&P 500, International markets and Bond markets on one screen. The in-app experience now requires you to select one of those types, each and every time you open the app.
Also, due to major data breaches of the past few years, many financial institutions are making it harder to link to third-party aggregation sites such as Personal Capital and Mint. I compounded this issue by recently adopting a password manager, meaning that I had to go back in to Mint and Personal Capital to re-link the accounts with the revised passwords. In the Personal Capital app, sometimes the app would lock up and not allow me to enter the verification code that was texted to me by the financial institution.
The Community weighs in:
In response to my tweet that I deleted my account last night, I had a couple dozen responses about similar frustrations with Personal Capital and/or Mint:
Took a big step today, y'all. Uninstalled @PersonalCapital app and deleted my account. Anyone interested in my why(s)? Not sure if it's worth a blog post or even this tweet for that matter! 😁
— Josh Overmyer (@Jovermyer1) August 20, 2019
Twitter user Steph Robinson wondered if I deleted it because of all of the calls:
Could be the incessant marketing phone calls? 😆
— steph robs (@stephdrobinson) August 20, 2019
Felicity from Fetching Financial Freedom asked if it was about the frequency I was checking it:
Were you finding yourself checking it way too often?
— Felicity (@FelicityFFF) August 20, 2019
Kate from Its A Kate Life shared that she also recently deleted PC for similar reason. I’m happy to know I’m in good company:
I recently deleted my PC account, mainly for security reasons. Trying to lock down access to my accounts and use MFA for all. Also need to break the habit of looking at balances daily.
— Kate (@itsakatelife) August 20, 2019
Ty Roberts from Get Rich Quickish and Camp FIRE Finance also deleted Personal Capital, and went one major step further:
Same. Also deleted all affiliate links on Camp FIRE
— Get Rich Quick’ish (@GetRichQuickish) August 20, 2019
Randolph Hawkins succinctly wrapped up my feelings about the degradation of the usefulness of the site:
I deleted recently. The links to accounts kept breaking too much. That may not be something entirely under their control but it started to render the information in there stale. I thought the point was to be a dashboard where I have everything in my face in one place.
— Randolph Hawkins (@RandolphHawkin5) August 20, 2019
And I’ve never been one to stick to a budget (it causes me to actually spend more than without one), but Lisa Duke brings up a good strategy that works for her and her husband:
I use YNAB for my day to day money budget and an Excel spreadsheet I update twice a year for net worth. There’s no need to micro-manage and obsess over passive investments (unless it motivates you to save more).
— Lisa Duke (@lisaduke) August 20, 2019
And finally, Robert from The College Investor wondered if I had achieved a sense of enlightenment and simplicity that allowed me to not worry so much about daily finances. I wish that were the real answer:
Did you simplify enough that you don’t need to track so much?
— The College Investor (@CollegeInvestin) August 20, 2019
So what do you think, friends? Is Personal Capital (or any aggregator site) still worth the hassles that seem to crop up? Is there something better that I should try? Has anyone heard of the new Monarch Money that currently has a wait-list to give a try? I’m curious to hear what you all think. Let me know in the comments!