After reviewing lots of personal finance applications, I still haven't found one that serves young adults well. Today's teenagers have already been raised on a diet of advertising, from soda vending machines in grammar school cafeterias to deceptive credit card offers at college ballgames. The newest grown-ups need better information, for instance, about the indentured servitude that could result from trusting the word of high-interest loan sharks.
You'd think that some software company would benefit by serving the hot 18-to-thirtysomething market, often referred to as Generation Debt. Yet Intuit, for one, has decided to start educating tots before teens with Quicken Kids & Money.
Web-based money-management tools are still only starting to spring up. Finally, I've found one built by and for college students. Finfo compares estimated costs of various colleges as well as earnings at various jobs, and it draws up a basic budget.
I wondered what, say, Northwestern University might cost today if I were to rewind my life and start over. Considering projected tuition increases, Finfo rang up $200,000 for four years. Ouch! Would a community college be better, at least for the first couple of years? Finfo showed that Community College of Philadelphia would cost just five percent of Northwestern's overhead. Unfortunately, while I could add many more schools to the list, Finfo was missing some city colleges and trade schools I looked up, and I couldn't tell if the Columbia College it displayed was the same one I sought.
If college is in the rearview mirror, Finfo can contrast salaries for three jobs, taking into account the costs of living and housing in different cities. Here in San Francisco, again: ouch! But Iowa City looks pretty kind if you want to sock away savings. However, Salary.com offers far more granular earnings-comparisons.
Finfo's budgeting tool asks basic questions about earnings and expenses, and then it draws a pie chart. You can double-click the wedges to make them pop out, but there's not much else interactive here. I'd like to see this aspect of Finfo expanded. However, because Finfo doesn't collect deep personal financial details, potential security risks are minimal for now. And unlike other online startups I've checked out, Finfo wisely doesn't e-mail your password in clear type. But if you use Finfo to look up student loan consolidations or home refinancing, prepare to divulge more details.
Finfo's college and earnings projections are helpful, speedy, and easy to digest for a multi-tasker with a short attention span. But it bugged me that Finfo didn't automatically save some reports I'd already created. Finfo remains in beta testing, so its personal finance and investment forums are nearly empty. Maybe more users will come to Finfo through its Facebook group.
The need still exists for solid, trustworthy software, whether Web-based or for the desktop or a hybrid of both, to help young people manage day-to-day expenses, pay for college, get a job, and plan to buy a home. I wonder how much of this support Finfo's folks plan to provide. I'll be on the lookout for evidence of Finfo's plans to add assistance with real estate, insurance, taxes and more.