Like accounting software, personal finance websites house all of your financial information in one place, but they offer some advantages over desktop software like Quicken. With web-based applications, you can access your account data from any computer with an Internet connection and get up-to-the-minute account balances and alerts via text, email or, in some cases, a mobile app on your smartphone. There is nothing to download or install, so online software takes up no disk space and can run on nearly any computer; there is no need to worry about disk failure and possible data loss.
In addition, online software is compatible with just about every operating system and browser, and many of these services now offer mobile apps. Another advantage is that there is no need to buy or download patches or newer versions of the software; fixes and upgrades are done on the provider's server and are immediately operational. Most personal finance sites offer free basic memberships, but provide the opportunity to upgrade and get access to additional features for a fee.
Smartphones and mobile devices are changing the landscape of personal finance sites. Most major sites have mobile apps for iPhones and Android phones, and some also have apps for the iPad, Android tablets and Amazon's Kindle Fire. However, most of these apps only allow you to read your financial data, not update it.
One potential drawback: Most personal finance sites require you to provide login information for all of the financial accounts you want to track. The site then automatically logs on to your account sites and imports the data; when you log on to the personal finance site, you can see all your financial data in one place. This process of gathering data from different sources into one location is called account aggregation. Experts say the information is more secure on the company's server than it is on your desktop; no identifying information (like your name or Social Security number) is attached to the data.
If you're not comfortable storing your login information or financial data on a website's server, you may be more comfortable with accounting software. Another option is sites like Buxfer.com that give users the option of manually downloading account data to their desktops, then uploading it manually, so there's no need to share login information.
Mint.com and Buxfer.com get the most feedback; comparative reviews usually compare these two companies head to head, perhaps also mentioning a few services not so well known. However, there are just a few of these reviews, most notably at PCMag.com, PC World, Kiplinger.com and Lifehacker.com. About.com also provides a comparative guide, but the reviews are undated. We've also included reviews of mobile apps from personal finance services from the editors of TopTenReviews.com.
Recent reviews are hard to come by, so we also refer to somewhat older reviews (from 2009 and 2008) that offer credible comparisons or thoughtfully evaluate personal finance websites. These sources include CNET, MoneyWatch.com and others.