My 2011 Personal Finance Toolkit

by RJ

in Top Credit Cards

What’s in my wallet?

What banks, investments, software, and credit cards make up my personal finance toolkit? I’ve had numerous people ask recently, so I thought I would share.

Here it goes…

Personal Checking & Savings Account = ING Direct

I’m still confused why other banks haven’t copied ING Direct unique ability to open sub-savings accounts. A long with having a very simple interface and high interest rates, this is the reason I bank with ING Direct.

A Local Checking Account w/ Reimbursed ATM Fees

I still find it useful to have a local bank.

A local bank of mine, STC Capital if you must know, offers a very nice checking account. There are no fees, I get my ATM fees reimbursed, I get a checkbook, and I  swing by once in a while to deposit a check. Plus, I enjoy walking into the place where I deposit money and knowing the people behind the counter.

Mutual Fund Family = Vanguard

The majority of my assets are at Vanguard.

I, as well as my wife, both have our Roth IRAs at Vanguard. My investment of choice is the Vanguard 2050 Target Retirement Fund.

Along with Roth IRAs, I have two other investments at Vanguard. I keep some cash in their Short-Term Bond Index fund. Plus, one of my first investments I ever made was into the Vanguard Total Stock Market Index, which I still own.

Vanguard is known for their simplicity and low-cost free structure. The one downside to Vanguard, is that their minimum to get in most of their funds is $3,000.

If you can afford it, in my opinion they are the best mutual fund family out there.

Brokerage Account = Sharebuilder

I don’t trade individual stocks often, but when I do I use Sharebuilder. (The most interesting man in the world reference was well intended)

I believe that the stock market is fairly efficient. Meaning, there are very few opportunities to take advantage of a low individual stock price. About once or twice a year though, I will see an opportunity come up and bet a very small portion of my assets on that stock.

For example, in 2009 I put $1,000 in a few banking stocks that I thought were way below market value. A few months later, I was able to sell for around a 50% increase. (I didn’t make any trades in 2010) I like taking risks, so I consider this a hobby and not investing. For this hobby of mine, I find Sharebuilder a great option.

I also find Sharebuilder a great option for opening a Roth IRA with little money upfront.

Cash flow Software = Mint

A cash flow software like Mint, which is free, is very useful to have.

The other day I needed to find out what my average expenses were from January to June 1010. Within 5 minutes, I had an answer.

Another feature of Mint’s that I love is its ability to track my progress towards achieving my financial goals. Once a month, I have Mint automatically email me my progress towards each of my goals.

Travel Rewards Credit Card = American Express Starwoods Rewards Card

After visiting a few forums, review sites, and asking friends who travel a lot what is the best credit card for earning miles, I found that The Starwood American Express Card is widely accepted as the best of the best.

At first glance I didn’t understand why. The Starwoods card earns points on a $1 spent, 1 point earn basis. This was the same as most other cards I looked at. What made The Starwoods card the best of the best is the generous transfer rules and the 20% bonus. Not only can you transfer points from their program to just about every major airline; you get a bonus while doing so. For every 20,000 points you transfer, you receive a 20% bonus.

Even though I’ve had this card for only 3 months, I already have enough miles for a free domestic flight. (A lot of the miles were earned from performing a few secret Jedi like tricks from reading The Frequent Flyer Master). I expect this card to be my primary credit card for some time.

Tax Software = TurboTax

This will be my third year using TurboTax software for my personal tax return. So far, it has yet to disappoint.

It’s easy to use. There are tons of checks and balances to make sure the information is correct. They keep my history from year to year.

I should keep this statement to myself but I don’t really mind doing my taxes each year. TurboTax makes things pretty easy.

Moving On

What’s in your personal finance toolbox and why is it in there?


Photo by: Oskay


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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Shawn GNo Gravatar January 7, 2011 at 10:49 am

I have use a few of the same tools: ING Direct for some savings accounts, a local bank for checking and savings, and I’m hoping to open up an IRA at Vanguard soon. I have an old one with a former employer and I just haven’t had it switched over yet.

I use Excel as our money tracking software. It’s not overly sophisticated, but it tells us exactly what we need to know. And I do my taxes by hand. There is something about working my way through it that I like.


CalebNo Gravatar January 7, 2011 at 12:25 pm

I use a lot of the same tools as well. ING, Vanguard, etc.

For personal budgeting and tracking I use an Excel spreadsheet for customization reasons.

My rewards card is a Best Buy mastercard, but I am looking for an airline miles card for my fiance and I when we get married in seven months. I will check out the Starwood one you recommended.

For taxes I have just been using free tax software on-line (I think I used TurboTax last year).


RJNo Gravatar January 7, 2011 at 1:30 pm

@Shawn G – You brought up a good point on customization, I should have mentioned that I track my net worth via an excel spreadsheet once a month. Can’t do what I want to do via Mint.


MattNo Gravatar January 7, 2011 at 3:25 pm

I am using HSBC Direct for my savings – at the time it had the best APY. Still at Bank of America for checking – I know, I know, but Boston had BOA ATMs everywhere. My Roth is with TradeKing (currently investing in the T.Rowe Price retirement fund families) and using Mint and TurboTax. I’d love any suggestions on a better checking account – I just really appreciate that everyone (family, friends, roommate) all use BOA so the money transfer between people is very easy. Oh, and a AmericanExpress gold premier rewards card, since the points never expire and they can be transfered to airlines, hotel programs, gift cards, or used for shopping or even paying your CC bill :)


CalebNo Gravatar January 7, 2011 at 4:32 pm

@RJ I also use excel for my net worth calculations, but have dabbled in using to track it as well. To simple for me, but may work for some.


EricNo Gravatar January 7, 2011 at 5:08 pm

I have an IRA with Vanguard as well (currently invested in STAR Fund due to its low starting balance), and I also use Mint to monitor my cash-flow. But with regard to ING savings accounts, how (if at all) do you find it a disadvantage that ING lacks a physical presence? Am I correct in assuming that an online bank isn’t ideal for, let’s say, emergency withdrawals?


20 and EngagedNo Gravatar January 7, 2011 at 5:53 pm

Primary checking/savings: BofA (but not for long)
Join checking/savings: Chase
Alternative checking (rewards): Perk Street
Alternative savings: SmartyPig
Roth IRA: Zecco
Budgeting software: Mint (I haven’t gone on much lately though), Google Docs

I’m always on the Internet so these tools make it easy for me. I hardly ever carry cash; I’m a plastic type of gal.


RJNo Gravatar January 10, 2011 at 10:06 am

@Eric – Regards to your question about ING.. If you open a checking account, you can just go to the closest ATM to withdraw money in a pinch. As far as the physical location, a problem hasn’t really came about yet, since I also bank at a local bank.


amberNo Gravatar January 11, 2011 at 1:07 pm

FYI your Vanguard link actually goes to STC capital.


RJNo Gravatar January 11, 2011 at 4:49 pm

Thanks Amber. It’s fixed now.


caaustinNo Gravatar March 8, 2011 at 2:53 pm

Try free online personal finance software at
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