Our financial lives comprise a patchwork of bank accounts, credit cards, and loans that are administered from a variety of institutions. Juggling all of this information is merely a challenge for those lucky few who are content with their finances, but gaining a clear picture is essential for those who are working towards long-term financial goals such as retiring their debt.
Several companies have stepped in to fill this void by harnessing the power of the Internet to aggregate users’ data in one place. Payoff.com is one of the latest to enter this market. It hopes to distinguish itself from its competitors by offering users social and financial incentives to meet their goals.
How Payoff.com Works
Payoff.com is a free service that allows users to view all of their financial information in one place. After providing their secure site with the account information, user names, and passwords for each financial institution you have a relationship with, the service will automatically extract the necessary data from each account. Information is then compiled, summarized, and displayed. At no point do users of Payoff.com, or the site itself, have the ability to make any changes to any of your accounts.
Once all your data is in front of you in one place, you can set financial goals, and start to explore the more unique features of the site.
Payoff.com is different in that it encourages sharing financial goals with others through social media to provide motivation for attaining them. Incentives also include fun badges for achievements such as paying off your credit cards and building up an emergency savings account.
Payoff.com even awards cash, what they call “Sur-Prizes,” to people who have won badges. The whole idea is to employ social tools to make financial management fun.
- Financial Dashboard. Like other similar sites, Payoff.com allows users to collect information from all of their accounts in a single place. Bank account, credit card, and loan information can then easily be tracked.
- Social Networking Integration. Users share their financial goals and dreams with others though Payoff.com and connections to Facebook.
- Spending Monitors. The system is powerful enough to categorize credit, debit, and bill pay transactions by merchant, allowing users to see how much of their money is going to specific companies.
- Fun Badges. Users can motivate themselves to achieve their goals with the prospect of earning badges for debt reduction or increasing their savings.
- Cash Prizes. If fun badges weren’t enough, there is also the possibility that users will actually receive a cash prize when they reach their goals.
- Track Spending. How much did you spend at the local coffee shop last month? How much money did you spend on gas? These are the kinds of questions that Payoff.com users will instantly be able to answer.
- Budgeting and Goal Setting. Even people who responsibly manage their money often fail to make a budget or set goals for themselves. These features are the primary reason why people use a site like this.
- All In One Place Financial Management. Most institutions will have some sort of way to track your accounts, and some even provide budgeting and goal seeking tools. However, they are inherently limited to the information in the accounts held at their company. Payoff.com claims to be able to access accounts at most institutions, allowing you to see all your money in one place while utilizing the bank of your choice.
- Social Motivations for Financial Responsibility. There are plenty of people who have blogged about their retirement savings goals or their quest to reduce their debt. If you are the type of person who likes to share details about your life through social networking, the kind of interactions facilitated by Payoff.com may provide you with real world incentive to better manage your finances.
- Security. It can be scary to hand over all of your account information to a single company. The assurance that Payoff.com’s systems cannot make any changes to your accounts represents a very clear line that there is no way that your money will be compromised.
- Free. There is no cost to users for this service. Payoff.com makes money through advertising, sales of aggregated data, and referrals to third party services that they recommend.
- Limited Functionality. While their security features prevent them from making any changes to your accounts, the flip side is that Payoff.com only allows you to view your money, not directly manage it. While this is an acceptable compromise, users should be aware of it going in.
- Socializing Personal Finances Isn’t for Everyone. While many are comfortable sharing their savings and debt reduction goals with their friends, others will feel that personal finances should remain personal. Although these features are optional, they are the core of what separates this site from other financial management tools like Mint.com.
- Fun Incentives Don’t Have Universal Appeal. Do you like the idea of a small surprise gift or a fun badge? Many do, while others may find these to be juvenile or gimmicky. Again, these features are optional, but they are advertised as what makes this service unique.
- Advertising Supported. By registering for this service, you consent to receive “notification of offers, coupons, newsletters and other communications.” You can opt-out of these communications, but otherwise you can expect them. While this is understandable for a free service, users should be aware of this.
- No Security Is Perfect. I could not find any evidence that the site has ever had a security breach, which is not surprising for a relatively new service. There may never be one, or we could be reading about one next year; there is no way to really know. While their security measures appear to be entirely trustworthy, so many other major institutions have suffered security breaches in the past and thus the possibility cannot be completely ruled out.
When your money is spread between multiple institutions, there will always be a need to see your financial picture in one place. What makes Payoff.com unique is that it turns the concept of personal finance on its head by introducing aspects of social networking.
For those who have always been excited about the idea of sharing their lives with others online, Payoff.com is a natural extension of their online lives. By offering fun incentives to reduce debt and increase savings, Payoff.com can make an important contribution to your personal financial goals.
Have you signed up for a free account with Payoff.com yet? What has your experience been like so far?