How to Get Started With Personal Capital

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Personal Capital is a popular web-based financial software that offers tools to help you invest smarter by aggregating all of your financial accounts in one place. You can monitor your net worth and investment activities, set goals, create a budget, and track expenses.

Why Should You Use Personal Capital Budgeting App?

Personal Capital is one of our favorite personal finance software for a reason. While we think Mint is a decent budgeting tool for personal finances, it's inadequate when it comes to net worth tracking or investment planning. Mint generally targets users who are just starting with their finances, while Personal Capital is more advanced and offers better features.

And to find out more details of the pros and cons, check out our in-depth review of Personal Capital. However, if you're ready to get started with a free account, below are step-by-step instructions, as well as how the entire process works.

Step 1: Create a New Account with Personal Capital

With this service, which is also available as a mobile app, it takes only a few moments to set up a free account.

Then the software will ask you questions such as when you expect to retire and how much you currently have invested. This is intended to help you evaluate your current financial and retirement goals in later steps.

Personal Capital - Sign Up
Personal Capital's signup progress is quick and easy

Step 2: Connect and Sync Accounts

Once your account is set up and complete, you'll need to link all of your financial accounts, including checking, savings and investments. Personal Capital syncs with thousands of popular financial institutions, so yours should be easy to find.

If you can't find your bank, simply enter the name in the search bar. Personal Capital is adding new financial institutions all the time, so don't get discouraged if your bank isn't on the list.

Personal Capital - Accounts
Find your financial institution to sync up with.

Step 3: View Current Cash Flow and Net Worth

After your new account is set up and your financial accounts are synced, you can then see a snapshot of your net worth and cash flow, both of which are easily viewed within the dashboard. Scroll down to see graphs of your spending and cash flow from the last 30 days, as well as the balance of your entire portfolio and its allocation status.

Clicking the “Banking” tab and choosing “Cash Flow” will bring up a new screen that allows you to organize and categorize your income and expenses. You can choose to do this with either all accounts connected or specific accounts that are checked off. You can also toggle the buttons from income to spending, or both.

Personal Capital - Cash Flow
Track your income and expenses with ease

The “All Accounts” tab will lead you to a summary of your net worth, which includes all assets (such as savings or retirement accounts), liabilities (such as credit cards) and investment accounts. Toggle between cash, credit, mortgage or other loan account tabs to view your current standings. Doing so will give you a 90-day history once your account with Personal Capital has been live for that period of time.

Personal Capital - Summary
Find all your accounts in one place

Step 4: Set Up a Monthly Budget

Once your account is linked you can set a monthly budget. Either scroll down on the dashboard or click on “Budgeting” under the “Banking” tab. From there you can see all of your account transactions. 

You can see all of your transactions from the last month, last 90 days, last year, or enter a unique date. You can also view all of your accounts at one time or choose the specific account you wish to view. You’ll see a graph on the right-hand side that shows how much you spent over the time period selected, while below the graphs you’ll see a detailed list of all your transactions. You can even search the transactions if you need to remember the amount of a specific purchase. 

But the best part is the budgeting tool. On the right-hand side you will see a circle chart that shows your spending versus your monthly spending budget. Click on the number in the middle and you can edit it to be whichever amount you want to set as your goal. 

You can also view and track bills that are currently due by clicking the “Banking” tab and choosing “Bills.” If you have a credit card or other bill due, you should be able to click the link directly and head to the account website to make a payment.

Personal Capital - Summary

Step 5: Review Your Investments

Now that your personal income, expenses, and bills are squared away, it's time to really get into the fun of using Personal Capital: the investing features! Under the “Investing” tab, you can choose to view all of your Holdings, track the Balance of all of your investment accounts, view the Performance of your investments over time, or check out the Allocation or Sectors of your investments.

We especially like the Holdings section, because you can view how your investments are doing compared to other major indexes, like the S&P 500. You can check out the allocation and sectors sections to make sure your investments are diverse. This is a great feature if you're trying to determine the asset allocation of your portfolio.

Personal Capital - Dashboard

Step 6: Check Out the Retirement Planner

The Retirement Planner is a very popular feature. We even wrote an entire article about how to use it and its benefits. Basically, it gives an answer to the often-asked question: “Do I have enough saved for retirement?”

Personal Capital's Retirement Planner gathers information based on your saving habits and formulates a forecast of what your money will look like in retirement. This will help determine if you're on track or need to spend less or save more. It will also give you the likelihood of whether or not you will meet your goals based on your current savings and investing goals.

You can even run a scenario to see how your portfolio would have fared in past recessions with their Recession Simulator. All you need to do is create a New Scenario in your dashboard. You can select the age you would like to run the simulation and find out how much your balance would have been during a past market crash. You can also see the recovery time and the probability of meeting your retirement goals post-crash.

The Retirement Planner is especially amazing because it's a personalized look at your investing and retirement options, without having to pay money to a financial advisor to create a personal plan. And best of all, it's free with your free Personal Capital account.

Personal Capital - Retirement Planner
Enter your future income and expenses to determine if you are on track.

In addition, you can check out your savings goals and see if you're on track to meet your retirement goals under the “Planning” tab. Just click on “Savings” and it will take you to a chart that shows your savings planner for retirement, your emergency fund, and debt. You can link your student loans or credit cards to keep track of how quickly you are paying off your debt.

The Investment Checkup section will review your current holdings and show whether or not your projected portfolio growth is in line with your preferred date of retirement and other income factors. You can view several different factors including, history, performance, future projections, risk and return, and allocation comparison.

The software will then offer a recommendation for target allocation based on your personal risk factors and current asset allocation. It's up to you whether you want to follow this advice, but it's offered as an additional option.

Lastly, the Retirement Fee Analyzer displays how much you're paying in investment and management fees for the different robo advisors or brokerage accounts you have. Move the scrolling bars up or down and you can see how much you'll be paying in the future, for the life of your investments, as well as the percentage of earnings lost.

Personal Capital reveals how it calculates these results using a simple formula.

Step 7: View Recommendations and Take Action

The best part about using a free service like Personal Capital is that you use the information it offers to take action toward improving your investment or retirement plans. In order to retire comfortably, there are certain financial milestones you have to hit, and Personal Capital's personalized advice will help you accomplish this.

If you don't feel comfortable making these adjustments yourself, Personal Capital does offer Advisor services for a fee, resources via the blog, and other research for you to determine the best financial moves for your personal situation.

Once you've linked more than $100,000 in total investment account balances to your Dashboard, you will be assigned a complimentary personal Financial Advisor who can help you further.

For these reasons, we believe Personal Capital is a much more well-rounded finance program than Mint.

Personal Capital - Target Allocation

Carrie Smith

Carrie was an accountant for the past 10 years and has a background in editing. In 2011 she founded carefulcents.com a site that helps other entrepreneurs and small businesses make more money in less time. She puts her keen eye for detail and editing skills to good use, by managing all the blog posts and content here on Investor Junkie.

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One Comment

  1. So… A lot of articles brag about how Personal Capital is so much better than Mint. So far I have not been impressed (at least with the supposed budgeting capabilities).

    Budgeting
    Does Personal Capital really have budget capabilities, or do authors just claim you can create one?
    1) I’ve used personal capital for over a year and I still cannot find where to create a budget.
    2) I can see transactions, but not in relation to my (non-existent) budget.
    3) I can’t find a place to add manual (cash) transactions/expenses. That seems pretty important when comparing actuals to a budget.

    All this I can do, intuitively, with Mint. If Personal Capital isn’t a budgeting tool, let’s not call it that and compare it to Mint, which actually is a budgeting tool.

    Net Worth
    If you want to know net-worth, right now, both tools are great!

    Investment Details
    I love that Personal Capital seems to be better at showing investment holdings, allocations, etc. However, I haven’t tried Mint’s investment tool, because it requires flash.

    Historical Balances
    Sometimes when I click on accounts, the balances seem to match transaction dates, other times, they seem to jump around based on login/sync dates. This makes it hard for me to trust the historical “balances”.

    (I know… Mint doesn’t even try to show historical balances, so I’m not comparing, just saying if you’re going to claim you know account balances, you should probably know them.)

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