Online Financial Help Could Save Americans Billions

Public opinion surveys show that rich and poor share similar viewpoints on how the government should spend its money. (Image credit: stock.xchng)

Online personal finance site HelloWallet today announced it increased its database of financial products from 50,000 to 130,000 representing more than 10,000 institutions including credit unions, community banks, and national banks to better help cash-strapped Americans manage their finances.

According to Brookings Institution research, American families lose an estimated $100 billion annually due to avoidable financial missteps. For instance, last year U.S. consumers spent $38 billion on overdraft fees despite the fact that 70 percent of those charged had enough savings at their banks to cover the bounced checks. [Read Top 10 Tips for People with Finance Phobia.]

No wonder a report issued by the Financial Planner Board of Standards Inc. said more than 40 percent of Americans feel that they are not in control of their finances. And in a tight economy, many families cannot afford the expense of a personal financial adviser.

Startup HelloWallet, a self-service "personal financial adviser" backed by Jean and Steve Case of AOL, has attracted support and recognition from the Clinton Global Initiative, Rockefeller Foundation, Walter & Elise Haas Fund, and Levi Strauss Foundation.

According to founder and former Brookings Institution Fellow Matt Fellowes, HelloWallet does not allow banks to advertise or promote products on its website, so its recommendations are not influenced by any business interests.

“In the world of personal finance there is no doubt that independence from banks means more choices and savings opportunities,” said Fellowes.

HelloWallet uses technology to craft personalized advice such as shopping for a bank account, identifying savings opportunities and warning of financial-health threats. It can assist consumers with specific goals such as saving for their children's college education. According to Fellowes, HelloWallet’s technology platform saves the average consumer $600 per year.

Fellowes told TechNewsDaily that anyone with basic computer skills could use the service. The city of San Francisco was the first to partner with the new service to deploy this online financial guidance and management tool. All San Francisco households received a direct invitation to use the service and through local foundations, more than 1,000 low income families will receive a one year subscription free of charge this year.

After a 60-day free trial, HelloWallet users pay $5 per-month for the service.  HelloWallet has pledged to give a free subscription to one needy family for every five of the site’s paying members, and has worked with Rockefeller Foundation to identify those households.

Leslie Meredith
Leslie Meredith is a contributor to Live Science. She has a bachelor's degree from UCLA in psychology and has directed tourism and ski publications for the Salt Lake Visitor & Convention Bureau and managed promotions and events for Sunset Magazine.