Personal finance can be tricky. From mortgages to credit cards, investing and auto loans, there's a lot to get your brain around. The good news is that you don't need to drop hundreds of dollars to learn the basics of money management. There are plenty of free resources and tools to help you wade through these complicated waters. Here are nine of the best.
1. Your Brokerage's Website
Many of the top discount brokerage firms, including Fidelity, Charles Schwab, and TD Ameritrade, have robust websites that not only offer you the ability to trade, but also to learn about investing and other financial matters. Some even have sections of their websites labeled as "education centers." There are news and opinion articles, videos and podcasts, plus tutorials, free webinars, and online panel discussions. Granted, these websites will often tout their own investment products, but most of the advice is sound and useful for those getting started with investing.
2. Feed the Pig
Feed the Pig is presented by the American Institute of CPAs and has a number of resources for those looking for information on saving, budgeting, and retirement planning. There are some helpful budgeting calculators, and step-by-step guides on things like credit cards, mortgages, and student loans. The AICPA says the site is geared toward people aged 24 to 35, and that's evidenced by the lighthearted presentation.
Offered by the National Endowment for Financial Education, CashCourse has a series of financial tools geared toward young people. There are nearly 900 colleges that have signed up to give their students free access to workshops, and the information is noncommercial and unbiased.
4. Bloomberg 401(k) Calculator
There are many financial calculators out there, but I am partial to this robust 401(k) calculator from Bloomberg, which allows you to project 401(k) savings by entering a number of fields including projected salary increases, timeline, and expected investment returns. It also allows you to view a chart showing how an employer match will impact your account balance.
5. Kiplinger Tax Map
Want to see how tax-friendly your state is? This handy tax map from Kiplinger offers ratings for each state, plus a detailed state-by-state guide on everything from income to property taxes. There's also similar map geared toward retirees.
6. Better Money Habits
Better Money Habits formed as a partnership between Bank of America and Khan Academy. There are tools on budgeting, credit, and home buying. As you use the site, you can obtain points for certain "achievements," and earn virtual badges.
7. The Options Institute
From the Chicago Board Options Exchange, The Options Institute allows you to register for free online tutorials on how to use options to expand your investment opportunities. It's designed for more experienced investors, but newcomers can learn a lot as well. Most of the institute's offerings are free, though there are some seminars and classes that come at a cost.
The U.S. Treasury Department's Financial Literacy and Education Commission operates MyMoney.gov, featuring a series of tools centered on five principles: earn, save and invest, protect, spend, and borrow. There are a variety of different financial calculators, some budgeting worksheets, and checklists.
9. Thrive and Shine
This app for iPhone and Android devices is a game in which players create an avatar and then make financial decisions as they move from their parents' basement to living independently. Thrive and Shine is geared toward teens and teaches budgeting, saving, and debt management.