December 4, 2020

Shares Turn Lower

Shares fell on Wednesday, as weakness in energy and materials sectors weighed on Wall Street indexes.

In afternoon trading, the Standard Poor’s 500-stock index was down about 0.4 percent, and the Dow Jones industrial average was 0.1 percent lower. The Nasdaq composite fell 0.5 percent.

Data released on Wednesday indicated that the economy continued to show modest improvement. Groundbreaking to build new homes in the United States fell 8.5 percent in January, but new permits for construction rose to a four-and-a-half-year high. In addition producer prices rose in January for the first time in four months.

“It’s hard in any given data point to take a strong conclusion that we are moving dramatically forward,” said Robert Lutts, chief investment officer at Cabot Money Management in Salem, Mass. “But over time, clearly things are getting better.”

Mr. Lutts described an economy that was addicted to stimulus.

“The bottom line,” he said, “is the economy is on heroin today and we will at one-time move to a diluted form of heroin, but it’s very important for people to remember we are still on an unbelievably aggressive, never-seen-before accommodative policy and this economy is going to improve.”

On Wedensday afternoon, the Fed will release the minutes from the January meeting of its Open Market Committee.

Devon Energy, an American oil and gas producer, reported a fourth-quarter loss as it wrote down the value of its assets by $896 million because of weak gas prices. Its shares were down 3.2 percent.

Toll Brothers, the luxury homebuilder, lost 5 percent after it reported first-quarter results well below analysts’ estimates.

SodaStream dropped 4.8 percent after the seller of home carbonated drink maker machines posted fourth-quarter earnings and provided a 2013 outlook.

According to Thomson Reuters data through Tuesday morning, of the 391 companies in the S.P. 500 that have reported results, 70.1 percent have exceeded analysts’ expectations, compared with a 62 percent average since 1994 and 65 percent over the last four quarters.

Fourth-quarter earnings for S.P. 500 companies are estimated to have risen 5.6 percent, according to the data, above a 1.9 percent forecast at the start of the earnings season.

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Bucks Blog: On Whether to Use Allowance-Tracking Web Sites

In this weekend’s Your Money column, I write about Tykoon, the newest of a group of Web sites and apps that help parents dole out allowances, track chores and encourage saving.

It’s hard to argue with the goal of teaching good money management. The question is whether technology is the best way to do it. Right now, we’re using the three plastic jars approach in my house. But I can see a possible point in the future where the allowance amounts will get higher and it will simply be easier to keep track of it online. But that means my daughter would be spending even more time in front of a screen, which isn’t a great result either. And it’s no longer quite as visceral.

Who among you is using sites like Tykoon, ThreeJars and My Job Chart to help your children manage tasks and run their money? And have any of you steadfastly steered clear of digital allowance tracking even as your children have aged?

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Bucks: Call With Your Money Questions

August 09

LearnVest: A Money-Management Site for Women

LearnVest, a personal finance site for women, has revamped its site, which now includes money-tracking tools and access to financial planners.

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Bucks: Tuesday Reading: Tummy Tucks and Face-Lifts in Your Golden Years

August 09

LearnVest: A Money-Management Site for Women

LearnVest, a personal finance site for women, has revamped its site, which now includes money-tracking tools and access to financial planners.

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Bucks: LearnVest: A Money-Management Site for Women


Evaluating new financial products and services.

Alexa von Tobel wants to change the way women handle their money.

When she was an undergrad at Harvard, she realized there was a dearth of resources for women who wanted to take control of their finances. After a stint as an analyst at Morgan Stanley, she went back to Harvard — this time for business school — but left after her first semester to create, a personal finance Web site tailored for women. The site launched at the end of 2009.

Last week, LearnVest raised the curtain on an entirely revamped site, which is cleanly designed and features a new set of robust tools. “We don’t just want to be a pretty site with information,” said the 27-year-old Ms. von Tobel. “We want to change behaviors.”

In fact, she said that she liked to describe LearnVest as a financial fitness center for women. You can get a day pass or buy year-round access. You can sign up for financial boot camp. And it also offers the equivalent of a personal trainer, if you have certain questions or specific goals.

But one of LearnVest’s main goals is to help women get started in the first place. After gathering feedback from users on their attitudes toward money, a recurring theme emerged: “It’s very specifically, ‘I don’t know where to start,’” Ms. von Tobel said.

So LearnVest has fashioned the site to help women begin. The centerpiece of the Web site, which previously featured a daily e-mail with helpful financial tips and other content, is the “My Money Center.” This is powered by a free tool called the financial inbox, which aggregates all of your financial transactions. Then, it allows you to organize them and set up a simple budget using the site’s automated filing system, which neatly tucks each of your transactions into a specific folder.

The fact that you can color-code your personal folders is about as girly-girl as the site gets. Unlike other ventures and books targeting women, LearnVest’s Web site lacks the syrupy-sweet prose and frilly packaging; the team appears to understand that financial matters don’t need to be feminized. It just needs to be written in plain English, and LearnVest does a good job of that.

The site also added premium services for a fee, which allows you to send questions to a certified financial planner or take one of LearnVest’s financial courses. But there’s still plenty to peruse that’s free, too.

“I deeply in my heart believe that financial planning should not be a luxury,” Ms. von Tobel said.

Here’s a closer look at each of the features:

FINANCIAL INBOX.  Like and its money-tracking brethren, this tool (pictured above) automatically aggregates all of your financial transactions — from checking and savings accounts, credit cards, investment accounts, you name it — and pours them into one giant check register of sorts. The financial inbox is designed to look just like your e-mail inbox, with a list of colorful folders running down the left-hand side of the screen. Whenever you go to Trader Joe’s and pay by credit or debit, your bill will then be automatically transferred into your “groceries” folder, or whatever you choose to call it.

Because this tool is powered by Yodlee, which works with many large financial institutions, it will automatically categorize most of your recurring transactions with some degree of intelligence. It appropriately categorized “HopHap,” my go-to Thai takeout place, as “Restaurants and Bars.”

But other categories were slightly off, or not as specific as I would’ve liked. But you can override or correct their categories with those of your own choosing. Just drag any transaction into a folder, and it will forever label similar transactions and file them into the appropriate folder. You only have to do this once for each transaction.

Subfolders are also being developed. That will allow you to create a master “food” folder, for instance, but then include subcategories that will help you break out how much you spend on, say, groceries, restaurants and take-out. Eventually, you will also be able to split your transactions up with different labels. For instance, that $100 you pulled out of the A.T.M. can be categorized as restaurants ($75) and dry cleaning ($25).

Connecting your accounts to LearnVest is pretty easy, as long as all of your credit cards and other financial accounts are already set up online. That’s because you need to enter your user names and passwords for each of your accounts into LearnVest’s system, which then allows it to aggregate your financial data. I linked two credit cards to the tool, and it took only about 5 minutes. (Ideally, you want to link all of your accounts to see your entire financial picture.)

Given all of the various security breaches of late, you may be reluctant to simply hand over the keys to your precious financial data. But LearnVest said it doesn’t store any password or other personal data on its site, with the obvious exception of your financial transactions. That personal data travels from Yodlee to LearnVest with bank-level encryption. Even if hackers managed to break into LearnVest’s site, they would not be able to move or steal your money because your passwords aren’t stored on its site. That information is encrypted and stored in Yodlee’s data centers.

BUDGETING. Once you’ve set up your financial inbox, you can then set up a budget within minutes. The budgeting tool asks you to plug in your take-home pay, your necessary expenses and your savings goals; then, you can allocate any leftover money into the folders.

Alternatively, you can set up an entire budget based on your customized folder system by allocating a certain amount to, say, your groceries, utilities and entertainment. And if you spend more than your budget allows, your folder will turn red. I think it’s easier to ignore the fixed expense section and instead work entirely out of your folders, but that’s just my personal preference. If you use LearnVest’s list of customizable fixed expenses, all of those items will go into a folder called “Bills.”

Once your budget is set up, you can see how much you’ve already spent in the current month for each category. Your budget resets on the 1st of each month.

Unlike, the site doesn’t let you keep track of goals, say, saving for a car or a down payment on a home. But Ms. von Tobel says they have several more sophisticated features in the works: a mobile app, customized alerts for going over budget, keeping track of savings goals, budgeting for annual expenses and other more in-depth trend and analytical tools. The company just received $19 million as part of a a Series B round of funding, so that should help pay for some of this.

BOOTCAMP. Financial bootcamps allow women to tackle a specific challenge or life stage. There are four versions of bootcamp, all free: Take Control, Personal Finance Basics, Cut Your Costs and Get out of Debt. Specific instructions are delivered to your e-mail inbox five days a week. “It’s a program to really change something,” she added. They are “action-packed, full of financial to-do’s.”

LearnVest plans on adding more bootcamps in coming months, which will hit on topics like building your career, philanthropy, having a baby and buying a home.


ASK AN EXPERT While the tools mentioned above are free, you need to pay a fee to access LearnVest’s financial experts and their growing list of financial courses. If you just have a quick question, you can buy a day pass for $4.99, which gives you access for 36 hours. Or, if you’d like a lifeline to an expert for a longer period of time, you can buy a three-month ($39.99) or one-year package ($129.99).

That will allow you to e-mail questions to LearnVest’s certified financial planners. (They have some on staff, while others have been hired as consultants.) Want to know if you should set up a Roth IRA? You can expect a response within the same day, as long as it’s not too late in the day.

Users that subscribe to the three-month and annual packages can also expect to receive follow-ups from the planners to make sure those customers are on track. “We treat each member and case individually and thoroughly,” Ms. von Tobel said. “For example, if you have questions about buying renter’s insurance, we’ll check within 30 days that you got it. If you have questions about creating a five-year financial plan, that would require a more thorough interaction.”

COURSES You also get access to LearnVest’s financial curriculum, which was developed and reviewed by financial planners. As such, the courses are designed to touch on the topics you would be likely to discuss with a professional to get you started on building a financial plan.

LearnVest has three levels of courses, each of which includes a few course modules lasting 15 to 30 minutes. The first level focuses on the basics of budgeting, while the second discusses investing, insurance, and money and relationships. The third level delves into more detail about low-cost investing and retirement. The next course on tap is more advanced and will talk about how investment income and capital gains are taxed.

But if you don’t want to payfor the courses, there is plenty of content on the site that is free. Their check lists, for instance, will help guide you through specific tasks and life stages, from “I Lost My Job” and “I’m Ready to Tackle My Debt” to “I Want to Budget for a Party.”

I worked my way through the “I Want to Build a Portfolio” check list, which covered the basics. But one of the last steps suggests moving onto another checklist called,“I’m Ready to Buy My First Stock.” I wish it would’ve said “How to Buy My First Index Fund,” which is indisputably a much better idea. But Ms. von Tobel said they’re updating the lists to make them better reflect LearnVest’s investing philosophy, which advocates index investing.

The site makes its money through advertising and subscription fees, and Ms. von Tobel said that LearnVest receives no money in exchange for recommending financial institutions.

If you want to check all of this out for yourself, LearnVest provided us with a special coupon code — nyt2011 — that provides Bucks readers with a free “day pass” through Aug. 16th. Just plug the code in when upgrading your membership.

Let us know what you think of LearnVest’s new tools in the comment section below. Can they provide this kind of personalized advice for so little money?

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