Site Plans Your Financial Future

For most of us, sketching out a long-term financial plan ranks on the old to-do list just behind draining the swamp. It's hard to address financial challenges 30 years out when you're faced with smaller crises every day. And who among us has the necessary expertise? Inc., for one. Last week marked the debut of its wizard-driven site, which will distill the knowledge and experience of a host of financial experts into a custom financial plan.

Your AdviceAmerica financial plan will address retirement, education funding, insurance, and other long-term spending needs. It can help your cash flow by pointing out opportunities for tax and expense reduction. In short, it integrates all the major money management disciplines into a single cohesive plan, including very specific tactics tailored to your needs.

And, for the next couple of months, it's free. Eventually it will cost $99 a year.

Number Cruncher

AdviceAmerica's wizard walks you through five major segments. It starts with sections where you enter your financial information, which is summarized in your balance sheet, income statement, and net worth.

The site's real payoff is in its My Advisor segment, which compares your personal financial situation to your goals, and lays out your options in no uncertain terms. AdviceAmerica combines a wide range of statistical financial data with the real-world wisdom of its contributors. The result is a modeling engine that runs many different scenarios and finds the best tactics to meet your particular financial goals.

The program tells you exactly how much to invest in which mutual funds or other instruments to achieve the best overall rate of return. It also offers asset management advice such as, "if you put this much money into an Education IRA for this child, you can meet your education goal and reduce your tax obligation this much, but have this impact on your discretionary income."

AdviceAmerica differs from other financial modeling sites such as Financial Engines in that its approach is holistic. It not only advises you on how to get enough for a comfortable retirement, but also on how to fund your intermediate goals like education, vacations, or that must-have face-lift at age 50.

The Bottom Line

The advice is solid. It's practical, complete, and goes well beyond "a penny saved is a penny earned" nostrums. It's delivered in clear and easily digestible recommendations.

The site does have a few warts, including painfully slow page display over a 56-kbps modem and rather limited views on your data. Its main shortcoming, though, is one shared with a lot of the new application service providers: Your data is Balkanized. It's printable, but not portable to either your desktop software or to other sites.

AdviceAmerica has plans to support data upload from the 12 million desktop copies of Quicken and Money. Ditto for data transfer from Web-based bank and investment sites. AdviceAmerica expects to partner with other financial sites, so those capabilities will be developed over time.

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