You can also use Moneydance to stay on top of your purchases and set up a payment schedule for your credit card accounts. ($50; available for PC and Mac)
Don't neglect online tools and mobile apps. While desktop software can help you learn how to better manage your finances, you shouldn't write off online resources. Mint.com, for example, walks you through the steps of devising a budget, setting realistic financial goals and tracking your money. "A lot of times with software we find information, but Mint uses information to tell you what to do," says Duffy, citing how the program offers weekly tips on how to adjust your spending to stick to your budget.
However, Mint has its limitations. Elmblad of About.com says the program provides relatively simplistic budgeting tools and advice that might be less helpful for shoestring budgeters. "It's great for someone who wants to set up and manage a few spending categories, but for people who are really watching their money and want to budget just about every dollar they take in, Mint may not be the best option," she says.
The smartphone is also a convenient tool for managing one's finances. Mark Steber, chief tax officer at Jackson Hewitt Tax Service, likes Ask a Tax Preparer (available on the iPhone) and Ask a Certified Public Accountant (available on the Android and iPhone). Both apps are free and supply answers from professionals on common tax questions, including how to itemize deductions, qualify for credits and comprehend obscure terminology. Steber also recommends the free IRS2Go app (available on the Android and iPhone), which offers last-minute and year-round tax tips, and enables users to check the status of their refund.
Stay on top of your finances. Using software to track expenditures can also add a layer of protection against identity theft. "We believe that the regular engagement in financial accounts and affairs pays dividends in overall awareness and surveillance of account activities," says Brian McGinley of IDentity Theft 911, a Scottsdale, Ariz., company that provides identity and credit protection services. As such, frequently monitoring activity on your checking and credit card accounts can help you spot suspicious transactions.
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While some use software to keep an eye on their transactions, many consumers simply want an overview of their assets now and then. "Even if you just use a [software] program to take a glance at your finances, you can stay out of debt and keep your credit score in good health," says Beverly Harzog, an independent credit card expert, consumer advocate and author of the forthcoming book "Confessions of a Credit Junkie."
Yet Gail Cunningham of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, a network of accredited and certified credit-counseling agencies, says for consumers to reap the full benefits of money-management software, they need to be psychologically prepared to study their finances and make lifestyle changes. "People are often afraid of seeing their spending staring back at them in black and white, but until they do, they'll never truly be in charge of their money," she says.