In a Nutshell: Making important financial decisions, like buying a home, choosing a credit card, or setting yourself up for retirement, can be a stressful process. To help guide these choices, SmartAsset offers an array of free, highly visual online tools. The New York-based technology company started with resources for homebuying, but has gone beyond home affordability and mortgage calculators to help consumers deal with other financial topics, like life insurance, taxes, and banking. The site takes financial literacy a step further with informative articles on its SmartReads blog, helping consumers feel more confident in making large purchases or major financial decisions.
We’ve all been there. Faced with a big decision, our brains tend to waffle back and forth. Is this the right move? Should I hold off on this purchase in case something better comes along? What if I’m not ready?
It’s natural to second-guess yourself when the stakes are high. From buying a new home or car or adjusting your long-term savings strategy, these decisions can be scary, and one mistake can take a long time to fix.
The people behind SmartAsset know this feeling. That’s why they created a series of free online tools with the goal of arming average consumers with the confidence needed to make informed decisions that they’ll be happy with down the road.
The New York City-based company started as a site with educational resources for buying homes and expanded to cover other important financial decisions, like choosing credit cards and banks or planning for retirement. The site offers tools and resources on 11 main topics, including student loan management, bank interest rates, and tax questions.
“We’re a financial technology company,” said AJ Smith, VP of Financial Education for SmartAsset. “We provide automated, online, free tools that can help people make those big financial decisions. We answer a lot of questions like ‘How much house can I afford?’ and ‘How much do I need to save for retirement?’”
SmartAsset provides answers to a host of questions for consumers in every stage of the buying process, from apprehensive to approved. The company’s aim is to help its users head to the bargaining table with a clear idea of what they have and what they want.
“At our core, we’ve always been there to help people with these decisions that, frankly, you may make once, twice, maybe three times in your life,” AJ said. “There are people like mortgage lenders and attorneys who are doing this way more often than you are. It was an area where we found people weren’t very confident, and we could provide that information to help them feel a little more confident going into it.”
In 2016, new and existing home sales were at their highest point than they have been in the past decade. With an uptick in home purchases, more Americans are in need of research tools and materials. This trend puts SmartAsset and its original product, the home buying tools, in position to help more consumers.
“Our goal is to arm people with information that will allow them to make these decisions confidently, versus ‘I hear it’s a good time to buy a home,’ or ‘My neighbor says they got a great deal, and my cousin just bought a house and makes less than me,’” AJ said. “They feel like they should be buying a home. This allows you to look at it from a personal perspective.”
Tools Use Personal Data to Help You Avoid Financial Pitfalls
With technology creating new forms of online research, many consumers’ paths to purchasing homes begin online. You surf the web and look at the listings of homes for sale in your desired area and dream about what you’d do to the place if it were yours. You search by asking price and look within the budget you think you can afford.
SmartAsset takes the guessing out of the equation. The company uses its patent-pending Automated Financial Modeling technology to use data to help you determine how much house you can afford, whether you should buy or rent, etc.
“What happens is if someone wants to figure out how much house they can afford, they come to our site and enter things like their location and their income,” AJ said. “We crunch the numbers immediately and quickly by running a series of models on the back end to figure out what the best answer for you is.”
These models factor in details often forgotten in the home researching process, like current mortgage rates and recent property taxes in the area. The models then give you a realistic expectation of whether purchasing a home in that area is in your price range.
But what if you’re not looking for a home? Although it’s often the biggest purchase you can make, it’s certainly not the only large financial decision consumers are faced with.
SmartAsset’s tools include a credit card guide, retirement planner, life insurance information, as well as tools to help you along the road to financial independence. Free calculators are also available on the site that help you factor income taxes and paycheck after-tax totals. These tools are intended to answer questions that often don’t have a definitive response.
“We often say that the best answer to most financial questions is ‘It depends,”’ AJ said. “Is it a good time to buy a home? It depends. Do you have enough money saved for a down payment? Should you be putting more money into your retirement account? It depends on what your budget looks like. It’s really a very personal field, and we want people to be aware of that and feel empowered with their own personal finances.”
Arming You with the Information You Need to Make Confident Decisions
Once you’ve crunched the numbers and set the budget, the work doesn’t stop. As you put in those long hours to earn the money that will help bring your financial dreams within reach, it helps to maintain a focus on financial education. Laws and trends change rapidly, and opportunities to see your savings grow can quickly pass you by if you’re not ready to act on them.
SmartAsset’s contributors display a passion for financial literacy and share their knowledge on the company’s SmartReads blog. From how to avoid credit card fraud to the cost of adding a teenager to your car insurance policy, the blog is geared toward offering informative content in line with the company’s mission to help consumers at every stage of life make better decisions.
“We look to provide some context around those big financial decisions,” AJ said. “We’ll cover things even like, ‘What is a closing cost?’ We know people who are well-educated and in control of their entire lives, but when it comes to finances, it’s something that was never taught and they may be embarrassed to say they don’t know what a term means.”
SmartReads also contains occasional in-depth studies that the company’s contributors compile on relevant topics like the best cities for women in tech in 2017.
SmartAsset: Helping Make Your Finances Less Complicated
Big financial decisions can be agonizing, but it’s important to approach them in an intelligent, informed way. Nothing improves your chances of financial success more than knowledge and research. After all, being prepared leads to the confidence that’s needed to get a good deal, improve an interest rate, or negotiate lower fees.
SmartAsset’s tools were built specifically for this purpose. Whether shopping for the best credit card perks or determining how much life insurance you need, the site’s tools address every stage of life and savings.
Although AJ says the company’s first set of products — its homebuying tools like the mortgage calculator and mortgage rate lookup — are its biggest draw, SmartAsset is working to build a large database of free resources to help a wider range of consumers. One key focus area is credit card comparison tools.
“We’re really aiming to inform people more on credit cards and the different options,” she said. “People get a lot of credit card offers, and they don’t necessarily know if it’s good for them and how it can fit into their budget and financial plan. We’re definitely looking to help more in that space this year.”