A host of budding personal finance services and applications are poised to go mainstream in the new year and, together, they will likely have a big impact on the way Americans bank, shop and track their finances. Some of the services are web-based but many take advantage of the proliferation of smartphones, which are now carried by one-third of U.S. adults — with more likely to join that crowd in the next few days after receiving the gadgets as holiday gifts.
Whether online or mobile, here are some personal finance technologies to watch in 2012:
Mobile money: The September launch of Google Wallet was just one high-profile move toward the use of smartphones for payments, replacing credit or debit cards. The technology allows users to wave their phones in front of payment terminals and have transactions deducted from linked bank accounts or credit cards. Expect more options for electronic payments from mobile service providers and card networks next year and wider adoption of the terminals by retailers, mass transit systems and more.
Another innovation that is already being heavily promoted is person-to-person payments. American Express Co., MasterCard Inc., Visa Inc. and PayPal all offer ways for their customers to send and receive money using links to various accounts and cards.
Non-bank money management: Mint.com, the personal finance site, was only the beginning. A raft of new money management tools are now available that can help users keep track of bills, investments and other aspects of their financial lives.
Among the standouts is Manilla.com which not only pulls together household bills and financial accounts but also helps users keep track of details such as travel rewards points and magazine subscriptions.
The service provides reminders for when bills are due and has features that make it easy to pay bills or set up automatic payments. It has a smartphone app for accessing all these functions on the go.
Other non-bank options include Pageonce, an app that automatically tracks bills and enables users to make payments on their phone; savvymoney.com, a site that offers debt-management help; and Betterment.com, a site designed to simplify investing.
Targeted deals: The combination of geo-location technology that can track your movements when you're carrying your smartphone, and QR codes, those weird squares appearing more and more often in advertising, is enabling companies to offer personalized discounts and on-the-spot deals to customers willing to opt into their programs.
Mall shoppers have already started getting texts and emails designed to lure them into certain stores and the technology can also be used to encourage customers to enter contests, demonstrate new apps or products and even contact customer service.
Social commerce: Javelin Strategy & Research, a financial services research firm, is using this term to identify the trend toward the combination of commerce and social networking on sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.
While these sites are moving toward making it easier to shop without navigating toward a link, that's just one step toward social commerce.
The concept of financial social networking is also being expanded by companies like Weemba.com, whose site allows individuals to search for a loan by posting nontraditional details like a description of the need for the money — debt consolidation, a mortgage refinance, or a kitchen makeover complete with the designer's plans, for instance. The details posted add depth to the usual credit score and financial information that banks and other funders may review, and the site opens the lending request to a wider audience.
Other examples of the use or concept of social networking include Kickstarter.com, where creative types can seek funding for their artistic endeavors and those willing to provide seed money can choose to provide all or part of the needed funds to get the project off the ground.
Photo: Stock Photo