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Free Financial Services And Tools Can Help Manage Your Money

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A few financial services and tools that are free can help you save more money in the long run. NY1's Tara Lynn Wagner filed the following report.

They say there's no such thing as a free lunch, but there are several financial freebies that will allow you to manage your money without spending any extra.

"Online programs like Mint and Yodlee that allow you to set up your whole budget, help you control your spending, and help you save for future goals," says Mandy Walker, senior editor of Consumer Reports ShopSmart Magazine.

If you're hesitant to give these free programs access to your bank accounts or credit cards, Walker says the connections are secure. But high-tech or low-tech, the important thing is to start tracking.

"Oh, absolutely. There have been lots of studies over the years that found that the more you track what you spend each day, you actually write it down just with a pencil and paper, it can cut your spending by 40 percent," Walker says.

Another thing that shouldn't drain your checking account is the cost of a checking account. Walker says free checking is still offered by some credit unions or online banks.

"But you may also qualify at your own financial institution if you can meet a few very easy-to-meet criteria, such as setting up direct deposit, maybe using your debit card a certain number of times a month," she says.

We often warn against the pitfalls of credit cards, but plastic also has some perks that may protect you from having to purchase additional insurance when traveling.

"You'll have to wade through those terms and conditions to find out, because not all of them offer, or they may just offer one or two," Walker says. "But you may find that you have free trip insurance. You may have free rental car insurance."

Work for a company that offers to match your 401K contributions? If you're not participating, you're leaving free money on the table, maybe even thousands of dollars a year.

And if the obstacle is that you don't like the options, speak up.

"Join with your fellow employees. Talk to your employee relations department," Walker says. "We actually did that here at Consumer Reports over a decade ago, and we have a much better plan now."

Of course, free doesn't always mean free from problems. Walker says offers for free credit scores are usually useless and come with strings attached, and she warns against taking advantage of free financial plans, since those likely won't be tailored to your specific needs.

"The bottom line is, you get what you pay for," she says.

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