What’s the benefit of linking my accounts?
When you enter your data into our system, you’ll be given the option to either enter manually or link automatically. If you choose to link automatically, our system will request read-only access of your account balances and holdings. Our software will sync those values daily, in order to ensure that your balances remain up-to-date in our tool. We won’t have the access or the ability to make any changes to your third-party accounts, so you don’t have to worry about security issues.

Automatic linking will save you time in both the initial input process and on an ongoing basis. You won’t have to update your information in our tool nearly as often – like when you sell a stock or make a withdrawal from an investment account – if you allow our tool to link up directly with your other accounts. But of course, it’s ultimately up to you how you choose to use our tool.

How often do I need to update my information?
Generally speaking, you should only need to update your information when major changes happen. If you’ve linked your investment accounts to our system, your balances will update daily. Even if you’ve entered your investment information manually, our tool will update stock prices and values for you automatically.

Minor changes – like a few hundred dollars more or less in a checking account – almost certainly will not change the recommendations that the tool makes, so you don’t have to bother updating that. But major changes – like getting an unexpected raise, having another child, changing jobs, buying or selling a house, or changing jobs – will need to be accounted for in the tool.

The other time when you should update information in the tool is when you take action on a recommendation that we make. For example, if the tool tells you to get $500,000 of 30-year term life insurance, once you have purchased that insurance, you should update the tool with your new insurance information. Similarly, if the tool tells you to set aside 9% of your income into your 401(k) plan, then once you make that election and change your investment amount, we want you to update the tool to reflect your new savings plan.

In general, an annual check-up to ensure that your inputs are still accurate should be sufficient. Comprehensive, long-term financial planning is rarely something that requires daily attention and updating; it’s a strategic process that relies more on major inputs than on minor fluctuations.

Do I have to do everything in one sitting?
No.

If you’re short on time, we recommend that you fill in rough amounts for your budget and/or your investments, and proceed to the calculations portion in order to get a basic set of recommendations. Then, you can always come back later to add more detail and re-run your projections based off of the newer (more detailed) information.

Also, if you don’t know a specific piece of information (like how much disability insurance your employer offers, or the full terms or your mortgage), you can similarly come back and fill that information in later. Generally speaking, we think it’ll be best for you if you wait until you have all of the necessary information before inputting the data and running a plan. But our system will save your plan if you log out, so you can always finish up later if necessary.

How long will this take?
There are two stages to the process.

The first is gathering all of your personal financial information. How long this will take is up to you – if you already have most of the information at hand, then it won’t take long at all. See our “What information do I need in order to use the tool?” FAQ to see what types of things you’ll need to gather.

The second step is inputting your data into our tool and calculating the results. It should take about 30 to 60 minutes to go through the online interview and input your information. The more detail you provide, the longer it will take, but those details will also help us to make more meaningful recommendations. It will also take longer if you choose to manually enter all of your investments, which is why we recommend using our automatic linking option, which is powered by the Intuit technology behind mint.com.

The calculation engine itself usually only takes about 30 seconds, but it could take up to a couple of minutes if our site is experiencing a lot of demand. From there, you can spend as much time as you like poring through our results and analysis. If you’d like, you can also perform a “scenario analysis”, to see how your projections would change if certain inputs could be changed.

What information do I need in order to create my plan?
In order to build a fully comprehensive plan, we’ll need the following information:

  • Your income and your spouse’s income
  • Your employer’s retirement plan information
    • Is it a 401(k)? Does the employer offer a match? How much?
  • Your assets and debts
    • You can either enter these in manually – holdings, balances, interest rate, term, etc. – or you can let our system connect with your online accounts so that we can “sync” your balance information
  • Your monthly expenses
    • The more detailed (and accurate) you can be with your spending, the better the output you’ll get
  • Your major financial events
    • Expected one-time events like inheritances, vacations, home renovations, or paying for a wedding
  • How much you want to pay for your kids’ education
  • Your target retirement age
  • Your current insurance coverage
    • Life, disability, long-term care, or other; include terms, amounts, and monthly/annual premiums

Once you’re finished entering your information, the system will run the calculations, and a few seconds later, you’ll have recommendations.