As a lot of people have done or are doing, I moved my finance tracking off the old (read: previously) reliable Quicken desktop application, to a provider on the web.  I love the convenience of having quick access on all devices I use and wherever I am.

But there are still things I will not do on the web when it comes to finances, regardless of how nice the “you are safe with us” security logo shines at me on the home page.  And as far as the web is concerned, some old practices in the banking system (like holding funds for days until the actual transaction takes place) really mess with accuracy when importing data.  I want to pass on some things I do differently online than in the desktop Quicken, which may be useful for others.  All are serious, despite my tongue-in-cheek comments with them.

Use the import function to load your transactions, but never assume it is complete

As banks, credit unions and credit card providers began adding the ability to export transactions to their web sites, reducing manual entry of transactions into Quicken or an online system became much easier. But the imports will not reflect the uncleared transactions. For banks and credit unions, the uncleared transactions are related to paper checks and ACH (Automated Clearing House) transactions.  An ACH transaction is how a check is paid in by originating bank to the receiving bank.  It has also been adapted for virtual checks, which is either the “pay from my bank account” seen online, or when a company uses a service to scan your paper checks (like Amscot or Verizon uses) instead of directly depositing the paper check into their banks.  Mobile deposit is also a form of virtual checking.

These transfers don’t occur immediately (like an ATM card used as a debit card).  They are queued in the ACH system, and it is amusing to watch what happens with the imports from both sides of the transaction over several days.  One will show the withdrawal, and the receiver shows the money arriving days later.

My personal technique to overcome this delay is to create a transaction called “PLACEHOLDER”, which simply is entered into the losing (officially, credited) bank account with the amount expected.  It is like entering in a check, then clearing it when it shows up on the statement.  The difference is that it has no serial number, and the PLACEHOLDER entry is deleted when the real transaction shows up in the imported data.

This technique keeps the available balances accurate, and is the practice as something that people who write checks are used to: reconciling.  The PLACEHOLDER is also useful for marking reserved allocations (say tax escrow or planned expenses) which need to change the available amount to reflect a future expense.

Avoid putting your real information describing your accounts online

If you use a web-based service or application which offers to automatically download and import your transactions from your accounts for you, and you use it, this recommendation does not apply to you.  The service or application will require detailed information to make that connection.

I personally don’t let my service do the work for me.  I download the files myself and import myself, since I am more than a little thorough when it comes to managing finances.  I also have a basic risk understanding that anything contained in my financial tracking application or service can be compromised by a online attack.  So I don’t put anything that could easily identify my accounts in the account settings.

A fun way to do this is to simply borrow the technique from the movie “Gone in 60 Seconds”.  In the movie, the car thieves gave women’s names to the cars they were targeting.  So anyone listening on the radio would only hear updates about “Susan” and “Tracy”, etc, not realizing they were reporting movement of stolen property.  Now if hackers compromise your financial tracking site, your cage won’t get rattled while everyone else who used real information will wonder how far the attack will affect them.

Also, you can turn it into a game.  Why not call your bank something like:

  • “First Intergalactic Savings and Loan”
  • “National Limestone Bunker Asset Management”
  • “One Delta Ten Tango”

Be as creative as you can get.  That way, if someone leaks the account information, you will amuse the masses.  Maybe you will even contribute to the nutty conspiracy videos on YouTube.  And even if the information is not leaked publicly, you can chuckle to yourself over a beer, smiling at other people panicking over the electronic compromise, while you picture the hacker looking at his screen and asking himself…

“Who’s Marsha?”