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Online Money Management Sites Cater to Young Savers

Engineering major Khang Nguyen, 22, checks his SmartyPig saving account every day and likes sharing his saving goals with his family and friends online.
Engineering major Khang Nguyen, 22, checks his SmartyPig saving account every day and likes sharing his saving goals with his family and friends online.

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Faiza Elmasry

New youth-oriented banking websites target young people who are often better known for impulsive spending than for saving money.

The websites offer information and tools to help clients become better money managers and to share their financial experiences with other young people.

Alix Scott, 19, is working at a store this summer, saving money to pay for college next year.

“I have to save for all my college money because my parents, they can’t afford to co-sign on loans,” she says. “So, I have to rely on my own savings.”

Online piggy bank

But rather than put her money in a local bank, Scott opened an account on SmartyPig, a web-based banking service.

“When I do that, I overcome the impulses to just spend the money,” she says.

Michael Ferrari founded SmartyPig with a friend in 2007. After starting a college account for his new baby, Ferrari says he realized the power of saving for a specific goal. Helping other savers stay focused on their goals is the idea behind his online piggy bank.

“SmartyPig is really all about helping people to save for specific financial goals. It can be a wedding, a vacation, an i-Phone,” he says.

Ferrari explains how PigySmart works.

“For example, I’m saving for a vacation," he says. “I want to save $5,000. I want to meet this goal in three years. SmartyPig will actually calculate how much money you need to allocate every month. You don’t have to move it from your existing bank. We’ll actually go in and withdraw those funds on the day you specify every month and we put it into your SmartyPig account, where they’ll actually accrue interest, as well.”

And, Ferrari says, the site also allows depositors to get outside help.

“Perhaps a holiday or a birthday is coming up. Rather than getting a gift, your friends and family can actually contribute to any of your SmartyPig goals .”

Sharing savings goals online

Twenty-two-year-old civil engineering major Khang Nguyen likes being able to share his saving goals with his online community.

“I think it's actually a good thing that they are able to see it,” Nguyen says. “Like, you know a bunch of my friends after they find out about what I do, they always come ask me for financial advice.”

Online banking sites like SmartyPig are attracting a growing number of young depositors, who like the convenience and services. These personal finance websites offer a variety of money management tools which help users track their spending, set up a budget and consolidate their accounts.

And they all have a social media aspect, which appeals to young adults who are already comfortable sharing their personal information online.

“There are all kinds of individuals out there who have their own blogs who are talking about money, creating videos, making info graphics and are talking about money. You just see personal finances information in places that you wouldn’t expect,” says Janet Stauble, spokesperson for the personal finance website, bankrate.com.

She adds, “It’s not likely that you might go to a friend and say, ‘Hey, I paid off $1000 on my credit card today,’ but people write up blog posts about it and they explain how they did it, how much closer they are to their financial goal, whatever it is.”

As technology continues to evolve, she predicts more people will embrace the emerging electronic banking sites.

Online partnerships with banks

Steve Weisman, who lectures about financial issues at Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts, says the more innovative these sites are in providing their services, the more successful they will be in doing business alongside traditional banks or in cooperation with them.

“For instance, SmartyPig, they are not actually a bank, but they are partnered with a bank," Weisman explains. “So what you’re going to see is big banks and little banks that are legitimate financial institutions, but not necessarily the most savvy when it comes to computers or the Internet, they will partner up with other companies that may be doing some of the web material and other assistance, while the actual banking would be done through a bank with which it is connected.”

That collaboration, he says, will change the way Americans save in the future.

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