Mvelopes (Finicity) Money Manager Review

Mvelopes (Finicity) is an online, flash-based financial application that is based on the envelope method of money management (you place your money in envelopes such as ‘groceries’, ‘rent’, and ‘entertainment’ and then spend as appropriate from those envelopes.

Mvelopes, the spending management application, was created by In2M, a privately held company. On October 18, 2007 In2M was renamed to Finicty. I imagine the transition online will take quite some time. Finicity is supposed to bring together the spending application (financial) along with the community (city) from the forums, coaching, and other new features.

While I’ll focus some on the community aspect, my primary focus will, as always, be on the personal finance application.

Getting Started with Mvelopes (Finicity)

The starting screen for Mvelopes is pretty straight forward. You can see that you have your navigation across the top (with icons from the 90′s, I’ll admit), envelopes and spending accounts down the left side, and help options down the right side.

My first task was to add my spending accounts:

  • One Checking Account
  • One Credit Card Account

Since both of those accounts are housed at Wells Fargo, it was a cinch. I also have business accounts there, so I didn’t select those for inclusion (this is much nicer than the other solutions, where the app brings them in first and then forces you to close them a la , or , where they still include the transactions in reports!).

As far as integration with banks is concerned, Mvelopes had a very quick and painless approach.

I was prompted to use their Bill Pay, but opted not to, only because I had read a few horror stories about the bills not always being paid (technical snags that were not Mvelopes’ fault, but rather the company’s fault with which Mvelopes (Finicity) integrates).

I opted to add my brokerage account as well, just to see if I could run into any snags.

Screens like this one:

don’t add a lot of confidence, but it’s very minor and only gives off a slight “unprofessional” feel.  (I’m referencing the fact that they have both horizontal and vertical scrollbars visible when they really don’t need to be).

The account adding was going so well, I actually ended up adding my mortgage to the mix, along with a “custom” account which represented my house (note: you can use “custom accounts” to handle cash transactions, if you so desire).

Wrapping My Head Around the Mvelopes (Finicity) Envelope Philosophy

I’m a huge fan of the envelope method because I believe it makes people much more forward-looking with their finances, and helps them plan better and reach their goals easier. As such, the envelope philosophy is not new to me. What was new was exactly how Mvelopes (Finicity) handled this in a virtual environment. Overall I was impressed.

From the get-go, the envelopes are very standard except for a few:

  • Income Cash Pool – whenever income is entered, it goes here and waits to be assigned to the proper spending envelope (dining out, rent, whatever).
  • Money For -> Credit Card – when money is spent on the Credit Card, the spending envelope deducts the amount, and then increases the funding in this envelope. In that way, you’ll always be able to pay off your credit card purchases. I like this in principle, but in practice I found it a bit quirky and not quite as flexible as I’d have liked it to be. More on that later.
  • Credit Card Payments – I believe this is an envelope dedicated to making payments on credit cards? I’m not sure how it’s different from the Money for Credit Card envelope, but we shall see.
  • Account Transfers – when money is simply moved from one account to another, it goes in this envelope.

Funding My Envelopes with Mvelopes (Finicity)

I noticed immediately that my credit card balance of $2,379.06 was not deducted from my Income Cash Pool. This made me think I needed to allocate it to my Money for Credit Card envelope. I wasn’t sure how to do this. Frankly, I wasn’t sure how to fund any of my envelopes.

I clicked “Fund” (duh!) at the top of the Envelopes section and was presented with my funding window:

One thing I thought was pretty nice was that you could create a funding profile and use that (so maybe your first paycheck you do X and your second paycheck for the month you do Y).

Also what was pretty nice was the fact that you could fund based on a percentage, so if you wanted to save 15% of your (net) paycheck for retirement, you could set it that way.

Actually funding the envelopes could be made much easier with some UI improvements. I would enter a number, click [Enter] and the number would commit, but I wouldn’t be automatically moved to the next envelope. I tried using the down arrow with the same negative result. Finally I just resolved to tab to get to each new field.

Well, the Tab key didn’t work either. It would tab out of the pane and I’d end up down at the bottom with the Fund and Cancel buttons. Bad form. Clicking was the only option I had left.

No Need to Categorize a Bunch of Useless Historical Transactions

I really liked the fact that I didn’t have to go back and arbitrarily assign transactions to a bunch of envelopes (conceptually, how could you anyway?). It saved a ton of time and it felt like I was in the driver seat much more quickly — working on progressing and going forward. I’ve done a lot of personal finance software reviews and most of my time in the application seems to be spent just categorizing/tagging the historical stuff. What a waste of time! Thank you Mvelopes (Finicity) for not wasting my time :)

Your Envelopes are like Mini Check Registers

I liked how clicking on an envelope, you feel like you’re in a check register for a different account.

I viewed the Gifts envelope and could see my funding transaction. If I wanted to add a new transaction I would just click the “New” button at the top and be on my way:

Did you notice the strangeness with the letter ‘w’ spacing?

Weird.

Customizing Your Envelopes with Mvelopes (Finicity)

You handle all of your envelope customization with the envelope menu bar:

You can create groupings, so I can have all of my utilities under one larger envelope, or Birthdays and Christmas both under a Gifts envelope. You can’t actually spend in the group envelope, it’s there purely for organizational purposes. You can reorganize envelopes in groupings by dragging and dropping, which I found very convenient.

There was an envelope there by default called “Loans” and I deleted it. It was empty, so I didn’t think there’d be a problem but there was. It continued to appear on the left-hand side as a top-most envelope:

The strange thing is that when it was selected, I would see the Miscellaneous register, which was the envelope just below it. I tried to get it to re-draw a few times but to no avail. It will probably disappear once I reload the application (update: it redrew correctly when I resized the window).

All in all, customization of the envelopes was straight forward and fairly intuitive.

Creating an Mvelopes (Finicity) Spending Plan

I chose the first option Income/Envelope because my salary is fixed. I like how Mvelopes (Finicity) addresses the fact that not everyone is on a fixed income.

I entered my salary, which is twice monthly, at $3,500 a pop, and then began working with the envelopes. One nice aspect of the spending plan in regards to the envelopes is that I could think of expenses in any time period I wanted: monthly, weekly, annually, etc. For instance, I know for Christmas we want to spend $1,200 — I enter that. Mvelopes (Finicity) automatically shows me the monthy average of $100 ($1,200 / 12 months) and my .

(I realized that I hadn’t yet customized my envelopes at this point, so I clicked on New -> Envelope and was able to at least add some new ones that I wanted. See Customizing Your Envelopes above for more detail on that).

At the end of a few minutes work, I had my spending plan created:

Mvelopes (Finicity) Bill Pay

As I mentioned above during the setup process, I read a few items on the Finicity forums that make me less than excited about doing the Bill Pay thing. There are a few reasons for this:

  1. Any bill possible, I set it up to auto pay on the 5th of the month. I don’t do a lot of logging into the internet or phone provider — it just takes care of itself every month (It’s very hands off because I follow the YNAB Methodology, which is to live one month behind my income — no need to time my paychecks).
  2. The Finicity forums reported people having their bill paid twice (one resulting in an overdraft) and another where the bill was somehow caught up in the system (not Mvelopes system, but the actual billpaying service with which Mvelopes integrates).

Mvelopes Net Worth

I’m surprised they dedicated a navigation button at the top simply for this Net Worth report:

As you can see, you get a basic net worth report, where it breaks down your assets and liabilities. Not much more to report here. Frankly, it’d be nice to get some trending and such (which can be had using an aggregator such as Yodlee).

Reports in Mvelopes

The reporting section of Mvelopes is straight forward. I’ve never been one to go all gah gah over reporting features, but I recognize that some people enjoy seeing all the charts and graphs.

These are the reports that are available:

Envelope Reports

  • Current Envelope Balance (this seems to be me to be the most useful, needing to know what you have to spend!)
  • Cash Flow by Envelope
  • Spending by Month
  • Transactions (just a list of transactions)
  • Monthly Funding & Spending Report

Account Reports

You can select all or some of your spending accounts in regards to the below reports:

  • Transaction by Payee
  • Account Register
  • Deposit Account to Envelope Comparison
  • Net Worth

Spending Plan Reports

  • Spending Plan
  • Funding Plan

Kudos that they have multiple report output options, which include HTML, PDF, and spreadsheet. I don’t foresee an Mvelopes (Finicity) user needing more reporting than what’s currently here. They’ve covered pretty much every option.

The only downside is that the reporting is not graphical at all. It’s all text-based and it gets pretty (okay, very) bland after a while.

Other Mvelopes (Finicity) Areas

Working through the other navigation options you have:

Calculator

I find it silly that they devote a navigation button to the calculator.

Mobile

You can view your envelope balances with your mobile phone (handy when you’re on the run) and this interface simply lets you set mobile phone preferences, where you can choose only those envelopes you care about seeing and also record payees that will populate a dropdown list for faster entry of manual transactions.

Mvelopes (Finicity) Tutorials

The Mvelopes Tutorials are a great resource, on par with YNAB’s tutorials in depth of coverage. This is the type of support you don’t receive from a lot of the up and coming new financial apps, that depend primarily on forums (which are great, but they shouldn’t be the sole source of support) or offer no support at all.

Now don’t get me wrong, the guy doing the tutorials is a dry as dry can be, but they convey a lot of great information, so hats off to Mvelopes (Finicity) for creating that resource.

Mvelopes Support

The Mvelopes Support area allows you to search a knowledge base, see the most popular answers, log in to check the status of a question you’ve asked, ask a question, or provide feedback to Mvelopes (Finicity). You’ll also notice on the right that you can do Live Chat with their customer support or sign up for a “free” session of personal money management coaching.

A Word on the Coaching

I signed up as “interested” and was called and given the pitch about coaching. The man I spoke to, whose name eludes me at the moment, was pleasant and the sales pitch was in no way boiler room or hard-nosed. He really tried to tell me that they do a comprehensive plan to address every aspect of personal finance, but the coaching is centered around the software application.

I did finally get him to disclose the pricing and it was somewhere in the neighborhood of $100 per hour if I remember correctly. I let him know that I was not interested in signing up for the coaching. I haven’t received any followup calls or anything like that, so they’re definitely not hard core on the sales tactics.

Mvelopes (Finicity) Forums

The forums appear to be fairly active. There’s no public display of a member count, but you see at least a few posts per day. There’s only one forum dedicated to the actual Mvelopes (Finicity) Money Manager (the application itself) so it can be kind of tough to navigate because topics can range from “How do I handle credit cards” to something like how to handle money you’re owed.

The lurking in Mvelopes forum is prettty high, with a lot of views, but not a lot of actual replies. What this basically implies is that the userbase takes a bit more than it receives — not necessarily a bad thing at all.

Homes Loans (?)

Mvelopes actually pushes home mortgages right in their app. This is something that reminds me an awful lot of Quicken and (even worse) MS Money. When you click on the Home Loans link you’re presented with this:

So basically if you sign up and become a loan lead for US Bank, then Mvelopes (Finicity) will give you 90 days as a free trial instead of just the standard 30. The only thing I don’t like about this is the fact that Mvelopes is getting out of the area of providing software and into lead generation. Most software apps do this because the potential revenue is too enticing for them to pass by.  Whether it eventually distracts the company from their core of providing great personal finance software is something waiting to be seen.

Mvelopes (Finicity) Pricing

While I personally feel the price is too steep, I also recognize that Mvelopes is one of those personal finance software applications that actually helps people get into a better financial situation and so it makes it hard to say it’s overpriced. I don’t see Quicken or MS Money being able to make the same claim to fame in regards to truly caring about changing people’s lives for the better.

The Mvelopes pricing is as follows:

  • 2 Year Plan: $189.60 automatically charged every other year – Best Value
  • 1 Year Plan: $129.60 automatically charged every year (equivalent to just $10.80 per month)
  • Quarterly Plan: $39.60 automatically charged every 3 months (equivalent to only $13.20 per month)

The Mvelopes 14-Day Free Trial

Unfortunately, the free trial has been shortened from 30 days to 14 days now. When I previously signed up for the Mvelopes 30-day free trial multiple times, I never had a problem canceling. There have been some major gripes regarding their policy however. I’ll highlight the point in the Mvelopes (Finicity) User Agreement that has caused a lot of grief for users in the past:

TO AVOID BEING CHARGED THE FULL AMOUNT OF THE SERVICE PLAN IN WHICH YOU ARE ENROLLED, YOU MUST CANCEL YOUR SERVICE BEFORE THE END OF THE FREE TRIAL PERIOD THROUGH LIVE CHAT..

IF YOU CANCEL ANY TIME AFTER THE EXPIRATION DATE OF A FREE TRIAL OR ANY SUBSEQUENT BILLING CYCLE YOU WILL BE CHARGED THE FULL AMOUNT OF THE SERVICE PLAN FOR WHICH YOU ARE ENROLLED..

ONCE A FREE TRIAL PERIOD IS OVER, YOUR SERVICE WILL AUTOMATICALLY CONTINUE AT THE SERVICE PLAN RATE YOU CHOSE UNLESS YOU CALL TO CANCEL VIA LIVE CHAT.

What was basically happening? You have to cancel via the live chat.  Most of the problems that people encountered were when they were trying to cancel through another channel.  Should Mvelopes allow you to cancel in other ways? Yes.  But is it reason not to give the trial a go? No.

Give it a try.  It’s free. If you don’t like it, just cancel via the chat within the 14 days.

*Update: Mvelopes has now instituted a policy where users are emailed 10 days before the renewal of their service agreement. However, Mvelopes has not changed their no-refund policy. I’m not saying don’t give it a try, I’m just saying that you need to make sure you cancel within the designated 14-day time frame if you’re not going to be using the service!  (It’s your fault if you don’t! You know the terms!)

Mvelopes (Finicity) Overall Conclusion

Mvelopes will get the job done when it comes to truly being proactive and managing your money — instead of just reacting to problems that are long past. While it’s certainly on the pricier side of the equation, it’s effective, so I don’t hesitate one bit in recommending it. It could use some updating as far as look, feel, and polish (along with some UI tweaks to make navigation a bit easier) to remove some of the clunky feel that comes along with being several years old, but functionaly it’s still very sound.

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