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Four personal finance technology trends for 2012

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If you're one of the holdouts still paying bills with checks or tracking your accounts with pen and paper, 2012 could be the year you take the digital plunge.

A host of budding personal finance services and applications are poised to go mainstream this year, and together, they likely will have a big impact on the way Americans bank, shop and track their finances.

Some of the services are Web-based, but many take advantage of the proliferation of smartphones.

Here are some personal finance technologies to watch in 2012:

 

  • Mobile money: The launch in September of Google Wallet was just one high-profile move toward the use of smartphones for payments, replacing credit or debit cards.

The technology allows users to wave their phones in front of payment terminals and have transactions deducted from linked bank accounts or credit cards.

Expect more options for electronic payments from mobile service providers and card networks this year, as well as wider adoption of the terminals by retailers, mass transit systems and more.

Another innovation that is already being heavily promoted is person-to-person payments. American Express Co., MasterCard Inc., Visa Inc. and PayPal all offer ways for their customers to send and receive money using links to various accounts and cards.

 

  • Non-bank money management: Mint.com, the popular personal finance site, was only the beginning. A raft of new money-management tools are now available that can help users keep track of bills, investments and other aspects of their financial lives.

Among the standouts is Manilla.com, which not only pulls together household bills and financial accounts but also helps users keep track of details like travel rewards points and magazine subscriptions.

The service provides reminders for when bills are due and has features that make it easy to pay bills or set up automatic payments.

There's even a way to store electronic account statements. And the company has a smartphone app for accessing all these functions on the go.

Other non-bank options include Pageonce, an app that automatically tracks bills and enables users to make payments on their phone; SavvyMoney.com, a site that offers debt-management help; and Betterment.com, a site designed to simplify investing.

 

  • Targeted deals: The combination of geo-location technology that can track your movements when you're carrying your smartphone, and QR codes, those weird squares appearing more and more often in advertising, is enabling companies to offer personalized discounts and on-the-spot deals to customers willing to opt into their programs.

Mall shoppers already have started getting texts and emails designed to lure them into certain stores, and the technology also can be used to encourage customers to enter contests, demonstrate new apps or products, and even contact customer service.

 

  • Social commerce: Javelin Strategy & Research, a financial services research firm, is using this term to identify the trend toward the combination of commerce and social networking on sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

The concept of financial social networking also is being expanded by companies like Weemba.com, whose site allows individuals to search for a loan by posting nontraditional details like a description of the need for the money.

The details posted add depth to the usual credit score and financial information that banks and other funders may review, and the site opens the lending request to a wider audience.

Other examples of the use or concept of social networking include Kickstarter.com, where creative types can seek funding for their artistic endeavors.

SaveUp.com is a game aimed at helping individuals pay down debt and build savings, and Bundle.com uses data tracking and spending information to produce lists of popular restaurants and stores in selected cities, helping users find the right spot at the right price.

Banks also are experimenting with ways to make use of social networking to interact with customers, with some success. Even Bank of America Corp., a recurring target for gripes large and small, has nearly 365,000 "likes" on its official Facebook page.

Customers can expect more on these fronts from startups and big financial institutions in the next 12 months.

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