Collective outrage lit up the Twittersphere after Donald Trump deflected blame for a whopping $925 million tax write-off, but several personal finance apps used it as a teachable moment.
Trump loyalists echoed their candidate’s claim of intelligence in gaming the system for his own advantage, and Lemon COO Kyle Robertson agrees — up to a point.
“Wealthy people are fanatical about how the tax code works in order to discover where the loopholes are so they can pay the least,” said the promoter of the automated financial planner and money tracker.
Yet there is a fundamental lack of financial understanding among those at or near the poverty line as well as among freelancers.
“I’m a writer and it’s been tricky trying to manage my income from gig to gig,” said Olivia Isenhart, 22, a music journalist. “You may get paid for five projects all at the same time and then nothing for a few months making it hard to figure out how to budget.”
The makers of the Lemon app as well as those of its prime competitor, Mint, aim to fill this knowledge gap among everyday Americans whose financial aspirations may be as simple as paying off student debt or not getting fleeced on a home mortgage.
“We have heard countless success stories from people who have used our free app to buy a house or get out of thousands of dollars of debt,” said Mint spokeswoman Kimmie Greene.
Kelsey Folmar, 29, did both and she has been singing Mint’s praises ever since.
“I call myself the poster girl for Mint,” Folmar said with a laugh.
The Austin native graduated from college in 2008 just as the American economy went bottom up. For the next four years she and her husband worked minimum-wage jobs and the prospect of paying off their $17,000 in collective student loan debt was a long-term dream.
Five tools on the app made her debt-free goal a reality in nine months. Isenhart, the newly-made Mint app convert, had a more rhythmic goal: saving up for a $1,000 Bose stereo system and a Sony record player.
“I used Mint to figure out where we had leaks in our budget,” Folmar said, later confessing that she and her husband didn’t even have a budget pre-Mint.
Explaining the technology bundled into the apps to keep the financial data secure is enough to leave even Twitter’s former senior engineer and current Lemon CEO Byron Sorrells dependent on tech jargon like “256-bit encryption,” but the concept is simple: Link your bank account to the app on your smartphone so you can track where your money is going in real time.
A distinguishing characteristic of Mint is that it categorizes expenses for you. At the end of every week, month or year, you can see a line-item breakdown of where your money is going.
“It’s probably the simplest thing about Mint, but also the best,” Isenhart said. “Everything is all in one place, and you can see how many outstanding debts or payments you have relative to your income.”
The data is exportable to Excel, or it can be seen as a visually-crisp pie chart on Mint.
Early on, Folmar noticed that her husband was routinely shelling out $5.67 per day for a soda and a snack at a local convenience store that snowballed into $130 per month. Mint enabled her to spot leaks like this.
“It’s easy to remember the big expenses, like getting your car repaired, but what you don’t think about are all the small things — the coffee you get every day or that snack at 3:00 p.m,” Isenhart said.
By linking their loans as well as a joint bank account to Mint, Folmar could set more ambitious but realistic goals for monthly payments that would pay off their debt sooner rather than later.
It just does not make sense to have much-needed capital drained by the interest on a loan.
“I owed 4.4 percent APR on the loan,” Folmar said. “I could pay it off in four years, but I paid it off in much less.”
Folmar’s $8.00 per hour wages are behind her, but she still keeps a lid on expenses. She’s also raised enough money for a down payment on her house, added $20,000 for retirement and paid for the cost of raising her 1-year-old, Eleanor.
Using an app like Mint is comparable to having a personal financial adviser. Through customizable e-mail updates, the app encourages you to save money.
“I just got a new record player and stereo system which is essential to my job as a music journalist,” Isenhart said, “And with Mint I was able to save money that much faster.”
Credit Score Visibility:
After a few simple steps, your credit score is tallied, and it is right there every time you open the app.
“Before Mint, I did not have a good understanding of how to achieve a good credit score. It was sort of like black magic to me,” Isenhart said.
Besides being front and center, Mint also sends you warnings. For example, if you are using more than 60 percent of your credit line in any given week, Mint will send a reminder that this might be damaging to your credit score as well advice on how to improve your existing credit score.
“I can get kind of paralyzed when I don’t know how something works,” Isenhart said. “Before, I would be afraid to check my credit score and not know how it works.”
When it comes to emulating Trump’s financial acumen, however, reviews are mixed.
“I think it’s pretty offensive what he said during the debate — that it’s smart to try to find workarounds to paying federal income tax,” Isenhart said.
Meanwhile, Samir Talwar, a certified public accountant who worked for Ernst & Young before landing his current job as a vice president at Bank of America, saw nothing wrong with Trump’s tax moves.
He had a different criticism, however.
“What is more disconcerting is calling yourself a successful businessman and having a billion-dollar loss,” Talwar said.