Thursday, July 23, 2009

DebtGoal Adds Aggregating Features

We’ve written a lot about DebtGoal (here and here)in the past here at PLR, so it seems like a good idea to point out some new features they’ve recently launched.

DebtGoal now has aggregating capabilities now! This will make the data-entry a lot simpler. Previously it required you to enter your statement, interest rate, new purchases and all payments made. I sometimes make several payments in a month, depending on how business is going, so I was spending a lot of time on the DebtGoal site punching in numbers.

DebtGol continues to improve the usefulness of their charts and graphs as relevant to the user interactive experience, however the “on track” features are still a little wonky. The sum of my minimum monthly payments is just $26. DebtGoal is “pushing” me to go to $91. Following this plan, I’ll be debt free sometime in 2045. Yay for me! Actually, we’re planning to be free and clear by the end of this year following a far more aggressive plan) DebtGoal’s slider will only go as far as $91, so I’ll play with it more and fudge my minimum payments a bit higher to see if that makes it work right for me.

What I’d really love to see DebtGoal do, is to add a calculator like CNN’s.The CNN calculator allows you to either choose what you can pledge towards your goal and get a date from that; or choose a date and get a dollar goal. So far, I haven’t found a way to change my DebtGoal “debt free date” to 12/31/09.

I see the value in most of the tools on the site, but my favorite parts are the blog and message boards, which are a wealth of information—especially for math nerds like myself who enjoy seeing compound interest reversed and reduced.

And yes, while DebtGoal is aggregating now, I’m passing on that feature and continue to manually-enter my data. I begged for an aggregating feature, but I’m still concerned about their ability to scale, and after my previous adventure—receiving someone else’s statement—I want to give them a little more time to work out any kinks that might arise before I air any more of my financial laundry than necessary.

Jessica Ward is a freelance writer and blogger from Seattle. She writes on family, money and business. For frugal family tips you can also see her blog at

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Where You Can Borrow and Lend With is back in business with the blessing of the SEC. Not all of the states are on board, however, and Prosper is working to gain approval in the rest of the states. Here's a quick and easy list of where Prosper has gained licensees so far (updated late July, 2009).

Borrowers Lenders
District of Columbia
New Hampshire
New Jersey
New Mexico
New York
North Carolina
Rhode Island
South Carolina
South Dakota
West Virginia
New York
South Carolina
South Dakota


Jessica Ward is a freelance writer based in the Seattle area. She writes on finances, business and family.

Review of SimpliFi: Virtual Financial Advisor

We wrote in the Winter about SimpliFi—a winner of the “best of show” award at Finovate Startup. SimpliFi is in private Beta right now and available to test drive so I took it for a spin this afternoon.

SimpliFi is a financial health assessment tool and bills itself as a “virtual investment advisor.” SimpliFi is even registered with the SEC as a Registered Investment Advisor.

The Web site is well organized, easy to use and clear. It doesn’t confuse the reader with mumbo-jumbo and I think would be accessible for individuals with any level of financial knowledge.

“Sophie,” the “virtual advisor” gives you the impression of a consultation, rather than working with a calculator, but ultimately to me, the results felt far more like a calculator.

After entering annual incomes for each member of our family and annual retirement account amounts, I was surprised to see that “Sophie” calculated the take-home-pay and taxes, and then returned a monthly take-home amount which was way off base. The system assumes that our retirement accounts are 401Ks with a monthly amount contributed. That is true for one job which has two retirement accounts drawn from it (there was only an option to show one), but for my retirement account, I write a check for $5,000 at the end of the year to fully-fund my IRA. I’ll have to fudge the numbers on this by saying I don’t have a retirement account, but instead have a short-term savings account depositing $416/mo, but I’m not sure how to record interest or growth except for to log in and empty the virtual “savings account” and manually adjust-up the 401K account.

Sophie doesn’t know we claim two children as deductions (you can enter this, but it’s not in the location you would expect to find it, nor is there a prompt to ask the question).

It took me a little monkeying around to discover I’d made a data-entry error in my account set up that made my monthly mortgage payment greater than the outstanding balance of my mortgage. I could tell that something was wrong (who has an annual budget shortfall of over $400,000…besides Congress?). I’d love to see a balance sheet that would allow me to check my data-entry work. Instead I flipped through every screen to try to tell where I’d made the mistake. Additionally, the automatic conversion from my annual data entry to the monthly result was confusing to me, because it didn’t tell me that it was going to do that.

The confusion continues when I see that SimpliFi promises to never sell me anything, but then provides free service by advertising products I might need. Maybe it’s the copywriter in me, but those two messages shouldn’t appear in the same collateral for any product.

Finally, I’m no professional, and I’m not registered with the SEC, but I respectfully disagree with Sophie’s investment advice. I’ve worked with several investment planners and they all scream bloody murder when they see how much life insurance I carry (about 4x the recommended amount). What they don’t know is that I have a special needs child, and want to ensure she has care if anything happens to my husband and I. Sophie didn’t bat an eye—or send a digital protest that I was over-insured (seeing as how eye-batting is a digital impossibility in her domain).

Also, Sophie recommended a massive reallocation of investments, including moving 32% of our investments to bonds. Are you kidding me? A two-income household with both adults under the age of 30, not planning to retire until 72, and we should have a third of our investments in bonds? I’ve certainly never heard *that* one from either of my planners.

Sophie also suggested I increase my monthly payment on my credit card to roughly 2/3 of my monthly income. Since Sophie doesn’t have to eat or feed children, perhaps that would be a reality for her, but my budget can only tolerate a payment of 1/6 of that. Sophie’s recommend “emergency fund” would keep our household operational for just six weeks. Perhaps she doesn’t live in the Pacific Northwest, where the economy comes and goes with volcanoes, earthquakes and tides?

All of this aside, Sophie gives me a B+ in my “Goal Point Average” for my 20 minutes of effort. I’m afraid I’ve got to give Sophie a D-, mostly for cool graphics and ease of use. The investment advice just isn’t my style. That said, I guess her plan is better than none at all, and I can see many potential improvements that could make this system very useful (for instance, I’d love to see it integrated with my actual balance sheet in Mint (then Sophie might know what it costs to feed my kids…).

Jessica Ward is a full-time freelance writer in the Seattle area. She writes on family and personal finance. You can follow her on Twitter as @jessc098 or read more about her family’s penny-pinching adventures at

Friday, July 17, 2009

Kiva Adds Currency Risk Protection

I recently read Banker to the Poor by Muhammad Yunus, and was surprised that one of the primary barriers to stability in the microfinance business is currency fluctuations between countries.

It makes sense that the countries most vulnerable and in need of microfinance are often the countries at the greatest risk for fluctuations.

That of course got me thinking about my own Kiva Account. Would my paltry $25 be there to re-loan when the loan was repaid?

It doesn’t surprise me to see that Kiva has already thought about that. In June, launched a currency risk protection tool to better protect Kiva Borrowers against fluctuations in their borrower’s native currency.

The tool works by limiting the foreign currency risk for field partners to a devaluation of 20%. Any amounts beyond that is shared by Kiva lenders, if the field partner organization has selected to use the currency protection tool.

Next time you fund a Kiva loan you can check on this by viewing “About the Loan.” In the section there is a label titled “Currency Risk” and there are three risk statuses.
1. Covered: If the field partner has not opted in to the risk sharing program.
2. Possible: if the field partner has opted in to risk sharing.
3. N/A: if the partner doesn’t need to take risk precautions as they disburse loans in US Dollars.

Jessica Ward is a freelance writer and blogger in the Seattle, WA area. She writes on family, money and business. You can learn more about her projects at

Thursday, July 16, 2009 Poised to Issue P2P Student Loans This Fall

I had the opportunity to hold an email interview with Alan Samuels, Chief Product Officer at People Capital this past week regarding their new P2P student loan platform.

People Capital will be launching this fall—first to institutional accredited investors under a private placement memorandum, and later they’ll be filling a S-1 to open their platform to all prospective peer to peer lenders.

People Capital will be providing legally-compliant “private student loans” which are not bankrupt-able, unlike other P2P loans. Mr. Samuels cites a potential $113 Billion gap in federal college funding limits and the actual costs of college attendance in the USA as a growing market for these private student loans. Also, many lenders are shying away from investing in student loans due to college students' lack of established credit history and the difficulty of measuring risk without a credit score.

Samuels explained to me how People Capital can navigate this marketplace better than any of the competition due to their patent-pending “Human Capital Score” which is a proprietary underwriting tool. The Human Capital Score will include the students’ field of study, test scores, and GPA to determine the student’s creditworthiness.

Loans will be available on a long term or short term basis, and a requirement of being a legally-compliant private student loan, enrollment verification is mandated. Like other P2P loans funding isn’t guaranteed, and depends on how attractive the borrower’s request is to prospective lenders, and how large the pool of lenders is.

People Capital is in Series B funding, and has just received an additional $500,000 from The Serious Change Fund, helmed by investor Josh Mailman. (Source: WealthReview News)

Jessica Ward is a freelance writer in the Seattle area and writes on family and finances. You can follow her on Twitter as @Jessc098

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

P2P Lending Co. NanoFin opens in India

NanoFin Enterprises, opened this month in Chennai, India to provide peer-to-peer lending using the Internet, similar to Prosper Marketplace and Lending Club.

According to a company press release, the venture is an attempt to consolidate the unorganized credit market and bring the borrower and lender under one roof for transacting business.

The initiative will facilitate direct interaction between lenders and borrowers in the same local area (matching lenders and borrowers via geography vs. risk like American firms). Loans will be available for education, personal, auto, business, home and equipment ranging from Rs 5,000 to Rs 2 lakh. (The smallest loans will be about $100 USD).

Nonofin will offer lenders and borrowers the opportunity to agree together on the amount of the loan, interest rates and the terms and conditions of the loan. In the NanoFin model, lenders must pay a fee of Rs 1,000 (about $20 USD) to become a member of NanoFin’s community.

I can’t help but wonder how they’ll manage the geographical matching of borrowers—what if a loan goes bad? Will there be a concern about neighbors taking enforcement of the loan into their own hands?

The Web site is available in English at

Jessica Ward is a freelance writer based in the Seattle area. She writes on family, money and more. You can read more at or

Monday, July 13, 2009

Looks Like is On Its Way Back!

I recieved an email this morning from Investar of the SEC Prosper and Investing Forums (The "quiet diary") about a possible re-launch of today.

I checked out Prosper, and sure enough, another one of those ominous "down for maintenance" pages like we saw the day before the Finovate Conference.

Paraphrasing Investar's email he says that the US SEC approved Prosper's new securitized note trading platform at 3:30 PM on Friday, and that they pulled the site down over the weekend through Monday.

Looks like we might get (another) launch tomorrow from Really looking forward to seeing them back into the P2P world.

Thanks Investar for sharing the info, we really do appreciate it.