A decade ago, the best option for the typical investor who wanted to track investments was a software program called Microsoft Money. It allowed average people to track their portfolio of stocks, bonds, mutual funds, real estate, cash equivalents, and certificates of deposit (CDs).
Microsoft Money was capable of keeping records on an individual account basis, such as for a specific 401(k) or Roth IRA, as well as the entire household. It handled dividend reinvestment programs, calculated each position's tax basis, and pulled real-time updates from internet stock quotes to give up-to-date information.
In the years that have passed since Microsoft announced it was ending the program, several alternatives have become available, some of which are hosted online under the software as a service model while others are programs you can install on your computer.
Here are a few of the most popular options that you might want to consider if you want to track your investments.
Track Your Investments Online
The following service providers allow you to log in to your account online anywhere in the world, as long as you have an internet connection.
- Client Portals: If you are an affluent or high-net-worth investor, you probably work with either a financial advisor or an asset management group directly. These days, it is common for them to have online portals for clients that allow the client to track his or her entire financial life, including so-called "held away" assets at different firms. These portals are powerful tools that make life much easier and are often covered by the investment advisory fees you pay your professional.
- Personal Capital: For investors not working with a more traditional Registered Investment Advisor, Personal Capital has become one of the most popular ways to track investments. It currently has more than 12 million clients and $800 billion in assets under management. The software-as-a-service creates charts and graphs mapping out income, spending, and portfolio holdings. It can compare your performance to your preferred stock market index and analyze your assets to give you an idea of your true exposure to certain companies across multiple accounts and institutions. It digs into your 401(k) plan to help you understand the mutual fund expense ratio you are paying on your retirement package.
- Mint.com: Another very popular investment tracking website, Mint.com, allows you to enter your account information from other institutions and have it all aggregated on a single screen. You can then set budgets for yourself, see how much you are spending on specific categories, track the investment fees you are paying, and compare your individual accounts to benchmarks such as the S&P 500 or Dow Jones Industrial Average.
- Morningstar.com: Those who subscribe to Morningstar.com can not only get access to their ratings on stocks and mutual funds but set up online portfolios as well. It has a special feature that none of the others offer, called X-Ray. This X-Ray tool lets you enter your mutual funds, and it then shows you what your actual portfolio holdings are by breaking down the underlying stocks held within each of those funds. For example, if you owned $1,000,000 worth of the Vanguard S&P 500 index fund across your 401(k), Roth IRA, SEP-IRA, and brokerage account, it would lay out the amount of each specific stock you own. This is because the index doesn't actually exist—you're buying individual stocks through a pooled structure.
Track Your Investments with Spreadsheets
For those who want an added measure of control over their investment tracking, custom spreadsheets are among the best options. There are typically two major choices in this category.
- Microsoft Excel: Though its ability to import real-time stock quotes is inadequate for the average investor, Microsoft Excel can be used to track the cost basis for taxes on individual lots, as well as calculate aggregate dividend income or map it out on a dividend schedule, including warning you about an ex-dividend date.
- Google Spreadsheets: Google's free online spreadsheet program isn't as powerful as Excel, but it does make it easier to have your documents automatically update with information taken from public finance such as Yahoo. In addition, because it's an internet-based program, you can log in to your Google account anywhere in the world to access your Google spreadsheets.
Using Software to Track Your Investments
Many investors still want software installed on their local system. In several instances, the desktop software includes additional features that aren't available through online programs. Generally, there are a few options.
- Quicken: If you purchase the investment version of Quicken, the typical retail investor will largely find that it meets most of their needs.
- QuickBooks: Accountants or sophisticated investors who are comfortable with Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) will like the flexibility of using a traditional accounting software program to manage their investment holdings. Some people use a mixture of spreadsheets and QuickBooks Pro to monitor their estate's assets. These days, Intuit is working hard to push everyone to their online-based platform, QuickBooks Online, which is available in multiple tiers and at multiple price points.
- Fund Manager: There is a software program called Fund Manager, which is the closest thing to professional investment tracking for retail investors. It can be very powerful, especially for those who invest in municipal bonds or corporate bonds. It tracks things such as interest accrued, the next coupon date, and yield to maturity.
Pick the Program That Works Best for You
In the end, the best investment tracking program is one that works for you. The best program in the world is worthless if you don't use it or you find it too much of a hassle.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
How do you build an investment portfolio?
To build an investment portfolio, you'll need to open a brokerage account and add funds to it. When it comes to investing those funds, there are various strategies. For example, a core-and-satellite portfolio involves selecting smaller, specialized investments to add to a single, primary investment in a large-cap equities fund.
Why is diversification important in an investment portfolio?
It isn't easy to successfully pick individual stocks. Even professional fund managers can struggle to beat market averages. By diversifying, you make it more likely that at least one of your investments will perform well. Broad index funds simplify the diversification process by offering a single product that contains diverse exposure to dozens (or even thousands) of different investments.