Learnvest Review: How Good Is This Budgeting Tool?

When Alexa von Tobel set LearnVest up originally, she had intended it to be a financial planning tool aimed at women. However, since it was bought in March 2015 by Northwestern Mutual, the way LearnVest is marketed and designed has changed. In many ways this is to the advantage of LearnVest. After all, it certainly isn’t only women who are in need of free online help with their budgeting and financial planning. But what does LearnVest actually offer? And is it any good? Our LearnVest review will answer these questions.

What does LearnVest Do?

Let’s start with the basics. LearnVest is a financial planning website, similar to competitors like Mint.com, which helps you take control of your finances. It’s free to sign up, and when you set up a membership, you give LearnVest access to all your financial accounts, including your bank account, credit cards and loans. LearnVest has a “My Money Center” which organises all this information and collates it.

So far, so straightforward. Once you’ve logged all your information in the Money Center, you can then use LearnVest’s tools to track your spending, organise your budget, and keep an eye on your transactions. It doesn’t do anything you couldn’t do yourself, but if you’ve tried the do-it-yourself method and found your money spiralling out of control, LearnVest might be a better option. Plus, this part of the service is all free.

LearnVest does have some additional tools that require subscriptions. $69.00 will get you access to a financial expert, Budget Plan and a budgeting course for three months.

$229 gets you a financial expert for 6 months, access to all the courses LearnVest offers, and a Core Financial Plan.

$349, the most expensive package, gets you a year’s access to the financial expert, access to all LearnVest courses, and a Complete Financial Plan. The additional courses help you learn about retirement planning, investment, budgeting, and five year plans.

What you get out of LearnVest depends on how much you want to put into it, but it’s worth noting that even the most expensive plan is still far more accessible in financial terms than paying for an actual financial advisor.

These educational courses are where LearnVest’s background shows. This website was set up to teach people how to manage their money, rather than just to do it for people, and this gives LearnVest an edge over Mint.Com and other sites. The advice center on LearnVest, too, is superior to what other free websites offer.

On LearnVest, if you don’t want to actually link your accounts, you can also enter transactions manually, which might be appealing for those worried about security issues. Mint.Com is a little more automated — on Learnvest, you need to insert estimates for recurring bills, which Mint.Com can deduce without your input. But the level of automation is a personal preference issue.

LearnVest Review: Significant Features

The education section on LearnVest, as noted, is one of its biggest pros, and it does touch on investing here. But the primary focus of Learnvest is on budgeting, and teaching people how to budget. So it makes sense that its most significant features are about making budgets.

There are news and information sections, but the Smart Budget — which you get with your free account — is LearnVest’s biggest sell. You put in your income, loans, expenses, any assets you have, and tell it what your priorities are for spending.

The SmartBudget can be a bit limited if you haven’t linked up your accounts, but it is possible to input everything manually, although this takes longer. LearnVest also comes with a Financial Checkup that shows you how all your finances are balanced alongside each other. You can see this feature, alongside many others, on the LearnVest app, which currently only exists for iOS. Supposedly there are plans to launch an Android version of this app in the future.

Learnvest review: the budget planning interface

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User Points of View

The truest and most helpful LearnVest review comes, of course, from people who have used it organically on a day to day basis.

Looking at online forums, it seems that reviews vary. Most people agree that LearnVest’s educational articles are incredibly useful, and that there is often new information there as well as basic stuff. The free account saves time for people who were previously spending a lto of time going through monthly statements and adding up how much was spent on each area of their budget. LearnVest divides up your expenses for you into sections and priorities, meaning you don’t have to do this yourself. Others have said that LearnVest is great for anyone who can’t afford a financial planner because it suggests new tips for budgeting that they wouldn’t have thought of on their own — such as working out how much is spent on “fun” over the course of a year, dividing this by 12, and then budgeting that amount per month to go towards fun spending.

The paid element of LearnVest, however, has come under some fire from users. “Access” to a financial advisor seems to actually mean two phone calls per month, lasting around one hour. Some reviewers have stated that these can be quite impersonal, and that there is no leeway for more phone calls or access beyond this. The price paid is thought by some to be quite elevated for this level of actual support.

Another element that has frustrated some paying users is that deadlines are set for completion of budgets and similar before the financial advisors can be accessed. While one could argue that failure to keep deadlines might have been what’s caused these people to need budget help in the first place, it’s never nice to feel bullied when using a paid service.

LearnVest Review Summary

Overall, it seems that LearnVest’s free features are generally found to be useful, particularly by those who’ve struggled to budget on their own. It’s accessible on iOS, which is a plus, and the interface is simple to access and connect to your financial accounts. Its educational resources set it apart from other sites. It doesn’t have an investment focus, but it has never claimed to. The paid features, however, have not been so well received as the free budgeting tools, so if you do need a financial advisor, it may be worth comparing the price of a human advisor to see whether this might fit your needs better.