How The Free vs. Paid Debate Is Playing Out With Personal Finance Online


Credit: Quicken

In the battle for the online personal finance market, free has become the status quo. Both startup and rival Quicken Online have amassed more than one million members each by charging zilch for their services. Now, though, both companies are seriously exploring charging for some features. Quicken Online GM Todd Stanley (pictured left) says he believes consumers will be willing to ante up to monitor their investments online or to track their finances via their phones. For its part, Mint, which has set hefty revenue goals for itself, says it, too, is considering introducing some premium, fee-based options. One example, according to CEO Aaron Patzer: a service that lets users pull multiple credit reports directly into Mint and then tracks their credit scores (For more on Mint, see this interview we ran with Patzer).

For Quicken, charging would represent something of a turnabout. In October, the company dropped the $2.99 a month subscription fee that was part of the launch of Quicken Online. Stanley says the company discovered that there was an “overwhelming bias” towards a free offering and decided to embrace it. There’s no question, however, that while Quicken was charging for its product, Mint managed to capture much of the buzz around the online personal-money-management market, and Quicken has had to since fight perceptions that is lagging among the young adult category, for example.

BusinessWeek, for instance, reported in a piece with the adoring headline “Mint’s Fresh Take On Personal Finance” that Mint was gaining ground among young adults, while Quicken Online was attracting baby boomers — obviously an important, albeit less sexy demographic. Stanley counters that all the online services are attracting a user base more similar than different. To differentiate its service, Quicken is trying to hammer home the message with users — and potential users — that its service is aimed at people who live paycheck to paycheck, highlighting throughout its site how much users can safely spend. Remains to be seen how that category of users will react once they learn that they may have to pay to use new features.

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