You’re only as good as the tools you use.
If you’re working with bad tools that break all the time, you’re going to get bad results.
If you’re working with tools that don’t make the work easier, it’s going to take twice as long to finish.
When you use a hammer, you expect to hammer in nail after nail and get the same result.
If the hammer head keeps falling off or breaking, it might be time to get a new tool.
The same goes for the investment world.
You’ve got to have investment tools that help make the right decisions. Whether that’s making the right investment, tracking that investment, or just helping you make a plan for the future.
Investment tools can be tricky.
Anything that deals with money seems to have 10x the consequences compared to any other decision.
When I was deciding which brokerage firm to start using, I spent hours researching them all.
How much were the fees? What kind of research tools do they have? Can I find those same research tools elsewhere?
On and on and on. Endlessly weighing the pros and cons.
This is why a lot of people don’t invest.
Making the decision on what tools to use can be painful and complicated.
This article will save everyone from at least a few hours of research.
If you’re like me, this will either be your starting point in the process or a validation step.
You may have heard about some of these tools in another article and are now seeing what others think.
Or this may be the first one you’ve read and will now go out to confirm that these are, in fact, great investment tools.
Either way, these are the tools I use often and I highly recommend them.
Investment Tools Definition
But first, I want to fill you in what falls into the category of “investment tools”
When most people think of financial tools, they most often think of a brokerage account.
That place you use to buy and sell stocks.
This is a common one but not the only one. Especially for people looking to achieve financial independence.
We need tools to track all our investments. Most of the time they won’t just be in the brokerage account.
You may have a 401k from work. Or maybe you opened a Roth IRA with Vanguard. There is also that savings account you have at the local credit union.
Part of being a smart investor is knowing where all your money is and what exactly it’s doing.
Then there is the research part.
Some brokerage firms have a lot of research tools, but I’ve found most are still lacking.
Those tools are great for day traders, but we’re investing for the long haul.
In general, investment tools are tools that will help us make smart, informed decisions about our financial future.
They break down into a few categories: trading, education, tracking, and analysis.
Brokerages fall into the category of trading. Trading is anywhere you buy or sell stocks, mutual funds, ETFs, etc…
Education is pretty clear. The places you can go to for great information to make informed decisions.
After making your investment, it needs tracking. You need to have a simple view of where your money is and what it’s doing.
Finally, there is analysis. These tools have a use before and after you make an investment. You need to narrow down your choices and analyze them to make a good investment.
You’ll also need to analyze your investments after their part of your portfolio to make sure they’re still good choices and fit your goals.
This is the go-to choice for buying equities (aka stocks). The main reason being is all the trades are free.
There is absolutely zero commission. The app is free to use too. Who doesn’t love free?!
That’s a rarity in the investing world. Most places at least charge $5 per trade. If you’ve only got $100 to invest this month and charged $5, you’re already down 5%.
Robinhood means you can invest small amounts without eating into our returns.
The research tools aren’t as robust as some other firms, but, like I said, most of those tools are for day traders anyways.
You’re also not able to open up an IRA or Roth IRA with Robinhood...yet. They say it’s in the works.
2. TD Ameritrade
This is a second brokerage I’m going to recommend because of their no-load ETFs and separate retirement accounts.
If you’re looking to open an IRA or Roth and use it to invest in index funds, TD Ameritrade is a great choice.
They offer a large selection of funds that are commission free.
Multpl gives you nearly every market indicator you can think of.
What’s the P/E ratio of the S&P 500? Got that.
What’s the historical earning of the S&P 500? Got that too.
Want to know the World Gas Price? No problem.
It’s a fantastic resource to compare what you’re looking to invest and the rest of the market.
For dividend investing, I mainly use the market P/E ratio and the Dividend Yield.
4. Google Finance
While Google seems to have completely forgotten about Google Finance, it’s still a fantastic tool for research.
At the most basic level, you can look up the current stock price of any company.
But it offers so much more.
Balance sheets, income statements, cash flow statements…
Annual statements and quarterly statements.
Market news as well as the most recent company news.
You can even look at domestic trends.
Google tracks queries for certain terms around domestic markets.
As an example, you can see a trend of the furniture sector. Google looks at queries for words like “furniture, lighting, clock, chair, carpet, ikea” and so forth.
It gives you a good indicator if that sector is on the decline or rising.
There also may be a glimmer of hope that Google is going to do some touch-up to the site.
Currently, there is an “Under Renovation” alert at the top of the My Portfolio page. Fingers crossed.
The main draw of Google Finance is really how clean and simple it is. You can find these numbers a lot of other places, but none offer the simplicity that Google does.
5. Personal Capital
When it comes to tracking your investments across many accounts, there isn’t a better investment tool.
Personal Capital will link all your accounts and automatically update as the information changes.
They don’t have direct access to the accounts so your money is safe. It is looking at all the data to give a clear picture of where your investments stand.
You can even link your credit cards and mortgage to get a complete picture of your net worth.
This is an important metric when trying to reach financial independence.
By connecting checking accounts and credit cards, you’re also able to track cash flows in and out each month. It’s a nice reminder of whether the budget is working or needs to adjust.
You can track the performance of your retirement account as well. See how individual investments are doing or get a snapshot of the entire portfolio.
And, last but not least, the Retirement Planner. You could spend hours on this thing.
The planner takes the accounts you’ve linked, analyzes their performance and growth, and determines how prepared you are, based on the expected retirement date.
It calculates your monthly income and projected Social Security distribution. If there are other sources of income, like a rental property, that’s easy to add.
Where you can spend hours is the Anticipate Big Expenses tool. If you’re going to have a kid, go on a trip, send a kid to college, you can simulate all those events and see how it affects your retirement.
There are so many possibilities. Plugging them in just to see what happens leads to hours upon hours of wasted time for a guy like me.
It’s really the best tool out there for tracking all your finances.
6. Ultimate Dividend Tracker
Now I’m a little biased about this one, but necessity is the mother of all invention.
This is the spreadsheet I created to track dividend investments.
There wasn’t any other tool out there that gave me all the dividend information I wanted. Most of them treated dividend stocks just like any other and focused on value growth.
As a dividend investor, I want to know how much money I’m making from dividends each month. What’s the yield of my portfolio? How much of my growth is from value vs. from dividends?
How heavy am I invested in consumer defensive? What percentage of my total dividend income comes from Johnson & Johnson?
These are all important details for dividend investors and there wasn’t anything available to simply tell me that.
After hours of searching and searching, I just made it myself.
You can go ahead and download it here for free. Enjoy!
7. Zachs Stock Screener
The best free screener available.
When first looking for stocks to invest in, you need to narrow down the list. There are a lot of stocks out there and it doesn’t make sense to look at the ones that don’t meet basic criteria.
As a dividend investor, we want to only look at stocks that pay a dividend.
With Zachs Stock Screener, you can do that.
There are hundreds of metrics you can use. All with the ability to choose custom parameters.
Once you’ve got a screen dialed in, you can save it for later use and export the results to an Excel spreadsheet.
This is why I love Zachs so much. Not only can you filter out stocks based on criteria, you can select what information you want to see.
Say I want to only look at stocks that pay a dividend. I’ll set that criteria and the screener will only return companies that have a dividend greater than 0.
Now that I have that list, there are some other numbers I want to see.
I want to see the current dividend yield, the dividend growth, the earnings per share growth, and so on.
I select the checkboxes and there they are.
The list, with all that data, can export to Excel and be manipulated however you want.
8. Portfolio Visualizer
Investors like to do things themselves. You want to make life easy on yourself, but you don’t want an advisor or robot choosing everything for you.
You want to research different options and see which one is the best for your situation.
When it comes to analyzing your asset allocation, it doesn’t get much better than Portfolio Visualizer.
Don’t let the homepage scare you. There are A LOT of things you can do with Portfolio Visualizer.
Monte Carlo simulations. Frontier analysis. Something called a Black-Litterman model.
The one I get the most out of is Backtest Asset Allocation.
With this module, you can select what percent of your portfolio is invested in a certain market class.
You’ve got bonds of all different lengths, European stocks, Pacific Stocks, US Micro cap...you name it and it’s probably there.
At any time you can create three portfolios and compare them to each other over a time range you select.
Then see which one does better.
You can see how your portfolio would have done through the Great Recession of 2008.
Portfolio Analyzer is a phenomenal investment tool to determine how well all your assets work together.
Fees are the life-sucking monster out to destroy your investment goals of financial independence.
That may sound a bit dramatic but it’s true.
Fees will slowly eat away at your returns and increase how long it will take you to reach retirement.
That’s what FeeX is fighting.
FeeX is an investment tool that analyzes how much you’re paying in fees across all your holdings.
You have the choice of manually entering assets or connecting it to your account. The connection ability is surprisingly good, especially for 401k’s.
It will then analyze all your investments to determine how much could be saved by investing in funds with lower fees.
For instance, I plugged in a simple IRA fund I have with two different Vanguard mutual funds.
It said I have average fees and, over the next 34 years, I could save an estimated $520 dollars.
FeeX will first tell you whether you have high, average, or low fees. This is determined by whether FeeX knows of similar investments out there with lower fees.
Then it takes an average return for the assets and crunches the numbers. You see what your portfolio would look like in a certain amount of years vs. what a lower fee version would look like.
FeeX even gives you the ability to add an advisor. You can then see what those advisor fees are doing to your investments.
Even if you think you’ve got a good grasp on how much you’re paying in fees, I highly recommend running your portfolio through FeeX. You’ll probably walk away surprised.
And there you have it, 9 investment tools that are sure to make you a better investor.
All of them aren’t tools you’re going to use on a daily basis. Some of them are tools that you may only use once a year.
Regardless, the point of a good tool is making your life easier.
You may only use a plunger once every blue moon, but you don't know when you'll need it...until you definitely need it!
Do you use any of these tools? Have any other recommendations?