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Websites that help you budget better

Money movements are less muddled, allowing you to see accounts all in one place.

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First, it happened to word processing and photo editing. Now, personal finance management has entered the nebula of "cloud computing," where Web-based applications slowly replace software installed on a computer hard drive.

A handful of websites are helping users build and manage their own budgets free of charge. By monitoring websites run by banks, credit- and debit-card companies, brokerages, and other financial institutions, these sites allow you to put your financial activity in one place

Mint, Quicken Online, Geezeo, Buxfer, Justthrive, and a few others will gather an individual's financial information over secure links daily to present a comprehensive financial picture. Each site offers different tools to illustrate this snapshot (spending comparisons, financial health scores, social network discussion pages, etc.). But all feature some form of spending tracking and budget building, which can help users stretch their dollars and avoid losses such as late fees and overdrafts.

After registering with any of these sites, users can then provide account numbers, pin numbers, and any necessary passwords required for clearance. The sites are all insistent about their safety, using encrypted connections and promising bank-level security. And since you can't use these sites to move money, potential hackers can't either; all connections are "read only."

No online transaction is absolutely safe, however, so be sure to examine the security certificates and policies of any site before trusting it with sensitive information.

While many people prefer to not give up their bank passwords, thousands already have. Mint alone claims 600,000 users, making it bigger than all of its competitors combined, says CEO and founder Aaron Pratzer, adding that his website has seen registrations more than double since the current financial crisis hit.

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