If everyone went over their credit card statements with a fine-tooth comb and reported any questionable or unwanted charges immediately, there wouldn’t be as much need for an iPhone app like BillGuard.
But not everyone does. I know I don’t. And sometimes when I do, I notice that I’ve been billed for something every month that I never wanted to be a recurring charge. I have to track down the merchants and call or email them to cancel. If that doesn’t work or I can’t find any contact information for the source of the charge, I have to contact my credit card company and ask to have any new charges refused.
Even then, I’m out several months of fees that shouldn’t have shown up on my bill.
BillGuard, described by its developer as a “crowdsourced transaction intelligence network,” is a smart, useful, innovative iPhone app that’s simple—almost fun—to set up and use. It displays your credit card charges as they occur, flagging any that have been frequently reported by members of its network as questionable or unauthorized. You can either confirm that those charges are OK or ask BillGuard, via a simple automated reporting system, to contact the merchant on your behalf.
That’s all it does. But used conscientiously, it can help you nip those pesky unwanted charges in the bud—and save you some money and aggravation.
BillGuard doesn’t promote itself as an identity theft-prevention tool, but it can work like one if you check it regularly. Rather, its mission is to help you avoid “grey charges,” unwanted hits on your credit cards. Maybe you signed up for something and forgot about it. Or maybe the merchant used misleading, deceptive language or hid a recurring charge in fine print that you’d be unlikely to see. BillGuard claims that U.S. cardholders spend $14.3 billion in grey charges annually. So it’s a good idea to keep an eye out.
A Familiar Routine
This is the second smartphone app I’ve noticed that asks not only for a user name and password, but also a “passcode,” four numbers you’ll use for sign-in, like your ATM PIN. Once you’ve signed in (assuming you don’t actually log out, just return to the iPhone’s home screen), you only have to enter those four numbers to get back in instead of your sometimes-unwieldy login credentials. I like this.
Setup works the same way any application that connects you to a financial institution works. You select your card issuer from the list supplied or search for it if it doesn’t appear there. Enter the user name and password you use to access your account online, and BillGuard takes a few minutes to set up the connection, showing you a helpful instructional video while you’re waiting. You can add up to two cards for free, but after that, you’ll pay a one-time fee of $9.99 to add up to 10.
BillGuard’s dashboard, its home page, displays a small window and four navigational buttons. Your total credit card debt incurred so far in the current month appears in the window. You can click on the four icons provided to see four different groups of credit card transactions: Priority (transactions from merchants that the “crowd” has reported as a potential problem); Recent (your newest charges); Recurring (and this is where the problem often occurs: periodic—usually monthly—charges that you may or may not want); and All transactions.
(An unnecessary but nice touch: When the “You’re All Clear” message appears, you can click an icon to have the inspirational quote displayed sent to Facebook, Twitter or a personal text. There’s no white noise in BillGuard.)
Help with Transactions
BillGuard makes good use of the iPhone’s navigational tools, though you can’t always return to the dashboard with a single click. On the home page, there are icons in the upper right and left corners. One opens your utilities menu, and the other lets you add another card. As you move deeper into the app, you’ll use navigational buttons like “Back” and “Cancel” to reverse directions.
You can do one of two things when you’re viewing a list of transactions. Tapping on it provides additional details about the merchant and transaction, and gives you “OK” and “Follow Up” buttons. Clicking “OK” turns the transaction green in your list, and “Follow-Up” opens another small window of options. If you click the “Help Me Recognize This” button, BillGuard provides links that let you ask a friend about it on email or via text; the third opens a Google search.
Or you can swipe the transaction entry right to mark it as being approved by you. Swiping it left adds a “Report/Contact Merchant” button. Clicking on it opens the “Report Charge” window, where you can select your problem from a list that includes “Stolen Card,” “Forgotten Charge,” and “Hidden Fee.” You’ll be able to enter text expanding on that, and then you have to authorize BillGuard to contact the merchant for you.
A Simple, Friendly Solution
Personal finance management applications are just getting started when they connect to your financial institution and download transactions. They have many other features. BillGuard is much less complex. It’s smart in more than one way, though. First, it draws on the experience of other consumers to let you know when what you’re experiencing with a particular merchant is widespread.
And second, it’s smart because it has isolated one element of personal finance that can get lost in the noise of more robust applications. It provides a quick and easy solution to one clearly-defined problem–Grey Charges. Which are you more likely to do: pore over your printed or downloaded credit card statement, or pull out your iPhone and spend a minute or two with a cool app?
If another company is providing this kind of service as well or better than BillGuard, I’m not aware of it. But I do know BillGuard is one personal finance app I’m going leave on my iPhone long after I’ve finished testing it.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc