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Personal Finance Gets Renewed Web Focus

BOSTON ( TheStreet) -- As the year draws to a close, retirement-investment firms are prepping their social-media strategies and online offerings.

Throughout the year, many firms added Web features and online calculators related to Roth IRA conversions. New sites and applications are offering more broad-based financial advice. Here's what some of the biggest companies are doing now.

TIAA-CREF: TIAA-CREF last week announced its first application for Apple's (AAPL - Get Report) iPhone. The TIAA-CREF Savings Simplifier, free on Apple's iTunes, offers interactive tools related to saving for retirement and other financial goals. Users can glance at their financial future with a retirement projector, see where money is going on everyday purchases that can add up with a "What's It Worth Calculator," read news articles, listen to market-commentary podcasts, get the latest information about fund performance and contact a consultant for advice.

The app is the latest effort in TIAA-CREF's focus on the tech-savvy. The company previously launched a Facebook page and Twitter feed. In the fall, the company introduced Quick Response Codes in select print ads. The codes allow users with camera-enabled smart phones to immediately access targeted content by taking a picture of the symbol.

"We uncovered some analytics about site traffic and how people access our Web site," says Jeff Fleischman, chief digital officer for TIAA-CREF. "We found that, although we have a small number of people coming to us from mobile devices, the vast majority are coming from iPhones."

Apple aficionados, it turns out, provided a perfect audience for financial-literacy efforts.

Charles Schwab: When Charles Schwab (SCHW - Get Report) unveiled its revamped last month, it did so with an expanded focus.

Originally, the site was envisioned as a financial-literacy resource for teens and young adults. The scope is now much broader in terms of how it defines "inexperienced users."

"Adults need financial help as much as the next generation was going to need it," said Joanne Cuthbertson, publishing director for Schwab Community Services. "We greatly expanded the site, and it is now directed to users of all ages."

The re-launched site's interactive tools include a budget planner, savings calculator and a cost-of-debt calculator, as well as tools intended to help users set and track their budget, reach savings goals, and manage or reduce debt. Informational resources seek to offer an overview of most financial issues facing people at different stages of life: changing jobs, getting married, starting a family, getting a divorce and losing a spouse. A weekly advice column will answer questions submitted directly from visitors.

TransUnion: When TransUnion, best known as one of the "big three" credit-rating agencies, created, the goal was to set up a subscription-based site that simplified personal finance. The site, currently in "beta" test mode, will officially open Jan. 5. The annual cost of the service is $180, but a free, seven-day trial is available.

A "dashboard" layout enables users to see either a quick snapshot of their financial health or dig deeper into the details.

Among information aggregated are an individual's credit and account data; financial goals; budgeting tools; an ID-theft-risk assessment; a customized credit-standing analysis that includes a simple letter grade; and an ID-restoration service that provides members with a case manager who can close fraudulent accounts on their behalf and restore control of personal information.
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