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AARP aims to increase ranks through online app

New Web site for people not old enough to be members of AARP offers basic financial advice and some community.

The American Association of Retired Persons, or AARP, an organization with the stated mission of helping "people 50 and over improve the quality of their lives as they age," has launched a Web site for whippersnappers, people not old enough to be members, called LifeTuner. The consumer pitch is noble: It helps people set good financial habits early, while there's still time. The site and the advice and tools on it are free. AARP membership, of course, is not free. Hence the obvious business case for the service: It can help people retire so they can afford the dues. Everybody wins.

In a roundabout way, LifeTuner is also a benefit to existing AARP members, as the organization's research shows that 69 percent of them, "provide financial support to their adult-age children." This site could knock that number down a notch, a clear bonus for all involved.

The service itself is made up of a community system (forums, blogs, scheduled chats), expert advice articles and interactive features, various handy calculators, and a Flash-based app, My Financial Tuner, that will tell you how far ahead of, or behind, the curve you are on having the appropriate budget for your particular financial situation.

The My financial Tuner app will tell you how behind the eight ball you are. Screenshot by Rafe Needleman/CNET

The Financial Tuner app reminds me of a feature on Mint, which can check your spending against demographically similar groups. Mint, though, checks your actual spending. The Tuner requires you input your major financial figures -- salaries, mortgage, average utility bills, and so forth. I'd argue that Mint, like other personal finance Web sites, is more useful, since it shows you where your actual expenses are out of whack, at a level granular enough that a simple change will be reflected in your "score" the next month. The Tuner feedback is more at the avuncular level: It will tell you how much you're spending on a category, like mortgage, and compare it to people in your income bracket, your age group, etc. But what are you going to do with that data? Move if the app says you're spending too much?

There's no real social angle on the site other than the forums. No groups you're automatically placed in based on financial situation, no buying clubs. That's too bad, because that is something people could really use, and the AARP could add market power to any financial groups its members belonged to.

There are a lot of community rooms on LifeTuner, but not yet a ton of activity. Screenshot by Rafe Needleman/CNET

People over 50: If you're looking for a site to recommend to your kids or grandkids that has good financial advice, LifeTuner isn't a bad site at all to point them to. But it is a bit old-school. To really get a bead on finances, people young, old, and middle would be better-served by a more dynamic financial system like Mint, possibly coupled with an up-to-date investing site like KaChing.