Do you find that the strangers sitting next to you on planes, in diners and at sporting events are always using their smartphones to tweet, send texts and emails, update Facebook, or play Angry Birds? Well, it turns out that -- mostly when they don't have a nosy neighbor looking over their shoulders -- they're also using their devices to do something else: Monitor and manage their money.

The popularity of smartphones as a tool for controlling personal finances was the key outcome of a survey recently commissioned by A sample of 2,000 American homeowners, all of whom were age 25 or older and married with children, participated. Half were men, and the other half -- you'll never guess -- women.

Slide-to-unlock banking
More than two-in-three mobile subscribers in the U.S. owned a smartphone in January 2014, according to a different research company, comScore. But you'd probably expect that number to be even higher among homeowners, and only 30.8 percent of respondents said they'd never carried out a single one of the 11 smartphone-banking tasks we asked them about.

Here are the 11 tasks explored, together with the percentage who said they'd used their smartphone to complete each of the following tasks:

  1. Pay a bill: 38.25 percent
  2. Check a checking account balance: 36.3 percent
  3. Check a credit card balance: 28.65 percent
  4. Receive account alerts via text: 23.7 percent
  5. Redeem credit card rewards: 15.7 percent
  6. Research a new credit card: 13.15 percent
  7. Check a credit score: 11.95 percent
  8. Track spending and financial goals: 11.4 percent
  9. Apply for a credit card: 10.45 percent
  10. Check credit report: 7.95 percent
  11. Accept payments (like Square or GoPayment): 6.9 percent

Tasks and devices
So, unsurprisingly, it's the things you have to do in a hurry when you're away from your home or desk (pay that bill you'd forgotten, or check the balance on your credit cards or checking account before you make a purchase) that are the tasks most frequently performed on a smartphone. They may also be the easiest to perform with your bank's app.

And it's good to see that people are using these devices more frequently to check their credit scores than to apply for credit cards. With free credit score services now widely available, it's always a good idea to check yours before applying to open a new account.

Men are from...
It may be that many women still see the smartphone (or, at least, its use as a money management tool) as a boys' toy. At 39.26 percent versus 22.32 percent, very nearly twice as many women as men said they'd never carried out a single one of our tasks. And some of those tasks saw big gaps in usage between the sexes: Fewer than half as many women than men had checked their credit reports using their smartphones, and the difference was also significant for researching and applying for a credit card.

However, it's a bit more complicated than the old women-as-technophobes stereotype. When it came to accessing checking account balances, more women than men had used their smartphones to do this (36.66 percent, compared with 35.94 percent). And, when we asked respondents, "How do you prefer to manage your bank account?" women were actually slightly less likely to pick the old-fashioned option of "by mail." Instead, they preferred to use computers rather than mobile phones more often than men.

Yet another of our questions revealed a more worrying gender gap. A respectable (but still too low) 70.67 percent of men claimed their cell phones were password protected, while just 58.14 percent of women said theirs were. Regardless of the levels of testosterone or estrogen coursing through your veins, it's always a good idea to have a password on your phone. If you're using it to manage your money, that stops being optional.

Smart at any age
As you'd expect, the millennials in our survey (those 25-34 years) were often the most likely to answer "yes" to our task questions. Having grown up with information technologies, they find using smartphones for all sorts of purposes about as challenging as we more mature folks find tuning a radio -- as long as it's not a digital radio.

You might imagine that there would be a simple straight line in a chart of our survey, starting high among younger people, and declining directly in line with respondents' ages. But that's not the case. It's true that fewer older people agreed to participate, and so the margin of error is higher when comparing ages, but, even so, there are signs that many of those 55 years and above are very comfortable using smartphones to manage their money -- often more comfortable than those in the 45-54 age group.

In January 2014, for the first time ever, the amount of time American adults spent online on their smartphones matched their PC-based online access, according to a MarketingCharts report based on comScore data. And women age 25-49 years are spending significantly more of their online time using smartphones (54 percent) than men in the same age group (41 percent). Even those 50 years and older are spending 29 percent of their online time on their smartphones.

Things are changing quickly. If we were to repeat our survey next year (or even next month) you might see a very different picture -- maybe a smaller one on a smartphone screen.

This article originally appeared on

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