SmartAsset answers financial questions for free

A New York City startup is giving out financial advice for free. 

SmartAsset all started when Michael Carvin tried to buy a house.  He worked in finance, but still had questions, and couldn't find the answers he needed online.

Carvin started working on a website that could answer some of those tough financial questions. He joined with Philip Camilleri to develop SmartAsset, a free financial planning website based on the mantra that all great financial advice should start with two words: it depends.

They started out tackling home buying, answering questions like: how much house can you afford? Should you buy or rent? Which mortgage makes the most sense for you? And they did it all with a simple Excel spreadsheet.

Camilleri says they started thinking "Can we actually make this automated? Can we customize this for different situations in different cities where taxes are different, and for different states?"

It turns out, they absolutely could.

They started sharing their concept, and it got a lot of attention out of the gate. Camilleri said several people told them their idea was useless and pointless. One potential investor even said they were wasting their lives.

But a lot of the feedback was more positive. Countless times, homeowners told Camilleri and Carvin they wished they had SmartAsset before they bought their house.

Before long, the funding started flowing in. They raised $900,000 before even launching the site, and another $1.5 million shortly after.

Y Combinator, a seed fund known for investing in Dropbox, Airbnb and Reddit, invited SmartAsset out to San Francisco to get their site off the ground. Camilleri and Carvin launched out in Silicon Valley in July of 2012, but there was no question they were coming back East. Carvin says they are New Yorkers and they always planned to come back to New York City to run their company.

Today, SmartAsset has raised over $7 million. It has grown to 30 employees and one dog working out of a brand-new space in the Flatiron District in Manhattan. SmartAsset has even been invited to the White House to talk about finances.

And the company is still growing. Carvin says they expect to reach more than 2 million people this month.

Now, SmartAsset is giving financial advice on a range of topics, telling people how much house they can afford, how much they should save for retirement, what life insurance is right for them, and what their annual taxes will be.

Camilleri says it only takes a few seconds to answer those kinds of questions on, and you don't need to sign in, give a credit card, or pay a fee.

SmartAsset makes its money from advertising. It also gets a referral fee if customers use the site to find mortgages, car loans, or life insurance policies.

SmartAsset is continuing to expand, and hopes to have a section on buying cars by the end of the year.