Back in the day, managing your money was pretty simple – if you could afford to hire someone to manage it. Otherwise you were constantly looking for lost receipts, trying to invest with secondhand advice and budgeting with a notebook and pencil. For a millennial, this probably sounds like a nightmare.
While that was standard money-management practice all the way until the turn of the century, the advent of the internet and subsequent spread of data-sharing has changed the landscape forever. Now, specialized algorithms allow you to execute complicated processes with the click of a button. What used to take a full day of number-crunching now takes minutes.
But while apps have made it easier than ever to take control of your finances, most people aren’t exactly sure which apps to choose – and which to avoid. The financial tech industry is booming, and everyone wants some skin in the game. So how do you find the right fit?
Here are some of the best options for those looking to simplify their finances, ranging from bare-bones budgeting apps to more complex investment tools. Read ahead to find out which ones are a fit for you.
The Mint app is the original budgeting app. Users can check their bank balance, track their budget and double-check their bill due dates. The app will alert them to late fees, ATM fees and high spending alerts. It even lets you know your credit score.
You can set your budget on the app and check it when you’re about to make a purchase. Not sure if you can afford to grab dinner with the boyfriend this week? Check your budget.
The app is free to use and works when you sync your bank and credit card accounts. It’s entirely encrypted, so users don’t need to feel wary handing over their bank account information to a third-party.
Unfortunately, not every bank and credit card company works well with Mint. I’ve had issues before with some accounts refusing to sync. Depending on which banks you use, this can be a minor annoyance or major hassle that prevents you from properly utilizing the app.
You need a budget
The You Need a Budget app operates on a basic principle: you should be using last month’s earnings to pay for this month’s expenses. It’s a different philosophy from most budgeting systems, but it’s one of the reasons users credit YNAB for changing their finances.
YNAB is a much more hands-on budgeting system than Mint or its other competitors, forcing users to account for every dollar. That may not be great for someone looking to save time, but perfect for micro-managers and detail-oriented budgeters. It has a slew of categories, allowing you to differentiate the groceries you bought at Target vs. the toiletries you also bought there. Using the YNAB will allow you to look at your finances on a micro-level, which will encourage you to make real changes.
Level is a budgeting app that tries to simplify tracking your expenses. Every month you input your income, and level calculates how much you should save and subtracts that from how much you earn. The remainder is what they call your “spendable” amount.
Every day you can check to see what your spendable is for that day. If you’re going shopping, you know what your limit is. If you’re considering picking up the tab at a bar, Level will let you know if that’s feasible.
Level also tracks your expenses to tell you where you’re spending your money. The insights feature makes it a bit more sophisticated than other budgeting apps and could help you visualize where you’re spending too much money. For example, if you spent 15% more on groceries this month, it will tell you.
Saving money is hard. You have to create a separate savings account, set up automatic or manual transfers and remember not to transfer more than you can afford. That’s where Digit comes in.
Digit monitors how much money you have in the bank and your regular transactions. From there it determines how much you can afford to save. It withdraws money every two or three days based on those factors.
Because Digit transfers money automatically, there’s no reason for users to interfere until it’s time to withdraw. Digit works via text, so it’s easy to check your balance, withdraw or ask the app to save more. Digit tracks your bank account diligently so overdrafts are rare. However, if you do have an overdraft, Digit will pay for any fees and fines you may incur. The app also offers quarterly savings bonuses of 1% APY.
Digit has come under fire recently for switching to a paid model, charging $2.99 a month for full use. Many in the finance industry feel this is a poor value, but for users who wouldn’t save money otherwise, it’s worth it.
Qapital is an automatic savings app that works on a few different levels. Users create rules that tell the app when and how to save money. For example, someone who’s trying to save money and lose weight can set up a rule that every time they miss a workout, Qapital transfers $5 to a savings account.
Qapital also has a basic round-up rule where all transactions round up to the nearest dollar and the difference is saved.
Qapital users can create multiple rules for a variety of savings goals, so you can save for your vacation and emergency fund at the same time. Qapital is free for all users.
Acorns works by rounding up your transactions and investing the difference in low-fee ETFs. It’s a popular savings app for people who want to invest, but don’t feel comfortable putting aside a specific amount every month.
Acorns also lets users set up automatic deposits on a regular basis, if you want to save a specific amount. It also has an interest cash-back system when you shop with certain retailers. Instead of getting cash back, you’ll earn money in your Acorns account.
Acorns charges $1 a month for accounts less than $5,000 and .25% per year for accounts of $5,000 or more, and is free for college students. Those fees are about the same as other investment firms, except most of those accounts have minimum requirements and are more time-intensive to manage. Acorns lets you invest in the market without making it a big deal.
Dobot is a savings app designed to help people reach their goals. You put in what you’re saving for, how much you need and when you need it by. Dobot helps you figure out how much you need to save and then does it for you.
It links to your bank accounts and transfers money to your Dobot account based on your goals and what your balance is. You can also move money to your Dobot account whenever you feel like it. Dobot is currently free for all users.
Dobot can partner with thousands of banks, so more than likely it will work with yours.
If you have roommates or a partner you’re splitting expenses with, figuring out who owes who can be complicated. Imagine how much money you haven’t been paid because you forgot to charge your roommate for Netflix, or forgot about picking up a friend’s dinner tab when they forgot their wallet.
That’s where Splitwise comes in. It’s an app designed to help you easily track how much each person owes the other. You can divide bills by percentages or exact amounts and pay them back directly through the app. This is great for splitting any kind of expense, from a rent check to a deli sandwich. Splitwise is free to use and available as an app or website.
Personal Capital tracks your investments and makes it easy to see if you’re doing better than the stock market. Plus, you can track individual purchases, create a budget and manage your entire portfolio.
Plus, Personal Capital also has robo advisor services so you can hire the app to manage your investments for you.
How to choose
When faced with so many quality options, it can be hard to decide just which app or apps you actually want to use. To figure it out, make a list of any money goals you’re currently struggling with or spending too much time on. Do you constantly forget to save? Do you want to begin investing but don’t know where to start? Would you like to keep better track of your spending but hate combing through bank statements?
Chances are, there’s an app listed here that can address one of these issues. You may have to try several to find the right fit, so don’t be afraid to experiment. Once you decide on an app, take some time to get a feel for the interface and learn the extent of its capability. Most popular financial apps these days are intuitive and easy to use, so it won’t be long before you’re comfortable with your choice.
The bottom line
There are so many apps on the market and many of them have a similar purpose. If you find yourself getting overwhelmed with the possibilities, try only downloading one at a time. Use it for a couple weeks to determine if it’s a good fit. Then, try another app. It’s better to only use one or two apps than to download 9 and get too overwhelmed to deal with them.