When choosing a personal finance app there are a few things you need to know. You need to know which features and design elements make a real difference to the user experience, and which are just incidental. This is especially important when you’ll be using this app many times every day to track your income and expenditure. You also need to understand which features meet your needs, and if the app will suit your device/s.
We’ve examined the range of personal finance apps on the market to identify what you most need to look for when choosing one that’s perfect for your needs.
Tracking Your Spending
One of the most important features of any personal finance app is how accurate it is at assessing your financial situation and how easy it is to track your spending so that you always know how much money you do and don't have and how much you owe.
Look for an app that consolidates all your credit cards, bank accounts and accessible savings accounts to show you a complete picture of exactly how much you are in credit—or debit—across your entire life. In terms of knowing exactly how you are doing financially, the market leader is Mint, partly because it automates a lot of the hassle of tracking spending. Once you link it to your bank and credit card accounts, it automatically tracks every transaction you make. Mint syncs your accounts at least once a day so that you always have an accurate picture of your financial situation. You can update it manually as well to cover cash payments (which it deducts from your last ATM withdrawal). When you access the app on your phone, you’ll see colored tables and graphs that let you know the health of your finances today.
You Need a Budget (YNAB) also has this feature of syncing with your bank account. The advantage of YNAB is that it clearly breaks down your spending into categories (or ‘envelopes,' to use the app’s lingo) so that you can see if it's your daily Starbucks or your intermittent splurging on shoes that’s making you go over budget. However, YNAB has had a few glitches recently over syncing transactions and lags behind some other apps at automating your expenditure tracking. Expect to have to do a lot more manual logging with YNAB – not necessarily a bad thing, if you want to learn to spend more mindfully.
Simple is an online bank which contains all the tools you need to manage your money directly from your phone or their web application. Simple is your bank account, so there’s no need to sync it with anything else. As well as incorporating tracking tools to keep on top of your spending and clear visuals that present your financial situation at a glance, Simple permits you to carry out all your banking errands within their app, wherever you are. As long as you don’t mind replacing your current bank account with Simple, it’s a wraparound solution.
Tracking Financial Goals
Keeping track of your finances is a vital first step, but you might also want an app that helps you set goals and encourages you to meet them. Wally is strong in this category. Like a supportive financial advisor, Wally helps you to achieve your savings aims by visually tracking your progress towards them and keeping you accountable for your spending. It also streamlines the process of logging expenditure by letting you just take a photo of your receipt for the app to scan. Wally then places each purchase into the right category. This saves you the hassle of working out whether last night’s sushi rolls go under ‘groceries’ or ‘eating out’ and has the added advantage of saving the receipt in case you need to return something.
Qapital is ideal for anyone with a competitive streak who needs to be prodded to stick to those high-minded savings resolutions you make every year. Set financial goals and share them with friends, then use Qapital’s gamification approach to see who can reach their savings goal first. You’ll need to open a linked savings account to make the most of it, but then it will also round up your purchases and deposit the extra in that account so that you reach those financial goals without feeling the pinch.
Helps You to Save
Tracking your spending is only one side of the coin; you might also want an app that helps you to save.
We all know that good intentions often end up not going anywhere. You might have been meaning to save for years, but at the end of every month, you find that there's no extra money for a savings account. Acorn does the saving for you. Link it to your bank account and credit cards so that it can track your transactions, then leave it to round up every purchase to the nearest dollar and invest the difference. When you set up your account, you can choose your level of risk and which type of investment you prefer, and leave Acorn to do the rest. If you're feeling guilty about having dropped $4.35 on a muffin you didn't really need, you can be comforted by the thought that at least Acorn put 65 cents into an investment account at the same time.
In a similar vein, Digit helps you to save by tracking your spending habits and quietly fencing off money that it thinks you aren't likely to need in the immediate future. Digit doesn't invest it on your behalf, but it does hold it in a separate account where the funds remain available at all time. It's a lovely surprise to suddenly discover that you have a couple of hundred dollars in savings that you didn’t even notice accumulating.
One last savings app is Wealthfront. You’ll feel like a major Wall Street player when you use this app to manage your investments. When you set up Wealthfront, you’ll transfer in as much money as you want and answer some questions to determine your approach to risk in investing. It then plays the market for you by tracking the ups and downs of stocks and shares, suggesting the best places to invest your money and diversifying your portfolio. The app also balances your account when it’s necessary and provides tax-loss harvesting to save you money on your tax returns. The best part about Wealthfront is that you don’t need to have big funds to join the big investors and there are no fees on accounts below $10,000.
Good design is critical in a personal finance app. You want an interface that’s easy-to-use and quick to understand, especially if you’re sharing a budget tracking app with a partner who just doesn’t ‘get’ technology. Mint’s clear, graphical presentation is a great example of the kind of design you need. If you’re standing in a store wondering if you can afford the cute dress you just found, you can find out fast with a glance at Mint.
Another example of good design is Toshi. It’s simple to find information in the budget planner and see where your money has gone. The app is led by little animated ‘savings monsters’ who add a level of gamification and make it fun to save.
Goodbudget uses envelope-style budgeting to present your spending history simply and clearly. Each ‘envelope’ is marked with a different category and shows how much money is left. It’s very intuitive, with a neat and uncluttered interface and clean graphics.
Many personal finance apps allow you to share your budget, spending history, and tracking information across devices and most are compatible with Android, iOS, and web browsers as well. Goodbudget can be shared across every device, which is important if you’re trying to keep your partner on budget or sharing household accounts with roommates. Mint and YNAB are also compatible on Android, iOS, and laptops and can be shared with multiple users.
As you’ve probably already gathered, different personal finance apps offer different services as well. For example, our favorite Mint sends push notifications if you’re about to go over budget, reminds you to pay your bills and, if you add on Mint Bills, can even pay them for you automatically. YNAB offers plenty of advice and counseling for users to help you learn better financial habits, while Wally also notifies you if you’re at risk of going over budget as well as reminding you to pay bills and encouraging you to meet your financial goals. When you look for a personal finance app, think about which of these services are going to be most useful to you in the long run.
Enjoy a More Organized Financial Life
Whether you're in the market for an app to track your spending, help you meet financial goals, or support you in increasing your savings, you should find this list of what to look for in a personal finance app useful. Now, choose the app that works for you and enjoy the peace of mind that comes with a well-organized financial life.