The 10 Best Money Apps for 2018

Remember the old days? When your parents sat at the kitchen table, a stack of bills on one side, a checkbook on the other? Paper envelopes were opened and receipts were saved. Finances were full-scale research projects back then and sometimes it was difficult to know where you really stood.
Not anymore.

In these modern times — when there literally is an app for everything — it has never been easier to track your money and stay on budget. It’s a snap to automate payments. It’s easy to set and track financial goals. You should never miss a bill payment.

Imagine sitting in your easy chair and seeing every transaction that happens across all your accounts, along with a tally of all your balances. Yes, it’s possible to know your actual net worth by the month, by the week, by the day, heck, by the second.

Here are our choices for the best personal finance apps.

Acorns logo transparent

1. Acorns App

Cost: $1 per month. When account balance hits $5,000, then it’s 0.25% of the account balance per year. It’s free for college students with a valid (.edu) e-mail address.

Where It’s Available: iPhone, Android, Web.

At A Glance

Acorns is an automated savings tool that rounds up your purchases on linked credit or debit cards, then sweeps the change into a computer-managed investment portfolio.

Free money? Not exactly, but close. More like found money. Picture it as a virtual piggy bank.

The target audiences for Acorns include college students, non-involved investors and people who struggle to save money.

In seeking young, would-be investors, Acorns goes after college students, especially those who don’t have earned income and can’t yet contribute to tax-advantaged retirement accounts.

After four years of “rounding up,’’ there’s usually a nice sum of money.

You are given the option of transferring your change into an investment portfolio, either automatically or manually (where you can review each purchase on the app, then select which ones to transfer).

Beyond the “round ups,’’ you can also invest lump sums manually (as small as $5) or set up recurring deposits on a daily, weekly or monthly basis.
Acorns also has several partners — such as Jet, Blue Apron, Airbnb, Boxed and Hulu — that offer 10% cash back when using a linked payment method with them.
Of course, unlike the IRA or 401(k) accounts, Acorns offers only individual taxable accounts. Found money is one thing. Free money — such as an employer match — is quite another. So don’t put all your acorns in one basket — or something like that.

Acorns speaks well to new investors through Grow Magazine, an online personal finance site that is geared toward millennials. It offers advice about side gigs, credit-card debt, student loans and other pertinent topics. Much of the Grow content is incorporated in the Acorns app.

Safety

The app and Web site are encrypted. Automatic logout, IDs and other security measures are employed.

Mint App Logo

2. Mint App

Cost: Free.

Where It’s Available: Android, iPhone, iPad, Web.

At A Glance

Mint, a versatile app, has been around the longest and that’s part of the reason it’s the best. It’s speedy and reliable, offering detailed and in-depth views (in real time) of U.S. and Canadian personal-finance situations. It has a useful, clean design. You can sign up through the mobile app or the website (mint.com).

Mint analyzes your spending habits, income, and other financial transactions through customizable alerts. If you tap on the plus sign and choose “Create Budget,’’ you are taken to a page with a list of spending categories (such as groceries or movies). It suggests a monthly spending limit based on your history, while also tracking your money through a few months historical data. There’s a look at your monthly budget through a simple line graph, so there is a short-term and long-term perspective.

It isn’t an app for accounting software or reconciling transactions, but it’s more about spending and big-picture financial status.

Some deficiencies include an inability to create or manage alerts from its mobile app. The savings and budgeting options are not percentage-based.

Mint can calculate your net worth, but also offer detailed analysis of your spending habits. If you’re looking to set financial goals — such as escaping credit-card debt or purchasing a home — it’s good for that, too.

It will send push notifications for bills. If you’re close to the budget limit in your given categories – too many lattes this week? – you will get a warning.

Mint is supported by advertising, but the ads are more useful than annoying. Because of Mint’s all-knowing, all-seeing approach to your financial accounts, it knows precisely how much interest you’re earning and how much interest you’re paying on your mortgage, loans, credit cards and savings accounts, along with ATM fees and annual service charges.

The targeted ads will suggest banks and financial services from the Mint network that could help your specific financial needs. It will suggest how much money you could be saving. If you think such ads are irrelevant, simply hit “ignore’’ and they will be dismissed.

Meanwhile, the free Web-based version at mint.com can move money between accounts and create detailed spending forecasts.

Safety

When providing access to your online banking and credit card accounts, you are only giving Mint read access to that information. Mint doesn’t have the ability to move money, so if a hacker broke through, they wouldn’t have access to your cash.
You can add a passcode to the app, a four-digit PIN, but it locks you out of Mint when navigating away from the app, so you won’t accidentally leave the app open for someone else to use. Combined with your iPhone passcode, that should be added security.

Credit Karma App Icon

3. Credit Karma App

Cost: Free.

Where It’s Available: Web.

At A Glance

Credit Karma is an excellent go-to source for a free credit score and report. It seems like strings must be attached because even though you can get free copies of your three credit reports from AnnualCreditReport.com, that service limits you to viewing each report once a year.

And Credit Karma, which gives its users access to TransUnion credit reports along with credit scores from TransUnion and Equifax, is free with updates as often as once a week?

You might be asking: What’s the catch?

It’s advertising that is targeted to reflect your financial habits. Much like Facebook, your personal credit data is used to advertise to you. It’s a focused approach that allows businesses to target favorable customers instead of running generic ads to people who wouldn’t qualify for their products.

Your credit score is important, so Credit Karma allows you to track it without needing a credit card, free trial or other method.

You must create an account and provide personal information, including a Social Security number to verify your identity and pull your credit. There is no purchase required, unlike other sites, which require a $15 or $20 fee to gain access to your credit score.

Credit Karma’s features include:

  • A graph showing your credit score over time.
  • How your credit score compares to others (by age, income and state).
  • A credit report card that shows how other factors (like payment history and debt utilization) impact your credit score.
  • Tools to let you simulate how paying down debt or applying for new credit will change your score.
  • Access to your free credit report with weekly updates.

Safety

Credit Karma gets high marks for online safety. Your personal information might be used to facilitate advertising, but that information is not shared with third parties. Ultimately, you get good insights into your credit.

ynab logo -You Need A Budget

4. You Need A Budget

Cost: $5 per month of $50 per year. There’s a free trial for 34 days. Students can have the fee waived for one year.

Where It’s Available: Android, iOS, Web.

At A Glance

YNAB — the app’s common acronym — excels at providing guidance for smart money management and financial responsibility. The tutorials and education material are excellent and extremely helpful. It caters to modest households who need the basics and it’s not an app for someone seeking savvy financial information.

Basically, every dollar you’re projected to earn is assigned a job. It’s either spent or saved. YNAB connects directly to your financial accounts to pull in account balances and other information in real time. It’s more of a traditional approach to budgeting and it’s a good approach for people who are serious about managing their money.

YNAB uses tutorials and pop-up windows to introduce its concepts, which include a checklist to the left that helps you get started. As you get more into the process, some complications occur. It’s somewhat tedious to come up with all the customized categories needed to direct your money flow. You can change categories and YNAB provides a “Stuff I Forgot To Budget For,’’ which becomes helpful.

Safety

You are required to enter the usernames and passwords for your checking accounts, credit cards, savings accounts and other financial institutions. YNAB keeps your information encrypted and secure. Should you choose to leave the service, YNBA says your information will be deleted.

You can use YNAB without connecting to any of your financial information through a manual entry, but that defeats the purpose of helping your specific budgeting.

Bottom Line

You are directed to balance your budget, making sure you meet expenses and don’t overspend in any category. It’s beneficial for people who live paycheck-to-paycheck. They can learn where their money goes while becoming more aware of income and expenses.

Wally App Logo

5. Wally App

Cost: Free.

Where It’s Available: iPhone, Android, Web.

At A Glance

Wally is a basic functional app that keeps track of income and spending with an eye on reducing excess spending. It uses pie charts and color-coded expense categories. It features three main tabs on the left side of the screen — home, income and budget review.

The home tab is where you enter expenses. You can select categories (clothing, entertainment, transportation, etc.) and sub-categories. Your expenses will be connected to a location. You can scan receipts.

The income tab is where you enter income sources for the month and set savings goals.

The budget review tab shows a basic analysis of your spending by category, covering each week, month and year.

Wally isn’t a particularly user-friendly app and it requires some experimentation before reaching a comfort level. The budget review section is limited and not really designed for someone who wants advanced analytics.

Safety

Because Wally is basic and doesn’t link to actual bank accounts, safety isn’t really a factor.

QAPITAL solid logo

6. Qapital App

Cost: Free.

Where It’s Available: iPhone, Android.

At A Glance

Qapital allows you to save money with relative ease, through gamification and the small actions you take in everyday life. It does require you to open a new account, which is FDIC-insured (no minimum balance or monthly service fee).

How do things work? If you buy coffee each morning, Qapital rounds up the price and puts the change in a savings account. If you come under budget for anything — such as groceries or commuting expenses — you could put that balance in something else, such as a vacation fund. Before you know it, almost invisibly, you are saving money in ways you never imagined. It also connects to IFTT (an app that stands for “If this, then that’’), which suggests more ways to save.

Qapital also has some cool features, such as asking if you’d like to learn a new skill like cooking or photography. If so, you are asked to estimate how much money will be needed, then you’re walked through a process that helps you configure ways to save that money.

Safety

There might be qualms with opening a new account. Terms and conditions are there to examine before providing personal information, such as your Social Security number. If you need more reassurance and aren’t quite ready to open a new account, there’s a “dummy scenario” provided, where you can create savings goals, go through the motions of setting up automatic deposits and see how things work as if you were connected to your bank accounts and a Qapital savings account.

Digit App Logo

7. Digit App

Cost: $2.99 per month.

Where It’s Available: iPhone, Android, Apple Watch.

At A Glance

Digit is geared toward non-serious investors or people who want to save money without making much studious effort.

Almost in Big Brother fashion, Digit evaluates your spending habits and transfers money from your linked bank account into your Digit account.
How does it work? Every two or three days, Digit makes a transfer, generally after interpretation of your checking balance, upcoming income, upcoming bills and recent spending patterns. Based on these variables, Digit calculates a non-essential amount that you won’t notice based on your spending patterns.

The transfers range somewhere between $2 and $15, using an algorithm. This is not a get-rich-quick system. But it can build up a nice cushion of money for vacations or other fun stuff — if you don’t mind giving up some control over the way your money is saved.

You might think, “Wait, can’t I do this stuff on my own?’’ Possibly. But Digit is geared toward the generation that relies heavily on technology and trusts it implicitly. For those folks, it’s worth the fee and convenience.

Plus, all customers earn a 1% annualized Savings Bonus for every three months that they save with Digit. There’s also a $5 referral bonus if you get a friend to join the service.

Digit also includes a text service with SMS messaging that allows customers to perform regular banking transactions (viewing a balance, initiating withdrawals, viewing upcoming bills) without using a computer.

Digit is simply set up to generate smaller savings, catering to the tech-savvy millennial population.

Safety

The Digit Savings are in a secure account and FDIC insured up to $250,00. There is never a transfer of more than you can afford and there is a no-overdraft guarantee.

GoodBudget App Logo

8. GoodBudget App

Cost: There’s a free version and another offered for $5 per month (or $45 per year).

Where It’s Available: iPhone, Android, Web.

At A Glance

There’s a savings method — a pretty old-fashioned one, actually — where you physically divide all your cash into separate envelopes. There’s an envelope for groceries, an envelope for your telephone bill, an envelope for fuel costs, etc.

Think of Goodbudget as a series of virtual “envelopes.’’ It allows you to specify how to spend and save your money. The free membership provides a basic way to control and track finances. The paid membership is more appropriate for more expansive budgets.

Goodbudget provides “regular’’ envelopes for frequent expenses such as rent, groceries and entertainment. There are “more’’ envelopes for annual expenses, vacations, Christmas gifts and an emergency fund.

Envelopes can be customized by adding income and listing a financial account such as checking, savings, credit card or cash.

Every time you spend or receive money, and it’s logged into the Goodbudget account, you can enter transactions and see how they affect your budget.

Example: Let’s say you have $200 in your monthly grocery envelope and spend $50 on food. You would click “add transaction,’’ enter the store name and amount spent and select the grocery envelope. The $50 will be taken out of the envelope and your monthly allotment for groceries will be down to $150.

The balance of each envelope will be represented by a colorful bar on the home screen. Green means you have money left in the envelop. Red means you’ve gone over budget.

Goodbudget’s free plan provides 10 regular and 10 annual envelopes. Customers of the pay plan can track as many categories as they please.

Goodbudget is fairly easy to understand, but it’s a bit cumbersome and time-consuming. Even if files are imported from your bank account, each transaction still must be categorized manually.

Safety

Accounts are protected with read-only access and a PIN.

Venmo App Logo

9. Venmo App

Cost: Free.

Where It’s Available: iPhone, Android, Web.

At A Glance

It’s a way to send and receive cash from friends. After creating an account, your profile will need information such as debit card details, connecting with friends already on the platform and links to a bank account. With more information provided, you will have the ability to send or receive more money at once, anywhere from a $300 weekly cap to $3,000.

There is a 3% fee on funds taken from a credit card or non-major debit card.

The Venmo app analyzes your phone’s contact list to find fellow Venmo users. You can invite others to try the service. Venmo’s best-case scenario is importing your Facebook profile to generate a friends list, but that can create problems. You may be forced to “friend’’ someone on Facebook just to complete a cash transaction.

By using the ubiquitous Facebook, though, Venmo is actually strengthened because it’s in everyone’s best interest to use the app. People want convenience. What’s more convenient than working through your Facebook friends?

The payment system is effortless. Tap the bill icon in the top-right corner, select a friend, choose between paying money or asking for it, write a description for the transaction and send the bill.

Done!

Added money shows up in green.

Paid-out money shows up in red.

Similar to PayPal, the app is a virtual wallet to store funds, cash out or transfer the money directly to a ban account after a few days of processing time.

Safety

Unless the information is restricted, transactions can be viewed on Facebook for your friends to see. That seems uncomfortable, but it can be regulated. Venmo utilizes PayPal Free at iTunes Store, so the security is generally good.

LearnVest App Logo

10. LearnVest App

Cost: Free, but there are upgrades where you are set up with a financial advisor for a $299 initiation fee and there’s a $19-per-month subscription cost.

Where It’s Available: iPhone, Web.

At A Glance

What if you could instantly understand your financial situation based on past data? Would that be appealing? That’s the essence of LearnVest.
Think of it as a personal finance education Web site that offers a mobile app to monitor your money.

In many ways, it’s similar to Mint.

But LearnVest is a more literate experience with plenty of reading material on the app and Web site that are based on topics selected by you as important.

There are some features that are obviously missing. There are no bill-paying reminders. There’s no credit score information. There’s no Android service. But there’s a personal touch with access to a financial planner through the upsell option that requires an initiation fee and subscription.

The LearnVest financial planners do not manage assets, place trades or make specific recommendations, but they do work with you on general financial strategies.

Similar to Mint, LearnVest works with your transactions and account balances up to three months earlier. It uses this information to develop a picture of your net worth and determine where you typically spend your money.

LearnVest automatically classifies transactions into categories (called “folders’’ in the app) such as Groceries, Personal Care, Bills, Restaurants and Bars, etc. Unknown transactions go to the “Unclassified’’ folder. You also have the ability to create new folders.

Safety

LearnVest requires the usernames and passwords from your financial accounts. From LearnVest, you can see information but not do anything with it, so it’s safe from hackers. It uses bank-level encryption. You can also put a passcode at the app level, providing one more layer of security.

In Conclusion

Personal finance apps continue to explode in popularity. Budgeting has become cool because the apps have become so commonplace and user-friendly.
A more efficient, convenient and rapid app experience will be the priority for future trends in the industry.

Security will be a priority, particularly with uneasiness over breaches in the cyber-security world.

It’s difficult to make overarching recommendations for personal finance apps because every situation is different.

One thing is certain, though. The world has changed. Personal finance apps are no longer a rarity. They are part of mainstream living. As financial applications continue to be embraced by the millennial generation, people are changing the way they do business.