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Review: The best budgeting apps and services in 2021
Looking to save money, and balance your budget? These mobile apps can help.
So you resolved to budget better in 2021. Great. That’s a solid goal. But with so many budgeting and financial apps out there (and more popping up each day), it can be hard to decide which money app is the best for you.
Should you choose a free app that helps you set up a basic budget? Or pay for an app that offers a few extra features? What about those financial apps that automatically transfer money into a savings account? Are those safe to use, or do you run the risk of not having enough cash on hand when the bills are due?
We’ve put together the details, including the pros and cons, of ten of the best financial apps out there to help you decide. No matter your long-term financial goals, there’s a financial app that will probably work for you.
In this article:
Acorns® — Best for investing small sums
Among the top mobile budgeting apps is Acorns. Acorns is an app that can take the intimidation factor out of investing. The concept is simple — the app rounds up your purchases and invests the difference in one of Acorn’s smart portfolios.
For example, the app could round up the $22.39 sushi takeout you get on Fridays to $23 and automatically invest $0.61. You can also choose to transfer a specific dollar amount daily, weekly, and/ or monthly to your Acorns account.
Acorns also offers a feature called Found Money that partners with companies like Walmart, Under Armour, and UberEats. If you shop with partners in the app, the partner will give you a bonus deposit into your Acorns account.
- Cost: $1, $3, or $5 per month, depending on the subscription tier you choose.
- Pros: There’s a low barrier to entry when investing with Acorns because you can invest with spare change, and the investment strategy is handled automatically. You just choose from one of the available portfolios based on your risk tolerance.
- Cons: Investing isn’t risk-free — you can technically lose money if the portfolio doesn’t perform well or the market takes a hit. Also, the account might not be worth the cost if you don’t have enough roundups each month. If you only make ten transactions and the roundup amount averages $0.50 per transaction, you’re paying at least $1 in monthly subscription fees to invest $5. That equates to a 20% fee.
Honeydue — Best for splitting bills with a partner
Every couple goes through the awkward stage of figuring out how to manage money together and track spending. Should you split bills down the middle? Should you pay bills from one account?
Honeydue is an app that can help couples get on the same financial page. The Honeydue app is a budgeting platform that lets you both connect financial accounts, so you can manage bills and keep track of account balances in one place.
If you’re worried about maintaining some privacy, don’t worry — this budget tool lets you decide what bank accounts your partner can and cannot see. Honeydue has a calendar where you can both add bill due dates, and there’s a chatbox where you can message back and forth.
- Cost: Free.
- Pro: If you’re finding it hectic to manage money and bills with your partner, this app can organize the chaos.
- Con: Honeydue isn’t a robust finance app that comes with a lot of bells and whistles, such as budget reports or savings tools. It can help you manage day-to-day expenses, but you might need another tool for more in-depth and long-term financial planning.
Clarity Money™ — Best for mobile expense tracking
Clarity Money from Marcus by Goldman Sachs® is an AI-powered financial app that uses machine learning to track your spending habits and help you make financial decisions that will bring you closer to long-term goals.
The budgeting app includes dynamic in-app visuals to illustrate your budget and account balances. There’s also a feature with this budgeting tool that can help you monitor and cancel recurring subscriptions. You can even set up savings transfers to a High-Yield Marcus Online Savings Account.
- Cost: Free.
- Pro: Clarity Money is a straightforward, visually-appealing app for users who want to get a snapshot of their spending and income at a glance.
- Con: There are eligibility restrictions related to who can and can’t open the Online Savings Account. Because of this, you may run into issues when trying to set up automatic savings transfers with the Clarity Money app.
Digit™ — Best for effortless saving
The Digit algorithm analyzes your checking account and spending activity then automatically makes savings transfers each day based on what you can afford.
The idea behind this budget app is that you won’t miss money you don’t see and that automating your savings is easier than manually saving. In the app, you can also set up different savings goals with deadlines.
Funds in Digit accounts are FDIC-insured by bank partners; this means up to $250,000 of your savings is guaranteed if the bank goes under.
The Digit budgeting tool lets you withdraw from the account whenever you need it — though keeping it in there could help you meet financial goals.
- Cost: Free for 30 days, and then $5 per month.
- Pros: Savings can grow behind the scenes without effort. The algorithm sees what you’re able to save, and you can set up different savings goals for emergencies, travel, and more.
- Cons: If your account balance stays the same until you pay bills at the end of each month, Digit could move too much money to savings thinking you have cash to spare. If you’re a freelancer or independent contractor who deals with feast and famine cycles, the app could also transfer money out of your account that you need. That said, you can prepare for this by pausing savings or setting max daily savings transfers.
Qapital™ — Best for freelancers saving for quarterly taxes
Qapital is another savings automation tool, but it automates using different rules. If you’re an independent contractor who’s gotten a surprise tax bill at the end of the year, you’ll appreciate the “Freelancer Rule.” This rule automatically sets aside a percentage of your income into a separate account so you can save for quarterly or annual tax payments.
There are other rules as well: The “Round Up Rule” rounds up purchases and saves the difference. The “52 Week Rule” automatically saves $1 the first week, $2 the second week, $3 the third week, and so on for an entire year.
Depending on the Qapital membership tier you sign up for, you might be able to invest money saved in low-cost ETFs. Portfolios vary in risk levels ranging from very conservative to very aggressive. Qapital savings accounts are FDIC-insured.
- Cost: Free for 30 days; then pay $3 per month for Basic membership, $6 per month for a Complete membership, or $12 per month for a Master membership.
- Pros: Qapital has multiple different savings rules you can set up so you can get creative. You can also get a Qapital Visa® Debit Card to easily use money in your account.
- Cons: The app isn’t free — if you’re only saving a small amount from automations each month, it might not be worthwhile. Also, if you set up an investment account know that your balance and returns aren’t guaranteed.
Goodbudget™ — Best for lovers of the envelope system
Goodbudget uses the tried-and-true envelope budgeting system to help you allocate, manage, and spend your money. Basically, you allocate your income to certain money buckets, and that serves as your spending limit for the month.
Using the app to allocate money to debt and savings can help you tackle your debt balances and save for big expenses. Plus, you can sync and share the budget with a partner. This way, everyone knows exactly how much cash is available to spend.
- Price: Free for the basic app; $7 per month or $60 per year for Goodbudget Plus.
- Pro: People have been using the envelope budgeting method successfully for generations; Goodbudget allows you to practice this classic money management technique from your phone.
- Con: Goodbudget doesn’t link to your checking accounts; instead, you have to manually enter your bank account balances and create the budget from there.
Mint® — Best for managing money and building credit
Mint is an extraordinarily popular free budgeting app that is frequently named as a “go-to” across financial articles and blogs. Mint is owned by Intuit, the company behind TurboTax, and it’s designed to present a clear picture of your finances on a single dashboard.
After you link your bank accounts, investment accounts, and loan balances, Mint will automatically track and categorize transactions, sending notifications whenever you go over the budget you’ve set for yourself.
Mint can also send an email or SMS alert when bills are due, flag suspicious transactions, and notify you when bank funds are getting low. Plus, you can get regular credit score updates that include a summary of factors impacting your score.
- Cost: Free.
- Pros: Mint connects to your accounts and can save you time by automatically putting expenses into budgeting categories. Setting up upcoming bill reminders and low funds alerts can help you avoid late fees and overdrafts.
- Cons: Mint doesn’t allow multiple account users at this time, which could be less than ideal for couples trying to manage the household finances together. The workaround is creating separate accounts and linking the same financial institutions, but that could be cumbersome.
Personal Capital® — Best for long-term financial planning
Personal Capital is essentially a financial planner in your pocket. The service offers two different platforms — a free personal finance app and a paid wealth management platform.
The personal finance app lets you view your assets and liabilities in one place so you can calculate your net worth. You can also set spending targets and visually analyze where your money is going.
Aside from the budgeting features, you can use Personal Capital’s retirement calculator to see if you’re saving enough for the golden years. Personal Capital even has a fee analyzer that tells you how much you’re paying in fees for investment accounts.
- Cost: Free for basic personal finance tools; for wealth management services the fee is 0.89% for investment accounts under $1,000,000.
- Pro: Personal Capital could be great for someone looking for a robust all-in-one financial planning platform that’s focused on tracking investments.
- Con: Since this app is so heavily built around investments, it might not be ideal for people looking for a tool that can help them better manage day-to-day spending.
Simple — Best for handling banking and budgeting
If you’re looking for the convenience of managing your cash and budgeting in one app, Simple might be up your alley. Simple offers a bank account that comes with budgeting features galore.
After depositing money into the checking account, Simple can automatically set aside money for the expenses you list in your budget. You can also distribute money to different digital envelopes for various financial goals, such as buying a car or new furniture.
To put a cherry on top, Simple will tell you how much money in your account is Safe-to-Spend® considering your future bills and goals. Funds in a Simple account are held by BBVA USA, which is another FDIC-insured financial institution.
- Cost: The app is free and checking accounts have no monthly account fee; however, there may be other banking-related fees that pop up, such as checkbook fees.
- Pro: Simple is convenient — you can handle banking and budgeting tasks in one app.
- Con: Simple doesn’t offer some traditional banking services, such as bill pay or customer service at physical locations. While Simple could be convenient for some, it might not be right for people who prefer handling some banking tasks at a branch.
You Need a Budget (YNAB®) — Best for budgeting with resources and support
You Need a Budget, often abbreviated to YNAB, is a comprehensive budgeting software program based around the idea of “giving every dollar a job.”
You set up a budget that includes your day-to-day expenses and sinking funds for expenses like car repairs, health insurance deductibles, and holiday travel. Then YNAB asks you to allocate every dollar in your bank account to one of those upcoming expenditures.
Aside from the budgeting software, YNBA offers many educational videos, guides, and podcast episodes that discuss how to get out of debt and break the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle. If you have budget-related questions, there’s a support forum and one-on-one tech support available.
- Cost: Free for 34 days, then $11.99 per month or $84 per year. However, college students can get the service for free.
- Pro: YNAB can help users get focused on paying off debt and saving towards goals. It’s also an effective tool for couples looking to merge their finances since you can manage the account from multiple devices.
- Con: YNAB is one of the more expensive apps to make this list, especially if you pay monthly, but it could be worth the cost if it revolutionizes your finances.
Choosing the best app for your goals
Selecting the best budgeting app comes down to what you hope to get out of the program.
Are you looking for a quick overview of your finances and your credit score? Mint might be a good choice. Want to make a spending plan that helps you meet near-term and long-term goals? YNAB might be right for you. If you’re simply looking to set aside a little extra cash every month, Acorns and Digit might get the job done.
Ask yourself why you want to sign up for a budgeting app, what you hope the app can offer, and whether you can afford to pay a monthly subscription fee. Then choose the best app that meets your needs. With a little planning, and a little assistance from modern technology, 2021 could be your — or at least your wallet’s — best year yet.
Our editorial policy
Haven Life is a customer-centric life insurance agency that’s backed and wholly owned by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual). We believe navigating decisions about life insurance, your personal finances and overall wellness can be refreshingly simple.
Our editorial policy
Haven Life is a customer centric life insurance agency that’s backed and wholly owned by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual). We believe navigating decisions about life insurance, your personal finances and overall wellness can be refreshingly simple.
Our content is created for educational purposes only. Haven Life does not endorse the companies, products, services or strategies discussed here, but we hope they can make your life a little less hard if they are a fit for your situation.
Haven Life is not authorized to give tax, legal or investment advice. This material is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for tax, legal, or investment advice. Individuals are encouraged to seed advice from their own tax or legal counsel.
Haven Term is a Term Life Insurance Policy (DTC and ICC17DTC in certain states, including NC) issued by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual), Springfield, MA 01111-0001 and offered exclusively through Haven Life Insurance Agency, LLC. In NY, Haven Term is DTC-NY 1017. In CA, Haven Term is DTC-CA 042017. Haven Term Simplified is a Simplified Issue Term Life Insurance Policy (ICC19PCM-SI 0819 in certain states, including NC) issued by the C.M. Life Insurance Company, Enfield, CT 06082. Policy and rider form numbers and features may vary by state and may not be available in all states. Our Agency license number in California is OK71922 and in Arkansas 100139527.
MassMutual is rated by A.M. Best Company as A++ (Superior; Top category of 15). The rating is as of Aril 1, 2020 and is subject to change. MassMutual has received different ratings from other rating agencies.
Haven Life Plus (Plus) is the marketing name for the Plus rider, which is included as part of the Haven Term policy and offers access to additional services and benefits at no cost or at a discount. The rider is not available in every state and is subject to change at any time. Neither Haven Life nor MassMutual are responsible for the provision of the benefits and services made accessible under the Plus Rider, which are provided by third party vendors (partners). For more information about Haven Life Plus, please visit: https://havenlife.com/plus
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