Ten years ago, there were no solid personal finance apps out there. If you wanted to track your money, you didn’t have many options beyond websites like Google Finance. I got my start tracking our budget and net worth with a spreadsheet. I would learn about Intuit’s Quicken software but it felt silly to pay for software to help me save money. It wasn’t until later that other personal finance tools started to appear.
The best personal finance software works like a money management app that gives you an instant snapshot of your financial situation in seconds. A lot of the problems we face when dealing with money is how much time it takes to stay on top of things. A good personal finance app will help you save time and money.
Earlier this year I polled our readers for their “must-have, can’t live without” money apps. I compiled their responses and made the following list of best personal finance software (most of which have a mobile app).
Table of Contents
Best Money Management App – Empower Personal Dashboard
A financial dashboard is a place where you can see everything involving your money in one place. Your assets, your liabilities, your net worth – all your financial accounts visible on one convenient page.
This is important because when that information is easily accessible, it’s easily remembered and understood. We use it to pull in all of our data, though we ignore the credit card debt piece because we pay off our bills every month in full.
What’s easier – logging into one account or logging into a dozen?
When it comes to a financial dashboard, the clear leader is Empower Personal Dashboard (formerly Personal Capital). It has a rich suite of tools built around investments, with a nod towards expense tracking similar to Mint, so you can get a sense of where everything is at a moment’s notice. If you’re interested in a consultation with a financial advisor, they have that built-in as well and it’s something that helps them stand out from other similar services. It’s how Personal Capital makes the money that supports the free tool.
This app is for you if: You want an instant snapshot of your finances, from your investments to your budget, in one place. Empower Personal Dashboard is free.
Best Investing App – Robinhood
Robinhood is a stock brokerage that offers commission free trades through their app or web interface. They’re like any other brokerage, they use Apex Clearing Corporation, are a member of FINRA, and have SIPC insurance for up to $500,000 like any other brokerage. There is no account minimum, no maintenance fee, and you can even trade crypto if you’re so inclined (I am not).
They make money by offering a Robinhood Gold subscription service that gets you margin and after-hours trading. If you want to trade stocks, I find it difficult to argue against a Robinhood and their free trades.
I don’t use Robinhood because my investments are just in index funds at Vanguard. I just use Vanguard’s app but most of the time I just log onto the website to manage it.
For a limited time, you can get a free share of stock from Robinhood.
Best Budgeting App – You Need a Budget
If you want to change your budget, You Need a Budget (YNAB) is one of the most powerful tools you can use because it does more than track your expenses – it actually helps you build and stick to a budget.
One of the biggest challenges in money management is in near-term planning. What are you going to do next week and next month?
Retirement can be decades away but you are spending money today and tomorrow. By getting the next month right, you go a long way towards getting your money situation under control.
YNAB has a four rule methodology that has worked well for its users.
- Give Every Dollar A Job
- Embrace Your True Expenses
- Roll With The Punches
- Age Your Money
Another reason why YNAB is powerful has to do with its educational tools and community. You will not find this with financial tools like Mint. There are no Whiteboard Wednesdays to help you understand your money a little better. This is what separates them from the pack in many ways. Our You Need a Budget review goes deeper into the app and the company if you wish to learn more.
We list Empower Personal Dashboard (formerly Personal Capital) first on this list but if you want a budgeting app and you are able to pay a fee, we consider this the best alternative to Empower Personal Dashboard for budgeting.
This app is for you if: You want to transform your budget and get your spending in line with your financial goals. YNAB costs $6.99 a month after a 34-day trial.
It’s this methodology around the tool that makes it powerful.
Best Support Tool – Tiller
Tiller is a service that will connect with your bank and credits card to pull daily transaction data into a sheet on Google Docs. No other service out there offers this. You can choose to start from half a dozen templates or roll your own, but Tiller will update it automatically from 100,000+ financial institutions.
Tiller automates your custom spreadsheet so it fits you perfectly. Don’t change the way you do things to match a tool, add Tiller and bring your spreadsheet into the 21st century.
Tiller is a monthly subscription but it won’t inundate you with advertisements or pitch you on their financial planning services as an upsell. (to be fair, other companies need to do that because they are free – the bills have to be paid!)
You get the customization of a financial spreadsheet but the automation piece so you don’t need to login to all of your accounts and update everything manually. Removing that hurdle makes money management that much easier. They offer a free 30-day trial.
This app is for you if: You love spreadsheets or have one you’ve tailored but need a tool to help you pull the data for you. Tiller costs $6.58 per month ($79/year) after a 30-day trial. (here’s more about Tiller)
Best Micro-Saving App – Acorns
One of the latest innovations in personal finance apps is the idea of a micro-savings app – where you can automatically save small amounts of money and have it invested in the market. The idea is that these apps will figure out how much they can transfer into an investment account without you, or your budget, realizing. It’s less active than traditional saving but more effective if you’re the type of person who doesn’t actively manage your budget daily.
One of the best in class is Acorns, which doesn’t rely on a black box “guessing” how much to save. When you make a purchase, the amount is rounded up and transferred. This predictability is often seen as a better process than some other apps, which “guess.” Guessing can be a little scary.
They also have a “Found Money” feature with some partners where if you purchase with a merchant, they may contribute a small bit to your Acorns account.
Here is our full review of Acorns.
There are a lot of apps, many of them free but some of them paid, that will help you save time, save money, and save gray hairs.
Want to hear something funny? When we surveyed of our readers, the number one “app” was Microsoft Excel. Far and away the most popular application for anything – budgeting, financial dashboarding, net worth, whatever category you picked – it was Microsoft Excel.
Microsoft Excel is all about finding a template and customizing something that fits your exact needs. It can be a lot of work but that hands-on interaction means you know the data is pristine. You can rely on tools like Tiller to pull the transaction data too so you get the automation (it works with Google Docs).
The apps on this list are pre-built, faster to get into, and free. If you’re starting from scratch, these apps will get you there faster but will not fit you like a glove. Excel is like a custom-tailored suit, these are off the rack.