It seems today that there’s an app for everything. And that’s mostly true! For those of us with busy lives, it can be difficult to keep track of email, appointments, and even our more mundane tasks, like paying bills or managing our finances.
The world of online banking, while overall accepted despite some security and privacy concerns, has opened up hundreds of opportunities in the past decade for tracking our checking accounts, credit cards, investments, and more. We can even transfer money into our retirement accounts with a simple swipe on our phone screens.
But how do we choose which personal finance apps are best for us? Several personal finance sites will list the hottest apps this season, but if you’re just starting out, here are five basic ones (tailor to your preferences) that you should install on your smartphone right now.
Mint was one of the first personal finance apps on the scene, arriving in 2006. A lot has changed since then (after all, the very first iPhone was released in 2007!), but Mint has remained a free service for its users. You can access Mint via desktop and mobile, and set it up to alert you to specific transactions, low-balance amounts, new credit scores, and more.
A few of Mint’s key features include:
- Monitoring of all your connected accounts. You can connect your checking, savings, and credit card accounts, in addition to investments, loans, and even property (your car, house, etc.). Seeing all of your transactions at a glance will save you time from signing into all of those accounts separately.
- Build budgets — and savings goals. Mint will track your spending to the minute and let you know how you’re doing on your monthly budget for housing, food, fuel, and fun. You can customize short- and long-term savings goals, too, from saving up for a summer vacation to planning for retirement.
- Check your credit score. Mint does this for free monthly, so you can see how you’re doing on your credit card usage, account history, and any late payments that may affect your score.
2. A Mobile Payment App
Outside of Mint, which can essentially monitor everything and reduce the need for multiple apps cluttering up your phone’s memory, you’ll want one of the easiest ways to pay people on the go: Venmo, Paypal, SquareCash, or Zelle. If you’re eating out with friends, it’s easy to split the bill by sending cash through one of these apps to your dining partners later.
These apps are tied to your bank account, so you can easily withdraw money directly from your checking or savings. If you use a credit card, however, there is an associated fee.
While Google Wallet and Apple Pay also are on the market, they’re not currently used as much as the following peer-to-peer heavy-hitters.
Easily the most popular mobile payment app — enough that people use “Venmo” as a verb — you can pay friends with your Venmo balance, your checking account, a debit card, or a prepaid card. Like other apps, Venmo charges a fee (3%) if you pay a friend back with a credit card, so it’s best to use the cash you have in the bank.
A spinoff of eBay, PayPal owns Venmo but operates separately. One big difference is, if you’re more of a private person, there’s no social experience with PayPal as there is with Venmo (cute emojis and your friends knowing you paid someone else via newsfeed). PayPal also is associated as a payment method with several companies, including when you buy products from Etsy or concert tickets from Eventbrite, so it makes paying friends — and businesses — super easy. Another bonus is if you owe money to someone in another country, you most likely can pay them in their currency.
Square is a popular service you probably notice paying when you go to restaurants, coffee shops, concert venues, or other small businesses. SquareCash is a payment app for friends that also gives you the option of turning your cash into a SquareCash Visa debit card. You also can instantly deposit money from your SquareCash account to your bank account, rather than wait a few days for the transaction to process, but there’s a 1% fee.
Zelle is associated with many popular banks as a way for its users to pay each other, including Bank of America, Capital One, and Wells Fargo, though you can’t use your credit card. Because it’s connected to your bank’s app, it offers a little relief for people who don’t want to deal with third-party software.
3. Your Bank’s App
While some major banks’ apps are better than others — and if you bank with a small credit union you may not have the option to use an app — it’s a good idea to keep your bank app handy if you need to deposit a check via mobile. That’s probably the best feature of any bank app, unless you choose not to track your bank account via Mint and do it directly through your banking software.
4. Your Investment Account
If you aren’t investing any of your money toward retirement, first things first — start doing that now. You can manage your retirement accounts, such as if you use Wealthfront or Betterment, in real time using an app. If you’re not great at remembering to invest, new to the scene are apps that will automatically deposit your spare change from transactions, or however much you choose, including Acorns and Stash.
5. Your Favorite Spreadsheet (or a Budgeting App)
Some of us are diehard Microsoft Excel fans, while others have found Google Sheets, the Google Suite spreadsheets option, to work just as well. Spreadsheet apps allow you to track your expenses on the go, if you enjoy creating a manual budget. (A spreadsheet is a good option for an annual review of your income and expenses, for example.) If you don’t, there are several budgeting apps available, such as You Need a Budget, which helps you live within your means. Although an app like Google Sheets is free, you’ll pay a small premium usually for budgeting apps that do more of the work for you.
While there are hundreds if not thousands of personal finance apps out there, we know you’ll find ones that work for you. If you have a favorite, feel free to share with us in the comments!
When Personal Finance Apps Don’t Cut It
If you’re working toward learning how to budget but still feel yourself drowning in debt, a personal finance app isn’t going to magically solve your problems. You may need to rely on the expertise of a financial advisor or a bankruptcy attorney who can help you get back on track. For a free debt evaluation, contact the qualified member attorneys of National Bankruptcy Forum today.
Erik Clark is one of the leading bankruptcy attorneys in Southern California who has had the privilege of representing thousands of clients in chapter 7 and chapter 13 bankruptcy cases in the Los Angeles area. Erik has served as the past President of the National Consumer Bankruptcy Litigation Center (NCBLC) and the American Consumer Bankruptcy College (ACBC). His firm, Borowitz & Clark, is committed to using bankruptcy law as a tool for social justice and was one of the first consumer law firms to join the Law Firm Antiracism Alliance.