Review: The best budgeting apps and services in 2023
Looking for a budgeting tool to help you keep track of your spending and saving? There are a lot of apps out there, and it can be hard to choose the best budgeting app 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 at hand when the bills are due?
We’ve put together the details, pros and cons of the best financial apps out there, to help you decide. No matter what your long-term financial goals are, there’s a financial app that will probably work for you.
How it works: Acorns isn’t your traditional budgeting app. The concept is simple — connect your bank accounts and start rounding up all your purchases to save small, affordable amounts. For example, you could round up your daily $2.51 coffee to $3 and save $0.49 every day, automatically investing that cash in Acorn’s smart portfolios.
Acorns also offers a feature called Acorns Earn that partners with popular brands like Expedia™, Nike™ and Apple. If you shop with Acorns Earn partners via a credit or debit card that is linked to your Acorns account, the partner will deposit a bonus into your Acorns account.
Price: $3 or $5 per month depending on the subscription tier you choose.
Pro: Acorns may appeal to someone who wants to tackle both saving money and investing in the same mobile app, and who likes the idea of saving money without needing to really think about it.
Con: Acorns might not be the best choice for someone who makes very few transactions in a typical month. If you only make ten transactions and the round-up amount averages $0.50 per transaction, you’re paying at least $3 in monthly subscription fees to invest $5. That equates to a 60 percent fee.
Testimonial: “I’ve had this app on my phone for about two and a half years, and right now, my account has grown to about $1500, with nearly $150 in earnings. I love the graph-like feature and a way to see the way the market works. I have other investment accounts for specific financial goals like retirement, but I consider this one a fun rainy day fund.” — Anna Davies, Haven Life contributor
How it works: Albert analyzes your income and expense patterns to figure out the optimum amount of money to automatically set aside in savings — but that’s just the start of what this app offers. With Albert, you can automate savings, begin investing, advance cash on your next paycheck and even renegotiate bills.
Albert also offers a feature called Genius, which is a text-based, add-on financial planning tool. Got a question about the best student loan repayment option? Text the question to Albert Genius and a real, live financial planner will text you back with answers.
Price: Free version for the basic budgeting and saving app; if you want to use the Genius feature, you’ll pay a monthly subscription fee of your choice, starting at a minimum of $8.
Pro: Albert is a good match for someone who wants budgeting guidance and who also needs some motivation to save. Albert is also a good option for people who often have financial questions and will like the ease of having personalized answers coming from a financial planner over text.
Con: Albert has so many different features that it might take a while to become familiar with how they all work.
Testimonial: “Excellent for those of us that are budget impaired. It’s really helped me understand my spending and cut out unnecessary costs. And the auto savings/investing option is perfect for me.” — camilasmami, reviewing on Apple™’s App Store
How it works: Digit automatically transfers small amounts of money from your checking to your savings account based on your available income and spending habits, and assigns that money to one or more designated savings goals.
The idea is that you won’t miss money you don’t see, and that automating savings makes it easier to set aside money than manually saving. The app has a no-overdraft guarantee, and the money in your Digit account is available for withdrawal whenever you need it — though you might want to keep it in there until you hit one of your financial goals.
Price: Free for 6 months, then $5/month.
Pro: Digit is best for people who have steady income and who regularly use their debit card or checking account for everyday purposes. People who have fluctuating income might also love it if they use their debit card or checking account regularly.
Con: If your financial account balance stays steady until you pay all of your bills at the end of each month, you may find that Digit has moved too much into savings because the software thinks you’ve got plenty of money to spare.
Testimonial: “As a freelancer with multiple contracts and invoices, it’s been hard for me to develop a solid savings strategy, and my automated savings is set at a standard amount I set based on the lowest amount of money I bring home a month. I like that Digit can find additional ways for me to save.” — Anna Davies, Haven Life contributor
How it works: Goodbudget uses the tried-and-true envelope budgeting system to help you allocate, manage and spend your money. The app also helps you save for big expenses and pay off debt — and you can even sync and share budgets with spouses and partners, so everyone knows exactly how much cash is available to spend.
Price: Free for the basic app; $8/month or $70/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: The envelope system works really well for people who can stick to it; if you’re the type of person who will make a big purchase even when you don’t have enough money in the designated envelope, this app might not be the best choice for you.
Testimonial: “I’ve been using this for five months now, and this is the best app for a digital version of the old cash envelope system … It’s great because some budget categories get spent completely every month to a zero balance, whereas other categories may accumulate over time, like savings, and this app accounts for these growing “envelope” balances – something that every budgeting app I’ve tried lacked. As long as you, and your spouse, enter EVERY transaction, it’s a dream to use.” — Tricksterinator, reviewing on Apple’s App Store.
How it works: 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 is 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 also sends email or SMS alerts when bills are due, flags suspicious transactions and provides credit score updates.
Pro: Mint is right for someone who wants a free app that shows your entire financial picture in real-time.
Con: Mint is a fairly basic budgeting app, and doesn’t include the bells, whistles and features that other apps provide.
Testimonial: “My husband and I use Mint, it helps us keep an eye on our expenses. We even caught a fraud recently. Somebody used my account number and routing information to transfer $998 to a PayPal account I didn’t recognize. Once we saw it in Mint I contacted my bank and they confirmed that it was a fraudulent transaction and filed a claim.” — Srishti Gupta, Haven Life employee
How it works: Personal Capital feels like 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 allows you to view your spending and income as well as track your investments and calculate your net worth. You can set spending targets to help you stick to a budget, keep track of upcoming bills and outstanding balances and visually analyze where your money is going.
Price: Free for the basic personal finance app; the wealth management app has fees that start at 0.89% for investment accounts under $1,000,000.
Pro: Personal Capital is great for someone who is looking for a robust all-in-one financial planning platform with a focus on tracking investments.
Con: Since this app is so heavily built around investments, it might not be ideal for everyone.
Testimonial: “Fantastic tool for getting and keeping your financial house in order. Easy to set up, and once you do, you can get both a bird’s eye view and a detailed look at where you stand with regard to cash on hand, investments, loan debt, and credit card debt. This is the most useful general finance app I’ve come across.” — Jen Barnes, reviewing on Trustpilot
How it works: Qapital is a saving and investing app that uses the IFTTT (if this, then that) formula to create goal-based saving rules. Maybe you want to transfer a specific amount of money to savings every Saturday or every payday, for example. Or you can set a “guilty pleasure” rule to transfer money to savings every time you’re out having happy hour drinks with your friends.
Qapital offers free FDIC-insured checking and savings accounts, plus a Qapital investment account and a Qapital Visa debit card, to help you save, grow, withdraw and spend your money.
Price: Free for 30 days; then pay $3/month for a Basic membership, $6/month for a Complete membership or $12/month for a Premier membership.
Pro: Qapital is great for the person who is serious about setting different savings goals, and who is on board with the idea of opening savings and checking accounts connected to the app.
Con: You could regularly deposit money into your own savings account (by setting up an automatic transfer every two weeks, for example) without joining Qapital and paying the monthly membership fee.
Testimonial: “It’s a really good savings app! Making your own goals are great, and the pause breaks when your account balance is low helps a great deal. I’ve referred several people.” — C. Lap, reviewing on Apple’s App Store
You Need a Budget®
How it works: You Need a Budget, often abbreviated to YNAB, is a comprehensive budgeting software program based around the idea of “giving every dollar a job.”
Once you set up a budget that includes not only your day-to-day expenses but also sinking funds for expenses like car repairs, health insurance deductibles and holiday travel, YNAB asks you to allocate every dollar in your bank account to one of those upcoming expenditures. That way, you know exactly how far your money could go, if necessary — and from there, you continue to allocate and adjust your budget as income is earned and spent.
I use YNAB myself, and it has completely changed the way I manage my finances. Knowing that I have already assigned dollars to jobs like “new laptop” and “summer vacation” makes me feel more confident in my everyday spending. As long as I stick to my budget, I’ll be able to afford everything I need — and if my income changes, or a new expense comes up that isn’t in the budget, I can use YNAB to make smart, forward-thinking decisions about how to reallocate my money.
Price: Free for 34 days, then $14.99/month or $99/year.
Pro: You Need a Budget is for someone who wants to take a long-term approach to budgeting and get focused on paying off debt and setting saving goals. It’s also an effective tool for couples looking to merge their finances and budget as a team.
Con: Although YNAB’s core principles are fairly intuitive, the app itself is not. Expect to spend some time exploring YNAB tutorials before setting up your budget; YNAB also offers free online workshops every day, so you can learn the process directly from the YNAB team.
Testimonial: “YNAB’s system forces you to pay attention to the consequences of every single purchase. The learning curve is difficult at first, and it does take an hour or two to get everything set up. But the payoff is literal – managing my money tightly with YNAB lets me spend more comfortably by making sure I have what I need for expenses and savings. This is hands-down the best budgeting system available.” — hellojeffmclean, reviewing on Apple’s App Store
Choosing the best app for your goals
Selecting the best budgeting app really comes down to what you hope to get out of the program. Are you looking for a quick, free overview of your finances and your credit score? Mint might be a good choice.
Want to make a spending plan with a significant time horizon? YNAB might be right for you. If you’re simply looking to set aside a little extra cash every month, Acorns and Digit can help you get the job done.
So 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 or annual fee — and then choose the best app that meets your needs. From there, you can start using the app to work toward achieving your financial goals.