Personal finance expert Dave Ramsey once said, “The thing I’ve discovered about working with personal finance is that it’s not rocket science. Personal finance is about 80 percent behavior and only about 20 percent knowledge.”
Today, it might not even require 20 percent knowledge. There are a number of fantastic apps that can tackle nearly any financial goal you have in as hands-off a fashion as possible. Here are some of the best.
It’s important to start with apps like Mint to get a top-down view of your financial situation. After connecting your bank accounts, investments, credit cards and additional asset information (cars, houses, RVs, boats, etc.), Mint gives you a general view of your financial health.
Everything from average monthly income versus expenses to forecasting is covered in a simple app that is mostly hands-off (just check it occasionally). To see what it can do, and learn how to get started, check out our beginner’s guide to Mint.
Saving and Building an Emergency Fund
Many financial experts say that the first step to good financial health is a six-month emergency fund. But, as we all know, saving is hard when that new 5k iMac is staring you in the face. Luckily, there are some rather hands-off methods of saving, some of which involve transactions so small you might forget about them entirely.
Digit is the first of these services. Digit algorithmically scans your income and expenditures to create a profile. With this profile, Digit automatically removes small sums of cash from your primary account to your Digit savings account.
You’ll get regular text reminders about your account balances and a withdrawal from your FDIC-insured Digit account is as easy as sending a text with the amount you’d like to transfer. The money shows up the next business day.
Other apps make small deposits into your savings account each time you complete a transaction with your debit card, similarly helping you build up your savings.
Qapital lets you set rules that make deposits your change into a savings account daily, weekly or monthly. Their most popular rule rounds every purchase you make up to the nearest dollar and deposits the change (e.g., if you spend $4.83, $0.17 will be deposited in your savings account).
Bank of America’s “Keep the Change” program does the same, and transfers the cash instantly to savings. Wells Fargo takes a slightly different approach with its Way2Save program: instead of keeping the change, you get “charged” a flat fee of $1 each time you swipe your card. This money is then deposited into your savings account. Both banks offer mobile apps to help you keep track of where your money is.
Without knowing how much money is coming into and going out of your accounts, and how much you can spend each day while still meeting your financial goals, personal finance gets pretty tricky, or even impossible.
The envelope method has been around for decades, and it’s basically a way to get a visual representation of where your money is going by storing it in specific envelopes for a stated purpose: vacation, car payment, mortgage, credit card payments, and so on.
Since we complete most of our financial transactions digitally these days, apps like Mvelopes and Goodbudget can modernize a tried-and-true approach to budgeting by giving you a categorical snapshot of your expenses. Both can also create virtual “envelopes” that don’t actually affect your bank account, but fake it within the app so that you can see which of your expenses are covered at any given time.
Level Money is my personal favorite. The app calls itself “the mobile money meter,” and with good reason — it acts as a personal advisor that tells you how much you can spend in a given day.
The app analyzes your financial comings and goings before deciding on a safe amount that you can spend each day. This amount is updated in real-time as you make purchases. You can also use it to sock away a bit of extra cash each month by creating automated rules or having it lower the amount you’re “allowed” to spend.
Two other apps stand out in this category, but I wasn’t particularly fond of either of them. Wally is visually striking, but lacks a lot of the automated features that I like in others, and You Need a Budget (YNAB) is one of the best Mint competitors on the web, but its smartphone app is a watered-down alternative that isn’t as feature-rich as any of the mentioned competitors here.
The best free app of its kind in this space is Credit Karma, hands down. For the low, low price of free, you get scores and reports, updated weekly. Having regular updates on your credit is an integral part of understanding it, and Credit Karma is a great, and free, way to do just that.
myFICO Mobile is another option; this app gives you your FICO score (the number between 300 and 850 that lenders use to determine creditworthiness), which is a feature that Credit Karma doesn’t have. You could also just go to the source and download the apps from the three major credit reporting agencies (Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian).
Just a note: none of these latter apps have great reviews, and all come with a one-time or recurring fee which varies depending on whether you’re looking for a one-time check, monitoring, a monthly update, or other services.
My favorite investing apps are those that act in similar ways to the aforementioned savings tools. That is to say, they take money without me noticing.
Acorns is one of the most talked-about apps of this type and it’s a great option. It takes your spare change (to the nearest dollar) after a purchase and invests it in a low-cost group of stocks, commodities and bonds called an exchange-traded fund (ETF).
Stash (iOS only) is my other favorite in this category. It acts in much the same way Acorns does, but you can also invest money manually rather than waiting on your spare change to accumulate.
Other automated options are Betterment and Wealthfront, although the two options mentioned above are far better for beginner investing, in my opinion. That said, both apps offer more options for investing than Acorns or Stash, but that comes with a cost, and in this case that’s learning about investing.
Once you are in a solid place financially, it’s okay to open up and take a little risk with some of your investments. For this, many elect to invest in individual stocks and foreign currencies.
Luckily, what once took place on a trading floor, and then in front of a computer, can now happen right on your mobile device.
Robinhood is my favorite trading app, as it’s simple for beginning traders and you can buy and sell stocks without any per-share or per-trade fees. If you’ve ever used a brokerage, you know how quickly these fees can add up.
The tools here run the gamut from beginner to the most hardcore trader, so it’s hard to make a recommendation for what’s best, as it really depends on your experience level, your trading strategies, and who your broker is. All major brokers have their own iOS apps, so that’s probably the easiest route.
Instead of making additional recommendations, I’ll point to a couple that offer tools that you might find useful.
For those wanting to learn more about investing, Yahoo Finance has real-time information as well as detailed explanations about common investment strategies, how to read charts, and a glossary of terms.
Which of these apps are you currently using to manage your personal finances? What would you add to the list? Let us know in the comments below.