2019 marked the end of an era: it saw the less-than-satisfying conclusion to Game of Thrones, the unfortunate passing of internet-famous Grumpy Cat, and, of course, the closing out of another decade. What it did not see, however, was the end of app culture. Indeed, one need look no further for evidence of its continued ascendancy than at the over 2.5 million apps in the Google Play Store and the ~2.2 million in the Apple App Store. And, in this veritable sea of choices, there exists a growing number of personal finance apps devoted specifically to helping users improve their finances, manage budget, track money, and more.
But, with so many to choose from, how can you be sure you are using the right app for your financial needs?
Well, fear not, dear reader, we’re here to do the legwork for you. We’ve sifted through the heaps of useless apps, scoured the dark corners of every app store, and braved countless bad in-app experiences to unearth only the best personal finance apps. So, follow along as we take a closer look at our top finance apps of 2020—who knows, you might see something you like.
You’re not alone if the idea of keeping to a budget makes your head hurt: according to a 2016 study by US Bank, only 41% of Americans maintain a budget. Luckily, the Clarity Money app is here to help make budgeting easy. After linking your bank accounts, the app analyzes the transactions in your account and displays them based on categories (groceries, dining, and rent to name a few). You can then set up your budget by indicating how much you want to spend on each category per month. Now, as you spend money throughout the week, the app will keep you updated on how close you are to hitting the budget thresholds you set originally and spending less than your income.
Additionally, the app detects any subscriptions (Netflix, Spotify, Disney+, etc) you currently have and allows you to manage them as you see fit. This feature is a great way to keep your monthly expenses in check if need be as you can cancel subscriptions from within the app itself—sometimes those extra shows just aren’t worth it.
All this said, the Clarity Money app still has some kinks to work out. It will sometimes miscategorize transactions into the wrong category making for an unbalanced budget. More to the point, however, while the app allows one to track expenses, it does not give in-app tips/tricks on how to build your budget so it is only as good as you are at setting spending thresholds. We recommend taking some time to learn about budgeting basics—like how much you should be spending on rent and dining—before committing to this app.
Is it for you?
Clarity Money is for you if you are looking for budgeting tools and find yourself wanting to track your spending across multiple accounts and your various subscriptions all in one place—binge-watchers I’m looking at you.
IKEA step aside, there’s another Swedish sweetheart on the scene: Klarna. One of the most popular ‘buy now, pay later’ apps in Europe, Klarna began taking the US by storm late in 2015. The app allows you to buy items through their app and, instead of paying the initial sticker price, you pay ¼ of the cost upfront and then the rest in similarly-sized installments every two weeks until it is paid off with no interest (for those of you pulling out your calculators at home, that’s six weeks until it’s paid off). They also offer an option to pay nothing at first and pay in full 30 days later. Coupled with a strong return policy, this is great for those of us who like a trial period before committing to a purchase.
Before jumping into Klarna headfirst, however, you should understand a few things. As you might expect, there are late fees if you do not pay your installments on time. These fees range from $10-$35, so be sure you make your payments. Furthermore, while Klarna will report unpaid installments to the Credit Bureaus, they will not report your on-time payments meaning they will not help build your credit history.
Note: Klarna offers longer-term financing options that are not discussed here. These options require a hard credit check (i.e. will show up on your credit report) unlike the shorter-term options above that only require a soft check (i.e. will not show up on your credit report). Also, if you’re interested in knowing more about ‘buy now pay later’ apps, consider reading this.
Is it for you?
Klarna is for you if you do not have access to a robust line of credit or lack the savings to make an immediate purchase. Remember, however, to treat it with all the care you would any other line of credit by making payments on time or you could find you’re paying more than you intended for the latest fad.
Ok, ok, forgive us for bragging just a bit, but we’d be remiss to not include ourselves on this list of top financial apps. After all, we are one of the best alternatives to traditional payday loans on the market. We offer some of the lowest interest rates between 150-200% and—depending on the state you call home—can get you up to $500 in minutes after applying. If that were not enough, we also report to the three major credit bureaus: Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax, meaning as you pay your loan back you can build your credit history—not a bad deal if we do say so ourselves.
All you have to do is download our iOS or Android app, link your bank account, snap a stylish selfie, and, after following a few more prompts, let our state-of-the-art algorithms do the rest. If you’re approved you’ll be set up with four payments to make over eight weeks. Of course, we also understand life can happen so we offer up to a 29-day extension on each payment giving you the flexibility to make payments on your terms and in your own time.
Now, we understand we’re not perfect. Unfortunately, we are unable to approve everyone who applies, as we try our best not to burden our customers with a debt that could be financially harmful. This is why we take special care to evaluate each and every application with the intention of doing no harm. Furthermore, we are currently only available in a select few states—something we plan to change as we expand, so keep an eye out and feel free to follow us on Facebook/Instagram if you want to keep up to date with the latest news.
Is it for you?
If you have an unexpected expense or need a little extra money to make it through the month but don’t want to deal with the unscrupulous practices of traditional payday lenders consider us a more healthy alternative. We’ll get you your funds fast at a more friendly rate and help you on your journey to financial wellness.
Have you ever considered what being a squirrel might be like? Or, maybe, what it might be like to painlessly invest your spare change in the stock market? Well, if you answered ‘yes’ to either one of these questions then Acorns, the money management app, could be for you.
Built on the mechanism Acorns calls Round-ups, the savings app has you link your bank checking account or savings account and then rounds up every purchase you make to the nearest dollar (e.g. a $1.50 purchase is rounded up to $2.00). This ‘round-up’—the 50 cents in our example—is invested into a portfolio that you help design by filling out a questionnaire on your risk tolerance. Said portfolio is automatically diversified and curated by the Acorns team giving you a sandbox in which to better understand the stock market. Moreover, it slowly grows your investment with every purchase you make via ‘round-ups’, helping save money and putting you on the road to financial literacy and increasing your net worth.
Alas, it is not all sunshine and roses with Acorns. If you maintain a balance under $5000 they charge you a monthly fee that ranges from 1-3 dollars depending on the plan you select*. This fee can amount to a good percentage of your monthly ‘round-ups’ depending on how many purchases you make, so be sure to weigh your choices when deciding to commit to Acorns. Maintaining a balance of over $5000 results in a flat annual fee of 0.25%*. Lastly, as you become more familiar with investing, you may find that Acorns’ automated portfolio allocation hinders your full investment potential. Naturally, if you choose to make the jump from a curated portfolio to something more freeform, we encourage you to thoroughly research your investments before committing to them and consider consulting an investment professional.
*Note: these costs do not include the innate expense fees charged on the investments Acorns uses called ETFs. If you want to learn more about ETFs, we recommend reading this article.
Is it for you?
If you don’t know much about investing and want a way to automatically contribute to a curated portfolio then give Acorns a shot. It’s a great way to get your feet wet and learn about the wider financial world in a relatively structured environment. Just be cognizant of the fees, so you don’t find yourself paying more than you are investing.
A 2018 study by Bank of America discovered that the top two sources of tension in modern relationships are finances (25%) followed by household chores (17%). Unfortunately, we don’t have an app that will make dividing the housework any easier, but we do have one that will make managing joint finances a bit less of a headache, Zeta. This app allows you and your partner to bring your finances together on a single platform to split bills, budget, and plan for the future.
To get started you and your significant other link your respective bank accounts to Zeta’s secure app (don’t worry you can choose to hide account balances and transactions if you don’t feel comfortable sharing everything yet!). Now comes the difficult part: setting up the app’s budgets, billing calendar, and goals. Unfortunately, the app is still being improved on so this process can get a bit tedious, but the commitment is well worth it because once you’re all set up it works flawlessly for both financial communication and coordination.
Is it for you?
If your relationship is getting serious then it might be a good time to consider talking about joint finances. After all, communication is the cornerstone of any long-lasting relationship, so why not let Zeta help you with it?
Well, that’s all we’ve got for now; we hope you found this post informative or, that failing, entertaining. There are sure to be more apps created and improvements made to those we spotlighted here as the year goes on, so keep your eye out and you might be surprised with what you find—there’s sure to be an app out there for your financial needs, just keep looking.