Most people would prefer to spend less and save more, but the day-to-day reality of work, family life, and other commitments makes it impractical, if not seemingly impossible. Let’s face it, it’s tough to find the time or motivation for budgeting, and some folks skip it altogether.
For these and many other reasons, budgeting apps have become increasingly popular over the past decade. This software makes it easier to monitor your spending and saving habits by linking accounts to an application and tracking your cash flow. These apps, free or paid, offer a range of features to improve your finances.
We reviewed 15 of the best budgeting apps on the market to find the best options for new or experienced budgeters. We compared cost, functionality, features, security, reviews, and more. These are the best options to improve your budget.
The 6 Best Budgeting Apps of 2020
Best Overall: You Need a Budget (YNAB)
You Need a Budget, or YNAB, earns the top spot because of the company’s renowned budgeting philosophy and reputation. YNAB says new budgeters typically save $600 in their first two months and more than $6,000 in their first year. Although YNAB is the most costly option on our list, the company offers a 34-day free trial and a 100% no-risk, money-back guarantee.
Complete budget makeover
Free 34-day trial
100% money-back guarantee
Strong customer service and comprehensive education
$84 per year
More time-intensive to learn
Recent sync issues
YNAB rises to the top of our list because of its budgeting philosophy and money-back guarantee. The company offers a free trial for 34 days (no credit card required) and after that, the cost is $84 per year. If you prefer to pay less upfront, the cost is $11.99 per month.
YNAB offers the ability to sync your bank accounts, import your data from a file, or manually enter each transaction. To begin, the company suggests learning the basics about the app through video courses, a live workshop, or reading a guide. YNAB offers a proactive budgeting approach, rather than tracking what you have already spent, like some competitors.
After signing up, you create your first budget and assign every dollar a purpose, like your rent or car payment, for example. The goal is to eventually get at least one month ahead, so you’re spending money you earned from 30 days ago. The company offers extensive educational resources and customer support to keep you on track.
YNAB says privacy and security are its top priority. The company protects your information by using bank-level encryption for all data, best practices for password security, third-party audits, and more.
Best Free Budgeting App: Mint
Mint stands out for a few reasons. It’s one of the most popular budgeting apps available, with over 20 million users. The app is free and easy to use for budgeters of all levels. You can also set up bill payment reminders, track investments, and access your TransUnion credit score—all of which makes Mint our choice for best free budgeting app.
Free budgeting app
Free TransUnion credit scores
In-app product advertisements
Some complaints about technical issues
Spending categorization could be better
Mint offers the best-known free budgeting app on the market. It’s a great option for anyone looking to improve their spending habits. The app is free but you may see targeted financial product advertisements.
You may sync your financial accounts within the app or manually add transactions. Mint allows you to see all your accounts in one place and keep track of your spending on a daily basis. The app automatically organizes your spending, so you can see totals by category at a glance. Mint also offers monthly bill tracking, including payment reminders to avoid late fees. The app also offers the ability to keep track of your investments and check portfolio fees. Mint offers a few education resources like a home affordability calculator, loan repayment calculator, and blog with a variety of personal finance topics.
Mint protects your data through features like security scanning with Verisign, multi-factor authentication, and touch ID mobile access. The company stores your login information in a separate database with multiple layers of hardware and software encryption.
Best for Cash Flow: Simplifi by Quicken
Simplifi by Quicken earns high marks because it offers a personalized spending plan with real-time updates of how much you have left to spend throughout the month. The app syncs your bank accounts to show you where you stand and your progress on financial goals. Simplifi by Quicken also tracks your monthly bills and subscriptions, including those you don’t use.
Strong cash flow tools
Watch lists for mindful spending
Free 30-day trial
$35.99 per year
Some complaints about technical issues
Simplifi by Quicken ranks best for cash flow because of the app’s effective tracking capabilities. It’s the best option for staying on top of how much you can spend between your paychecks. The app offers a free 30-day trial and then you will pay $2.99 per month (billed annually at $35.99) or $3.99 per month if you choose not to pay upfront.
To get started, you have to sync bank accounts, and then you will have a complete snapshot of your finances. The app automatically categorizes your spending, tracks recurring bills and subscriptions, and stays on top of upcoming expenses.
One standout feature is the app’s custom watchlists, which allow you to limit spending by category or payee. Also, the custom spending plan monitors cash flow to make sure you never spend more than you make. Simplifi by Quicken offers tips while you’re using the app, but there’s also a blog full of educational content at your fingertips.
Security and privacy are top priorities for Quicken, the app’s parent company. Quicken has been trusted with sensitive financial data for decades and continues to work on new security measures. The app uses 256-bit encryption to transmit banking data and keeps the information confidential.
Best for Overspenders: PocketGuard
PocketGuard made the cut because the app helps curb overspending. The company uses an algorithm to track your income, expenses, and savings goals to tell you how much you can spend every day. These spending limits make it easier to quit overspending and take control of your financial goals.
Free basic budgeting app
Cash flow at a glance
Easy to use
PocketGuard Plus is $34.99 per year
No phone support
Some complaints about technical issues
PocketGuard earned the top spot as best for overspenders because its features focus on helping users take control of overspending. The app offers a free and a premium version, PocketGuard Plus, for $34.99 per year.
To get started you need to connect your checking, savings, and credit card accounts. The app can see what you are spending, where to save, and reminds you when credit card bills are due. PocketGuard's "In My Pocket" feature uses an algorithm to identify how much money you can spend based on your income, upcoming bills, goals, recent spending, and budgets.
The app offers a smart bill reminder to keep track of due dates and shows where you may be able to negotiate for lower bills. There’s also an automated savings feature, which allows you to set a goal and save for it. PocketGuard automatically moves the money to an FDIC-insured bank account on your behalf.
PocketGuard Plus offers additional features like creating your categories, changing transaction dates, the ability to export data, tracking cash, managing ATM deposits and withdrawals, and splitting up transactions. The company also publishes an educational blog for additional opportunities to learn.
PocketGuard prioritizes security with 256-bit encryption, a four-digit PIN, and biometrics like Touch ID and Face ID as another layer of protection.
Best for Building Wealth: Personal Capital
Personal Capital scores high because the company offers the best free tools for wealth building. You can sync your financial accounts in one place to track your net worth, plan for the future with the Retirement Planner, and use the Fee Analyzer to check portfolio fees.
Free wealth management app
Retirement Planner tool
Education Planner tool
Net worth tracking
Fee Analyzer tool for your portfolio
Less focused on budgeting
No option to manually add transactions for budgeting
Sales calls for wealth management services
Personal Capital lands at the top of our list with the best app for building wealth. You can use the product’s dashboards to sync accounts for a complete picture of your finances. The company’s primary app is free, with the option to add investment management services for 0.89% of your money for accounts under $1 million.
Unfortunately, Personal Capital doesn’t allow you to manually add budgeting transactions, but you can manually add investments without syncing those accounts. You can use Personal Capital’s budgeting tools to see your total income and expenses every month. While you can’t create specific goals, you can add a budget, compare to previous months, and see your spending by categories.
Although the company’s budgeting features aren’t as comprehensive as others, Personal Capital does offer better investing tools. You can use the dashboard to see changes to your net worth over time, and Personal Capital’s Fee Analyzer gives you a closer look into your portfolio fees. You may also prepare for the future with the company’s Retirement Planner tool or save for college with the Education Planner tool. Personal Capital’s blog, Daily Capital, covers a range of financial planning topics for beginners to more experienced users alike.
Personal Capital protects your data with encryption, fraud protection, and robust authentication. No one has access to your individual login credentials, and the company’s partnership with Yodlee, a veteran financial technology company, offers another layer of security.
Best for Couples: Zeta
Zeta is one of the few free budgeting apps designed specifically for couples, joint finances or not. The app caters to all types of couples, including those who are living together, engaged, married, or new parents. You can sync various accounts to track spending, see your net worth, and manage bills together.
You can also sign up for a joint no-fee banking account and cards with features like early access to direct deposit, digital checks, access to the MoneyPass ATM network, contactless payments, and bill pay. All of these enhanced features make Zeta our choice as best for couples.
Free budgeting app and no-fee joint bank account
Designed for all types of couples
Features like early direct deposits, contactless payments, and bill pay
Low APY for joint account
In-app product recommendations
Zeta earns a spot on our list because the free budgeting app caters to all types of couples. The product also offers a free joint bank account to manage spending and paying bills together. Zeta’s Money Manager app and Joint Cards are free, but the company may offer paid services in the future.
The Zeta Money Manager app allows you to sync accounts or manually add data for a shared view of your finances. The app can create budgets, track spending, set up joint goals, and manage bills. A few standout features include sharing controls, shared and personal budgets, bill reminders, and more. Zeta offers monthly insights on your finances and how you can make improvements. Zeta’s Money Date Mag, an online publication covering love and money in the modern age, includes articles to boost your financial knowledge.
The Zeta Joint Cards offer bank account access with FDIC insurance through Radius Bank, no monthly fees or minimums, and 0.14% APY. The account provides special features like early direct deposits, contactless payments, and bill pay. The company uses state-of-the-art, bank-level security to keep your data safe. They don’t store your financial logins, and the company uses two-factor authentication and data encrypted databases.
What Are Budgeting Apps?
A budgeting app is a software application that you may access from your computer, tablet, or mobile device to track your personal finances. This may include tracking your income, expenses, savings, debt payoff, investing, or a combination to improve your financial health. Budgeting apps are different from accounting software, which is typically for a business’s income and expenses.
Budgeting apps may sync with your financial accounts to offer an overview of your situation as changes happen. The most common use of budgeting apps is to track spending through a synced checking account. Many people aren’t aware of how much money they spend every month, which can make changes more difficult. A budgeting app may organize spending history into categories to identify trends, making the user aware of their habits over time.
Should I Pay for an App or Use a Free One?
When it comes to budgeting, everyone has their own preferences, including the willingness to invest money in a subscription-based budgeting app. Both free and subscription-based budgeting apps have pros and cons to consider. While spending money to improve your budget may seem counterintuitive, a premium app could be worth the cost if you make long-term changes. In some cases, the monthly or annual fee could pay for itself, but this may not be true for all subscription-based budgeting apps. A free 30-day trial is the easiest way to see if an app is worth the investment. If you enjoy using the app and feel motivated to continue, the monthly or annual fee could pay off. After all, the best budgeting system is one you are willing to stick with over time.
What Features Should I Look For?
Most budgeting apps offer the ability to sync your bank accounts. You may collect your income and consumer spending data into the app. Many apps can track your spending and organize your expenses into categories, which allows you to see trends over time. These features may make it easier to understand your spending habits and make better choices.
Some apps take it a step further with automated savings, suggestions to save money, bill alerts, access to credit scores, and investing features. For apps with a savings component, you should make sure the account is FDIC-insured. You may also consider the account’s APY and how it compares to high-interest online savings accounts, which may also offer free budgeting tools. Depending on how much money you’re saving, it could be better to switch to an online, tech-focused bank offering a higher APY.
How We Chose the Best Budgeting Apps
Budgeting is a challenge for many people. While many folks want to reel in spending, it can be tedious to manually track expenses with a spreadsheet, which makes giving up all too easy. Luckily, there are budgeting apps to automate the process. The only problem is, the market is flooded with free and subscription-based budgeting apps, and most people don’t have the time or energy to spend a month testing each out. Fortunately, we have done the heavy lifting for you. To create our roundup of the best budgeting apps, we considered 15 of the best companies on the market. We compared each app’s budgeting functionality, pricing, free trials, and user reviews. We compared the product features, educational tools, security, and how each app accesses your financial data. All of our picks are free, offer a free version, or have a free trial, so you won’t have to waste money on a budgeting app that doesn’t suit your needs.
TechCrunch. "The Value of TechCrunch50: Mint Acquired by Intuit for $170m Two Years After Winning TC40." Accessed October 27, 2020.