Using budgeting software is a great way for you to track where your money is going and help you analyze details to help you reach your financial goals. According to FINRA’s 2018 National Financial Capability Study, 58% of respondents don't use any form of technology to help with their budget, with 55% of them saying they aren’t saving money. Without a system of checks and balances, long-term financial plans can go awry, which is why it’s important to budget. This helps you achieve different financial goals such as saving for a car, buying your first home, and having enough money when it comes time to retire.
We looked at 19 companies based on factors such as ease of use, tools to import transactions, customer support, platform compatibility, and type of financial feedback or guidance. We then picked the six best ones based on various financial goals.
The 6 Best Budgeting Software of 2020
Best Overall: YNAB (You Need a Budget)
YNAB offers some of the most accessible help to new budgeters and across the most platforms. Plus, it's fast to import transactions, allows you to customize categories, and you quickly (through simple color coding) see all your financial goals at a glance—all of which helped us decide on YNAB as best overall budgeting software in our review.
Offers a 34-day free trial before you commit
Clear and user-friendly instructions during the onboarding process with in-app prompts showing how a budget works
Color coding and questions allow you to see the immediate consequences of your spending habits
Setting your initial budget may seem complicated and intimidating at first
At $11.99 per month (or $84 a year), it’s one of the pricier options on our list
Doesn’t take into account dynamic budgeting for couples
Launched by a married couple in September 2004, YNAB's popularity among its fans is for good reason: The software has helped plenty of users pay down debt and gain control of their financial lives using the zero-sum budgeting method. This budgeting method tracks every single dollar and gives it a “job”—you account for all your spending and saving activities in various customizable categories.
Available online, on iOS (currently with 21,900 ratings averaging 4.8 stars), Android (almost 6,000 reviews averaging 4.0 stars), and Alexa, YNAB charges $11.99 a month, or $84 a year. The software offers a 34-day free trial if you’re not sure you’re ready to commit.
YNAB's budgeting model imports your bank and financial accounts to help you be more specific about where you allocate your money to help you see where it's all going. Their reports offer a financial snapshot including your spending over time and whether you're reaching your long-term goals such as debt repayment.
Since its main objective is to help you with household accounting, you won’t see other financial information such as retirement, investing, and tax planning goals. YNAB also doesn’t have a bill pay option.
Best Financial Snapshot: Mint
We like that you're able to see your financial snapshot—bills, assets, debts, retirement funds, and credit score—on Mint's intuitive dashboard. Though it offers comprehensive features for free, ultimately this wasn't the top of our list because it's not as intuitive to use as YNAB, but it is the best in our review for seeing your complete financial picture at a glance.
Free to use
Offers free credit score monitoring in addition to budgeting features
Helps you build a budget automatically by looking at your spending habits
Inability to customize budget categories
Reports of issues with syncing bank account transactions to Mint
Lack of reports, with the exception of exporting it from a CSV file
Owned by Intuit, the company that offers financial products such as QuickBooks and TurboTax, Mint is a popular free budgeting platform that users can access online or on iOS and Android systems. The app has been named Editor’s Choice on Google Play, with over 168,000 reviews averaging 4.5 stars. The Apple Store version has over half a million ratings averaging 4.7 stars.
Mint gives you the opportunity to sync your financial accounts in one place and create a budget based on your financial behavior. It also offers suggestions based on your spending, shows your credit score for free, and offers steps to improve it. Unfortunately, there is no bill pay functionality, but like other budgeting software, Mint sets alerts when your bills are due and when your account funds are running low. The software also has plenty of reported issues with syncing accounts (you’ll need to add some manually).
Best Free App: Clarity Money
For a free app, Clarity has a lot to offer including the ability to organize expenses, link your accounts, and track spending. What stands out is the ability to cancel subscriptions you barely use, helping you save money—a feature that helps make Clarity Money the best free app in our review.
Feature that lets users cancel third-party subscriptions
Recommends products like low-interest loans to help you save money
App is intuitive and easy to use
Inability to customize spending categories
Customer support only available via email
Users can only create weekly budgets
Owned by banking giant Goldman Sachs, Clarity Money is a free money tracking tool that helps you assess your regular spending habits. Once you sign up, you can link your banking and credit card accounts seamlessly to start tracking your spending. The app is highly rated in both the Apple Store (over 56,000 reviews, averaging 4.7 stars) and Google Play (over 4,600 reviews, averaging 4.0 stars).
The app offers friendly suggestions to show you the next steps to improve your money management. The dashboard shows your spending summaries, credit usage, product recommendations, and more. There is no bill paying capability, but it does offer a unique feature that helps you cancel any third-party subscriptions.
One of the downsides is that Clarity Money doesn’t offer a way to create a spending plan longer than a week at a time. Plus, you can’t customize categories. However, it does offer an easy way to automate your savings and track your spending all in one place.
Best for Investing: Personal Capital
Rated as best in our review for investing, Personal Capital breaks down your portfolio in order to help make suggestions on how to allocate your money based on the personal details you provide. The free software also analyzes the fees you’re currently paying to help you save money on your investment accounts.
Offers a comprehensive view of your finances all in one place
Powerful investment analysis tools such as a retirement fee analyzer
Easily see and compare spending habits from month-to-month
Inability to set specific savings goals in budgeting widget
You may receive sales calls and emails from Personal Capital to partake in their wealth management services
Investment checkup feature only available on the website
Personal Capital is a wealth management company offering free budgeting tools through its app and website. The company is a registered investment advisor with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and has over 2.4 million customers with over $12.3 billion in assets under management. You can access their budgeting tools on their website or via their iOS and Android apps—23,000-plus users on the Apple Store gave it an average of 4.7 stars, and more than 12,000 users on Google Play gave the Personal Capital app an average of 4.4 stars.
This budgeting software is free and comes with a host of tools that is impressive from an investing standpoint. Once banking, credit card, and investment accounts are imported, users can view their net worth right in the dashboard. From there you can assess your risk based on your retirement goals and see whether your current investments will help you reach your targets.
Perhaps the most powerful feature is the ability to check your investment fees to see where you can save and compare your portfolio based on current or recommended target allocations. This way you can see whether you need to adjust your portfolio in order to meet your retirement goals.
Best for Tax Planning: Quicken
In addition to its robust tracking and bill pay tools, the Premier and Home & Business tiers offer the ability to create Schedule D tax reports, track cost basis, and run business reports to help simplify tasks during tax season. More than any other offering in our review, Quicken is the best choice for tax planning.
Some tiers offer bill pay capabilities
Companion app and website sync with desktop software
Track investments in detail and schedule certain tax reports
No free trial available
Users need to use desktop software first
Software can be clunky and overwhelming for beginners
Previously part of Intuit, Quicken branched out into its own company in 2016, offering budgeting software for both individuals and businesses. The software is available in four different tiers and is based on an annual subscription model. Prices range from $34.99 for the Starter tier—offering very basic features—to $99.99 for their Home & Business tier.
While it’s primarily a desktop software, users can now use Quicken on the web (their companion website) or on the Quicken app with limited functionality. Users on the Apple Store have rated it highly, with an average of 4.6 stars from 5,300 customers, while on Google Play it has an average of 2.6 stars from 3,200 users.
In addition to its budgeting features, such as the ability to see spending trends and use bill pay, Quicken is the only budgeting software on this list that helps you prepare Schedule D tax reports, useful for those who have lots of investment accounts. Plus, you can use their what-if analysis feature to see if there are any tax implications of selling your investments or other potential realized and unrealized gains.
Best for Debt Reduction: PocketGuard
PocketGuard's simplicity in creating spending limits and tracking leftover money makes it best for debt reduction in this review of budgeting software.
Offers a simple way to show you have leftover money to spend after allocating bills and savings
Helps automatically build a budget based on financial goals
Free version available
Free version doesn’t keep track of cash transactions and offers limited “pockets”
Web version still in beta and offers limited capabilities
Ads and email solicitations for financial products and services
Founded in 2015 and based in Silicon Valley, PocketGuard is a simple budgeting app that allows users to track their bills, organize expenses, and create budgets automatically. The Android and iOS apps are highly rated—4.0 from over 1,300 users and 4.7 from 5,000 users, respectively. The web version, however, is still in beta mode and doesn't offer as much functionality. PocketGuard says it's adding more soon.
PocketGuard has free and paid versions. PocketGuard Plus, their paid tier, offers features such as the ability to customize budget categories, create unlimited goals, track cash purchases, and export transaction data. Bill pay, retirement planning, and credit monitoring tools are not available on either tier.
However, where PocketGuard shines is in its simplicity. For those who are looking to manage their debt well, this app offers a simple way to set saving goals to encourage you to spend less. The app tells you how much you have left to spend so that you can prioritize your debt repayment goals and keep your budget in check.
What Is Budgeting Software?
Budgeting software is a program or app that helps someone create, monitor, and manage their budget. It typically syncs with your financial accounts and automatically pulls in relevant information to show you where you stand financially.
Many software programs offer different ways to track your spending, monitor your habits, and even help you focus on financial goals, such as debt reduction, retirement planning, and long- and short-term savings.
What Is the 50/20/30 Budget Rule?
The 50/20/30 budget rule is a great way to monitor spending for people who aren’t interested in using detailed categories. The numbers refer to the percentage of allocation for your after-tax income—50% on needs, 20% toward savings or paying down debt, and 30% on wants.
Let’s say your family makes $5,000 after taxes. That means you can use $2,500 toward your needs, which include non-negotiables such as housing, transportation, and groceries. Of the remaining 50%, $1,500 can go toward wants (think restaurants and entertainment), and $1,000 toward savings or debt repayment. To ensure you’re on track financially, you need to make sure you’re not spending more than the allotted amount in each category.
What Are Long-Term Savings Rules?
Saving for large-ticket items such as a down payment on a house or a car isn’t necessarily part of your regular spending budget. That means you’ll need to use a different tactic in order to set aside money for them.
Saving for these items is most effective when you set a timeline and a specific amount. For example, let’s say you want to purchase a $5,000 car within the next 18 months. That means you’ll need to save $278 each month to reach your goal. The money you set aside should be placed in a savings account earmarked for that purpose so you’re not tempted to spend the cash, but it needs to be accessible enough for when you do need it.
When investing for retirement, the rules are different because you’re looking at the type of risk you’re willing to take, i.e., how much volatility you are willing to handle for the potential of gaining a huge return in the market.
What Are the Expected Costs of Budgeting Software?
There are plenty of free budgeting software options available, but for paid options, subscription models can range anywhere from $3 to $10 a month. Some budgeting software may offer discounts if you pay annually. Budgeting software like Quicken is only payable annually with prices starting at $35 per year.
How We Chose the Budgeting Software Companies
We aim to include the best budgeting companies in our ranking. That’s why we compared companies based on the most critical factors that affect consumers. We gave the most weight to factors such as ease of use, tools to import transactions and financial accounts, customer support, platform compatibility, and relevant financial feedback or guidance.
FINRA Investor Education Foundation. "The State of U.S. Financial Capability: The 2018 National Financial Capability Study." Accessed June 12, 2020.