From simple calculators to money management platforms that double as your very own chief financial officer, there are countless budgeting and spending apps to choose from. Before downloading and taking up more of your phone’s precious storage space, it’s important to figure out which apps are really worth your time—and sometimes money—and when it might be best to keep looking for an app that will meet your needs.
Reality check: This may be easier said than done. A quick scroll through your app store can be overwhelming—sometimes, it feels like there’s an app out there for just about everything. When determining how to choose the right finance app, you can cut through the clutter by focusing on what you’re specifically trying to accomplish and your tech preferences.
Jennifer Jackson, founder of ADLT 101, which has courses on personal finance topics to help millennials transition into adulthood, says that different budgeting and spending apps work better for different people. While it’s key to find an app that has the features you’ll need to accomplish your financial goal, Jackson says you’ll also want an app that you enjoy using. Oh yeah, financial management can be fun.
When you’re on a search for the right app to help you manage your money, consider following these five tips:
1. Start with a goal
It’s important to remember that an app is a tool. The top apps to help you manage your money can offer insights, guidance and assistance, so you should try to determine which particular challenges you want the app to help address.
“Do you want an app to help you budget better or to manage and monitor your credit score?” asks Elyssa Kirkham, a senior personal finance writer for Student Loan Hero. Or maybe you’re looking to better track your spending or for ways to improve those savings habits. “When you have a specific purpose in mind, it’ll be easier to narrow down your options,” Kirkham says.
Of course, it’d be great if you could get one financial app that does everything you want and need. “I’ve yet to find one,” Kirkham says. “Still, I can usually find an app that helps me tackle a money challenge in a more effective or helpful way.”
2. Understand the features before you dive in
With your goal in mind, consider the potential benefits and drawbacks of different budgeting and spending apps.
“Make sure it has the features you want before going through the hassle of setting up an account and downloading it,” Jackson says.
When you’re determining how to choose the right finance app, an essential requirement is that the app works with your mobile device or tablet operating system. Beyond that, consider whether or not you’d like to link the app to your bank, brokerage or other financial accounts so your information can be automatically pulled in. While it’s easy to be glued to your mobile device, maybe you’re also looking for an app that can be accessed from your computer. A bigger screen could be nice for some more robust finance programs.
“Do you want an app to help you budget better or to manage and monitor your credit score? When you have a specific purpose in mind, it’ll be easier to narrow down your options.”
Finding the right mix of features and functionality can help ensure you’ll actually use the app and get value from it. After all, how many apps have you downloaded and never—or rarely—used?
3. Research the reputation of the app (and provider)
The best apps to help you manage your money could come from major financial institutions and lesser-known companies alike. Either way, you’ll likely benefit most from a well-researched, tested and reviewed app.
Before downloading a new budgeting and spending app, you can determine how recently the app was created and if anyone else has reviewed it, Jackson says. You can find reviews in your app store, and look back at the very first reviews to see the age of the app.
Comb through reviews for apps to help you manage your money before downloading, focusing on both the positive and negative feedback. Knowing what people don’t like about a specific budgeting and spending app can be just as valuable as learning what they do like. If an app is light on reviews or you’re not sold with those that are available, you can search for more in-depth reviews on personal finance bloggers’ websites.
4. Consider the cost and time commitment
If you see an app to help you manage your money that’s checking all of your boxes and has a record of strong reviews, download it to try it out. Some apps come without a fee, so the only investment you’ll need to make to get up and running is your time.
Certain budgeting and spending apps require a one-time fee to download, and others may charge a monthly or annual subscription. If you opt for an app with a fee to download or a subscription, consider if the upfront cost will pay for itself in the long run. For instance, if you pay for an app that helps track your spending, you may find areas where you can cut back (online shopping, anyone?) and uncover savings. As with all subscriptions, ensure that you cancel those for any budgeting and spending apps you decide to no longer use.
5. Keep your personal information safe
When you’re considering how to choose the right finance app, give special consideration to security and protecting yourself online.
Getting a well-reviewed app from a reliable company could be a good place to start, as the company may frequently update the app with new security features or fixes for bugs. If you’re planning to connect your bank, credit card or other financial accounts to the app, you may want to look for some specific protections.
“Check for security features such as encryption and two-factor authentication,” Kirkham says. Encryption can help ensure the data you transmit doesn’t get intercepted. In addition to inputting a username and password to log in, two-factor authentication asks for additional information that only the user should have, like a code texted to your mobile device.
When downloading a new app and setting up your account, consider using a password that is unique from your other accounts and follows password best practices, like using a combination of letters, numbers and symbols.
Use your new budgeting and spending app
Knowing how to choose the right finance app can allow you to make an educated decision when you’re looking for a new money management tool. But even the best budgeting and spending apps aren’t helpful if you don’t make a habit of using them. When you do, you could find actionable insights that can help transform your habits, knowledge and even your bank account balance.