How to Choose the Best Personal Finance Software and Apps

Choose personal finance tools based on your goals and needs. Consider factors like cost and the ability to sync your accounts.

Lauren SchwahnJuly 1, 2020
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How to Choose the Best Personal Finance Software and Apps

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Personal finance tools can help you take control of your financial life, but they don’t all serve the same purpose.

Some focus on one financial function — budgeting, expense tracking, saving, banking, investing, or taxes — while others handle multiple financial needs.

Here’s how to choose the best personal finance software or app to reach your financial health goals, along with some of our favorite tools.

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Types of personal finance software and apps

There’s a wide assortment of personal finance tools. Here we’ll focus on the software that covers most needs.

Budgeting: Budget software and apps help you track and categorize your spending. In most cases, you sync your financial accounts — checking, savings, credit cards, loans and investments — and the tools automatically categorize your spending. You can typically set spending limits by category to set up your budget.

» Check out the best budget apps

Savings: Want to build up your emergency fund or save for a new car? Software and apps make it easy to reserve money each month. Some services automatically transfer money into your savings account or a special account to help you save without thinking.

» Explore NerdWallet’s best money-saving apps

Investment: Investing puts your money to work toward long-term goals such as retirement, but it can be overwhelming for beginners and pros alike. Investment software and apps help you build a portfolio and make trades with confidence.

» See NerdWallet’s picks for the best investment apps

Taxes: Tax software makes it easy to prepare and file your taxes. Most services simplify complicated tax code by asking you straightforward questions and guiding you through deductions.

» Review NerdWallet’s best tax software picks

What to look for in a personal finance tool

Consider your goals, what you need your software to do and how sophisticated you’d like it to be when choosing a personal finance tool.

If you want a hands-off app, look for a program that syncs with your accounts.

If you want a hands-off app that tracks your expenses and income, for example, look for a budgeting program that syncs with your bank and credit card accounts.

A few other factors to consider as you shop around:

Cost: Personal finance tools often have a free version and a premium version that includes extra features for a fee. Consider upgrading if your financial situation is complex — you’re a small-business owner, for example — or if you want the peace of mind the added features bring.

Account restrictions: Certain types of software limit the number of accounts you can add or restricts you to just one type. So if you have checking, credit card and investment accounts to monitor, look for a service that can handle them all.

Spending reports: Are you a visual learner? Look for a tool that breaks down your spending (by category or amount) using charts and graphs. Bonus points if you can customize the reports to fit your financial goals.

Human support: Sometimes you need more than a standard user guide or FAQ page. Look for apps and software that offer additional support — say, one that lets you speak to a human or offers a robo-advisor.

Free credit score: Some tools help you stay on top of your credit score with weekly and monthly score updates, and simulators that show how certain financial decisions could impact your credit.

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