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 SchwahnFeb 3, 2021

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Personal finance software and other 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.

Types of personal finance software and apps

There’s a wide assortment of options. We’ll focus on the personal finance 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 add spending limits by category to set up your budget. Read more about the best budget apps, which have some of the same features.

Before you build a budget
NerdWallet breaks down your spending and shows you ways to save.

Savings: Want to build up your emergency fund or save for a new car? Software and apps make it simple to reserve money each month. Some services automatically transfer money into your savings account or a special account to help you save without thinking about it. Explore NerdWallet's picks for the 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. Check out the 11 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

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

If you want an 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 monthly, annual or one-time 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 restrict 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? Opt 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 provide 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 have simulators that show how certain financial decisions could impact your credit.

Other tech tools to help you manage your money

If you’d prefer to track your money yourself rather than use software or an app, consider these budget spreadsheets and templates. With those, you input recurring and one-off expenses, either in Excel, a PDF or online documents.

We’re partial to the NerdWallet budget worksheet. You enter your monthly income and a wide range of expenses, from life insurance premiums to travel expenses to credit-card payments. Then it shows how your spending compares with the 50/30/20 budgeting method, which suggests that 50% of your income goes toward needs, 30% toward wants and 20% toward savings and debt repayment. You can also download this worksheet in an Excel document.

If software and worksheets seem like too much right now, try this simple budget calculator, which uses the same 50/30/20 budgeting method to give you an idea of how to spend and save your money. You can also go wireless and pick up a budgeting book.

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