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If you've ever decided to get a handle on your cash flow, you know that the first step is knowing how you're spending your money. That's something really low on the fun-to-do meter.
Expense tracker apps help you collect and classify your purchases so that you can identify areas that might be trimmed. Or, in the case of building net worth, places where you can allocate more money, such as savings. You might track expenses for a while just to get an idea of where your money’s going, or it might be a stepping stone toward making and following a budget.
Here are the top 11 apps based on user ratings in the App Store and Google Play.
Our methodology to find the best personal expense tracker apps
Ranking the best apps by reviews and popularity is a constantly moving target. And the iOS and Android app universes are vastly different. The number of reviews on Google Play for a search of "expense trackers" is much greater than a similar search on the Apple App Store, except for the leading iOS expense tracker app.
For an iOS app to make our list, it had to have 35,000 or more reviews and a rating of 4.5 or better. On Google Play, an Android app needed 100,000 or more reviews with a rating of 4.5 or greater.
Some results that appeared in our "expense tracker" searches were not explicitly designed for personal expense tracking and were disqualified, such as apps that focused mostly on tracking business expenses.
How do expense trackers work?
The goal here is to move from a spreadsheet at best — or, at worst, no tracking at all — to some form of collection and categorization of money spent. Apps can do that. However, the experience varies widely.
These are the most popular apps on the iOS and Android platforms, but you'll likely need to test-drive a few before you find one you're comfortable with. While our list focuses on free apps, for the most part, you'll probably have to upgrade at a small cost to get all the features you want.
The list of features you may want might include:
Easy transaction download.
Automatic logging of recurring transactions.
A forecast of your ending balances at some point in time (cash flow).
Auto-categorization of transactions, especially taxable items.
And one real luxury on the wish list: the ability to scan receipts.
Best iOS personal expense tracker apps
This is, by far, the most popular expense tracker app in the App Store. With hundreds of thousands of reviews, it towers far above the others, most of which have far less than 100,000. Satisfaction is high, though some users complain about a high number of unwanted notifications.
This app helps you deploy a zero-based budget plan by "giving every dollar a job." Users are enthusiastic about the spending and saving approach of EveryDollar, but some have experienced recent connectivity issues with their financial providers.
You Need a Budget touts no in-app ads or product pitches. Thing is, that's because it's only free for a 30-day trial. Reviews gush that YNAB is "life-changing," "exactly what I needed" and "excellent." However, a few are pushing back on a monthly fee increase.
The website best known for being a loan referrer has expense-tracking functionality integrated into its app, allowing you to aggregate account balances, track spending and monitor your net worth. While it garners high marks for its functionality, some users are surprised by the number of calls they receive after providing a phone number.
Combining personal and business expense tracking capabilities lures many users to this app — as does the convenience of scanning receipts. But categories are limited in the free version, and some reviewers are turned off by the email marketing.
This app has an interesting wrinkle: It not only helps you track your expenses, but promises to find and cancel unused subscriptions that are tied to your financial accounts. Truebill also says it can lower some charges on recurring bills. The app is free, yet some features, including the bill negotiation services, require a fee.
Best Android personal expense tracker apps
Money Manager tops our list of Android expense tracker apps for its high rating, clean display and personalization options. App developers seem quick to respond to user questions and suggestions. Many reviews are very favorable, and note that the number of ads shown (the price you pay for a free app) is not overly irritating.
AndroMoney has been described as a versatile app that can be "as complicated or simple as you want." Yet, another reviewer wishes it had more cash flow projection capabilities to see estimated future account balances. Still, AndroMoney earns a high user rating, though developer responses to suggestions and complaints seem lacking.
1Money touts the ability to "add a new transaction with a single tap." All you'll need to do is enter the amount of the item. Most users are enthusiastic, praising its easy navigation and simplicity. Support responds quickly to inquiries. One feature that seems missing: the ability to snap receipts from a smartphone.
Wallet says it will automatically update bank accounts and categorize downloaded transactions, but judging by user comments, that seems to be a premium option available only by subscription. And some reviews note glitches in the sync feature.
As mentioned in the iOS section, Mint is the biggest brand on the market when it comes to financial apps. It's a trusted name owned by longtime developer Intuit, the maker of QuickBooks and TurboTax. The app does just about everything: It not only tracks transactions but monitors cash flow, helps you manage a budget and calculates your net worth. With such wide adoption comes high expectations, and some reviews say the app is slow, tedious and cluttered.
It's likely you won't find every feature you want or need in one of these apps, especially if it's free. But this doesn't have to be your forever solution. Just starting the process of tracking your expenses is more than half the battle.
When you've been at it a while, you'll know more about what you want in a financial app.
If you own a business, take a look at the five best business expense tracker apps.
If you're ready to start a budget
Once you get a handle on where your money is going, you may want to take even more control of your efforts to build your net worth. That is likely to lead to exploring the budgeting process. NerdWallet has compiled the best budget apps for your consideration.
NerdWallet also offers a free app that lets you track your cash, see your net worth and debt, and track your credit score. We chose not to include ourselves in the list above in order to present an unbiased view. (This review in The Wall Street Journal will give you sense of what others are saying about NerdWallet's app.)
We also provide non-app options: