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NerdWallet’s Best Bank and Credit Union Tools for Saving Money

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NerdWallet’s Best Bank and Credit Union Tools for Saving Money

Many banks and credit unions have automated savings plans that allow for regular transfers from checking to savings accounts. But a handful of financial institutions take it a step further by offering savings tools and programs that help consumers set aside money for future expenses.

The following tools can help you meet your goals of saving for a vacation, retirement or a little something from the mall.

» MORE: NerdWallet’s best savings accounts

Alliant’s Money Management and Budgeting tool

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Because their pockets aren’t quite as deep, credit unions often lack the kinds of tools offered by the banking juggernauts. Alliant Credit Union is an exception to the rule. Its Money Management and Budgeting tool uses graphs and charts to give members a better understanding of their spending and savings patterns.

The program lets you set budgets for spending categories like groceries and travel, and you can link it to external credit cards and 401(k) plans. There’s nothing flashy about the interface, but the tool is easy to use and should help you map out your finances for a big purchase.

» MORE: Alliant Credit Union review

Bank of America’s Keep the Change program

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This is one of the most imaginative and convenient tools on our list. Customers with both checking and savings accounts at Bank of America can enroll in the bank’s Keep the Change program.

When making purchases with a Bank of America debit card, the final sale price is rounded up to the nearest dollar, and the difference is transferred to your savings account. Although you probably won’t be able to rely solely on this tool to fund your golden years, it’s certainly a step in the right direction.

» MORE: Bank of America review

Capital One 360 savings tools

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Many consumers would like to save more aggressively for particular goals but may find themselves tempted to dip into, say, serious emergency funds for frivolous purchases. This online bank makes it easy for users to organize and discipline their savings efforts.

You can open up to 25 savings accounts and set a savings target for each account: for example, $500 for “holiday gifts” or $2,000 for “vacation.” You can input how much you’ll set aside each period — for example, weekly or monthly and the goal-tracking tool calculates when you’ll reach your goal. Alternatively, you can set your target date, and the tool calculates the contribution amounts you’ll need. 

» MORE: Capital One 360 review

Citi financial tools

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One of the first steps in creating a savings plan is getting an overview of your finances. By looking at how you spend the majority of your income, you can figure out where to make cuts. Enter Citibank’s suite of financial tools, aimed at helping customers gain control over their dollars and cents.

You can use these tools to make monthly budgets, in which you can create custom categories. Among the best features are email alerts that notify you whenever you’re inching dangerously close to your budget’s ceiling. You can also link non-Citi accounts to the tool.

» MORE: Citibank review

PNC Bank’s Virtual Wallet

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This account separates your money into three categories: spending and bills, short-term reserves and longer-term growth funds. It also comes with widgets that remind you not to spend money that’s meant to be put away. The Danger Day feature, for example, pops up on the tool’s calendar when your spending account is approaching zero.

Virtual Wallet provides a holistic overview of your financial situation. The Money Bar helps you see how much you’ve allocated for bills and other essential expenses each month, how much you’re socking away and how much is available for you to spend. This way, you’ll always know how much money you can spend without cutting into your savings.

» MORE: PNC Bank review

Simple’s Safe-to-Spend tool

It’s a common scenario: You decide how much to spend based on your available bank balance. But that figure can be misleading. That’s where online bank Simple’s Safe-to-Spend budgeting tool comes in handy.

In real time, the tool calculates how much you can safely spend by subtracting from your balance any money you’ve set aside for savings targets, transfers or payments.

Another useful digital tool, Goals, helps you sock away money for specific objectives by moving money from Safe-to-Spend.

» MORE: Simple review

USAA goal planning tool

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USAA’s more than 11 million members have access to an unusually sophisticated suite of online savings tools that go beyond simply designating different buckets of money.

Customers can take a quick financial readiness quiz to assess their financial security, then get recommendations for steps to take. Members are guided to start with some of the most essential savings goals: building an emergency fund, starting a retirement plan and paying down debt. Based on numbers that customers enter, an individualized plan is generated with tips and advice on working toward goals.

USAA’s savings tracker allows you to link non-USAA accounts, so you can easily view all aspects of your finances in one place. You can also tackle less urgent savings goals, like vacations, holiday savings and home improvement.

» MORE: USAA Bank review

Wells Fargo’s My Savings Plan

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Wells Fargo’s online banking platform comes with My Money Map, a group of useful tools and products for managing finances.

People looking to bolster their savings will want to focus on the My Savings Plan tool. It lets you create personalized savings goals and monitor your progress, which is represented as a percentage. That’ll make it easy to get a snapshot look at whether you’re making headway on your goals.

» MORE: Wells Fargo review

Some banks and credit unions make an extra effort to help customers boost their savings. Although no one can supply the discipline required to set money aside regularly, these tools and apps can encourage you to make smart decisions along the way.

Tony Armstrong is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: tony@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @tonystrongarm

NerdWallet writer Jeanne Lee contributed to this report.

Verified Jan. 25, 2017.


METHODOLOGY

This report surveyed the 15 largest banks by assets and eliminated those without a significant retail banking presence. Financial institutions in the country’s five largest metro areas and several of the largest online-only banks that offer a full suite of checking and savings products were also included. The country’s biggest credit unions with broad membership requirements were also added to the list. Financial institutions surveyed: Alliant Credit Union, Ally, Bank of America, Bank5 Connect, BB&T, BBVA Compass, BMO Harris Bank, Capital One 360, Chase, Citibank, Connexus Credit Union, Consumers Credit Union, Discover Bank, HSBC Bank USA, Nationwide, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pentagon Federal Credit Union, PNC Bank, SunTrust, TD Bank, Union Bank, U.S. Bank and Wells Fargo.