Saving up for the future can be daunting. Whether you’ve got your eyes on a tropical vacation or you’re stockpiling for your emergency fund, meeting your savings goals can seem out of reach unless you use a system that lets you save as painlessly as possible.
One good option is the new breed of mobile apps that help you save money automatically. Plenty of personal finance apps include some savings functions, but these four are specifically focused on helping you fill your piggy bank little by little, in ways you’ll barely notice.
Best for goal-setting
Qapital lets you set various “rules” to automate savings. For example, you can set up the app so that every time you use your debit or credit cards, Qapital rounds the spare change up to the nearest dollar and moves the amount into a Qapital account insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.
Qapital also lets you automatically transfer funds into your account when you spend less than you budgeted for a certain expense or when you spend money on something you identified as a “guilty pleasure.” Or you can contribute a lump sum to your fund on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. The idea is that your money is moved automatically, so you’ll save up for your goals without having to constantly remind yourself.
You can also add other rules that trigger savings — when you hit fitness goals, post a picture to Instagram or get your paycheck, for example.
When you sign up for Qapital, you automatically will open a Qapital spending account in addition to your Qapital savings goals accounts. The spending account comes with perks like transfers between Qapital accounts within seconds and the ability to send paper checks from your phone, but you aren’t obligated to use it. You also can request a Qapital debit card linked to the spending account, which comes with perks like real-time spending alerts.
There are no fees for using Qapital. You earn 0.1% interest on all Qapital accounts — low for a savings account, but better than nothing. Moving money from your Qapital account to your bank account will take two business days.
» Is interest on your savings important to you? See our list of best savings accounts
Best for investment options
Like Qapital, Acorns rounds up your purchases on linked credit and debit cards to the nearest dollar and automatically tucks the difference away into an account. Unlike Qapital, Acorns is an investing platform. That means the money will be invested in a portfolio based on your income and goals, and you’ll reap a return on the investment.
Each Acorns portfolio is composed of exchange-traded funds, with options that range from conservative (having a higher percentage of bonds) to aggressive (having a higher percentage of stocks). You’ll pay $1 a month if your balance is under $5,000; for anything above that, you’ll pay a fee of 0.25% of your account balance. College students can use the service free for up to four years.
» Want to learn more? Check out NerdWallet’s review of Acorns
If you make purchases using a card linked to your Acorns account with one of the company’s partners, such as Hulu, Airbnb and Blue Apron, those companies give back a percentage of the purchase to your Acorns savings account.
Because your money is being invested, your savings may shrink if there’s a dip in the markets where you’ve allocated your money. Also, it can take several days to withdraw money from your account, because shares in the invested ETF must be sold first.
» Curious about investing? Here’s how to invest in stocks
Best for simplicity
Unlike Qapital and Acorns, Digit goes beyond squirreling away your spare change. It calculates what you can save by looking at your income and spending, and it puts that amount aside — typically $10 to $30 every two or three days — in an FDIC-insured Digit account.
Because the amount taken out of your checking account can vary, you’ll want to keep an eye on your balance to avoid an overdraft. Digit refunds up to two overdraft fees, but you can designate a minimum balance that’ll stop Digit from drawing money out of your checking account if your balance dips below that designated amount.
There’s a 100-day free trial period when you sign up for Digit, but after that, it costs $2.99 a month.
You’ll earn a 1% savings bonus paid every three months, based on the average daily balance kept in your Digit account in that same three-month period. You can text Digit when you want to transfer money to your bank account, and it’ll be there for you to use the next business day.
Best alternative bank
Unlike other savings apps, Chime doesn’t just want to help save you money — it wants to be your new bank. That means to use the app, you’ll have to open Chime savings and checking accounts and get a Chime debit card.
This mobile-only bank alternative comes with a variety of perks designed to help you save. You can opt in to round up every purchase you make with your Chime card to the nearest dollar and automatically plunk the difference into the Chime savings account — much like at Qapital or Acorns. Or you can elect to automatically transfer 10% of your paycheck to savings when it comes in. Some bills and purchases also are eligible for cash-back rewards.
Beyond hands-free savings features, Chime may save you money in situations where traditional banks would charge fees. Using Chime is free. It has no monthly fees, overdraft fees or foreign transaction fees. However, the interest rate on Chime savings is a low 0.01%.
» Curious about Chime? See our Chime bank review
If you find it difficult to save money, using an app that automatically does it for you can be a good first step. Getting yourself in the habit of regularly putting aside some money — and seeing your total grow — can put you on track to mapping a healthy budget to manage your income and expenses.
Updated Sept. 15, 2017.