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How to Choose the Best Personal Finance Software

Choose personal finance software based on your goals and needs. Consider factors like cost and the ability to sync your accounts.
Aug. 22, 2018
Managing Money, Personal Finance
NerdWallet adheres to strict standards of editorial integrity to help you make decisions with confidence. Some of the products we feature are from partners. Here’s how we make money.
We adhere to strict standards of editorial integrity. Some of the products we feature are from our partners. Here’s how we make money.

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 to reach your financial health goals, along with some of our favorite tools.

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Types of personal finance software

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

  • Budgeting: Budgeting software helps you track and categorize your spending. In most cases, you sync your financial accounts — checking, savings, credit cards, loans and investments — and the software automatically categorizes your spending. You can typically set spending limits by category to set up your budget.
  • Savings: Want to build up your emergency fund or save for a new car? Software makes 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Bills: Truebill and similar services are useful for managing, negotiating or canceling your subscriptions and utilities, such as cable.

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.

NerdWallet’s favorite personal finance software

Budgeting and saving

  • The market leader in budgeting management syncs with user accounts to track spending
  • Free
  • iOS, Amazon, Android, Windows Phone
Get started at Mint's site
Acorns
  • Acorns automatically rounds up purchases and invests the change
  • Free* (*Investment management fees apply)
  • iOS, Android
Get started at Acorns' site

See all of our picks for best budgeting and savings tools

Taxes

  • Federal forms in its free version: 1040EZ, 1040A
  • Paid versions (list price): Deluxe ($59.99), Premier ($79.99), Self-Employed ($119.99) and TurboTax Live ($179.99)
  • State return prep (list price): $0 for free version; $39.99 for paid versions
  • See our TurboTax review
Start your return at TurboTax's secure website
  • Federal forms in its free version: 1040EZ
  • Paid versions (list price): Classic ($17), Premium ($35) and Self-Employed ($55)
  • State return prep (list price): $0 for free and Self-Employed versions; $22 for other versions
  • See our TaxSlayer review
Start your return at TaxSlayer's secure website

See all of our picks for best tax software

Investing

Etrade
  • Easy-to-use tools make it one of the most popular online brokers
  • Tiered commission structure benefits frequent traders
  • Minimum balance required for active trading platform
Get started at E*Trade's site
  • Service, research and trading tools cater to beginner investors and active traders alike
  • No account minimum
  • High-quality trading platforms, but higher-than-average commissions
Get started at Ameritrade's site

See all of our picks for best investment apps