THERE ARE A LOT OF FREE personal finance apps out there these days. Each one offers different features and capabilities. Many of them can be quite helpful for your finances. Some offer budgeting help while others can help with your investments or help you decipher your credit.
However, free usually comes with a price. Every free app has some way of making money, whether it’s selling you to a paid service or targeting you with ads.
Here are five excellent free personal finance apps that stand out from the pack, with their features significantly outweighing their methods of making money. You can find each of these free money apps in the app store on your smartphone:
- Personal Capital
- Credit Karma
- Coupon Sherpa
This app provides a real-time view of your financial accounts and offers suggestions for good moves to make. Personal Capital focuses primarily on investments, nudging you toward saving for long-term goals like retirement and your children’s college education. If you’re looking for an app that will provide good analysis and overview of your 401(k), Roth IRA or 529 college savings account, Personal Capital is the way to go.
Personal Capital does try to upsell you on investment-related services and financial planning services, but these are fairly easy to say no to. Their free service primarily serves as an introduction to those more robust planning services.
Mint also provides real-time viewing of your various financial accounts and offers suggestions for good financial moves. As opposed to Personal Capital, Mint focuses on monthly budgeting and evaluation of your spending and credit cards. If you’re looking for an app that will keep an eye on your spending, watch your checking and credit accounts and help you figure out where you’re overspending, Mint is probably a good fit for you.
Mint often incorporates offers of various kinds directly into the app, such as credit card offers and spending recommendations, though, as with Personal Capital, they’re easy to ignore. These incorporated ads are how Mint makes money.
This app takes a different approach to saving. You integrate Acorns with your checking account and when you spend money on your credit cards or debit cards, Acorns rounds that up to the nearest dollar and pulls that money into an investment. So, if you spent $3.61 at Starbucks on your credit card, Acorns will take 39 cents from your checking account and invest it for you, turning that $3.61 purchase into a round $4.
If you use Acorns, your money is being swept into their investment products, so Acorns makes money through the monthly fees on their investment products, which are reasonably competitive. If you accumulate a large balance with Acorns, you may want to move the investment elsewhere, but for small amounts, the convenience of the app is wonderful.
This is an app that offers you access to your credit report, which a company may use to determine whether to employ you, and a strong estimation of your credit score, which businesses use to figure out what rates to charge you. The app helps explain exactly what your credit score means and how it is likely to impact your applications for loans, credit cards or other services.
Credit Karma pays for this free service by offering targeted ads to you based on your credit score. So, for example, if you have really good credit, you might see ads aimed at people with exceptional credit, but if your credit is shaky, you might see completely different ads for products that can help improve your credit.
This is the best of the coupon apps out there. It will help you find retailer coupons based on your location and lets retailers scan the bar code from your phone screen. Just glancing at the app when you visit a retailer can end up saving you quite a bit of money on your purchase.
Coupon Sherpa makes money through affiliate programs in which retailers essentially pay Coupon Sherpa to include their coupons in the app and get paid when you use them.
All of these applications are extremely useful and well-designed, with excellent features that can help you with your personal finance situation. As long as you’re aware of how the app is conducting business (ad placement or trying to sell you additional services), you can use these apps with confidence and use the information they provide to make smarter personal finance decisions for yourself and your family.