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Reviews

Here are the 5 best budgeting apps of February 2021

CNBC Select reviewed a dozen-plus budgeting apps and found top five to track your personal finances.

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Many financial experts and personal finance gurus agree that making a budget is key to taking control of your money.

If the B word seems daunting and tedious, however, you're not alone. That's why dozens of companies have created apps that do the grunt work for you. Budgeting apps typically link to your bank accounts and credit cards and automatically track your purchases from there. Many even categorize your spending into different buckets (transportation, food, etc.) so you know exactly where your money goes. By using a good budgeting app, you save time you would otherwise spend manually inputting numbers into a spreadsheet — all the while encouraging you spend less and save more.

To determine which budgeting apps are the best overall, CNBC Select reviewed and compared over a dozen apps, looking at their pricing and their features. To rank the top five, we only considered apps that sync your transactions, come with low (or no) cost to sign up, are easy to use and can be accessed on multiple devices. We favored those that have a considerable number of user reviews and high ratings.

The five apps we selected for this ranking are either free, offer a free version or have a free trial for users to test out before signing up. They each have at least 1,000 reviews in both the App Store (for iOS) and on Google Play (for Android), as well as a rating of 4 stars (out of 5) or higher on both platforms.

Below, we review the top five budgeting apps. (See our methodology for more information on how we choose the best budgeting apps.)

Best budgeting apps

Budgeting app FAQs

Best overall free app

Mint

Information about Mint has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by Mint prior to publication.
  • Cost

    Free

  • Standout features

    Shows income, expenses, savings goals, credit score, investments, net worth

  • Categorizes your expenses

    Yes, but users can modify

  • Links to accounts

    Yes, bank and credit cards

  • Availability

    Offered in both the App Store (for iOS) and on Google Play (for Android)

  • Security features

    Verisign scanning, multi-factor authentication and Touch ID mobile access

See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • Free to use
  • Syncs to your bank accounts and credit cards
  • Users can create savings goals, track investments
  • Customized alerts when over budget, for large transactions, ATM fees, etc.
  • Bill payment reminders
  • Credit monitoring service
  • Offers blog and education tools, such as a loan repayment calculator
  • Security features include Verisign scanning, multi-factor authentication and Touch ID mobile access

Cons

  • Some user reviews complain of ads, glitches in app, expenses assigned to wrong category

Best app for serious budgeters

You Need a Budget (YNAB)

Information about You Need a Budget (YNAB) has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by YNAB prior to publication.
  • Cost

    34-day free trial then $84 per year or $11.99 per month (students who provide proof of enrollment get 12 months free)

  • Standout features

    Instead of using traditional budgeting buckets, users allocate every dollar they earn to something (known as the "zero-based budgeting system" where no dollar is unaccounted for). Every dollar is assigned a "job," whether it's to go toward bills, savings, investments, etc.

  • Categorizes your expenses

    No

  • Links to accounts

    Yes, bank and credit cards

  • Availability

    Offered in both the App Store (for iOS) and on Google Play (for Android)

  • Security features

    Encrypted data, accredited data centers, third-party audits and more

See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • Offers a 34-day free trial, and students get 12 months free
  • Designed to help you get out of debt
  • YNAB website claims average user saves $600 in their first two months and more than $6,000 in their first year
  • Syncs to your bank accounts and credit cards
  • Users can set goals, customize spending categories
  • Offers educational resources, such as budgeting advice and 100+ free workshops offered every week
  • Personal customer support
  • Security features include encrypted data, accredited data centers, third-party audits and more

Cons

  • Costs $84 per year or $11.99 per month
  • Customer reviews note that it takes longer to set up than other apps

Best app for over-spenders

PocketGuard

Information about PocketGuard has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by PocketGuard prior to publication.
  • Cost

    Free basic budgeting app; $34.99 per year to upgrade to the premium version, PocketGuard Plus

  • Standout features

    Taking into account your estimated income, upcoming expenses and savings goals, "In My Pocket" feature uses an algorithm to show how much you have available for everyday spending

  • Categorizes your expenses

    Yes, but users can modify

  • Links to accounts

    Yes, bank and credit cards

  • Availability

    Offered in both the App Store (for iOS) and on Google Play (for Android)

  • Security features

    Major bank-level encryption, PIN codes and biometrics like Touch ID and Face ID

See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • Free version available for basic budgeting and one "goal" account
  • Syncs to your bank accounts and credit cards
  • Users can create savings goals, track investments
  • "In My Pocket" feature uses an algorithm to show how much you have available for everyday spending
  • Offers educational blog
  • Security features include major bank-level encryption, PIN codes and biometrics like Touch ID and Face ID

Cons

  • Costs $34.99 per year to upgrade to the premium version, PocketGuard Plus
  • Autosave feature is only available for U.S. citizens (though the app connects to both U.S. and Canadian financial institutions) and has $2 monthly maintenance fee for free users
  • Some user reviews report that transactions are categorized incorrectly on occasion

Best app for investors

Personal Capital

On Personal Capital's secure site
  • Cost

    App is free, but users have option to add investment management services for 0.89% of their money (for accounts under $1 million)

  • Standout features

    A budgeting app and investment tool that tracks both your spending and your wealth

  • Categorizes your expenses

    Yes, but users can modify

  • Links to accounts

    Yes, bank and credit cards, as well as IRAs, 401(k)s, mortgages and loans

  • Availability

    Offered in both the App Store (for iOS) and on Google Play (for Android)

  • Security features

    Data encryption, fraud protection and strong user authentication

See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • Free to use
  • Includes money-tracking dashboard, plus a net-worth tracker as well as a breakdown of your investment portfolio
  • Offers free investing tools, such as a retirement planner, education planner and fee analyzer to check portfolio fees
  • Syncs to your bank accounts and credit cards as well as other financial accounts
  • Offers Daily Capital blog for financial planning tips
  • Security features include data encryption, fraud protection and strong user authentication

Cons

  • Budgeting features aren't as comprehensive as other apps
  • Investment management services come with cost

Best app for couples

Honeydue

Information about Honeydue has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by Honeydue prior to publication.
  • Cost

    Free

  • Standout features

    Allows couples to see both partners' bank accounts, credit cards, loans and investments (and each partner can select what to share with the other) so you can manage money together and see everything at one glance

  • Categorizes your expenses

    Yes, but users can customize

  • Links to accounts

    Yes, you and your partner's bank and credit cards

  • Availability

    Offered in both the App Store (for iOS) and on Google Play (for Android)

  • Security features

    Data encryption, Touch ID and multi-factor authentication

See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • Free to use
  • Helps couples manage their money together, track spending, coordinate bills
  • Syncs to you and your partner's bank accounts
  • Choose what accounts you want to share
  • Users set up monthly spending limits in each category and are alerted when they or their partner is reaching limit
  • Bill payment reminders
  • Chat and send emojis to your partner through the app
  • Offers joint bank account
  • Security features include data encryption, Touch ID and multi-factor authentication

Cons

  • Some reports of app being buggy and transactions not showing up immediately

Budgeting app FAQs

What does a budgeting app do?

Once you download a budgeting app to your mobile device, tablet or computer, the app helps you track your money. The basic budgeting apps show you how much you earn and organize your expenses into separate categories so that you can see where and how much you spend.

Many budgeting apps offer much more than that, however. The best ones come with other services, such as monitoring your savings, your investments, your debts and/or your credit score. They will offer alerts when you have an upcoming bill due or recommend ways you can save.

Budgeting apps often sync with your bank accounts so it automatically tracks your spending. Some require that you input your transactions manually, which can take time.

How much do budgeting apps cost?

Many budgeting apps are free, offer a free version or have a free trial for users to test out before signing up.

After a free trial, or if you want to upgrade beyond the free option, budgeting apps can cost anywhere between $1 per month for very basic budgeting features to $6-$15 per month for more advanced tools and customized tips for users. Sometimes, you can get a discount if you pay an annual fee instead of monthly.

Should I pay for a budgeting app?

The short answer: You don't need to. There are plenty of free budgeting apps on the market if you don't want to invest in one. A solid choice is Mint, which we ranked best free budgeting app.

However, free apps usually have limited features or a bunch of in-app ads.

If you want a more robust budgeting app that offers a variety of premium services (such as a retirement planner tool), or you simply can't stand all the ads, consider a subscription-based app where you pay a monthly or annual fee.

You might find that paying for an app encourages you to use it more since you have some monetary stake in it. If that means you get serious about trimming your spending and saving more, the fee could be worthwhile.

Be sure to check if the app offers any sort of free trial so you can test it out before paying for it.  

Our methodology

To determine which budgeting apps offer the best user experience, CNBC Select analyzed over a dozen apps offered by the top companies in this market and looked at their pricing, features, user reviews and ratings.

We narrowed down our ranking by only considering apps that sync transactions from users' bank accounts, come with low (or no) cost to sign up, are easy to use and can be accessed on multiple devices so are accessible and compatible for most.

The five apps we selected for this ranking are either free, offer a free version or have a free trial for users to test out before signing up.

All of the apps in our round-up have a sizable number of user reviews and high ratings. Each app on this list has at least 1,000 reviews in both the App Store (for iOS) and on Google Play (for Android), as well as a rating over 4 stars (out of 5) on both platforms.

Other factors we looked at included apps' security features, user customization and educational tools offered.

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the CNBC Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.