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Reviews

Empower budgeting app review 2024

Empower offers the best of both budgeting and investing management, but is it right for you?

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Type "budgeting app" into your search engine of choice and you'll get bombarded with plenty of options. The trick is to pick one that not only meets you (and your finances) where you are but takes you to where you want to be. And if you're looking for an app that lays out all your income and expenses while giving you access to professional investment advice, Empower may be the budgeting tool you're looking for.

Empower budgeting app review

Empower

On Empower'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

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 and an investment checkup tool
  • Syncs to your bank accounts and credit cards as well as other financial accounts
  • Offers The Currency 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

How to use Empower's budgeting app tools

Empower lets users link their bank accounts, credit cards, brokerage accounts, 401(k)s, loans, mortgages and more to receive automatic updates on the balances of those accounts. This is how the platform helps you track your spending and your wealth.

Net worth tracker

When users log into the app, the first thing they'll see is a net worth tracker at the top of the page as well as an accompanying graph that tracks the changes in their net worth over time. Net worth equals your assets minus your liabilities, so this information is also displayed below the graph.

On the home page in the app, you'll also find a breakdown of the balances of any accounts you've connected to the platform. This includes checking and savings accounts, investment accounts, credit cards, loans, mortgages and even your health savings account (HSA).

Connecting new accounts is simple. Just tap the "link more accounts" button on the home page, type in the institution you're connecting from and you'll be prompted to log in to allow the information to sync.

Users can use the menu in the platform to navigate to their recent transactions. This section of the app tracks activity across your debit and credit card as well as your checking account transfers. You can also view deposits here.

Cash flow tab

The cash flow tab is where your spending gets a bit more granular. You can view separate tabs for your income and expenses. Within the income tab, the platform lists the main transaction categories contributing to your monthly income, like income from your job or interest paid from a high-yield savings account.

Under expenses, you'll find these transactions automatically categorized for you, though, you can always edit the category as you see fit. Category examples include personal care, restaurants, travel and online services. It'll tell you how much you've spent toward each.

The cash flow tab also lets you see how your spending at any point of the month stacks up to spending around the same time the previous month.

Budgeting tab

You can get a slightly different view of your spending by navigating to the budgeting tab in the menu. Here you'll find a circle graph that compares the current month's spending to the previous month's. You'll once again find a breakdown of your categorized expenses. Simply tap on the chart to adjust the monthly budget amount.

Investment portfolio, holdings and allocations

Something similar pops up for tracking your investment account balances when you navigate to the portfolio tab on the menu. You'll get a circle graph that tells you how much of your overall portfolio balance a particular account makes up. For instance, if your 401(k) makes up 50% of your total portfolio balance across all accounts, you'll see that reflected in the graph. You'll also see an overview of the balances on all your investment accounts and any changes for the day.

All of these features can help you get an overview of day-to-day changes within your transactions, budget and investment balances.

Again, the platform combines both budgeting and investing tools in one place. Users who pay a management fee can schedule a call with a financial advisor through the app to receive help with an investment strategy that's right for them. Otherwise, if you just want a basic in-app overview of your portfolio balances and allocations, this is free to do.

Compare investing resources

Wealth management with a financial advisor

If you have over $100,000 in assets, you may consider using Empower's financial advisor services to get an investment strategy tailored to your goals and circumstances.

This includes an introductory meeting with an advisor, personalized recommendations for your portfolio and assistance with transferring your assets to new accounts.

Keep in mind that you'll need to pay an annual fee to utilize the financial advising service. If you have over $100,000 in assets, you'll pay a 0.89% annual fee. Customers with more than $1 million in managed assets will pay a tiered annual fee ranging from 0.79% on your first $3 million to 0.49% on assets over $10 million.

If you're looking for an investment platform with cheaper management fees that still provides access to a financial advisor, consider Betterment. This robo-advising platform offers a premium plan for customers with at least $100,000 in assets and it includes access to certified financial planners, all for a management fee of 0.40%.

Betterment

  • Minimum deposit and balance

    Minimum deposit and balance requirements may vary depending on the investment vehicle selected. For example, Betterment doesn't require clients to maintain a minimum investment account balance, but there is a ACH deposit minimum of $10. Premium Investing requires a $100,000 minimum balance.

  • Fees

    Fees may vary depending on the investment vehicle selected, account balances, etc. Click here for details.

  • Investment vehicles

  • Investment options

    Stocks, bonds, ETFs and cash

  • Educational resources

    Betterment offers retirement and other education materials

Terms apply. Does not apply to crypto asset portfolios.

Wealthfront, another investment management platform, charges a low 0.25% annual management advisory fee. However, this platform doesn't have any financial advisors on staff to help answer your questions, so it works best for investors who don't need that extra help.

Wealthfront

  • Minimum deposit and balance

    Minimum deposit and balance requirements may vary depending on the investment vehicle selected. $500 minimum deposit for investment accounts

  • Fees

    Fees may vary depending on the investment vehicle selected. Zero account, transfer, trading or commission fees (fund ratios may apply). Wealthfront annual management advisory fee is 0.25% of your account balance

  • Bonus

    None

  • Investment vehicles

  • Investment options

    Stocks, bonds, ETFs and cash. Additional asset classes to your portfolio include real estate, natural resources and dividend stocks

  • Educational resources

    Offers free financial planning for college planning, retirement and homebuying

Terms apply.

Perks

The app and website offer a blog called The Currency where users can brush up on their financial knowledge and learn about industry insights.

There is also an investment checkup tool that lets you make sure you have the asset allocation that's right for you, as well as double-check to make sure you aren't being hit with any hidden fees in your portfolio.

Safety

Empower's security features include user authentication to confirm your identity. The platform also uses data encryption to send you codes when syncing your accounts to the platform.

Pricing

The Empower budgeting app is free to use but if you want to take advantage of a few more advanced features, you'll have to pay.

You have the option to add personalized investment services and wealth management advice from licensed fiduciary advisors for an annual management fee of 0.89% of your investment assets if you have over $100,000 and for 0.79% to 0.49% if you have over $1 million.

Availability and ratings

Empower is available in the iOS App Store and on Google Play.

Rating in App Store at time of writing: 4.7 out of 5 (over 42,000 ratings)

Rating on Google Play at time of writing: 4.1 out of 5 (over 18,000 ratings)

Alternatives to Empower

If you don't quite get everything you need with Empower, the good news is that there are several other strong options for budgeting platforms.

Goodbudget is one platform that takes a slightly different approach to technology-enabled budgeting. It brings the popular envelope budgeting method online so users can track their spending virtually. Users will get virtual envelopes in the app, which will be used to categorize their expenses and log their transactions.

Your first 20 envelopes are free but if you need more you can upgrade the app to $80 annually (or $10 per month) for unlimited envelopes.

Goodbudget

  • Cost

    Free for 20 total envelopes; $8/month (or $70/year) for unlimited envelopes

  • Standout features

    Allows users to plan their household's spending using the "envelope method," where they allocate a certain amount of their income into categories like groceries, rent and debt payoff. Users are only supposed spend what's in their envelopes and if they go beyond their budget the envelope will show red to indicate that they overspent

  • Categorizes your expenses

    Yes, but users can customize

  • Links to accounts

    No, users manually create "envelopes" and input their transactions

  • Availability

    Has a web-based version, and also offered in both the App Store (for iOS) and on Google Play (for Android)

  • Security features

    256-bit bank grade encryption in a secure data center

Terms apply.

YNAB is another contender that follows a unique budgeting strategy. It uses the zero-based budgeting method, which encourages users to assign a "job" to every dollar in your budget so you're intentionally utilizing all your cash whether it's for paying student loans and rent or saving for a house.

YNAB offers a 34-day free trial. After that, users pay $99 per year.

You Need a Budget (YNAB)

  • Cost

    34-day free trial then $99 per year or $14.99 per month (college 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

Terms apply.

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At CNBC Select, our mission is to provide our readers with high-quality service journalism and comprehensive consumer advice so they can make informed decisions with their money. Every article is based on rigorous reporting by our team of expert writers and editors with extensive knowledge of budgeting products. While CNBC Select earns a commission from affiliate partners on many offers and links, we create all our content without input from our commercial team or any outside third parties, and we pride ourselves on our journalistic standards and ethics.

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