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5 tips on what to look for when choosing a budgeting app

CNBC Select outlines five features your next budgeting app should have.

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Select’s editorial team works independently to review financial products and write articles we think our readers will find useful. We may receive a commission when you click on links for products from our affiliate partners.

Spending less and saving more is a financial resolution many people make at the start of a new year. But just how you get there requires a bit of work — and some self-discipline.

To help you overcome both of these things, a budgeting app is a good place to begin. Apps can more quickly set up your budget for you, track your spending habits, alert you when you're nearing your limits and hold you accountable for reaching your savings goals. And, when you're on the go, you can view your budget at a glance.

With countless budgeting apps on the market, however, just choosing one can seem a bit overwhelming. To help you, CNBC Select outlined some of the standout features we found when reviewing the best budgeting apps out there.

Here are 5 features to look for in your next budgeting app.

1. It is available on your device(s)

Double check where you can access the app and its compatibility on different devices before signing up for one.

For example, the budgeting apps we rated as the best are available in both the App Store (for iOS) and on Google Play (for Android).

2. It offers a free version / free trial

When it comes to budgeting apps, luckily many on the market are free to use. Our top pick would be Mint for its high-rated reviews and for giving users an overall snapshot of everything, from their income, expenses and savings goals, to their credit score, investments and net worth.

Before choosing a free app, however, note that these usually come with limited features or a bunch of in-app ads that you'll likely have to watch.

It may feel counterintuitive to have to pay for a budgeting app, but sometimes the premium services the subscription-based apps charge can be worth the monthly or annual fee. Just make sure they have a free version or free trial that you can test out before putting money down.

3. It syncs to your bank accounts and credit cards

Most budgeting apps will link to your bank accounts and credit cards and automatically track your income and purchases from there. There are others, however, that require you input your transactions manually, which can take time and can be hard to keep up with.

Look for a budgeting app that syncs to your accounts or offers both options so you can change it up if you want to.

4. It allows you to customize spending categories

Basic budgeting apps will organize your expenses into preset categories so that you can see where and how much you spend on things like food, transportation, etc.

While built-in categories usually cover the basics, it's nice to have an app that lets you make your own or customize the names. Title a category after your pet, for instance.

5. It is transparent about its security features

Like any financial product you use online, make sure you know its safety and security features. The best budgeting apps offer protection like multi-factor authentication to prove your identity, encrypted data that gives you codes to access your information and biometrics like Touch ID and Face ID.

Bottom line

A budgeting app can help you see your overall financial picture no matter where you are.

Whether or not financial resolutions are on your 2021 list, consider trying out a budgeting list with one or more of these five features to see how you spend money and what you could be saving.

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.