Technology is changing how we handle money.
When I got my first bank account as a kid, I had a little passbook with my balance history stamped in it. There were no debit cards. And certainly no iPhone apps. That was less than 20 years ago.
Ten years ago, online banking started to emerge, but few people trusted it.
Five years ago, I wrote about new personal finance manager software programs like Mint.com that would replace manual budgeting with a snapshot of all of your accounts in one place. But adoption was slow. This comment was typical:
…I am concerned about privacy and do not like having my financial information stored on more servers than necessary. Partially because of these concerns, I’ve elected to use money management systems stored locally on my own computers.
Now, Mint has more than seven million users. Intuit bought Mint in 2010 for $170 million and has been investing in technology and growing Mint’s user base ever since.
Times are changing. Personal finance software is becoming commonplace. Today, there are a lot of able Mint alternatives. Most of them, like Mint, are free.
Let’s see how they all compare.
Related: Best Budgeting Tools
As a visual person, spreadsheets and ledgers never worked well for me. That’s why I was excited to try out PocketSmith, which reenergizes money management by using a calendar approach. I can look at my month ahead and plan out exactly where I’ll spend money, moving items around to account for big expenses like mortgage due dates.
But that isn’t the only handy feature of PocketSmith. The app links up to your bank account, tracking all transactions and categorizing them. You can create rules that will direct incoming transactions into the appropriate categories, even renaming them in a way that will make them easier to manage. If you’re looking for a specific transaction, you can easily find it using the search feature.
In addition to taking control of your debts, you can also use PocketSmith to track and manage your income – whether it’s your salary, investment returns, or a cash gift from your favorite relative. One of the most interesting features is the net worth calculator, which takes a look at all your connected accounts and assets to give you a number that you can strive to improve.
- Track expenses by categories
- Monitor your income, including your net worth
- Integrates with many popular apps
- It has a steep learning curve
- Free version only includes manual reports
Monitoring your income and expenses is fairly standard on most finance apps. What sets CountAbout apart, though, is its reporting. You’ll get a variety of visual options for tracking your spending habits, including graphs and charts. You can create tags for certain types of transactions that will make your reporting even more useful.
To further CountAbout’s reporting power, you can even split transactions to track certain types of expenses at a given retailer. If you shop at a superstore like Walmart, for instance, you can separate groceries from other purchases, then pull reports specific to how much you’re spending on groceries on a periodic basis.
With CountAbout, you can also toss paper receipts and keep your life as clutter-free as possible. You’ll be able to scan copies of your receipts and attach them to your expenses. If you later need to track down a specific receipt, you can just search your transactions and either print it or take it along on your mobile device to show.
- Import transactions from Mint, Quicken, and other apps
- Comprehensive, visually-appealing reporting
- Mobile access
- No free version
- No support for investments
MoneyPatrol combines the best parts of other popular finance tools to let you use the features you like best. You do have to put a little more work in initially to input all your favorite budget categories, but in the end, it’s well worth it.
With MoneyPatrol, you link all your financial accounts and let MoneyPatrol monitor your spending. From there, you’ll have a dashboard that shows you all your recent transactions, along with your overall spending trends. You can use this information to learn more about the money you’re spending, which really comes in useful when it’s time to create a budget.
Once you’re ready to set a budget, MoneyPatrol walks you through the process, letting you set spending limits for each category. The app then watches your spending and alerts you if you go over that limit. Over time, you can adjust your budget as needed to match what you can more realistically do.
But one of the best things about MoneyPatrol’s alerts is that they grow more sophisticated over time. MoneyPatrol learns your spending habits and not only notifies you when you’ve gone over within a budget category but also lets you know when suspicious activity is detected.
- Expenses monitored automatically
- Notifications learn your behaviors and alerts become more accurate over time
- Budget category limits help keep you on track
- Easy-to-use visual dashboard keeps everything in one place
- You’ll need to manually input budget categories
- It takes time to learn all the app’s features
Personal Capital is another personal finance manager that’s made a name for itself in the past few years.
In fact, after trying Personal Capital I’m hooked on their investment feature because it does the best job automatically figuring my total asset allocation across all of my investment accounts. The screenshot above shows just one of the ways you can view your entire portfolio with Personal Capital. The colored bars represent different asset classes—foreign and domestic stocks, bonds, cash, and alternatives.
Personal Capital aggregates checking accounts and credit cards, too, but it’s clear that their development priority is investing, which isn’t a bad thing. Unlike most personal finance management programs that make money by advertising or recommending products, Personal Capital’s business model is based upon selling investment advisory services to a small percentage of users.
Personal Capital Pros
- Best investing tools
- Great dashboard providing at-a-glance look of both spending and investing
- Provides integrated spend tracking, too
Personal Capital Cons
- Fewer spend tracking features than competitors
- No budget feature
You Need a Budget (YNAB)
You Need a Budget (YNAB) has become a popular option among the DIY personal finance crowd. It’s more expensive—$60 for Windows or Mac—but offers a 34-day full-featured free trial.
You Need a Budget works on four simple financial rules:
- Give every dollar a job
- Save for a rainy day
- Roll with the punches
- Live on last month’s income
So unlike other tools that simply aggregate your transactions and track your spending, YNAB actively helps you get better with budgeting. YNAB offers free online classes to get you started on this budgeting journey.
YNAB syncs between your desktop and your mobile device, and allows you to enter transactions on your mobile device in real-time.
Any personal finance manager you use is a ‘good’ one
The best personal finance manager app is the one that you’ll use consistently, whether it’s Mint, a Mint alternative or even a simple spreadsheet.
That said, it pays to try a few and play around. And you’re certainly not limited to web apps. For example, iBank is a powerful (although more expensive) app for Macs and iOS devices. Savvy Spreadsheets offers an Excel-based experience that does more than you might do with your own spreadsheet but leaves out syncing accounts.
I’ll be honest: I don’t have the time at the moment to manually enter every expense I have, so account syncing is attractive. But training myself to use these apps in the last few weeks was like trying to teach an old dog a new trick—I kept checking my online bank account statements, and adding them to yet another site felt like a chore.
I do love Personal Capital for the investing insights it provides. I haven’t found anywhere else that I can get such a useful analysis of my entire portfolio.
Mint still holds its title as the most used online personal finance manager, but there’s fierce competition these days.
Whether you choose Mint or another alternative, managing your finances has gotten a whole lot easier thanks to technology.