Get in the habit of using free or low-cost digital tools to make better financial decisions and achieve your goals. Money Girl covers eight of her favorite apps, programs, and websites that can take your money management skills to the next level.
Personal and business finance programs and apps have become incredibly popular because they’re so easy to use on your computer or smartphone. No matter what you’re trying to achieve with your money, such as sticking to a budget, investing for retirement, building a side business, or shopping for insurance, there’s a digital tool that can help.
In this post, I’ll cover eight of my favorite free or low-cost programs and apps that can help you make better financial decisions and achieve your goals. If you get in the habit of using digital tools to manage every aspect of your money, you’ll quickly see your financial life improve.
8 Best Money Management Tools
- Credit Karma
See how each of these tools can improve your personal and business financial success.
Quicken is one of the most popular personal finance programs, and I’ve used it for decades. If I could only recommend one money management tool for you, this is it. Quicken has become the gold standard because it can handle just about every aspect of your finances, such as budgeting, paying bills, tracking investments, isolating tax-related transactions, and reporting.
After you sync up your financial accounts with Quicken, it automatically connects and pulls in your cleared transactions. But you can also enter transactions manually if you don’t want to connect to your financial accounts online.
You can see a register for each bank account or credit card, or you can view all your transactions together. And there are Quicken mobile apps to sync up with your desktop version, so you can switch between devices and always have access to your information.
Automatic categorization saves time and allows you to easily see how much you’ve spent this month on food, gas, retirement contributions, or any category you create.
Once you assign categories to transactions—such as income from an employer and credit card purchases for groceries or clothing—Quicken remembers it. Automatic categorization saves time and allows you to easily see how much you’ve spent this month on food, gas, retirement contributions, or any category you create. You can view your income and expenses over any period with simple graphs and reports.
While Quicken isn’t free, you can choose from a suite of products depending on the functions you need. For $34.99 per year, the Starter version allows you to see all your accounts in one place, create a budget, have automatic expense categorization, and manage money from anywhere.
If you step up to Quicken Deluxe ($49.99 per year) or Premier ($74.99), you get more advanced features for managing loans, investments, and taxes. All versions are available on Windows or Mac and come with a 30-day free trial.
While you can use Quicken for a small business, QuickBooks is a better solution for managing your company finances. Once you enter the credentials for various financial accounts such as banks, credit cards, and lenders, it connects and aggregates all your data into a dashboard.
You can categorize your transactions or use customized labels. QuickBooks quickly learns which categories to assign to different transactions, but you can always change them or split entries between multiple categories.
There are a variety of QuickBooks versions for the self-employed that range from $7 to $17 per month. These allow you to send and track invoices, separate personal and business expenses, make estimated tax payments, track mileage, and even get advice from a CPA when needed.
If you have employees, QuickBooks versions for small businesses range from $12 to $35 per month. They come with additional functions for managing contractors, billing, expense reports, and even offer payroll support for an additional charge.
QuickBooks even has a higher tier for mid-size companies with multiple users and more functions, such as restricting access by role, paying sales tax, and business analytics for $75 per month. If you can afford any version of QuickBooks, you’ll get a lot for your money. Plus, most accountants and bookkeepers use it, so it’s easy to get help or share your files for professional tax preparation.
If you drive for your job or your own business, MileIQ is a fantastic app that allows you to track your mileage automatically. You install the app on your smartphone and keep it in your vehicle while you’re driving so it can work in the background.
It’s like a Fitbit for driving and is truly a game-changer for keeping up with where and when you drive.
The app uses GPS to monitor your vehicle movement and calculate the distance on each of your trips. Once you get to a destination, the app prompts you to allocate each trip as personal or business and creates a log. It’s like a Fitbit for driving and is truly a game-changer for keeping up with where and when you drive.
MileIQ also has a desktop dashboard for analyzing drives and printing reports by dates, locations, or events. It also integrates with other expense tracking programs such as Concur and Freshbooks.
You can try out MileIQ’s free version, which logs up to 40 trips per month. The premium version is just $5.99 per month for unlimited miles. No matter whether you submit mileage to an employer for reimbursement or claim it as a business tax deduction, MileIQ will revolutionize how you keep up with your miles.
4. Credit Karma
Your credit ripples through your entire financial life, so keeping up with your credit report and scores is crucial. Credit Karma is the easiest place to get this information for free.
Your credit ripples through your entire financial life, so keeping up with your credit report and scores is crucial.
While annualcreditreport.com is still the official credit report site, it doesn’t have any credit scores. Plus, you can only access your free reports there once every 12 months.
Once you create a free Credit Karma account and verify your identity, you get access to a wealth of information. You get a free TransUnion and Equifax credit report and credit score as often as once a week. Yes, you’ll see plenty of ads and financial product recommendations, but it’s a fair trade for the data you get.
Credit Karma shows you how to improve your credit scores. It also lets you see how your scores compare to others, and how your scores have changed over time. That insight helps you know if your scores are moving in the right direction or if you’ve become the victim of identity theft.
I’ve used Credit Karma for many years to do a monthly check up on my credit. It just takes a minute to get an overview and make sure you don’t have any errors dragging down your scores.
If you need the answer to just about any financial question, such as whether to get a 15- or 30-year mortgage, whether to lease or buy a car, or how long your retirement savings will last, check out dinkytown.net. There’s nothing dinky about their massive library of more than 400 financial calculators.
No matter what numbers you need help crunching for your personal or business finances, there’s probably a dinkytown.com tool that can do it. They have calculators for investments, retirement, mortgages, auto loans, credit cards, debt, insurance, taxes, business, and more. Their data is available for different counties and also for consumers who speak Spanish and French.
Insurance is an expense we all have to pay, so why pay more than you have to? The secret to cutting insurance costs is to shop around at least once a year. Many people don’t realize that rates vary considerably from insurer to insurer and can even fluctuate throughout the year.
So, no matter if you need coverage for your car or for a home you own or rent, Bankrate.com is a great place to start. You’ll get free quotes from the nation’s top insurance companies at the best price.
At Bankrate.com, you can also shop and compare many other financial products for free, including mortgage loans, credit cards, high-yield savings accounts, and personal loans. Plus, they have thousands of articles with personal finance advice to help you make better financial decisions.
If you want an incredibly easy-to-use investing platform with low fees, it doesn’t get any better than Betterment. They offer regular investing accounts, tax-advantaged retirement accounts, and they recently added savings and checking accounts to their mix.
Betterment automatically manages your investments by rebalancing, reinvesting dividends, and handing recurring deposits. Plus, you get access to their team of licensed financial experts for advice and support.
The annual cost to use Betterment is 0.25% of your balance, which makes it affordable even when you’re just starting out. Once you have more than $100,000, the fee increases to 0.40%, but you also have unlimited access to their Certified Financial Planners for more personalized advice.
I’ve enjoyed using Betterment for more than a decade now and am always impressed with their customer service, communications, and affordable fees. The experience on your desktop or mobile device is streamlined and straightforward, which makes creating accounts, setting goals, transferring funds, and monitoring your progress a real joy.
If you’re new to investing or are struggling to save, try the original micro-investing app, Acorns. Once you link it to your debit or credit cards, Acorns automatically sweeps and invests the difference between your purchase cost and the nearest whole dollar amount you set.
For example, if you spend $20.50, the app could round up to $21 and deduct $0.50 from your bank account to invest. Or you could set Acorns to round to the next $5 increment and invest $4.50.
Using round-ups is a tech-savvy way to invest so-called spare change in a diversified portfolio of exchange-traded funds (ETFs). You can also invest lump sums or set up recurring deposits as small as $5.
Acorns also offers tax-advantaged retirement accounts, such as an IRA or SEP-IRA. Using only the investing app costs $1 per month, but if you add a retirement account to the mix, you’ll pay $2 per month (up to a $1 million balance).
They also have a no-fee, FDIC-insured checking account called Acorns Spend. You can use all three Acorns services for a total cost of $3 per month. The only downside is that paying flat fees instead of a percentage can add up to a relatively high cost when you have a small account balance.
These terrific apps, programs, and websites give you the chance to understand your finances, save money, and take your money management skills to the next level. By experimenting with different technology, it's easy to find solutions that truly work for your personal or business style and allow to to create more success.