The Best Personal Finance Software to Reach Your Goals
Personal finance software can help you better understand and manage your finances. But finding the right program can depend on your goals and preferences.
Whether you want help managing your investments, tracking your income, or building a budget that sets you up for retirement, personal finance software can take on much of the heavy lifting.
Many options let you connect and sync your financial accounts and offer various types of analysis and reports. But the best product for you depends on your goals, situation, and willingness to invest time in managing your money.
With this in mind, we looked at several popular budgeting and tracking tools to determine who might benefit from their offering.
For In-Depth Financial Planning: Quicken Starter, Deluxe, or Premier
Quicken is one of the oldest and most well-known budgeting software developers. The company offers several versions of its desktop, mobile, and online programs, with capabilities to fit different users’ needs.
The software is known for providing advanced features and robust controls, making it a good fit for dedicated budgeters or those aiming to glean insights from analyzing their finances. Depending on the version, some of the features include:
- Create comprehensive budgets and generate customized reports
- Sync data from over 14,000 financial institutions
- Automatically categorize your expenses
- A desktop app that gives you offline access to your budget
- Portfolio tracking, including tracking of private equity and non-exchange-traded investments
- Track your net worth over time
- Tax schedule reports and the ability to export tax information
- Track, review, and pay bills directly from Quicken
Riley Adams, a certified public accountant and founder of Young and the Invested, started using Quicken in college and continues to use it today because of the level of control and insight it offers. “It allows for account reconciliation to ensure the debits and credits match, the numbers break into narrow categories (preset or user-specified), and it shows your spending patterns across time.”
Adams says, “Many free budgeting apps provide this tracking capability, but I use Quicken because it also allows for Excel export, and it can integrate easily with other apps… Knowing it connects with TurboTax is helpful come tax time each year.”
Amy Beardsley, founder of Early Morning Money, uses the checkbook register features and enjoys being able to quickly look at the charts and graphs Quicken creates based on her situation. She has tried and liked some of the other personal budget software options on the market but in the end found that Quicken Deluxe 2020 works best for her.
“I have a small-town credit union that doesn’t work with most of the budgeting software available. It's really a bummer,” says Beardsley. “I use Quicken because it’s the only one that syncs—so that might be a good choice if you have a smaller bank or credit union that doesn’t sync with the other options.”
Rocky Lalvani, MBA, EA, a business consultant, says, “the software allows me to run my personal finances just like a business.” He uses Quicken to track his bank accounts, credit cards, investments, and real estate, and enjoys being able to update all his accounts with one click. “I know my net worth on a daily basis and can create all the reports I need to analyze spending and predict my retirement goals,” says Lalvani.
Cost: $34.99 to $74.99 per year.
For App-Based Budgeting and Goal Setting: Simplifi by Quicken
Similar to other Quicken products, behind-the-scenes technology helps keep your accounts connected and synced with the brand new Simplifi by Quicken web and mobile app. Simplifi focuses on creating personalized spending plans based on your bills, income, and goals.
The service also helps monitor your due dates—so you don’t wind up with an accidental late fee—and tracks recurring subscriptions so you won’t pay for something you no longer use. You can also set up your savings goals and create custom watchlists, an innovative feature that allows you to easily monitor expenses from different categories, payees, or tags.
Cost: $3.99 per month or $39.99 per year, after 30-day free trial.
For Traditional App-Based Budgeting: Mint
For traditional budgeting, Mint offers an ad-supported app that allows you to create spending categories, track your monthly budget, and monitor your net worth over time. “[Mint] provides insight into your financial standing while also being free,” says Austin Weyenberg, founder of personal finance blog The Logic of Money.
Users receive in-app recommendations for sponsored financial products. Mint may also email customers product offers, a downside to some users looking for a cleaner interface.
Cost: Free with ad-support
For a Guided Approach to Budgeting: YNAB
You Need A Budget (YNAB) is another widely used app, and the company offers a budgeting method and philosophy in addition to the software. The YNAB system is based on envelope budgeting, where you allocate money into different categories (or envelopes) as you earn it.
“If you like a proactive approach and the philosophy of envelope budgeting, YNAB is a great choice,” says Nick True, co-founder of Mapped Out Money. “Although the reporting isn’t as robust as Quicken, I would argue YNAB gives you the most control.”
Emma Geiser, a money mentor, uses YNAB with her husband to manage the family’s finances. “When I was single, pen and paper worked perfectly. But after getting married, we needed something the two of us could easily use together,” she says. “I picked YNAB years ago. At the time, I couldn't find any other options that allowed proactive budgeting.”
Although YNAB costs $84 a year (or $11.99 a month), Geiser says the fee is worth paying to receive updated and supported personal finance software that’s free of ads and spam.
For Personal and Business Budgeting: Quicken Home & Business
Small-business owners can face additional challenges when looking for a tool that can help them manage their personal and business finances. There are plenty of business accounting and personal accounting software options, but entrepreneurs need something that makes it easy to keep their finances separate while allowing them to track everything in one place.
Quicken’s top-tier home and business plan adds business-focused features to the personal budget software, such as the ability to store contracts, keep copies of receipts, and send invoices.
Teresa Mears, co-owner of the frugal-living site Living on the Cheap, says she’s used Quicken for more than 15 years. “I just use it for tracking spending, so I can see how my businesses are doing and provide info to the accountant,” Mears says.
“I track Florida on the Cheap (a related business to Living on the Cheap) and my personal finances, including freelance writing and consulting,” she says. “I have also tracked rental property.”
Cost: $99.99 per year for Quicken Home & Business
For Investment Tracking and Retirement Planning: Personal Capital
Personal Capital combines financial tracking with investment management. It’s gained a large following for the free portion of its personal finance software, which makes it easy to connect accounts, track your net worth, and plan for retirement. Investment management is available, for a fee, to users who have at least $100,000.
Although Personal Capital doesn’t focus on creating budgets, that is fine with some people. “I take a 30,000-foot view to budgeting,” says Kyle Kroeger, a financial blogger at FinancialWolves.com. “If I spot a trend that I need to improve, I’ll hone in on that.” Primarily, Kroeger uses the software to track his investments and rental income.
“As a person who wants to retire on rental income, I love the ability to view total cash flow and expenses on an annual basis (after exporting to Excel) to see where I can trim and improve for the next year,” says Kroeger.
What Do You Need From Your Personal Finance Software?
Budgeting and tracking apps may be a core component of how you manage money, but there are also other types of software for more specific needs. Whether you’re looking for help saving money, paying off debt, or doing your taxes, take a similar approach when comparing your options, and remember that one critic’s highest-ranking pick might not fit your specific circumstances.