Until the day robots make all our jobs obsolete and we just while away the hours catching up on Netflix and arguing over how a dog wears pants, technology can help us both stretch a dollars further and make more dollars in the first place. Most banking and investing at this point is automated and easily handled through our smartphones.
In 2018, trying to make your money into more money (whether by saving cash or betting on penny stocks) is as easy as ordering an Uber. Though… spending and investing wisely is a different matter altogether.
Whether you need to get a handle on your cash outflows so that you have money in the first place or want to start investing the money you have to get some new cash inflows, we’ve got you covered. Here’s your toolkit for the best money making apps to download right now:
PART I: Escaping Debt
A big part of making money is not spending it on things you don’t need, and the interest rates on debt are the dictionary definition of that. Eliminating debt is actually one of the most important steps to making money; remember, debt comes with a price — the interest — and the more debt you can get off your plate, the more money you’ll have to invest.
Debt Payoff Assistant
If you’ve never heard of the debt snowball, today is your day to learn. As you pay off debts, the monthly payments you used to put towards each debt are instead added to others, forming a “snowball” that, once it gets rolling, pays off even large debts fast. This app doesn’t have the most beautiful interface or complicated tools, but it helps you get started on the snowball and keep it rolling.
Student loans stink, particularly since you may only be able to pay the minimums. That can rack up a lot of interest over time, so ChangEd helps you chip away at the rock by connecting your credit cards to the app. As you buy stuff, it rounds up the charges, so if you drop $3.95 on a coffee, it charges $4 to your card. That nickel goes to an FDIC insured account, and once it hits $100, they send an extra payment to your loan. It won’t obliterate your debt tomorrow, but every little bit helps.
That said, it’d be nice if it didn’t cost a dollar a month, considering the goal here, but it’s better than dealing with tons of ads.
Focused exclusively on recurring payments and negotiating down your bills, Trim is great for finding those little money drains. It looks at payments that come out every month, and prompts you to reexamine them. It can also, with major providers of services like internet and car insurance, automatically try to negotiate your bills down to something slightly more affordable.
It’s a very focused tool, and you may not use it that often, but it’s incredibly effective at what it does.
This app helps you get all your debt in one place, and then work out a plan to pay it off. Whether you need to take the long view over a decade, or you want to pay off as much debt as possible as fast as you possibly can, this puts what you owe in one place and makes it much, much easier.
The one downside? It’s no longer fully supported by the ReadyForZero team, so what you get from the app is all you’ll get. But it’s still a powerful, useful solution.
PART II: Saving
So, you’ve got your money organized, you’ve got your debt under control, now it’s just a question of starting to get your money to work, even if you’re starting with only two cents to rub together. Fortunately, a few cents is all you need with some apps.
Penny is a chatbot who’s also a personal finance coach. Penny doesn’t invest money for you; it just gathers your data in one place and answers your questions, getting smarter over time. Like any chatbot, it starts generically and gets better as it learns more about you, but it’s pretty good about answering questions, like how much you drop at Starbucks, that can help you think about your money more clearly. Another nice feature? The team behind the app feed Penny important financial alerts in the news, so you find out about data breaches and other problems faster.
One of the more popular savings apps, Acorns works on the “round-up” principle, where every purchase on a credit card is rounded to the nearest dollar and funneled into a stock fund that’s widely diversified. It is not going to rack you up billions of dollars, and in fact, it’s been criticized by money nerds for playing it overly safe and thus offering a low return.
On the other hand, your change jar offers zero return, and if you need to start saving but just don’t have a lot of money, this is a superb way to start, and you can diversify into other financial tools.
If you want to do a little more than just an amped up change jar, Digit figures out just how much you can really afford to save, based on your income and spending, on an everyday basis. And then? It just squirrels it away for you. It’s got a 1% cash back rate, you can withdraw whenever you feel like it, and the automation is smooth and simple. The one downside? It’s $3 a month, so you might want to look at an old-school savings account first.
You should also try out the interface first: You mostly work with the app via chatbot and text messages.
If you want to save for specific goals, be they a vacation or dropping an extra student loan payment every few months, Qapital is designed to make goals-based savings a simple process. Just connect your accounts, set the goals and the pace and total of the withdrawals, and it’ll pile up the money for you. It’s particularly useful if you’ve got a big expense you know is coming and want to automate saving for, although you do have to sign on for another bank account to get the tools.
Finally, you’ve got your debt under control, you know where your money is going, you’ve saved up enough to do something…and now what? Investing can be intimidating, but fortunately, it’s easy with the right tool.
An investment app that tries to be all things to all investors of all levels, WiseBanyan can ease rookies into investing and help experienced savers get more out of their portfolio — casting a wide shadow, much like its tree mascot. The trade-off is that it’s a good jack of all trades, but is still steadily improving.
Depending on your interest and investing tastes, you may outgrow it quickly.
If you want what amounts to a corporate retirement account, without the “corporate job” part, Betterment is one of your stronger automated options. Tell it your age, your income, and your goals for the future and it’ll work out a portfolio for you automatically. You can also roll over 401(k)s and other financial tools. Especially if you’re just getting started, this is a simple, cheap way to build your own personal investment portfolio. That said, if you already have a 401(k), or not much to invest, you might not get the most out of this.
Stash’s investment focus is with exchange-traded funds, or ETFs. Basically, your money goes to a fund, that fund buys a set of assets, the assets make money, the money flows back to you. Stash does not do a great job of explaining this, it has to be said, which isn’t helped by the fact that it offers titles and descriptions of funds it writes itself instead of just telling you what the fund is.
As a method of investing in a relatively safe kind of financial instrument, as you build your investment portfolio, it’s direct, simple, and fairly cheap. Just be sure to do your research.
If you want to get really granular, Robinhood lets you buy stocks and other assets, including cryptocurrencies, individually. If you know what you’re doing, the low commission fees (zero, in most cases) make it a great app for finance nerds and people who know exactly what they want to buy. That said, it’s bare bones compared to other investment tools in some areas, especially advising, so you need to know your stuff to get the most out of the app.
The old-school stock investment app is still a great choice for granular investors who want to personally handle everything about their investing. It’s relatively inexpensive as something this detailed goes and has the deepest amount of data of any investment app. That said, this really is for the people who read the Wall Street Journal and argue over investing strategies for fun, so before you open an account, crack a few books and learn what you’re getting into.
The Best Of The Rest
Simple: An “anti-bank” that’s entirely online and offers a solid suite of savings and automation tools.
NerdWallet: The popular personal finance site has an app filled with tips and tricks to save money based on your goals, but could be more robust with its features.
Chime: An alternative bank that does quite a good job eliminating fees, but its “all-in-one” approach, which has you opening several different accounts and automating between them, may not be for everyone.
Moven: Probably the most detailed spending tracker you’ll find, with Daily Digests, but it can make it a little too easy to miss the forest for the trees with its day-by-day approach.
Stock Trainer: Basically a fantasy stock trading app, where you use real data but invest fake money. A good way to get a sense of what investment strategies won’t terrify you, but also… you’re not making any money!
IRS2Go: Hey, your money’s going to the government every time your paycheck gets cut, and this can help manage your taxes, although we wish it was more robust: A tool that let you track your withholdings and projected tax liability would be great.
Drop: A digital loyalty card, tie Drop to your credit and debit cards and you’ll automatically earn points on purchases that qualify. You just have to weigh that against sharing your purchase history, although the app does pay relatively well in the loyalty card space.