Saving money has a lot in common with flossing: you know it’s important, professionals wag their fingers at you when they find out you’ve been neglecting it, and it seems like a major pain to get in the habit of doing.
Luckily for reluctant savers, technology has come to the rescue in the form of automatic savings apps. (Unfortunately, automated flossing technology is still years away.) Even the most budget-averse user can automatically grow their wealth using one of these apps.
Each of the following savings apps has a different approach to automating your finances. Read on to see which one will work best for your wealth-building needs.
If you want to save money without ever having to think about it, Digit is for you. This completely free program syncs with your bank accounts and analyzes your cash flow. Every two to three days, it will determine an amount of money (between $5 and $50) that is safe to transfer into an FDIC-insured Digit deposit account. Digit is so confident in its safe-to-withdraw algorithms that it offers to pay overdraft fees if a transfer leaves you overdrawn. You can request money from your Digit account anytime and you will generally receive it the next business day.
Digit communicates with you via text message, and you must sign up online, as it is technically not an app. You will receive a text message once per day with your current bank balance. You also have the option to receive more detailed text check-ins, which allow you to see recent debits. This can give you a no-effort daily snapshot of your finances
The big downside to Digit is that you will earn no interest on your deposit account, since the interest earned in those accounts pays for the program’s operating costs. This is how the program remains completely free.
Pros: Saving is not only automatic, but also painless. Your money is easily accessible if you need it and you don’t pay a penny for this program.
Cons: The lack of interest earnings on your savings makes it tough to really grow wealth with Digit.
Best for: Beginner savers or those who hate dealing with money.
Be sure to check out PT’s review of Digit.
This app introduces users to the world of investing—effortlessly. Acorns links to all of your spending accounts, including credit cards, checking accounts/debit cards, Paypal, and the like, and rounds up each transaction to the nearest dollar. Once you have reached a minimum of $5 in roundups, the money is transferred into an investment portfolio, which the app helps you to choose by asking you a series of questions. The five portfolio options include index funds from investment firms such as iShares, Pimco, and Vanguard.
In addition to the roundup option, you may also set up a recurring transfer on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis, or you may make single lump sum transfers.
You have the option of withdrawing your funds from your Acorns investment account at any time, and the money will arrive in your checking account within five to seven business days. There is no limit on how much you can withdraw.
Acorns has two different fee structures. Users with more than $5,000 in their investment portfolios will pay 0.25% of their holdings per year. Those who haven’t hit the $5,000 mark pay $1 per month for the service. This cost can be pretty steep for Acorns beginners. For instance, a $200 portfolio will pay $12 over one year—which equals a painful 6% fee.
Pros: Using the roundup aspect of Acorns’ savings platform can make saving (and then investing) money painless. The investment portion takes the confusion and intimidation out of investing, in addition to lowering the cost threshold. Additionally, the customer service is reported to be excellent.
Cons: The fees can be quite steep for those just beginning. You do still need to keep track of your finances to make sure the roundup feature or recurring transfers do not overdraw your accounts or overload your credit card.
Fees: $1 per month for accounts below $5,000, 0.25% of your holdings for accounts above $5,000.
Best for: Those new to investing who have a good handle on their budgeting.
Be sure to check out our review of Acorns.
Sweep is the app that takes care of all the little budgeting tasks people hate to do. It syncs with your financial institutions and tracks bills that are due, and reminds you of their due dates. It also helps you set up savings buckets to cover upcoming bills, as well as your savings goals, and then lets you know how much money you have available to spend, worry free.
This app basically does your planning and budgeting for you, which is a great thing for those intimidated by budgeting.
Pros: Sweep eliminates the mental accounting of budgeting and keeps you on track without having to think about it or create your own spreadsheets.
Cons: The savings buckets are not as customizable as some users would like. Sweep is currently only available for iPhone (but an Android version is in the works).
Best for: Beginning budgeters.
What if you had a money-savvy friend who could look over your finances, put the information into an easy-to-read graph, and even give you financial advice? That’s the idea behind Penny, the personal finance app that feels as easy as texting with a really helpful friend.
After you sync the app with your bank, each time you open it Penny will greet you and allow you to respond with a choice of several pre-written questions. Penny’s answers will help you better understand your current financial picture.
The app also offers a more traditional breakdown of your finances if you would like more information. Penny does not specifically help you to save money, but it can be very useful for anyone new to tracking their spending.
Pros: This easy to use app takes a great deal of the intimidation out of finance. In addition, Penny’s pre-written questions allow new budgeters to know what to ask even if they would otherwise be confused.
Cons: The pre-written questions might be annoying to a more advanced budgeter.
Best for: Beginning budgeters.
Would-be savers who would like some community encouragement will love Unsplurge. This iPhone app asks you to choose a goal and upload a picture of your goal. Once you have set your goal, it can then be shared with “Town,” which is the community platform for Unsplurge, where users can see others’ savings goals and cheer each other on. You (and Town, if you choose) will get to see your progress as you put money aside for your goal.
Unsplurge is not synced with your bank, so it is up to you to actually save the money. However, the app is designed to help you create and maintain a habit, using both community and personal motivation to keep you on track. In addition, the app offers savings tips, such as a 52-week money challenge, to help you get into the savings frame of mind.
Pros: Both the progress bar and the community aspect of Unsplurge can be very motivating and help you to establish a habit of saving money.
Cons: Unsplurge does not help you budget or identify money that it is safe to put aside in savings. Also, the app is only available on the iPhone.
Best for: Those who are comfortable with budgeting but need additional motivation to save money.
Pennies (not to be confused with Penny, above)
This very intuitive iPhone app helps even the most absent-minded of spenders to stay on budget. Pennies allows you to set a number of budgets (such as monthly fun money, weekly food spending, and the like), with a start date, length of budget term, and the amount available to spend. Each time you make a purchase, you enter the amount into Pennies, which will show you the number of dollars and days remaining in that particular budget.
The app uses colors to help you gauge the health of your budget—a red background shows you that your money is quickly dwindling, while green and blue lets you know you are cleared for additional purchases. If you forget to log purchases, you’ll get an occasional reminder from the app to go back to tracking.
Pennies does not sync with your financial institutions and only tracks a single source of money at a time, which can make things a little difficult for anyone with multiple bank accounts or payment methods.
Pros: This app is easy to use and offers a convenient method for tracking spending.
Cons: Pennies only tracks one source of money, which means it might not work for individuals with more complicated finances. The app is only available for iPhone.
Fees: $2.99 one time purchase fee.
Best for: Beginning budgeters.
The Level Money app syncs with your bank account and determines how much will be left in that account after automatically deducting upcoming bills, recent purchases, and your savings goals. It then gives you an estimate of the amount of money that’s safe for you to spend over the next day, week, and month.
In addition, the app also offers an Insights section that allows you to track a certain category of spending. For instance, you might create a “coffee” category and have the app track all of your spending in your favorite café. The app will then show you how much you have spent on coffee over the past month, and will calculate your average monthly coffee expenses if you continue caffeinating at the same rate, as well as your projected annual amount spent on coffee.
Level will let you know if you are getting too close to overspending your account, but it is still entirely up to you to keep from blowing through all of your money.
Pros: The app makes spending decisions incredibly simple, and since it is synced with your accounts, you do not have to remember to enter in new purchases.
Cons: Setting up the app can take some work, particularly if you have irregular income. In addition, some recent purchases can take a little time to show up in the app.
Best for: Beginning savers and/or budgeters, or those who hate dealing with money.
After you receive each paycheck, Rize automatically moves money from your checking account to your Rize account. Each time you save money, Rize sends you a notification via text or email with an update on your progress.
The program also helps you choose a savings amount that fits with your age, income, and location, and it suggests smart financial goals that match your situation—although you can always create your own custom goals. Rize also helps users by suggesting increases to the amount saved each month as your circumstances change.
To make sure Rize does not overdraw your checking account, the program notifies you of the transfer a few days before it happens, giving you time to pause the transaction. Rize also automatically double-checks the balance in your checking account before the transfer to make sure you have sufficient funds. (The website is coy about what happens when it finds an insufficient balance in your checking account. I suspect it pauses the transaction and contacts you, but the details are not clear).
Your Rize account is a savings account, which will earn 0.30% APY interest, although rates are subject to change. As a savings account, Rize also offers SIPC insurance protection up to $250,000, similar to FDIC insurance of the same amount in a traditional bank. You may withdraw money from your Rize account at any time.
By far the most unusual aspect of Rize is how it handles fees. There is no set monthly fee for the program, but Rize asks users to contribute a small amount of the money you save each month—the exact amount is up to the user.
Pros: Rize makes it easy to pay yourself first, and it offers a modest amount of interest (which is higher than the national average for savings accounts). The progress updates sent via text or email help keep your goals front and center.
Cons: Rize currently does not have an app, although one is in the works. The pay-what-you-think-is-fair fee system could be a benefit or a detraction, depending on how you look at it.
Fees: Rize asks for a voluntary monthly contribution of your savings, at an amount set by you.
Best For: Beginning savers and/or budgeters.
Here’s how it works—once you have signed up with EarnSmart and linked your debit or credit card to the program, you get a chance to choose a savings goal. While you may simply choose a cash goal, one thing that sets EarnSmart apart is the fact that it also offers discounted gift cards as goals. For instance, on their front page are 10% off discounted gift cards for Lululemon and Hyatt. Once you reach your savings goal, you will either receive the cash or the full amount of the gift card. (That is, once you’ve saved $90, your $100 Lululemon gift card is released to you.)
EarnSmart transfers money to your EarnSmart savings account each time you make a purchase with the linked debit or credit card. You decide whether to transfer $0.50, $1.00, or $2.00 with each purchase.
You can also earn more by inviting friends to join EarnSmart. For each friend who joins, you will receive 0.5% of every dollar your friend saves.
There are no fees whatsoever, and you can access the money you have saved in your EarnSmart account any time—even if you are saving to redeem a discounted gift card.
Pros: The discounted gift cards can help you save twice over—first by saving up for the item, and then by getting you more gift card for your money. EarnSmart is dedicated to transparency.
Cons: Since savings are based on users making purchases, EarnSmart might encourage struggling budgeters to make more purchases. (This is the same problem with cash-back credit cards.) There is no information on EarnSmart’s website that indicates the program will avoid overdrawing your account.
Best for: Advanced budgeters who would like to take advantage of the discounted gift card savings goals.
Bank of America’s Keep the Change
Bank of America’s savings program is the granddaddy of modern automatic savings apps. Keep the Change was launched in 2005 for Bank of America customers, and it is still going strong. In order to qualify, you must have a Bank of America checking account, debit card, and savings account.
Like Acorns, Keep the Change rounds up each purchase you make with your Bank of America debit card, and places the change in your savings account. For instance, if you spend $4.17 on a cup of coffee and a muffin, $0.83 will automatically be placed in your savings account, and your checking account will be debited for a full $5.
If you do not have enough funds in your account to cover your Keep the Change roundups for the day, Bank of America cancels the Keep the Change transfer for that day in order to protect you from overdraft. Also, if you end up returning an item or having a purchase canceled, the Keep the Change transfer associated with that purchase does remain in your savings account.
The Bank of America savings account where your money is transferred does accrue interest, although the current rate for a regular savings account is a whopping 0.01% APY. You can access your money in that savings at any time.
Bank of America offers a mobile app that will allow you to monitor your Keep the Change savings, along with your other banking.
Pros: Automatic transfer allows for painless savings, and checkbook balancing becomes easier because every purchase is a whole number. Bank of America cancels Keep the Change transfers that would overdraw your account.
Cons: Keep the Change is only available for Bank of America customers. The interest rate is very low, and you might need to transfer money occasionally to higher interest bearing accounts.
Best for: Bank of America customers. If you already bank with B of A, it makes sense to try the in-house automatic savings app.
Change (Not to be confused with Bank of America’s Keep the Change, above)
The founders of Change started with a simple idea: the best way to influence people to save is to spark behavioral change. After all, consumers have 100% control over what they spend and save, and yet they do not necessarily make the best decisions for themselves.
So the Change app, unlike others on this list, does not automatically change your saving or spending habits. What it does is alert you to those habits and give you choices for how to make changes.
Here’s how it works. When you sign up with Change—which the creators describe as an “invisible” app, since there is no app icon on your device—you link your bank and credit card accounts to the program, which anonymizes and encrypts your information for your security. Once your accounts are linked, Change analyzes your spending habits to find bad financial behavior. It then sends you text messages to alert you to behavior you may be unaware of and suggests simple ways to change the behavior.
For instance, you might receive a message alert pointing out that your $14.95 per month Audible subscription costs you $179.40 per year. Or Change may text you to let you know your top spending category for the previous month was $200 in coffee shops, where you never spent more than $15 at a time. Those little nudges can help you become more aware of your spending habits without asking you to drastically alter your lifestyle. Change offers suggestions for how to reduce such costs so that you can seamlessly reduce spending without feeling deprived.
As of this writing, Change is in beta testing and will be launching its public version in September 2016. Though there is currently no savings or other bank services, the Change website explains that those offerings will be coming soon, and that Change intends to make money by taking a small piece of the interest from those transactions. Change is now, and will continue to be, completely free for users.
Pros: Change is all about teaching users to be mindful spenders, which is the kind of long-term lesson that all consumers need to learn. There is no expectation that you will completely give up the spending habits that make you happy. These concepts are based upon solid research in behavioral economics.
Cons: There is not yet any automated savings associated with this app.
Best for: Change’s creators are specifically targeting 25-35 year old Millennials, although anyone who is looking for more insight into their spending habits would get a lot out of this app.
A brand new entry to the world of personal finance technology, Debitize was the 2016 FinTech Competition runner-up. It offers a solution for consumers who have trouble with credit card spending but do not want to give up the protections and rewards offered by credit cards.
When you sign up with Debitize (which is currently still in beta testing), the program monitors your credit card activity and automatically transfers the amount of your credit card transaction from your checking account into your Debitize account. Then, the program automatically pays your credit card bill each week with the money set aside in your Debitize account.
To make sure Debitize does not overdraw your checking account, you can set up a minimum balance amount. (The default minimum balance is $100, but you can set it to whatever amount will work for you.) The program will notify you when Debitize withdrawals take you down to your minimum balance, and it will continue to monitor your checking account for deposits so it can transfer the necessary funds. If you encounter an emergency and need to access the funds in your Debitize account, you may request a transfer back to your checking account—although the program discourages this unless necessary.
Debitize will not work for individuals with a serious spending or credit problem, since your credit card will not be declined at the register if you do not have sufficient funds in your checking account. But for the average consumer, Debitize can be a great program for getting a handle on credit card spending, while still enjoying the benefits of credit card perks.
Pros: Debitize allows users to have the best of both the debit and credit card world. You save money in credit card interest by always paying your bill in full, while still reaping your credit card rewards and protections.
Cons: Those who consistently struggle with overspending will not be helped by the Debitize model.
Best For: Consumers who are able to responsibly use debit cards, but struggle with credit.