Your cell phone already makes sharing photos, keeping up with loved ones and managing your schedule a breeze. Now it’s time to put it to work on your finances, too. “Your smartphone can be a powerful tool for improving your financial situation,” says Claes Bell, CFA, Bankrate’s data and automation editor.
The trick is knowing which mobile apps deserve space on your phone. “Cast a wide net when looking at money apps that might help, but make sure you’re sticking to apps that come from trustworthy sources,” Bell says. (Apps with hundreds of thousands of rankings from developers that have made other highly ranked products are a fairly safe bet; Google the app name and the company that developed the app to make sure.)
Not sure where to start? We vetted six of our favorite free mobile apps—all with sky-high user ratings—that will turn your device into your own virtual personal finance advisor.
Protect your account: Clarity Money enables you to stay on top of your money, credit and identity by letting you view all of your financial accounts in one place, budget and track spending, and monitor your free credit score. “Using apps to keep an eye out for fraudulent purchases can be hugely beneficial,” Bell says. “Especially when it comes to debit card fraud, the faster you notice it and report it, the less likely you are to have to bear part of the burden for fraud yourself.” Read more about telltale signs that an online scammer is onto you, and learn more about GEICO’s Identity Protection Plan.
Set a budget based on reality: “The most useful thing an app can do for you is help you manage your spending and cash flow,” Bell says. Dollarbird’s intuitive dashboard plots your spending on a calendar and lets you review your totals by category. Mint.com’s dashboard shows you how you really spend on a daily, weekly and monthly basis, so you can make adjustments that align with your budget and priorities.
Pad your account: Digit connects to your bank account, analyzes your spending and income, and then transfers small amounts of money you won’t need or even notice (usually between $5 and $50) to a Digit account. Insider tip: If you often carry a low balance in your checking account, this might not be the mobile app for you. “An untimely withdrawal—even a small one—could overdraw your checking account, triggering overdraft fees,” Bell warns. Digit reimburses overdraft fees up to two times, but dealing with the hassle—and additional overdraft fees from other purchases made that day—might not be worth it.
Grow your portfolio: In most cases, investing via a mobile app is as secure as investing on your personal computer, Bell says, and by bypassing a pro, you’ll save yourself broker’s fees. “While it’s not going to give you everything a competent, conscientious financial advisor will give you, automated investing is a good way to start building up a portfolio because it’s really cheap and easy to get started,” Bell says. Try Betterment, a highly regarded online financial advisor that uses software to automate investment tasks for individual, IRA, Roth IRA and rollover 401(k) accounts.
Get the most out of your insurance: GEICO Mobile is one of the most highly rated insurance apps out there; it lets you pay bills, chat with an agent, update your policy, view your ID card and report a claim on the spot. “Having a financial services providers’ app is usually a good idea if it’s an account or service you use a lot,” Bell says.
Download GEICO’s award-winning mobile app to find the cheapest gas and available parking spots in your area.
By Andrea Bartz
Illustration by Matthew Hollister