How to Choose the Best Financial Software
The top performers in our review are Quicken Premier, the Gold Award winner; Moneydance, the Silver Award winner; and Buxfer, the Bronze Award winner. Here’s more on choosing personal finance software that meets your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of these 10 programs.
Keeping on top of your personal finances is undeniably important, but gathering and organizing your statements and bills across all of your accounts can feel overwhelming. When personal finance management requires more time, attention, and effort than you can devote to it, finance planning software can help by giving you tools that make the task easier to accomplish and maintain.
Although all personal finance software requires an initial time investment to set up, the best programs save you time by syncing with your financial institutions to give you real-time access to your data. The best programs also sync with mobile apps that make it convenient for you to monitor your money wherever you are on whatever device you use most.
So what's the payoff with financial software? According to recent studies, individuals who frequently review their accounts come out financially ahead of those who don't track their transactions. Visit our Personal Finance Software Learning Center to read articles about the benefits of budgeting.
Most personal financial software is available for both PC and Mac, although some still cater to a specific platform or have separate programs for each. If you're looking for Mac-specific programs, check out our Personal Finance Software for Mac review. If you plan to tackle your taxes after your finances are in order, our Online Tax Software review can help.
What You Should Expect From Personal Finance Software
All home finance software includes budgeting and reporting tools. Look for programs that give you maximum flexibility in tracking and categorizing expenditures, including the ability to split transactions across categories and schedule recurring payments.
You want to be able manually export your account data in common formats, like Excel or CSV, since few programs export directly to tax services or software. You also want to make sure the software has bank-grade security and gives you the option of two-factor authentication and password protection.
Personal Finance Software: What We Evaluated, What We Found
For our review of personal finance software, we sought out applications that are easy to use, that don't require a significant time investment to maintain and are accessible on mobile devices. We started our search for the best personal finance software online.
We scoured reviews and articles and created an initial list of 20 products. We eliminated programs that were discontinued or that hadn't been updated within the past year, which reduced the list to 17. We then researched each product's website and removed products that lacked key features (see below). We then tested the remaining 14 applications on desktop computers and mobile devices in order to evaluate the features and capabilities of each program.
Using the following criteria, we evaluated each personal finance application based on:
- Its ability to connect the software directly with accounts from several financial institutions, including credit cards and investment accounts
- The availability of a mobile app for both iOS and Android devices
- The inclusion of budgeting timesavers, such as scheduling recurring payments and copying a monthly budget to subsequent months
- Budget tracking, including whether the application lets you monitor your remaining budget and set up alerts to notify you if you've exceeded your limits
- Report options for net worth, spending, cash flow and more
- Tax helps, such as reports and the ability to export data to a tax program directly or using a common file format
- Investment-tracking tools that give you an overview of your holdings and allow you to monitor their performance
Personal Finance Programs: What Features Do You Need?
As you consider which financial software to purchase, it's important to look for a program with features that make managing your personal finances easier and less time-consuming.
The top timesaver to look for is the ability to connect with all of your online financial accounts and automatic syncing, which saves you the hassle of manually downloading data from every account and then manually importing it into your software.
Other features you may wish to look for as you select home finance software include the ability to easily create and track a monthly budget. You also want an application that generates a variety of reports and that monitors your investment accounts.
When evaluating financial planning software, we gave utmost importance to the application's connectivity features since they save you time and give you a real-time look at your accounts.
All of the services on our top 10 list allow you to connect with banks, credit unions and credit cards, although some companies charge an additional fee for this service or require you to purchase a premium version of the product. The majority of the programs on our list also sync with investment and retirement accounts.
When testing, we had an easy time syncing certain services, including online services Buxfer and Mvelopes. Some desktop services were also simple to sync, including Quicken Premier and Quicken Starter. Some programs were more difficult to sync, such as BankTree, which is a U.K.-based service that charges an additional fee to connect and sync with your accounts.
The best personal finance programs have iOS and Android apps that sync your data to your phone and tablet so you can check your budget, enter cash transactions and see a real-time overview of your accounts from wherever you happen to be. In general, services that are online, such as Mvelopes, simply provide a mobile app. However, some services require you to also have a Dropbox account as an intermediary for transferring account information, which may be less convenient. Either way, mobile functions allow you to upload transactions, manage categories, track spending and view reports.
Quicken's mobile apps stand out when connecting, because even though it's a desktop-based program, it doesn't require a Dropbox account to sync with your software. Further, it has additional features other apps lack, such as the ability to save receipts by snapping a picture.
Although all personal finance software includes budgeting tools, this is the feature set you're likely to use most, so it's important that the budgeting tools are easy to use, enable you to quickly create a budget and efficiently track your transactions.
Some services are simpler to use, such as You Need a Budget (YNAB) and Buxfer. Their budgeting features are intuitive and the platforms are easy to navigate. However, their simplicity comes with fewer features. For example, YNAB doesn't support investment and retirement accounts, and Buxfer has fewer reporting options. Quicken products are very simple to use, and if you're less interested in monitoring your investments, Quicken Starter is a simple yet powerful software program.
You want personal finance software that displays your financial data in formats that make it easy for you to see exactly where your money is. Reports should be customizable, allowing you to set specific time ranges and apply filters so you get the information you need for each type of report.
We considered the variety of available reports and export options as well as the ease of customizing reports by filter and date. Additionally, we looked for reports we considered key to understanding your financial well-being, including net worth, spending, cash flow and personal investing reports. We also assessed whether the application has the ability to export data directly to a tax program and generate tax reports, since these features can save you time come tax season.
In addition to budgeting and reporting features, the best personal finance software also gives you the tools you need to stay on top of your retirement and investment accounts. Although eight of the programs we reviewed allow you to link to investment accounts, most have limited functionality.
Only Quicken Premier offers a full suite of investing management tools. Buxfer, Moneydance, BankTree and Moneyspire have some personal investment capabilities, and can help you monitor your investment performance and view your asset allocation.
What About Free Personal Finance Software?
Free online personal finance applications are increasingly popular and are worth considering as you look for the program that works best for you. Most are browser-based and offer apps, so you can use them on a computer, tablet or phone. Here are two of the best free personal finance software applications:
- Mint: This free program from Intuit is a top choice among free money-management and budgeting software. You can download the app to use on your phone or tablet or access the program online using any computer with internet access. It includes a strong selection of budgeting tools and allows you to set more than 20 types of alerts that can help you monitor your accounts and spending habits. It offers its users a free credit score check. Like the best personal finance programs on our list, it helps you monitor your investments, allows you to compare your portfolio to market benchmarks and view your asset allocation. The program includes ads that direct you to other financial services, such as credit cards and investment services.
- Personal Capital: This software is a great choice for people who like seeing all of their accounts and transactions at a glance, but aren't interested in budgeting, since no budgeting tools are available through this program. It syncs with bank, credit card and investment accounts, giving you an up-to-date look at your net worth and cash flow. It analyzes your asset allocation and gives your recommendations for better balancing your portfolio. It has retirement-planning and fee-analysis tools, and if you have more than $25,000 in the accounts that you link, it gives you the option of talking with a financial advisor. If you use the company's investment-management services, it charges a flat percentage as its fee.
Personal Finance Software: Our Verdict & Recommendations
The best personal finance software applications are those that connect with your financial accounts and make it easy to access all of your financial data in one place. Additionally, they have iOS and Android apps that integrate with the software, making it convenient to monitor finances, enter cash transactions and even tweak your budget from your phone or tablet.
Our lineup picks are all good choices, depending on what your needs and preferences are for personal finance management. Here are our recommendations for specific money management needs:
- Best for Complex Personal Finance: Quicken Premier is our top pick as it syncs with banks and offers mobile options. It also provides comprehensive, informative reports and powerful budgeting tools. It's also the best choice if investment-management tools are important to you. Quicken Premier tracks your investments, offers stock information and helps you plan for retirement.
- Best for Simple Budgeting: If you want the powerful features and reliable name of Quicken but want a cheaper option without investment tools, Quicken Starter has most of the budgeting features we considered important.
- Best for On-the-Go Budgeting: If you're looking for a simple budgeting program in an intuitive online platform and with a mobile app, we recommend Buxfer. You can set it up to send you alerts on your phone if you overspend or if you have upcoming bills.
- Best Reporting Options: For financial software with robust reporting tools, consider Moneydance. It includes several types of reports, each with customizable date ranges, and many reports include charts and graphs.
- Best for Envelope Budgeting: Mvelopes is a good choice if you're a fan of envelope budgeting and want a program that helps you follow this method digitally.
- Best Personal Finance Education Resources: You Need a Budget (YNAB) is simple budgeting software that teaches you its four rules of money management. Through its website you can learn about personal finance by attending free online workshops, viewing weekly videos, listening to podcasts and reading YNAB's guides and blogs.