The Best Mobile Finance Apps of 2016

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Banking and managing money keeps getting easier and easier. I don't know how long it's been since I've had to physically go to a bank to deposit a check. And just today, I settled up some vacation expenses among friends without ever leaving my armchair. In every list of the best Android apps and the best iPhone apps, you'll always find a few personal finance apps. They are an essential component for managing modern life.

Personal finance apps help us remember to pay bills, keep an eye on account balances, and stay within our budgets—things we need to do daily and for which we often need reminders. The automation available in today's personal finance apps is astounding. Some apps, including our Editors' Choice, Mint, can consolidate all your transactions across multiple credit cards and bank accounts into one view. You can see all the transactions that happen across all your accounts, and get a tally of all your balances: That is, your net worth.

Mint can also send you push notifications if you're about to hit the budget limit you set in a given category. In other words, you'll get a warning before you break the bank on caffe lattes. All these capabilities are a far cry from the pre-Internet days, when tracking expenses involved saving receipts, opening paper bills, and writing down every time you gave someone a fistful of cash.

How Much Are You Worth?
Knowing how much money you have and how much you owe is where everyone should start, and there are two apps that excel in that area: Mint and LearnVest. With either of these apps, you can not only calculate your net worth, but also go through your spending habits with a fine-tooth comb. You can set financial goals, such as getting out of credit card debt or buying a home.

Mint and LearnVest differ in a few ways. For starters, Mint has been around longer, so it offers a slightly more polished experience. Both apps are free to use, but LearnVest offers an upsell for a premium experience that buys you an ongoing relationship with an actual financial advisor. Mint is an ad-supported service; bear with me while I explain why its ads are actually useful.

Because Mint has information about your financial accounts, the app knows exactly how much interest you're earning or paying on all your loans, credit cards, savings accounts, mortgage, and so forth. It also sees when you pay ATM fees or annual service charges. Mint uses targeted advertising to suggest banks and financial services from its ad network that are better for your specific financial needs. Mint even tells you how much money you would save over time by using these new, suggested services. Anytime an ad is irrelevant, you can dismiss it by hitting Ignore.

Specialty Finance Apps
As much as we love Mint, it's not the only personal finance app in the app stores. Mint is a great place to start, but you might have other financial objectives in mind that could benefit from a specialty tool. Qapital, for example, is an app that helps you save money through gamification or tiny actions you take every day. With Qapital, you do have to open a new savings account through the app, but after you get over that hurdle, the app does a tremendous job at helping you save small amounts of money that add up.

Or maybe you've been meaning to start investing but never seem to have the time to read up on your options, open an investing account, and so forth. Stash Invest is a mobile app that lets you start investing with as little as $5. It shows you different kinds of investments that might suit you, not only in terms of their riskiness, but also their impact on the world, like clean energy investment funds.

What the Apps Know About Your Money
Many personal finance apps extract real-time data from your financial accounts, including savings and checking accounts, investment services, lenders, and credit cards. The information they pull helps to paint the most accurate portrait of your finances on the fly.

The account authorizations for most of the apps recommended here have read-only access, meaning the app won't be able to move money from your bank accounts. In fact, they won't even be able to see the full account number. The apps can only see account balances and details of line-item transactions. You should still keep all this information safe and locked with a PIN in any app that accesses it. The exceptions are apps that you've authorized to pull money from your bank account to put into a new savings or investment account (such as Qapital and Stash Invest).

As you cobble together a set of mobile financial apps that meet your needs, keep in mind what kind of information you will want to see or know when you're out on the town. Also think about what kind of information it would be helpful to get quickly, since many of these financial apps load faster and display information with greater ease than your typical bank app (like the apps for Bank of America, Chase, Citibank, and so forth).

Speaking of bank-specific apps, I did not include them in this roundup of the best personal finance apps, because you would only choose to use the ones provided by your bank. Most people will find these apps helpful for finding ATMs so that they can avoid fees and depositing checks remotely. When it comes to checking your account balances, however, I recommend sticking with another app that's better designed to let you do that across all your accounts. You'll simply get a better picture of your financial status that way.

Without further ado, here are the very best mobile personal finance apps you can find for your smartphone.

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