Todd Christensen Profile Picture
Staff Writer at Debt Reduction Services

Here's a guide to some of the best money apps to better manage your finances.

Reviews of Mobile Apps for Everyday Money Tasks

Here I will review some of the most popular mobile apps for mobile devices that promise to make our everyday financial lives easier and our financial futures more secure. These will be budgeting and expense tracking tools that help us better control our “everyday money.” Oh, and they MUST be free apps.

This is the list of apps being reviewed (click to jump ahead to a particular section):

  1. Mvelopes
  2. Toshl
  3. Personal Capital
  4. Mint


To Refresh on the Criteria on which these reviews are based, read my introduction to my Money App Review Series.


The first app I’ve been trying to get along with over the past couple of weeks is called, Mvelopes.

Here’s my review based on my previously-established criteria:

Account Connectivity (x5):

Mvelopes connected to all of my bank and credit union accounts… even my small credit union. Kudos! Some of the better-known apps STILL can’t get it right. 5 out of 5.

Stability (x5):

In my book, one crash every 10 or 11 sessions is understandable (especially with my equipment). However, if it crashes more than that – and Mvelopes did – it’s going to take a big hit in my book. 2 out of 5.

Mobility (x5):

If you want to add checking or savings accounts to Mvelopes, you’re going to spend some time on your desktop/laptop. Additionally, I had trouble getting my accounts updating on my mobile devices (see #2 above). Finally, entering transactions (tracking expenses) was cumbersome on my phone. 2 out of 5.

Multiplicity of Accounts (x4):
Mvelopes connected to all the accounts I wanted to add. 5 out of 5.


Budgeting Tool (x4):

Being an “Envelope Budgeting” app, it’s no surprise that this app delivers. However, since I’m reviewing it as a mobile app, it’s important to understand that transactions are all entered by hand. This is pretty easily done on a desktop, but not on a phone or even a tablet. 3 out of 5.

Security (x4): Mvelopes requires a 4-digit PIN in order to grant you access on your phone or tablet. That’s great, except that it does so even if I’ve switched windows for just a few seconds. It would be nice to have a minimum 30-second period that allows me to look at another program and re-enter Mvelopes without having to punch in the PIN again. Still, it’s better to be safe than sorry. 4 out of 5.

Intuitiveness (x3): Here’s probably the biggest challenge for most first-time users. Unless you’ve been a long-time envelope budgeter (with actual paper envelopes), the set up is more complex than I would want. I’ve used the envelope system (paper) several times before, but the concept of “funding” an envelope was at first a bit unclear.
In the end, though, while considering a 2, I opted for a 3, since anyone really ready to commit to the envelope system will have the motivation to work this out. Mvelopes also has a few brief introductory videos that are good places to start. 3 out of 5.

Expense Tracking (x3): This is a manual entry program. It’s hard to fault it for that since budgets are more forward-looking rather than being stuck in the past. Still, although connecting to my accounts was initially a thrill, I felt it a disappointment when I couldn’t automatically download my expenses. 1 out of 5

Extra (x1): Mvelopes has a few nifty extras worth mentioning. First, it allows the mobile user to check out local establishments that other Mvelopes users have rated (yes, essentially it’s a built-in Yelp or Google Maps). Also, Mvelopes does have a very nice reports center that provides some great information. Sadly, though, the reports center is not available on mobile devices. 3 out of 5

General Comments:

Overall, in spite of my belief that envelope systems are great tools for short-term financial stability and long-term financial success, and, especially since I’m rating “mobile” apps, I can only give Mvelopes a so-so rating.

That said, if you still use your desktop or laptop regularly, then by all means, please try it out. The concept is solid, and this is the answer to those who want to use the envelope system but also want to go cashless. It’s also a natural choice for envelope system devotees. Just don’t expect much use from the current version out of your mobile devices.

Toshl Finance

2nd Review in the Series: Toshl Finance

Here’s my review based on my previously-established criteria:

Account Connectivity (x5):

Connecting automatically to financial institutions is not a promise Toshl makes. Even though I’m not disappointed (not over-promised – unfulfilled), I still need to give them a 1 out of 5, given that this is one of the more important criteria in my reviews. 1 out of 5.

Stability (x5):

Perhaps due to its simplicity or perhaps due to good software engineering, I didn’t experience any crashes on my devices. 5 out of 5!

Mobility (x5):

Toshl is mobile, being available on just about any device you can think of. Fortunately, entering expenses (which can only be done by hand) is done on a screen with large buttons and numbers. Add a barcode scanner option and it would receive a 5. 4 out of 5.

Multiplicity of Accounts (x4):

There are no accounts in Toshl, just the tracking of purchases compared to a general budget figure.


Budgeting Tool (x4):

The budgeting tool is clear and straightforward. You enter the budgeted amount and can compare it to your current expenses. The visuals are large and intuitive: Big green bar indicates the budgeted amount and the Red bar indicates the amount spent so far of the budget. Automate it or add the option to estimate from previous months and I would have given it a 5. 4 out of 5.

Security (x4):

With no access to bank accounts, security is unnecessary. Consequently, there are no passwords to enter in order to access your information. Still, most people would consider their budget to be pretty private, so I’d like to see a simple pattern swipe to access the program. 4 out of 5.

Intuitiveness (x3):

The interface is simple enough: Enter expenses, enter income, choose one-time or repeat. The “Planned” budget might give some only a momentary pause, and the menu items are clear and easily accessible, but navigation could use screen titles or descriptions at the top to clarify where you’re at. 4 out of 5.

Expense Tracking (x3):

Like the previously-reviewed program, this is a manual entry program. Given that it makes no claim to be automated, I’m cutting it a bit of slack. Still, entering every expense by hand doesn’t win too many brownie points from me. 2 out of 5

Extra (x1):

I admit that it’s nice to see a budget that carries “leftover” money into the next month. Nice touch! Oh, and I’m giving Toshl an extra point for having the coolest icon/mascot on the web! 3 out of 5

General Comments:

I like Toshl for what it tries to be: a mobile expense tracking program that also allows you to compare your expenses to your budget.

That said, I will be removing it from my devices. I’m not one to take time after each purchase to enter information from a receipt into my phone. Still, I recommend this app for those in the position of trying to get a handle on their spending and who are motivated enough to spend that extra 30 seconds after each purchase to add the details into their mobile device. Wow! That makes me sound like a REAL sluggard!

Personal Capital Finance

3rd Review in the Series: Personal Capital.

Here’s my review based on my previously-established criteria:

Account Connectivity (x5)From time to time, I have had to manually press the “refresh” button on my credit union accounts, but overall the connections have worked well. I’ve been very pleased that most (not all) of my accounts have been available for review within a single app. Way to go, Personal Capital! 5 out of 5!

Stability (x5): I’ve had this app on both my Android phone and my Android tablet on and off over the past seven or eight months and don’t recall a single stability issue with it. Hallelujah, and pass the stock certificates! 5 out of 5!


Mobility (x5): Personal Capital is truly a mobile app. I have no need for a desktop. My accounts are listed on the main screen (including the financial institution’s name, my account nicknames, the last 4 digits of the account number, the type of account – checking, savings, 529, Investment, IRA, Credit, Mortgage, etc. – and the current balance), with notifications and summaries down the left-hand side of the screen. If action is required (such as categorizing a purchase from a local retailer), a finger-touch is all that is required, rather than having to key in a category name. 5 out of 5.

Multiplicity of Accounts (x4): Checking accounts, savings accounts, 401(k), 403(b), IRAs, credit cards, mortgage loans, student loans, auto loans, even pre-paid cards and some finance companies (of the strip mall variety)… they’re all here if you want them. I’m giving my top rating for the great variety.
5 out of 5.

Budgeting Tool (x4): The expense tracking option is wonderful. The auto-categorization of daily expenses does pretty well, although it’s only as good, understandably, as its familiarity with local and national businesses. The best part of the expense tracking is all of the visuals. Want cash flow by week? There’s a bar graph for that. Want to see what you’re spending your money on? There’s a pie chart for that.
I may be hoping for too much, but the one thing Personal Capital does not have is a tool for projecting future expenses and notifying me when the water bill or the mortgage is due, then noting that in the corresponding budgeted category. 3 out of 5.

Security (x4): Personal Capital requires the user to log in with a User ID and a password the first time. Thereafter, a 6-digit PIN is required to enter the app. I love this approach! In conjunction with the fact that my phone already has a lock on it (shouldn’t all of our phones have one?), the 6-digit PIN seems just the right amount of additional security and convenient access.
5 out of 5.

Intuitiveness (x3): As I think about this app’s intuitiveness, I don’t think I’ve even considered looking for its help button or manual in the months and months I’ve been using it.
Personal Capital’s user interface includes an easy-to-access slide out menu that lists options from net worth to transactions, from spending and income to investment portfolio and even links to a blog and research resources. It’s warning notifications make it obvious which accounts need login “repair,” and its layout is designed so well that I’ve not been stumped as far as where to go to look for something.
Additionally, when looking at a graph, the categories are color-coded to facilitate navigation. 5 out of 5.

Expense Tracking (x3): I believe this is fairly new to Personal Capital, but they do have a nice wheel cart that automatically categorizes your spending. Although its categorization is not 100% accurate, you have the option to re-categorize any expense with two simple finger touches. It also has a similar chart for income, categorizing it into salary, investment, retirement, and other types of income. Nice forward-thinking here.
5 out of 5

Extra (x1): Personal Capital includes a section that lists investments by type (bonds, stocks, cash, international, US, etc.). It also indicates the percentage of each type of investment within the portfolio. Very handy for annual reallocations. I also like the Net Worth listing at the top of the main menu. It keeps the concept of wealth building – rather than spending – front and center… so to speak. 5 out of 5

General Comments:

As you can see from the ratings (and my 95% weighted score), I love Personal Capital. From my teaching days back in graduate school (WAY back), I do not like giving a perfect score, because it gives the impression that there’s no room for improvement. However, Personal Finance pretty much delivers on almost every point I require in my mobile personal finance app. Other than a true budgeting tool, they’ve created a truly beautiful app.


4th Review in the SeriesMint

Here’s my review based on my previously-established criteria:

Account Connectivity (x5)I have to be careful with this part of the review. Mint’s account connectivity is generally pretty good. I had no problem adding my credit cards, my investment accounts and even a regional home furnishing store account. Where I ran into trouble, and where I could easily let my review get out of hand, was with my main financial institution. My wife and I have our main checking accounts at a regional credit union. It’s not huge, but it’s one of the largest in my state. will not connect to my accounts at this credit union.
As I indicated in my initial review criteria, if I can’t connect to my account(s), the app doesn’t do me much good. That said, I won’t give Mint less than a 4 since I was able to connect virtually all of my accounts without any trouble (and since they actually gave an explanation on another account connectivity problem). My disappointment is palpable, though, since a previously-reviewed app (Personal Capital) was able to get my lowly credit union accounts connected. 4 out of 5!

Stability (x5): I’ve not had any stability issues with Mint. When I previously had it on my old phone through the Android Market, it was also perfectly stable. Great job, Mint!
5 out of 5!

Mobility (x5): All of the accounts that I was able to add to Mint, I was able to do so via my phone. Unfortunately, when I was unable to connect a couple of accounts, Mint directed me to the desktop version. The budgeting tool and the alerts center, also, can only be significantly changed through the desktop version. To be sure, you can edit a budgeted category by phone, but you can’t add an expense.
Generally, though, all of the day-to-day functions I want in a personal finance app are available in the mobile app.
4 out of 5!

Multiplicity of Accounts (x4): Mint delivers as expected here. You can add a checking account, a savings account or both, of course. If you have multiple accounts at a financial institution and you access them with the same user ID and password, Mint will list all of the various accounts under that single login. Additionally, I was able to include my investment accounts, retail store cards, and online-only accounts. While I don’t have any, I was impressed that Mint can also add pre-paid cards (such as Green Dot and Bluebird), which, given the security issues with pre-paid cards and given Mint’s robust alerts options (see Extra below), this can be a nice app to have around.
5 out of 5!

Budgeting Tool (x4): Hallelujah! A real, honest-to-goodness, forecasting and cash tracking budgeting tool! You can create a budget by assigning an estimated monthly expense amount to various categories. Either automatically or manually, expenses are then categorized as they process. Then, Mint tracks your remaining cash for each category and can even notify you when you estimated balance dips below a specified level.
Mint only gives one income option (so you have to combine salary, dividends, assistance, expected gifts, etc. into one line item), which is not that big of a deal. However, it only gives a once-a-month income option, so this could play havoc on your cash flow if you get paid twice a month or every two weeks.
Still, I have to admit, the budgeting tool is what I’ve always wanted in a mobile app. Beautiful! 5 out of 5!

Security (x4): Accessing Mint’s mobile app, once you’ve logged in with your Username and Password, requires a 4-digit PIN. While I’m confident that will keep most fraudsters out of my app, I’m would prefer a 6-digit (numbers only) code. Still, I guess if a 4-digit PIN is good enough for my debit card, I’ll give Mint a pass here.
5 out of 5!

Intuitiveness (x3): No real complaints here. The pop-out menu on the left-hand side provides easy access to whichever feature you want. The top right is where you’ll find the refresh and the alert icons. Solid design and easy to navigate.
How about putting a “Settings” icon up in that right-hand corner empty space as well so I could edit my budget and alerts? No? Well, you can’t blame a guy for trying. 5 out of 5!

Expense Tracking (x3): Click on any account and you’ll see a history of transactions with their date and a general automatically-assigned category. All the transaction’s details can be edited.
If you prefer to look up your expenses by category, simply go to the Cash Flow option on the menu. There you can find all of your expenses for “dining out,” or “housing” or “automotive.” Very helpful! 5 out of 5!

Extra (x1): Here’s where Mint really shines (along with the budgeting tool). Being the biggest and one of, if not, the best-funded apps in the category, Mint is able to throw in a lot of very nice, convenient and actually helpful extras. Check this out:
The account alert center (albeit set up via the desktop version) provides some great options to being notified of various types of activities on your accounts, from low balances to unexpected activities (especially for debit and pre-paid cards), from changes to credit card and loan interest rates to bank fees. This is a well designed and potentially money-saving feature.
Like another app I recently reviewed, Mint has some nice visual charts, including a spending pie chart by category and a couple of bar graphs showing spending and income.
Now we get into some sweet extras. Mint has been able to get hooked up with both Zillow and Kelley Blue Book to provide automatic estimates of property values (real estate and vehicles, respectively). It’s helpful for updating net worth estimates. I love this feature.
Finally, there’s the free credit score. I can’t believe I’ve been teaching personal finance for over a decade and finally found where Equifax’s free credit score is available: Mint!
5 out of 5!

General Comments:

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t expecting much. I had been greatly disappointed previously by Mint’s lack of a true and practical budgeting tool. Now, I love the budgeting tool and its available in the palm of your hand!

One thing is for sure. Mint hit it out of the park with all the extras they have thrown in.

The facelift Mint has undergone since it was first launched has been dramatic and very welcomed. I don’t know what Mint might have in mind for the future, but whatever it is, I’m looking forward to it.

At the end of these reviews, I still prefer my old faithful… spreadsheet. While there are some great apps out there, I still haven’t found one that gives me the day-by-day mile-high view and on-the-ground view that my own household spreadsheet does. Using my spreadsheet (whether Excel or Google Docs), on any given day for the next year, I can forecast how much money I will have in our checking, savings and retirement accounts (barring truly epic emergency events).

However, if building a spreadsheet is overwhelming, some of these apps are a good place to start and only getting better!

Do You Have Questions About or Suggestions for Using a Money App to Track Your Finances?

Comment Below and We’ll Answer as Fast as We Can!


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