The wide availability of digital devices and mobile apps means that managing your personal finances is no longer such a challenge as it used to be. Rather than juggling pieces of paper, you can now run everything through a single software package.
Because the records are digital it means they are easy to store and backup, and different applications can be used either just on your PC or sometimes also on your smartphone.
The basic ones simply provide an easy portal for managing your finances, but some of the more advanced ones can help with reducing debt, managing budgets, or even provide finance advice as an additional service.
We'll therefore look at the best on the market for personal finance software, and show you the standout features of each one so that you can get a better idea of which would be best for you.
If you're looking to keep your business books with a bit more detail, check out our guide to the best accounts software.
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Quicken is a long-established tool for managing personal accounts, and while its reputation was built on a desktop version, it's now available to run as an app on your mobile devices.
Quicken offers a good range of financial reporting tools. These are set around a few different areas, namely budgeting, bills, accounts, and even investments. For budgeting, it offers you a chance to input your purchases and income so you can compare them both together to get a better idea of how much you are spending compared to how much you are earning.
In terms of bills, you can also see which utlities and similar you are constantly paying out to, and see both the amounts to be paid and how much money you have left over. For accounting purposes you can even bring your banking and credit card bills together in one place so that you have a very clear idea indeed of how much you're paying out. This is especially handy as people easily underestimate how much regular small purchases can add to costs.
For investments it also offers the ability to track these, whether as part of your savings, investment portfolio, or 401k pension plan. This means you have a clear idea of how much your savings and investments are worth, though it's fair to say you shouldn't panic about short-term fluctuations in the stock market.
Altogether, Quicken brings together your budgeting, banking, and investment reporting into a single dashboard, which you can view from your desktop or even via your cell phone from the mobile app.
Pricing starts at $34.99 a year for the Starter Plan which covers most of the basic features, though the Deluxe plan at $39.99 a year allows for additional budgeting and goal setting.
Personal Capital's primary function is to track your investments, assets and savings, rather than specifically looking after your current accounts. Are your assets working for you? Are you on course for a comfortable retirement? What can you do to be better off? Plug everything in and you'll be able to see the big picture of your finances.
Personal Capital offers specific advice and statistics based on your goals and your current standing, but access to human financial advisors is where the company makes its money.
While anyone is welcome to use its website, you can only access advisory services if you have an account minimum of $250,000, and there's an annual fee (of between 0.49% and 0.89%) to pay if you want your assets – this is lower than most financial advice services.
Overall, Personal Capital beings all your checkings and savings accounts, loans, mortgages, and 401k accounts into a single dashboard which can make it easier for you to manage your finances.
An online service that's not slathered in effects and colours, Buxfer does a good job of presenting your finances in a clean, professional manner. It cutely brags about the fact that it's currently helping its users manage over four trillion dollars in funds, so it's got a solid user base behind it.
You don't have to give Buxfer your exact banking details if you're uncomfortable doing so – you can opt for offline manual syncing with your bank account instead – but if you do trust it, there's a layer of high-level encryption to protect your data and the company is regularly audited.
We like its budgeting tools best of all – the visual reporting is very strong, and the fact that it doesn't force you into predefined categories and instead allows you to tag expenditures however you see fit means Buxfer should fit nicely into most people's banking lives.
The free version gets you five budgets, accounts and bill reminders, the Pilot version ($1.99 per month) adds on automatic tagging and bank syncing, the Plus version ($3.99 per month) gives you unlimited budgets, and the Pros version ($4.99 per month) includes online payments, advanced forecasts and more besides.
Just in case you need to be told explicitly what to do, along comes YNAB – short for You Need A Budget. Because, hey, if you don't want to spend every single penny you have and more, you absolutely do need one. And perhaps you have more money than you thought?
YNAB's primary mission, as you might expect, is to help you curb overspending and avoid living from paycheck to paycheck. Stick to the program, temper your spending appropriately, and eventually YNAB will see you spending last month's money rather than that which you've just earned.
It's quick to install, supports the majority of transaction information downloadable from banks, and appropriately configures itself for personal or small business use by changing its monetary categories depending on your needs.
If you get off track, YNAB – which is reasonably forgiving and understanding for a bit of software – will tell you what you need to do to get back to where you need to be. You'll have to make sacrifices, but if it's guidance you need, this sets itself apart from the likes of Quicken.
Banktree is more than happy to support worldwide currencies, and in fact does a solid job if you're working simultaneously with more than one, offering balances in multiple currencies rather than rounding them off into a single total. It's also good for keeping track of everything, allowing you to scan receipts with its mobile app and import them later on.
It's not the prettiest software around, and it's slightly more awkward to use than many of its more refined cousins, although Banktree does produce very neat reports which you can break down by time, or by payee. It may be worth experimenting with the free trial before you choose to invest in this one.
This iOS/Android app doesn't try to reinvent the banking world or offer anything truly ground-breaking, but it is perhaps one of the most useful money management tools out there. Hook up every one of your UK bank and credit card accounts and you'll be able to see each of your balances in a single place with a single login. That in itself is enough for us to recommend it.
But there's more – Money Dashboard will track your spending, offering you an overall pie chart depicting your spending on loans, consumables, transport and the like. There's an at-a-glance overall balance, showing exactly how much money you have available across all of your accounts, and you can compare this to the previous month's figure to show how well you've been managing your funds. That's a great motivator.
It's super-safe, too: Money Dashboard locks down your login with an equivalent level of security to that of your bank, and it's completely read-only – your money isn't going anywhere.
Made primarily for Mac users (but also out on Windows and Linux), Moneydance is a desktop money management package with a very neat single-window interface. Load it up and you'll get an instant view of your finances, upcoming bills, recent expenses and more. Click an item in the left hand sidebar and the main content changes to reflect it.
Its reporting features are quite strong if not spectacular to look at, and one of Moneydance's most useful sections is its account register. If you're old-school and once managed a cheque book, this operates on a very similar principle. There's also an iOS app for logging transactions on the go, which later syncs with the software on your desktop.
Unfortunately for UK users, Moneydance doesn't support the connection protocols used by UK banks, so you'll need to download your transaction history manually to keep on top of it and revert to your bank's own app to move money around. US users, however, are well covered.