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The Best Budgeting Apps in 2021

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It may not have been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

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If you’re trying to stick to a budget or just manage your money better, there are plenty of apps designed to track your finances and promote smarter saving and spending habits. Budgeting apps sometimes have different features, but they all essentially work to give you a better idea of where your money is going.

MagnifyMoney reviewed several budgeting apps and determined which ones were best for specific needs. We emphasized apps that are broadly useful and accessible for most people, with priority given to those that are free to use. Read on to learn more about the best budgeting apps available in 2021.

Best budgeting apps in 2021

Best for overall budgeting: Mint

Mint Budgeting APP Cost: Free

MagnifyMoney’s choice as the best overall budgeting app is Mint, one of the most popular and well-established apps in the space. Mint has built-in integrations for automatically syncing information from financial institutions and allows users to customize their budget with a degree of flexibility that’s not always available with other budgeting apps. Importantly, it’s free. Mint generates revenue with third-party advertisements.

Users can choose to classify their budgets and savings goals however they want, and Mint records all transactions for them. Mint provides users with useful and accessible historical data and insights on spending trends — it’s simple to use but provides comprehensive information. Mint also sends users notifications for budget updates and suspicious financial activity.

Pros

  • Completely free for all features
  • Budget and goal flexibility
  • Benchmarks for financial goals
  • Credit monitoring, including credit-score tracking

Cons

  • Occasional data synchronization issues
  • Not geared for complex investments

Why we chose Mint

Among free apps, Mint offers the deepest and most robust tools for budgeting with custom goals and categories. It’s the best choice for most users, including and especially those who are new to tracking budgets and financial goals.

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Best for complex budgeting: You Need a Budget (YNAB)

 YNAB  Budget App Cost: $11.99 a month or $84 a year
Free trial: 34 days

You Need A Budget (YNAB) has a different philosophy than many other budgeting apps: instead of budgeting based on expected expenses, YNAB sets budgets based on income with an approach called zero-based budgeting. YNAB preemptively assigns each dollar of income to either an expense or a payment toward savings, investments or debts. The potential costs of exceeding budgets become a bit more tangible: every dollar is accounted for somewhere, so any excessive spending in one area will directly impact another.

YNAB claims to save users significant amounts of money over the course of the year, but the annual price tag of $84 may scare off some potential users.

The zero-based budgeting approach has given YNAB a dedicated user base. For those who are willing to try a more stringent budget, YNAB offers a lot of instructional resources and customer service. They also have the ability for you to synchronize balances and transactions as well as manually reconcile that data with your own numbers.

Pros

  • Emphasis on zero-based budgeting
  • Free trial period to try the technique
  • Good flexibility for budget categories

Cons

  • Costs at least $84 per year
  • No tools for tracking investments

Why we chose YNAB

You Need A Budget may not be for everyone, but for those who are able to commit to a zero-based budgeting strategy to pay off debt or boost their savings, YNAB offers a more rigorous way to stick to those goals.

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Best for controlling spending: PocketGuard

PocketGuard Budget App Cost: Free (or $7.99 per month, $79.99 per year or $99.99 lifetime for premium)

PocketGuard’s services are based around an algorithm called the In My Pocket feature, which identifies how much money users can spend on a daily basis depending on factors like income, bill payments, debt obligations, budget goals and recent spending habits. It’s built around day-to-day diligence in sticking to your budgeting goals and geared toward reinforcing saving habits.

Its most simple features are available for free, but there is a membership that allows users to set specialized plans for debt payments, customize their budget categories, export transactions, view all historical data and create as many categories and budgets as they want. Some of those features are available for free with other apps.

Pros

  • Intuitive platform for daily budgets
  • Provides users basic budgeting for free
  • Helps find better deals on cable, phone and other bill payments

Cons

  • Not all PocketGuard services are free
  • Some reports among users of technical issues

Why we chose PocketGuard

By calculating how much money users can spend each day, PocketGuard is designed to help curb overspending. It tracks your income, expenses and savings for free, but some services like category customization and debt payoff plans are part of a premium service called PocketGuard Plus.

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Best for budgeting and investing: Personal Capital

Personal Capital App Cost: Free

Personal Capital is available as an app or as an online platform, and while there are some premium investing services, the budgeting tools are free. Their budgeting services can be more detailed and comprehensive than most other budgeting apps — information syncs automatically from financial institutions, but there are no options for manually reconciling the information if there’s a mistake.

Among the tools offered by Personal Capital for investing are a net worth tracker, a portfolio fee analyzer and a retirement planner. There are also some educational resources available to investors on the platform. Their free services are designed to entice customers for investment advising, but Personal Capital has a strong suite of services for free — it’s a solid choice for investment-focused budgeters.

Pros

  • Free wealth management tools
  • Geared toward retirement planning
  • Analyzes fees for your portfolio

Cons

  • Not primarily a budgeting tool
  • No manual transactions

Why we chose Personal Capital

Personal Capital is an investing platform at heart, but its expense and budget tracking tools are an excellent free service as well. It’s the best budget app for users who want the ability to manage and track more complex investments as part of their bigger financial picture.

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Best for budgeting with a partner: Honeydue

Honeydue
Cost: Free

There are some apps specifically designed for couples, and Honeydue is built for couples to track their money together. Honeydue helps track the balances across accounts, tracks when bills are due (and who’s supposed to pay them) and allows users to chat with each other in the app. There’s also a free option for a joint bank account held by a Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation-insured bank.

Budgets can be viewed together or separately in the app, and like most budgeting services, Honeydue alerts users when a budget is exceeded or when a bill is due. Honeydue merges information for both partners, and it’s the best option for couples who want to manage their money together.

Pros

  • Automatically syncs with bank accounts
  • Offers options for which accounts to share
  • Features a joint bank account for users

Cons

  • Sometimes slow in syncing data according to users
  • Limited collaboration on savings goals

Why we chose Honeydue

Honeydue is a standout among budgeting apps designed for couples: users and their partners can jointly check transactions, track accounts and coordinate bill payments on the platform. It’s the best free app in this category, and it has robust tools for tracking a couple’s finances.

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Best for envelope budgeting: Goodbudget

Good Budget Free App Cost: Free (or $7 per month or $60 per year for premium)

Envelope budgeting is based around putting a month’s worth of cash in an envelope labeled for a specific budget category. Once that money’s gone, the budget’s been reached, and if there’s some money left over, there’s some extra disposable income for expenses outside of the budget.

Goodbudget is a tool that brings that dynamic into an app and online platform. There are no integrations with financial institutions — every purchase must be entered manually. It’s a good tool for couples or for families with kids who are learning to budget because it easily accommodates multiple users. It’s a straightforward envelope budgeting app.

Pros

  • Some free features
  • Good for couples to budget together
  • Tracks debt payment progress

Cons

  • Doesn’t link with financial institutions
  • Premium features needed for more envelopes

Why we chose Goodbudget

The envelope budgeting method is more of an old-school way to track your finances.Though most people don’t rely on cash or envelopes for budgeting anymore, apps like Goodbudget have stepped up as a 21st-century solution.

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Other budgeting apps to consider

There are several other useful budgeting apps beyond those that MagnifyMoney selected as the best for specific categories. Here are some of the apps that were considered but ultimately not chosen as the best:

  • Simplifi — Despite being a fairly simple budgeting tool, Simplifi comes with a monthly subscription cost.
  • Zeta — A free budgeting app designed for couples, Zeta offers a joint bank account with two debit cards.
  • Stash — Really more of an investing than a budgeting app, Stash promotes incremental deposits to build a portfolio.
  • Digit — Within your predetermined preferences, Digit automates the process of saving and investing for you.
  • Wally — Much like other budgeting apps, Wally aggregates information from financial institutions and tracks your progress.
  • Mvelopes — Another envelope budgeting option, Mvelopes offers a free trial before users must upgrade to plans with different tiers.
  • Everydollar — Part of the Ramsey+ suite of services, EveryDollar emphasizes financial education as part of its platform.

Compare the best budgeting apps

AppCostSyncs data with your bank accountsAllows you to manually add transactionsKey feature
MintFreeYesNoFlexibility in creating budgets and goals
You Need a Budget (YNAB)$84 per yearYesYesZero-based budgeting system
PocketGuard$79.99 per year (also a free version)YesNoDaily budgets to limit overspending
Personal CapitalFreeYesNoRobust investment tracking tools
HoneydueFreeYesYesBudgeting designed for couples
Goodbudget$60 per year (also a free version)NoYesModern envelope budgeting platform

Budgeting apps: FAQs

There are a lot of factors to consider when choosing a budgeting app, including cost, available features, customizability and its approach to the budget process, whether that’s zero-based budgeting, envelope budgeting or a more common approach.

Budgeting apps can’t force you to stop spending money, but they’re a great way to track your progress and set goals and benchmarks for yourself. If you stick to the plan, those budgeting apps can work wonders.

MagnifyMoney chose Mint as the best free budgeting app because it offers quite a bit of flexibility and depth despite being an entirely free platform. In addition, Mint was our choice for the best overall budget app among all free or paid options.

User preference really determines what’s the easiest budgeting app. Most apps offer synchronization with banks and financial institutions to streamline the process and provide users with digestible information on their platforms.

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Understanding the Difference Between Forbearance and Deferment

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It may not have been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

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Need a break from repaying your student loans? Both deferment and forbearance allow you to postpone payments on your federal student loans temporarily, but there are also differences between them.

In periods of deferment, for example, subsidized loans don’t accrue interest, so you don’t have to worry about your balance growing. Forbearance, however, can be easier to qualify for.

Generally, all federal loans are eligible for deferment or forbearance, but only some private student loans offer this option.

[Note: Some details may have changed due to coronavirus pandemic measures. Read more here.]

To get the full picture on pausing your student loan repayment, let’s look at the following topics:

Key differences between forbearance and deferment

One major difference between forbearance and deferment has to do with subsidized loans, which are loans that are available to undergraduate students with financial need. If you defer subsidized loans, you won’t have to worry about any interest accruing on your balance.

This is true whether you’re in your grace period during college or get a deferment for an alternative reason, such as economic hardship. That said, your unsubsidized loans will accrue interest during a period of deferment. And typically, all loans accrue interest during a period of forbearance.

The only exception to this is the emergency forbearance that has been put in place in response to the coronavirus pandemic (in which both payments and interest have been suspended on qualifying loans).

So if you have any subsidized loans, deferment is usually the better option. But if you don’t, there’s no major difference between forbearance and deferment, apart from the criteria you’ll need to meet to qualify.

This chart shows the difference between forbearance and deferment, specifically for subsidized loans.

Qualifying for forbearance and deferment

Another major difference between forbearance and deferment has to do with the criteria you’ll need to meet to be eligible. There are two types of forbearance: mandatory and discretionary.

If you meet a requirement for mandatory forbearance, your loan servicer has to grant your request. If you don’t, your loan servicer can decide whether or not to pause your payments.

Mandatory forbearance

Forbearance will be granted if any of the following pertain to you:

  • You are enrolled in a medical or dental internship or residency.
  • You are serving in a national service position, such as AmeriCorps, are part of the Department of Defense repayment program, are in the National Guard or are eligible for teacher loan forgiveness programs.
  • Your monthly loan payment is 20% or more of your gross monthly income.
  • You are teaching in a program that qualifies for loan forgiveness.
  • You qualify for partial repayment under the U.S. Department of Defense Student Loan Repayment Program.
  • You are called into active military duty.

Discretionary forbearance

Forbearance may be granted if any of the following apply:

  • You are enrolled less than half time (each school has their own definition of ‘half time’).
  • Poor health.
  • Unemployment (beyond the maximum deferment time limit).
  • A reduction in work hours.
  • A life-changing circumstance.

Deferment

You can qualify for a deferment if you are:

  • Enrolled at least half time at an eligible postsecondary school.
  • In a full-time course of study in a graduate fellowship program.
  • In an approved full-time rehabilitation program for individuals with disabilities.
  • Unemployed or unable to find full-time employment (for a maximum of three years).
  • Experiencing an economic hardship (including Peace Corps service) as defined by federal regulations (for a maximum of three years).
  • Serving on active duty during a war or other military operation or national emergency and, if you were serving on or after Oct. 1, 2007, for an additional 180-day period following the demobilization date for your qualifying service.
  • Performing qualifying National Guard duty during a war, other military operation or national emergency and for an additional 180-day period following the completion of your qualifying service.
  • A member of the National Guard or other reserve component of the U.S. armed forces (current or retired) and you are called or ordered to active duty while you are enrolled (or within six months of having been enrolled) at least half time at an eligible school.

Applying for forbearance or deferment

If you’re at risk of falling behind on your student loans, act fast. You don’t want your loans to go into default, as it comes with a host of bad consequences and makes your loans ineligible for forbearance or deferment until you get them back into active standing.

Start taking action by reaching out to your loan servicer. Be sure to keep the lines of communication open. You’ll need to work with your loan servicer(s) to apply for deferment or forbearance. You can sign into your Federal Student Aid account to see the details of your loans and loan servicers.

Your student loans can be placed in deferment for up to three years. Forbearance is typically granted in 12-month intervals for up to three years.

Note that putting loans into deferment or forbearance does not hurt your credit score. That’s another reason why you should pursue forbearance or deferment if you’re at risk of default — missing payments can do serious damage to your credit.

How to restart normal repayment on your student loans

Before your deferment or forbearance term expires, contact the servicer of the loan. You will need to explain your current situation.

Both you and the lender will create a repayment plan that will work for your new situation. Note that if your situation changes before your deferment or forbearance period expires, you can resume payments at any time.

If you’re able to make small payments, your lender might recommend an income-driven repayment plan, which adjusts your monthly payments in accordance with your income and family size.

Final words of advice on forbearance and deferment

If you’re having trouble paying your student loans, contact your loan servicer(s). Keep paying toward the current agreement. Do not let your loans go into default. If they do go into default, you must get current before applying for either deferment or forbearance.

If your loans are current, begin the application process for deferment or forbearance. Lenders want their money. They are willing to work with you to make that happen — even if payments are delayed. Talk with them. They will listen.

Whether you go with deferment or forbearance, what’s important is you’re addressing your situation and doing what it takes to avoid default.

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Sample Goodwill Letter to Remove a Late Student Loan Payment From Your Credit Report

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It may not have been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

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If you’ve pulled your credit report recently and discovered that there’s been a late payment reported on your student loans, you might be wondering what you can do to recover. Late payments can damage your credit, especially if you stop paying your loans for an extended period of time.

The repercussions of delinquency and default are serious, so let’s take a look at a method of repairing your credit report — sending a goodwill letter to your creditor. Specifically, we’ll cover the following topics:

[Note: Some details may have changed due to coronavirus pandemic measures. Read more here.]

What a student loan goodwill letter does

A “goodwill letter” is a simple way to repair your credit report, and it can be used for both federal and private loans. The purpose of a student loan goodwill letter is to restore your credit to good standing by having a lender or loan servicer erase a delinquency on your credit report.

Typically, those who have experienced financial hardship due to unexpected circumstances have the most success with goodwill letters. They allow you to ask if your student loan servicer can empathize with the situation that caused the lateness and erase it from your report.

It can also be used when you think the late payment is an error — for example, if you were in deferment or forbearance during the late payment period and weren’t required to make any payments, or if you know you’ve never been late on a payment before.

How to write a convincing goodwill letter

If you’ve been looking for a student loan goodwill letter that will work well, we have some tips on what you should include in your letter:

1. An appreciative tone

It’s important that the entire tone of your letter comes off as thankful and conscientious. If you were actually late on your payments due to extenuating circumstances, taking an angry tone probably won’t help your case.

2. Take responsibility

You want to be convincing and honest. Take responsibility for the late payment, and explain why it happened. They need to sympathize with you. Saying you just forgot isn’t going to win you any points.

3. A good recent payment history

Besides sympathy, you want to gain the creditor’s trust that you will continue to make payments. If your lender sees payments being made on time before and after the period of financial hardship, they might be more willing to give you a break. When you have a pattern of late payments, on the other hand, it’s more difficult to convince them that you’re taking this seriously.

4. Proof of any errors and relevant documents

If you’re writing about a mistake that occurred, still be friendly in tone, but back up the errors with documentation. You’ll need proof that what you’re saying is true. Unfortunately, errors are often made on credit reports, and it may have been a clerical error on behalf of your servicer. If you have any written correspondence with them, you’ll want to include it.

5. Simple and to the point

The last thing to keep in mind is to craft a short and simple letter. Get straight to the point while telling your story. The people reviewing your letter don’t want to read an essay, and the less time they need to fully understand your situation, the better.

Sample letters to remove student loan marks from your credit report

Below are sample goodwill letters for student loans to give you an idea of how to structure your own.

For when you have extenuating circumstances

To whom it may concern:

Thank you for taking the time out of your day to read this letter. I just pulled my credit report, and discovered that a late payment was reported on [date] for my account [loan account number].

During that time, my mother fell terminally ill, and I was the only one left to care for her. As such, I had to leave my job, and my savings went toward her health care expenses. I fell on very rough times after she passed away, and I was unable to make my student loan payments.

I realize I made a mistake in falling behind, but up until that point, my payment history on the account had been spotless. When I was able to gain employment once again, I quickly resumed repaying my student loans, making them a priority.

I’m not proud of this black mark on my record, but it’s the only one I have, and I would be extremely grateful if you could honor this request to remove the lateness from my credit report. It would help me immensely in securing other lines of credit so that I can further improve my credit score.

If the lateness cannot be removed entirely, I would still be appreciative if you could make a goodwill adjustment.

Thank you.

For when your credit report is inaccurate

To whom it may concern:

Thank you for taking the time to read this letter. I recently pulled my credit report and found that [Loan servicer] reported a late payment regarding my account [loan account number].

I am requesting that this late payment be assessed for accuracy.

I believe this reporting is incorrect because [list the supporting facts you have]. I have included the documentation to prove that [I made payments during this time / that my loans were in forbearance/deferment and didn’t require any payments].

Please investigate this matter, and if it is found to be inaccurate, remove the lateness from my credit report.

Thank you.

Make sure you provide necessary personal details as possible — without oversharing and making the letter too long, of course. You should also include your name, address and phone number at the top of the letter in case your loan servicer needs to reach you immediately.

Where to send your goodwill letter

Now that your letter is written, it’s time to send it. This can be done either by fax or by mail. Most student loan servicers have their contact information on their website, but you can also look at your billing statements to see if they specify a different address.

Additionally, you can try calling the credit bureau where the lateness was reported to see if they can give you the contact information you need.

It’s important to mention that student loan goodwill letters are not a means to immediate success. Unfortunately, it often takes several attempts to correspond with lenders and loan servicers to get them to acknowledge that they received a letter from you.

Your best bet is to get a personal contact at the company who has the power to erase the late payment from your credit report.

If all else fails, try as many different communication methods as possible. Phone, mail, fax, live chat (if your servicer offers it) and email them. Several people who have tried this report that it’s possible to wear your servicer down with a decent amount of requests.

If you’re still grasping for a response, you might consider hiring a no- or low-cost student loan counselor or lawyer who has experience dealing directly with your creditor.

Addresses and fax numbers to try

Below are some addresses and fax numbers for several of the larger servicers, as listed on their websites. Before mailing or faxing your student loan goodwill letter and other important materials, confirm that you have the right contact information, as some lenders and loan servicers collect correspondence to varying locations depending on your loan type.

Again, it may also be worth phoning your servicer to get the name of someone there that can help you. If you have federal student loans, you can also check this Federal Student Aid page for more contact information.

Nelnet
Documents related to deferment, forbearance, repayment plans or enrollment status changes:
Attn: Enrollment Processing
P.O. Box 82565
Lincoln, NE 68501-2565
Fax: 877-402-5816

Great Lakes
Great Lakes
P.O. Box 7860
Madison, WI 53707-7860
Fax: 800-375-5288

Sallie Mae
Sallie Mae
P.O. Box 3319
Wilmington DE 19804-4319

Navient
For anything other than federal loans, check here
Navient – U.S. Department of Education Loan Servicing
P.O. Box 9635
Wilkes-Barre, PA 18773-9635
Fax: 866-266-0178

FedLoan
For letters and correspondence
FedLoan Servicing
P.O. Box 69184
Harrisburg, PA 17106-9184
Fax: 717-720-1628

EdFinancial
For FFELP and private loans
Edfinancial Services
P.O. Box 36014
Knoxville, TN 37930-6014
Fax: 800-887-5936

Documents to include with your goodwill letter

Don’t let your efforts go to waste by forgetting to send documentation with your letter. Here’s a quick checklist of what you should include:

  • The account number for your loan
  • Your name, address, phone number and email
  • Statements showing proof that you paid (if you’re disputing a late payment)
  • Documentation showing that you’ve paid on time at all other points aside from when you experienced financial hardship (if that’s the case)
  • Identifying documentation so your servicer knows you sent the request

Also note that if you’re mailing anything, you should send it by certified mail with a receipt requested. This way, you’ll know whether your letter made it to the servicer.

What to expect after submitting your goodwill letter

Once you submit your goodwill letter for student loan accounts, you should hear back from your creditor with a decision in a few weeks. If two to three weeks have passed without word, follow up via email or phone call.

As you know, there’s no guarantee that your goodwill letter will work. The decision to remove a negative mark from your credit report is entirely in the hands of your creditor.

If your creditor rejects your petition, you’ll have to accept the ding on your credit report and take other steps to boost your credit. But if they agree to repair your credit, you should see the delinquency removed from your report and your credit score increase as a result.

A higher credit score can make life a lot easier, whether you want to take out a loan, open a credit card or, in some cases, even rent an apartment. For student loan borrowers, a strong credit score also opens the door to student loan refinancing, a savvy strategy that lets you restructure your debt, possibly changing your monthly payment and potentially saving money on interest.

If your credit score rebounds and you want to take proactive steps to conquer your student debt, refinancing could be the answer you’ve been looking for, so long as you no longer need the protections that come with federal loans.

Either way, though, make sure to keep up with student loan payments so you don’t end up with a delinquent account dragging down your newly repaired credit score.

Other resources to resolve student loan disputes

If you’re interested in exploring student loan goodwill letters further — and the results that others have had — check out these websites:

  • Ed.gov: They cover disputes, what to do about them and how to go about rectifying them here.
  • ConsumerFinance.gov: If you have loans with a private lender, and your lender had reported you as late when you weren’t, you can file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to see if they can help you.
  • myFICO Forums: The forums on myFICO are populated with helpful individuals that might be able to give you contact information for certain servicers. There are some people reporting success with goodwill letters, and they may be willing to share their letters with others upon request.

Dings on your credit are there to stay for seven to 10 years. That’s a long time, especially if you’re young and hoping to refinance your education debt or buy a house or a car in the near future. It’s a battle worth fighting.

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