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I tested the best Mint alternatives, and this is my new favorite budgeting app


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ZDNET’s key takeaways

  • I checked out Monarch Money, NerdWallet, Rocket Money, Quicken Simplifi, and YNAB, and Monarch Money, at $99 a year, is my top pick.  
  • Pros: Easy to set up, and powerful tools for analyzing your finances and building a budget. 
  • Cons: The most expensive personal financial program.

I didn’t plan on spending my Thanksgiving week looking at personal finance programs, but since Intuit decided to bury Mint, its popular free money tracking and budget program, I didn’t have a choice. Mint will stop working on January 1, 2024. 

Intuit would prefer it if I moved my Mint data to Credit Karma, but I’m not going to do that. While Credit Karma is good at working with your credit scores, it’s not a budgeting application. Even Intuit admits, “Credit Karma does not currently provide budgeting features the same way that Mint has in the past.” Besides, if I were to move my data to Credit Karma, I’d no longer be able to access Mint. Thanks, but no thanks.

Also: The best budgeting apps: Find the Mint alternative for you

With less than six weeks left to move my years of financial data to a new service, it was high time for me to find a suitable program. Everyone’s financial needs are different. In my case, I needed a program that could handle multiple bank and credit card accounts, several 401Ks, and some stock and real estate investments. 

In both cases, I looked for software that made it easy to import data from multiple sources. If you really, really want to, you can still key in your data to a spreadsheet. And I could also still write checks by hand. But I don’t have the time, and I doubt you do either. 

So, I looked at Monarch Money, NerdWallet, Rocket Money, Quicken Simplifi, and YNAB (You Need A Budget). My top pick? Monarch Money.

Monarch Money

ZDNET RECOMMENDS

Monarch Money – The top personal finance application.

Monarch Money is the most full-featured personal financial application available today.  

Monarch Money provides a financial framework for zero-based budgeting. With this approach, you allocate every dollar you earn to expenses and savings. Monarch is more than just a budgeting app. It provides everything you need to manage your personal finances. 

What I like most about Monarch Money

The program makes it easy to start linking your financial accounts, including credit cards, savings, loans, and investments. It does this by using Plaid, a secure third-party platform, to connect with your financial institutes. Except for ofter programs, such as NerdMoney, which also uses Plaid, it does the best job of working with your banks and credit cards. 

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Monarch presents income and expenses clearly, making it easy to track your remaining budget. I’m not an emoji fan, but their use here for spending subcategories is not only charming but also functional, enabling quick identification of different categories. 

One nice Monarch feature is its transaction tracker. The tracker allows you to categorize spending into broad categories, such as food and dining, subcategories, such as groceries and restaurants, and specific merchants, such as Ingles Market and Five Points Diner. This detailed view of spending habits is a standout feature. The app’s auto-categorization is both precise and customizable, allowing users to set rules for future transactions based on the merchant or amount.

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Monarch also easily imports data from your bank accounts, retirement funds, stock accounts, and credit cards. It did the best job of all the applications I looked at in automatically importing data from other services. 

I also like that Monarch prioritizes savings. You can set a financial goal, such as saving for a house downpayment, and give it a deadline. The app creates a dedicated savings section on the home screen. Contributions to this section are only possible when expenses are lower than income.

The customizable dashboard provides an overview of your financial situation, with widgets for comparing monthly spending, viewing recent transactions, monitoring investments, and tracking savings goals.

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The application also supports shared budgeting, making it suitable for couples or families. Adding another person to the budgeting platform is straightforward. I was able to add my partner to my dashboard without hassle.

What I’d like to change about Monarch Money

One oddity with Monarch is that it doesn’t offer credit score access. I get that capability via my credit cards, so I don’t miss it, but still, it would have been nice if they’d offered it. 

Monarch’s recent price hike to $99.99 annually positions it among the more expensive budgeting apps. Additionally, navigating the app can be initially challenging, with some features, like toggling between “Actual” and “Remaining” in spending categories, being less intuitive and requiring some exploration to discover.

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Still, overall I found Monarch to be worth the money. For me, Monarch is the best money management program available today. 

What I didn’t choose any of the others

There wasn’t anything wrong with the other choices. They just weren’t right for me. 

NerdWallet is an interesting combination of an excellent free application and a very informative website. It’s ideal for anyone new to managing their money. But, that’s not me. Still, you can’t beat the price. 

Rocket Money has an excellent interface, but I found its “pay-what-you-wish” model pricing misleading. To get the most from it you’ll need to pay the suggested monthly fee of $10. I also found it difficult to import data into it. It does, however, do a good job of finding and helping you get rid of subscriptions and other hidden fees.

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First things first. Quicken Simplifi is not Quicken. Although its parent company still offers Quicken, Simplifi doesn’t resemble it for better or worse. Simplifi stands out for its providing tailored spending plans. You can update these in real-time to keep a close eye on your spending. But, like Rocket Money, it has trouble importing my data. If your accounts work with Simplifi (and with a free 30-day trial, you’ll have ample opportunity to see if that’s the case), the program is well worth its annual cost of $47.99.

YNAB, short for “You Need A Budget,” is a straightforward, zero-based budgeting app. It will help you meticulously plan your spending by assigning funds to specific categories every time you’re paid. As such, it demands more upfront work than the other applications. Yes, it can help you track your money, but the name of its game is to teach you how to budget using the zero-budget approach. For people who have trouble making and sticking to a budget, and an annual rate of $99, it’s well worth your investment. But, I learned the hard way how to keep a budget on my own. 

Quicken still lives

The old favorite financial program, Quicken, is still around, but it’s no longer from Intuit. Mint’s parent company, while still offering QuickBooks, sold Quicken in 2016. Under new management, the program lives on. 

Today, Quicken is one of the most comprehensive personal finance applications available. Quicken Classic, a desktop-based software complemented by a mobile app, provides extensive financial management tools. This software justifies its annual subscription cost by offering a wide range of features, including in-depth account management, budgeting, bill handling, and investment tracking.

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I can’t recommend Quicken for most people because you must be deep into personal finance management to make the most from the tool. While you can access Quicken via an app with Quicken Mobile and via the internet with Quicken on the Web, the full-powered versions are only available on PCs. 

That said, if you’ve used Quicken in the past, it’s still worth a look. The software is available in four different versions. To see if it’s for you, give the Quicken Starter for $3.49 a month a try. The more advanced versions come at different prices: Quicken Deluxe, for personal and small business finance, costs $5.99 a month; Quicken Classic Premier, for investors, costs $6.99 a month; and Quicken Business & Personal, for advanced users, will run you $9.99 a month. Only Quicken Starter and Classic are available for Mac users. 

What’s a credit score?

Your credit score is probably the most important number in your life. It determines not just how likely you are to get credit, but also your interest rates, how much you’ll pay for everything from a credit card to rent, and even whether you’ll get a job.

A credit score, also known as a FICO score, is a numerical indicator, typically ranging from 300 to 850, that predicts how likely you are to repay loans and bills. This score is calculated using data from your credit accounts. 

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There are five main criteria for determining a FICO credit score: payment history, current debt level, frequency of new credit applications, the length of credit history, and the variety of credit types. The two most critical components are payment history, which makes up 35% of the score, and the amount of credit in use. Payment history factors include the timeliness of payments, the frequency of missed payments, how late payments are, and the recency of missed payments. Applying for new credit can briefly lower one’s score.

A score of 700 or more is a good score, while 800 and above is excellent. Most people have scores ranging from 600 to 750. To improve a credit score, you can open accounts that report to credit bureaus, keep low balances, pay bills promptly, and limit new account applications. 

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It’s also important to remember that you don’t have a single, fixed credit score. The score can differ based on the scoring model used, the data source, and the date of calculation.

Finance programs can help you build up your credit score because they put in your hands the information you need to control your finances. Without them, you’re operating blind.





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