Personal budget software has come a long way in the past decade. Not only does it allow you to keep an online check register, but you can also get a picture of net worth at a glance, set goals and budgets, pay bills online, help reduce debt, set up email reminders, and integrate multiple accounts--including investment and retirement accounts. Most applications now feature mobile options, as well. Several popular programs exist, designed to meet a variety of needs.
Quicken Starter Edition
The Quicken Starter Edition is a favorite among those with simple finances who are looking for ease of use. This program allows you to:
- Reconcile bank and credit card statements.
- Schedule bill reminders and set up automatic email alerts to remind you of upcoming payments.
- Track and categorize every expense, so you know where your money goes.
- Create graphic charts so you have a visual image of expenditures.
- Export financial information directly into TurboTax.
Forbes gives positive ratings to all Quicken products, including the Starter Edition, saying, "Intuit pays attention. The new budget planner. . .offered a much improved experience for planning full-year budgets and visualizing actual spending and income against the plan."
For all its positive features, this software does have a few drawbacks, including:
- No features related to personal investing
- No Macintosh version
- No bill pay service
If the investment and bill pay features are important to you, they are available in the Quicken Deluxe 2010 version. It sells for $69.99.
PCWorld likes the Deluxe edition, giving it a four-star rating. They particularly like the mobile app.
AceMoney is easy to use, even for beginners, yet it offers some fairly deep features. This program provides you with:
- The ability to manage your mortgage
- Easy-to-understand tracking of cash flow and spending habits
- A loan calculator, along with several other financial calculators
- Tools for creating a budget
- The ability to manage investment accounts
- Free upgrades when new versions are released
CNET editors give five-and-a-half stars to AceMoney, saying, "The program has an eye-friendly interface that is also fairly intuitive to use."
On the negative side, AceMoney does not:
- Allow you to export tax information
- Provide telephone or chat support.
If you are highly visual and want plenty of help and support tools, YNAB (short for You Need a Budget) was designed with you in mind. Features of the program include:
- Annual and monthly charts and graphs that are colorful and easy to interpret
- Budget creation tools
- YNAB University provides financial education
- Easy to add accounts and import bank records
- A sticky note feature that allows you to make notes about transactions
- A mobile app for people on the go
Certified Financial Planner, Neal Frankle, describes YNAB as, ". . .a nifty little software package that allows you to track your spending and budget for your future and generally helps you fix your financial problems."
YNAB is not without disadvantages. They include:
- No investment features
- No ability to export tax information
- No bill pay or online banking features
- No financial calculators
Moneydance is popular among those looking for rich, deep features, including those for personal investment accounts. This program's capabilities include:
- Online banking and fee-free bill payment (bank charges will still apply)
- Easily integrates with every operating system
- Seamless data transfers
- Easy to use
- Interfaces with banks and credit unions all over the world
- Stock price updates
- Debt reduction calculators
- A mobile app
One consumer on Amazon.com writes, ". . .with Moneydance I have real visibility and control of my finances."
While its detriments are few, they include:
- No split transaction capability
- No telephone support
- No tax exports
If you are someone who likes to save ahead before you spend, Mvelopes may be the financial tool you have been waiting for. The software is available online as a subscription service, so there is no need to download anything to your computer. This program takes a tried and true, old-fashioned cash management technique and brings it into the 21st century. Mvelopes allows you to:
- Set up expense categories, but think of them as physical envelopes
- Pre-fund each envelope before you spend anything from it
- Set up additional envelopes to save for special occasions, events, or emergency
- Set up monthly and annual budgets
- Pay bills online
- Use the mobile app
In a review of Mvelopes, ConsumerSearch's editors write, "Mvelopes is a robust web-based financial tool built on the old principle of budgeting with envelopes."
The program's biggest drawback is that it doesn't seem to work equally well with every browser. Most users report having the smoothest experience with Internet Explorer, 64 bit.
A subscription to Mvelopes costs $39.60 per quarter. Lower rates are available for one or two year subscriptions.
Free Budgeting Software
Not all home budget software must be purchased. Between free apps, online banking options, and shareware, a number of free options are available to you.
Most banks now provide complimentary online banking services to their customers. These capabilities fulfill the basic budgeting needs of many, and include the ability to:
- Issue payments online
- Set up recurring payments
- Transfer funds
- Categorize transactions
- Use mobile apps
- And sometimes, make deposits using scanning devices or electronic photos
You cannot, however, track accounts from multiple banks, as you can with other options.
Visit your bank's website to learn more about the options available to you.
Mint by Quicken
Mint is popular among people who want a free financial management program that is fairly rich in features. Its capabilities include:
- Both iPhone and computer apps
- Easy to use personal budget
- Quickly imports detailed account information from your bank accounts, credit card, loans, and investment accounts
- Provides real-time account information
- Keeps track of your spending, and uses the information to create a budget
- Shows you exactly where you are spending your money and compares your spending month-by-month and year-to-year
- Sends an email or text alert if you exceed a budget
PCWorld gives Mint a four-star rating, saying the program is, "Surprisingly feature rich, supporting transaction downloads from thousands of financial institutions."
Mint's primary negative is that it doesn't yet support online bill pay.
Among those who want deeper capabilities than open-source financial software typically offers, or own a small business on the side, Gnu Cash is a popular choice. Some of its features include:
- Easy to use
- Compatible with GNU/Linux, BSD, Solaris, Mac OS X and Microsoft Windows
- Tracks bank accounts, stocks, and income, as well as expenses
- Double-entry accounting
A consumer on SourceForge gives Gnu Cash a five-star rating and writes, "This is an excellent application. The only thing that might be missed [SIC] to make it 100% killer, is a tablet version."
On the negative side, be careful not to download a test version. Gnu releases to new versions to the public with the intent that that developers will test them and report back. Standard users need a version that has been fully vetted. Presently, that is 2.4.13, but is subject to change.
If you have little or no financial experience, Buddi was built with you in mind. Its features include:
- Multiple language versions
- Modify the software to better meet your individual needs
- Create accounts and categories
- Track individual transactions
- Schedule transactions in advance
Nick Mead, Mac Editor for Softonic, writes that Buddi, "Takes the pain out of accounting."
Buddi's biggest drawback is that users are required to shift back and forth between several tabs to get a full financial picture, and this is confusing to some.
AceMoney and AceMoney Lite were both reviewed on CNET, and their findings were that users liked them equally well, while CNET editors actually preferred the Lite version. AceMoney Lite is compatible with Windows, Macintosh, and Linux; and allows you to:
- Manage bank and other accounts
- Track spending habits
- Create budgets
- Track investment performance
- Import and export data for easy analysis
One consumer on SnapFiles gives AceMoney Lite a five-star rating and writes, "I have been using this program for years without a single problem."
The Lite version lacks a few of the features of the full version, however. These include:
- Reporting by categories
- Encryption of data
- Support of foreign currency
The Best Budget Software
All of these budget software options are highly rated and have proven themselves useful to many consumers. The one that's best for you really comes down to what you want the software to do. Select two or three and try them out. Most of the programs above offer free trials, so you can find one that you are comfortable using.