Apps can make quick work of managing and tracking your spending by linking your financial accounts, categorizing your expenses and showing you exactly where your money is going. But are budgeting apps safe?
In general, they are designed to protect your financial information, but you can't be blamed for wondering, especially considering how many companies have been hacked in recent years. Below, we'll look at some of the most popular budget tracking apps and break down what they do as well as what makes them secure.
How it works. First of all, Mint is free, which is, well, nice. While we live in a capitalistic society and the companies that own budget apps need to make a buck, too, it can be disheartening to spend a lot of cash to manage money. Mint lets you manage and track your spending, in part by connecting all of your financial accounts, so you can see all of your money in one place and get a better picture of your spending habits. There are other features, such as being able to receive reminders to pay bills.
Security features. Is Mint safe? As the company's website says, "Your login user name and passwords are stored securely in a separate database using multilayered hardware and software encryption. We only store the information needed to save you the trouble of updating, syncing or uploading financial information manually." Mint also has a security feature that lets users set a four-digit code to access their account, which could be helpful if you use Mint on your phone and worry about your phone being stolen.
Pros and cons. A lot of reviews praise Mint's ease of use; a lot, however, say the accounts don't always sync up well, which makes it hard to use. So it's hard to say how you'll make out -- you may come to love Mint or set up an account and wonder what all the fuss is about.
How it works. Your bank accounts, credit cards, loans, investments -- they can all be linked with this app. You'll receive customized reports detailing your spending. The "In My Pocket" feature is pretty cool. It shows you how much money you'll have left to spend once your bills and other expenses are covered.
Security features. Among other things, such as PocketGuard using the type of encryption that major banks use, the budget tracking app offers PIN codes for its users -- and Touch ID and Face ID.
Pros and cons. It can be an excellent tool for helping people budget and set financial goals. But to get most of the perks (there's a basic free version and a paid one), you'll have to pay for PocketGuard Pro, which is $4.99 a month or $34.99 a year.
How it works. Quicken is practically a household name, and the app really does it all, from budgeting to bill pay. Among other things, you can manage your investments on Quicken and get specialized investment reports -- and transfer money between your bank accounts.
Security features. There are numerous ways Quicken protects your information, including using secure socket layer technology and firewall controls. Basically, personal financial information traveling from your bank to Quicken to you is all encrypted and unreadable to any hackers during transmission.
Pros and cons. The plus is that there are a lot of money management tools for users. The negative is that, not surprisingly, you have to pay for those tools, and it can get expensive. Prices range from $34.99 to $99.99 a year, depending on what tier you buy and the type of computer you have. Quicken is a little cheaper if you own a Mac versus a PC.
You Need a Budget
How it works. One of the cool features of You Need a Budget, or YNAB, is a "zero-based budgeting system." YNAB makes sure that every dollar you earn has a "job," and goes toward bills, savings, investments and so on. It tries to help you know what you will be spending money on -- rather than tracking your money after you've spent it.
Security features. It has what you would expect, like encrypted data, accredited data centers and third-party audits to make sure that its security features rise to the standards one would expect from a budget tracking app.
Pros and cons. YNAB claims that you'll typically save $6,000 a year if you use its service. That would be a huge plus. A con, as always, is the cost, and YNAB isn't cheap. It costs $84 annually, or $11.99 a month. But there is a free trial period for 34 days.
How it works. This budget tracking app is from Ramsey Solutions, the company founded by financial guru Dave Ramsey. EveryDollar also uses the zero-based budgeting method, in which you plan your month's spending ahead of time. You set up categories and decide how much money goes into each category. And every day, you'll track your spending. There's more to it, of course, but that's the gist.
Security features. We'll let its website do the talking: "Ramsey Solutions and our Service partners employ a multilayer security approach including firewall barriers, data encryption techniques, authentication procedures, data transmission encryption, among other hardware, software, and procedural methods."
Pros and cons. One big pro is that it's easy to use. A con is, as always, the cost, and it's significant. But if you're a Dave Ramsey fan, you truly may feel like it's a bargain. You aren't just paying for the EveryDollar app. You're paying $129.99 a year to belong to Ramsey+, and so you are getting the EveryDollar app but also access to the nine-lesson course at Financial Peace University -- or you can join an in-person or virtual class. You also get a free one-on-one financial coaching session, access to livestream events and so on. So depending on your point of view, the cost may be a negative or a positive.
[See: 35 Ways to Save Money.]
How it works. This app is designed for couples, so you and your significant other can see both of your bank accounts, credit cards, loans and investments all at once. But there's more to it than that. You can send messages to each other, so if you're looking at your spouse's bank account and wondering about a purchase, you can send an inquiring note through the app.
Security features. As you would expect, among other things, Honeydue offers data encryption, Touch ID and multifactor authentication in order to confirm your identity. You'll fork over your usernames and passwords to your bank accounts (which is pretty much how all these budget tracking apps work), but HoneyDue will never actually have your banking info in its system.
Pros and cons. Honeydue is free, which is a huge plus. Of course, using Honeydue may mean little too much togetherness for some couples. For instance, if you or a partner hit a spending limit, you'll both get an alert. Still, if you are both excited about managing your money together, this app could definitely help.
How it works. It's based on the old system of putting money into an envelope for your mortgage or rent, your electric bill, your water bill, maybe clothing and entertainment and so on, so you can keep things organized and know where your money is supposed to be spent. Only this is a digital envelope system.
Security features. We'll let Mvelopes' website do all the talking: "Mvelopes uses SSL/TLS encryption of your data as it is transmitted and store any sensitive data in an encrypted format with additional layers added to our backup systems. It is the same form of protection used by banks and trading firms."
Pros and cons. Mvelopes has been around for quite a while; the company that owns Mvelopes was founded around the turn of the 21 st century, in fact. So it's certainly a reputable budgeting tracking app. Unfortunately, like many apps on this list, what you get isn't cheap. You'll pay $5.97 a month or $69 a year for a basic subscription; if you pay for some extra perks, you'll pay $19.97 a month or $199 a year. Still, the argument any of these companies will make is that if you get control of your finances, you'll save far more money than you shell out for a budget tracking app.
How Safe Are Budget Tracking Apps?
Budget tracking apps are pretty safe, according to Pieter VanIperen, the managing partner of PWV Consultants, a group of experts in the tech, security and design industries. VanIperen is also an adjunct professor of code security at New York University.
But before you breathe too easily, be aware that the person using the budget tracking app may not be so safe.
"The main thing to remember is that people are easier to hack than machines," VanIperen says. "As long as you are practicing good cyber-hygiene -- like not reusing passwords and not clicking on random links that are texted or emailed to you -- then budget tracking apps that have been vetted are just as safe as the app of your financial institution."
So the budget tracking app you are using is probably fine. But could a hacker, say, invade your computer or device and find out your password to your budget tracking app and steal your financial information? Yes.
Tips for Using Budget Tracking Apps Safely
It's important to follow some safety measures when it comes to using budget tracking apps:
Go with trusted, reputable brands. Do your research before downloading. "Although nothing is 100% hack-proof, reputable budget tracking apps offer a reasonable level of security. I recommend choosing a popular budget tracking app with no history of data breaches or other security incidents. More popular apps tend to be more heavily scrutinized, so security vulnerabilities are spotted more quickly and patched," says Paul Bischoff, a privacy advocate with Comparitech.com, a consumer website offering information about tech services.
Make sure your app is up to date. Along those lines, Bischoff says that if your budget tracking app wants to do a system update, let it. It's probably trying to make the app safer.
Be wary of scammers. As noted, if a hacker is trying to get into your budget tracking app, they aren't likely to do it by hacking the computer systems of the company that runs the app -- instead, they may target your computer.
As you have been told a million times, you want to protect your computer with antivirus and anti-malware software -- and don't click on links sent to you from strangers, a practice known as phishing.
"Cybercriminals are more likely to compromise your budget app through phishing than by breaking the app's security," Bischoff says. "Phishing leverages human vulnerabilities rather than software vulnerabilities."
Sure, a lot of scam emails are pretty obvious, but maybe because of that we can fall into complacency and start to think we're impervious to falling prey to con artists. Bischoff points out that some emails may come from scammers acting like they're associated with your budget app. So even something that seems perfectly trustworthy should probably warrant a once-over before you blindly click on the link.
[SEE: 10 Best Money-Saving Apps.]
Create a unique password. This is a classic piece of advice that never seems to go out of style. "Always protect yourself with a unique password or passcode at every level. Whether it's the password for the budget tracking app or website, a password for your computer or a passcode for your smartphone or tablet, make sure all passwords and passcodes are secure and unique," says Chris Hauk, whose official title is consumer privacy champion but is the spokesperson for PixelPrivacy.com, a consumer website related to keeping online information private.
If the app has two-factor authentication -- that is, two types of identification you need to offer -- all the better, according to Hauk. He also suggests never clicking the "remember me" box on websites.
That's because some hackers have managed to use that feature to trick websites into thinking the actual user is on the website -- when it's actually the criminal.
Don't use budget tracking apps when you're using public Wi-Fi. Of course, some people may love to sit in a coffee shop, work and do a little banking. But beware when you're using public Wi-Fi. If this is your preference, Hauk suggests paying for a virtual private network.
There are many VPNs out there -- a few big names include NordVPN, Private Internet Access VPN, CyberGhost VPN, Surfshark VPN, but there are a lot of good VPN companies out there. Generally, you can expect to pay around $10 a month, although you can definitely find cheaper and pricier options.
"A VPN encrypts your connection, preventing third parties from monitoring your online activities," Hauk says.
Obviously, nothing is guaranteed, but in general, budget tracking apps are considered very safe from cybercriminals. So knowing that, hopefully you can stop fretting. Don't be afraid of what might happen if you use a website to help you budget better. Be afraid of what might happen if you don't.