We use digital devices to personalize activities from shopping to communicating with friends. So it only makes sense to use tech to make personal finance truly personal. These tools help integrate banking, budgeting, saving and investing into your busy life. Here are five tech tools that make finances simpler and more fun:
There’s something of a cottage industry in smartphone apps designed to help you get into the habit of saving money. We like the Qapital app because of its flexibility and the creativity of its savings strategies. Like all savings apps, Qapital lets you set savings goals ($500 for a new bike or $2,000 for a vacation, for example), and then tracks your progress as you squirrel away cash toward that goal.
Where Qapital excels is in the range of options it provides for that squirreling, and how it helps you apply them: The app automates some great savings strategies in the form of “rules” such as the Round Up Rule, which increases every purchase to an even dollar amounts and saves the change; the 52-Week Rule, which saves $1 on week one, $2 on week two and so on until you’ve socked away almost $1,400; and even a Guilty Pleasure Rule, which lets you make savings deposits when you spend money on indulgences. You can create custom rules as well, to suit your own savings style. (See: Here’s Why You Really Need an Emergency Fund)
Qapital also lets you join forces with other users of the app to jointly save toward a shared goal. Spouses could save for a joint vacation or siblings could save for a pet, to name two examples. Participants can track collective progress, but each retains his or her contribution in their own account until the goal is reached.
You link Qapital to a debit card and/or a credit card, and deposit your savings in a designated Qapital account (which includes its own optional debit card).
If you find investing intimidating, there’s a handful of smartphone apps ready to take the mystery out of the process, and help demonstrate how effectively you can grow your nest egg if you invest habitually. Stash Invest lets you open a personal investment account for as little as $5.00. You can schedule regular contributions and also apply a technology Stash calls Smart-Save, which “finds” small sums it determines you won’t miss and funnels them into your fund. The fun comes in deciding the kinds of companies you’d like to invest in: Stash guides to investments in Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs) by having you choose among themes grouped by level of risk and industry focus.
You can allocate your investment using intriguing themes as “Robots Rising” (artificial intelligence & mechanical automation) and “Live Long & Prosper” (pharmaceuticals and healthcare), and “Retail Therapy” (trendsetting stores). Visualization tools show your investment progress and risk levels, and help you shift funds among different themes. Like any other investment vehicle, it comes with risks, and you can always lose money if your portfolio takes a hit.
While Stash Invest’s fees won’t break the bank, they can add up on a percentage basis: $1/month (or 0.25% per month once your “Stash” exceeds $5,000). So once you get a feel for the markets, you may want to consider a discount brokerage account. But for newcomers to investment, Stash Invest is a fun, low-threshold way to learn the ropes—and maybe even build up a different kind of stash for the future.
Earny saves you money by holding retailers to their low-price guarantees, and gets you refunds when prices drop on items you buy. Here’s how it works: You give Earny access to your email inbox and it scans for receipts from dozens of retailers, including Target, Costco, Nordstrom and BestBuy (and their online outlets). Earny notes the purchase amount for each item, and monitors price changes. If prices drop, Earny automatically does the legwork and gets the price difference refunded to the bankcard you used to make the purchase. You can have Earny track your Amazon account directly, as well.
If you use a credit card whose perks include extended-price drop protection, you can link it up with Earny as well. For instance, Target’s in-store policy guarantees against price reductions within 14 days of purchase, but your credit card may extend price-drop protection to 90 days. If you link a card, Earny will apply the extended coverage to all purchases made with that card.
Earny charges you 25% of whatever it recovers on your behalf, and collects it monthly in the form of a charge to a debit or credit card of your choice. That can be a nontrivial payment if you do a lot of shopping at relevant retailers, but Earny notifies you as it does its work, and of course significant payments only come with significant savings.
Of all the tools on this list, Venmo is probably the least exotic, but it’s also one of the handiest. It’s a smartphone app you link to a checking account, which you can use to send instant electronic payments to other Venmo users. It’s very useful for settling restaurant tabs, splitting Uber rides, and the like. A growing number of merchants also accept Venmo payments, and those ranks are sure to increase thanks to the marketing muscle of PayPal, which acquired Venmo a few years ago.
People everywhere are talking about— and to—Alexa, Amazon’s artificial intelligence-powered smart assistant. Embedded in sleek Echo appliances placed around your house, or incorporated into the Amazon app (for iOS and Android smartphones and tablets and Kindle e-readers), Alexa hears and obeys: With a few words you can have her play music, check the weather, or place online-shopping orders, among other tasks.
One of the most exciting things about Alexa is her ability to “learn” with the addition of custom command sets known as “skills.” The latest of these, from Experian, lets you request and receive instant credit-health updates with your Experian CreditWorks or IdentityWorks membership. You need only ask, and Alexa can update you on your FICO® Score; lock your Experian credit report; notify you of any fraud alerts, and more. (See also: How to Protect Your Smart Devices: Staying Secure While Staying Connected.)
Get Access To Your Credit With Alexa
Your Experian CreditWorks and IdentityWorks memberships now give you the ability to stay more connected with your credit.
In addition to these technologies, you can also check out new offerings from banks to keep on top of your finances and help prevent identity theft.
Please note: All pricing and information on these various technologies is valid at the time of publication. Check details before purchasing as prices may change.
Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, or other company, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. All information, including rates and fees, are accurate as of the date of publication.