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5 best budgeting apps for college students

The world of budgeting apps is vast and confusing. That’s why we’re breaking down the 5 best budgeting apps to use as a college student — or whatever you are.

best budgeting apps

Suppose you took all the student debt in America and cashed it in ($1.7 trillion). You’d have enough money to buy 6,181 super-yachts, 425 billion Big Macs, and the entire Norwegian economy (four times over).


Errr… so why does this matter?


Well, when you’re faced with the behemoth that is the US student debt crisis, budgeting is your best weapon. And the best budgeting apps are here to *try* and save the day. (Oh, and so is our budgeting course!)


School never really taught us how to budget, so it’s crucial that you learn how to do it — and do it well. Otherwise, you might end up mastering the fine art of making one pack of ramen somehow last 2 weeks. (Please, don’t eat it — you will hallucinate). 


To help you start your budgeting journey, there’s no better place to turn than your trusty smartphone! You spend enough time on that thing anyway, it might as well help you stick to a budget.


But the world of budgeting apps is extensive and confusing. That’s why we’ve curated this list of the top 5 best budgeting apps for college students:


  • You Need A Budget (YNAB)
  • Mint
  • PocketGuard
  • Personal Capital
  • Zeta


By the end of this quick 6-minute-read guide, you’ll know what these apps are best for, their strongest features, their pros and cons, and their pricing. Ready? Let’s do itttt!


You Need A Budget (YNAB)— The Best Budgeting App for Power Users



You Need A Budget (YNAB) is one of the most beloved budgeting apps on the market — and when was the last time anyone referred to a personal finance tool as “beloved”?  YNAB adopts the zero-based budgeting philosophy, where you decide what every dollar you earn is going to be used for in advance.


That approach sets YNAB apart from the other budgeting apps on this list. Still, it covers all the bases: synchronize with your bank accounts, set and monitor financial goals, and get insights into your spending habits. YNAB also claims to save the average user $600 in their first month and $6000 in their first year.


Pros of YNAB


  • Highly comprehensive tools and educational resources available in-app.
  • Cross-platform performance for multiple devices.
  • Bank-quality security and encryption for all your financial data.
  • Who doesn’t love a good acronym?

Cons of YNAB


  • As the most in-depth tool on this list, YNAB takes the longest to set up.
  • It can’t track your investments.
  • It’s pricey.

Pricing and Recommended Plans


YNAB is the most expensive app on this list, with a price point of $11.99/month, or $84 annually. Luckily, you can get a 34-day free trial before paying, and students get their first twelve months for free.


Mint — The Best Free Budgeting App for Beginners


What do the best free budgeting app, the worst ice cream flavor, and mojitos all have in common? 


Mint! With over 20 million users, Mint by Intuit is a personal finance app that’s clearly doing something right. Since it’s so quick and easy to set up, Mint is one of the best budgeting apps for beginners.


Mint will connect to your credit cards and debit bank accounts to automatically track your purchases and arrange them into spending categories: food, bills, even subscriptions. You can also check your TransUnion credit score, your investments and net worth, and get reminders for your upcoming bills so that you’re never late.


Pros of Mint


  • Comprehensive calculators for loan repayments, house affordability, and more.
  • Includes Verisign scanning and multi-factor authentication for security.
  • You can set up custom alerts to warn you when you’re over budget.
  • The app icon is a very nice teal color (yes, this is a pro).


Cons of Mint


  • Includes ads for financial products.
  • You might find the categorizations are inaccurate.


Pricing and Recommended Plan


Mint is free! Indeed, any college student’s favorite 4-letter f-word. The free version is the only version, and it has all the budgeting features you need.


PocketGuard — The Best App for Big Spenders


PocketGuard sounds a bit like a B-list superhero, but it’s the ideal tool to save you from overspending. (See what we did there?)


Connect your financial accounts (bank accounts, credit cards) to PocketGuard to get all the basic budgeting app features: track your spending, set limits, and get reminders for bill payments. One of its most useful features is “In My Pocket,” which gives you a daily spending limit based on your budget, savings goals, and future bill payments.



Pros of PocketGuard


  • Offers a free version that covers the essential information you’ll need.
  • As you go deeper, the app can also help you cancel and negotiate recurring bills.
  • Automatically deposit money into savings accounts towards your financial goals.


Cons of PocketGuard


  • The free version only has one savings goal, and you need to pay $2/month to use it.
  • Its website isn’t as user-friendly as it could be.


Pricing and Recommended Plan



PocketGuard’s free version is always available to use (with some limited features) but to unlock all of the app’s benefits, you’re paying $4.99/month or $34.99/year for PocketGuard Plus. If you’re willing to commit to a long-term relationship, pay $99.99 for lifetime access. (Prices may be higher if you’re paying through the Google Play Store or App Store).



Personal Capital — The Best App for Wealth-Building & Investment



Does Personal Capital sound like the name of a secret nightclub for Fortune 500 CEOs? Maybe. Is it also the best choice for people looking to track their investments and manage their wealth? Definitely.


Personal Capital (PC) will connect to your credit and bank accounts to track and organize your daily purchases, but its primary function is to monitor your investments and financial status. Within the app, you can start saving for retirement, rainy day funds and more — not to mention tools to plan for education costs, personal net worth tracking, and investment fee analysis.


Pros of PC


  • All the personal budgeting and cash flow tracking features are free.
  • Fraud protection and encryption security are excellent.
  • It’s available on the Google Play Store, App Store, and it has a fantastic desktop app.
  • If you beat all the levels, you get access to the CEO nightclub. Allegedly.


Cons of PC


  • You can’t set specific goals since the app focuses on investments over budgeting.
  • Transactions are tracked automatically, but you can’t add them manually.
  • Investment management services come at a premium.



Pricing and Recommended Plans



All the personal budgeting and investment analysis tools in PC are free for you to use. If you’d like their investment management services — which includes a Robo-advisor and a human advisor — you’ll be paying fees of 0.89% for all money up to the first $1 million.



Zeta — The Budgeting App for Couples



Finances can be an awkward subject to bring up in a relationship. Zeta makes it easier. Built with couples in mind, Zeta is perfect for people who share their finances and the ones who bank independently — that includes roommates, married couples, enemies-to-lovers, and more. 


Zeta offers cost-free Joint Account banking (FDIC-insured) that you can use to pay bills and receive direct deposits. With their Money Management tools, you can set shared financial goals for you and your partner, and create personal and combined budgets. And as an added bonus, you can conceal certain financial information from your partner if necessary.


Pros of Zeta


  • Free no-minimum joint bank account.
  • You can set up bill reminders.
  • The app can also send you reminders for ‘money dates,’ opportunities to talk finances with your partner.
  • Zeta is a pretty cool name.


Cons of Zeta


  • Your joint bank account only has 0.14% APY (Annual Percentage Yield, the return rate on your deposit).
  • Their web app is outdated and harder to navigate than the app.


Pricing and Recommended Plan



No free trial is necessary because Zeta is free to use! However, you will be getting in-app recommendations for financial products.



Budgeting Apps are Your Best Friends



Let’s do a quick recap of the best budgeting apps for college students:


  • You Need A Budget (YNAB)— for power users.
  • Mint — for beginners or overall ease.
  • PocketGuard — for big spenders.
  • Personal Capital — for wealth management.
  • Zeta — for couples.


The world of personal finance is intimidating at any age, and even more so when you’re young. But by taking steps to manage your money now, you’re setting yourself up for success in the future. 


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Frequently Asked Questions


What is the best free app for budgeting?


There is a wide selection of free budgeting apps available to students. The most popular ones include Mint, Zeta, and PocketGuard. However, some premium apps will also offer a free trial — You Need A Budget (YNAB) provides 34 days of free use to test the product.


What is the best budget app for beginners?


Mint by Intuit is one of the best budgeting apps for beginners. It’s quick and straightforward to set up and includes resources to help you learn more about your personal finances. Are you a beginner who wants to go deep into your budgeting? YNAB is an education-heavy app that will take you from novice to power user in no time (try their free trial risk-free).


Is Mint the best budgeting app?


Mint is one of the most popular budgeting apps and is highly approachable for beginners. It also lets you track investments, bills, and daily cash flow, making it a jack of all trades.

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