When you’re a college student, money is almost always an issue. Whether you’ve got student loans piled up, you’re trying to stick to a monthly allowance, or you’re working to make some extra pocket change, the almighty dollar looms large. And while you’re likely getting a great education, you’re probably not learning how to avoid some financial mistakes that could cost you a bundle.
Great news: Though managing money will never be a blast—a dollar saved is still a dollar not spent on a night out—there are some cool apps, browser extensions, and personal finance websites that make it less painful.
Here are five of the best tech-based ways to let the machines do it for you.
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Available for iOS and Android.
Have you ever thought about how much you’ll pay in student loan interest over time? It’s like watching a distant wrecking ball slowly approach the building structure that’s your life.
Imagine having the joint forces of time and compounding interest work for you. It’s possible, and almost easy, with Acorns. The investment company’s central metaphor is that mighty oak trees start with tiny acorns. Acorns promises to grow your meager collection of nickels, pennies, and dimes into tons of dollars.
It works like this: Every time you buy something, Acorns rounds your purchase up to the nearest dollar, and then puts the difference into an Acorns investment account of your choice. For instance, when you use your linked credit or debit card to buy coffee for $1.41, Acorns will invest the $0.59 for you. So not only are you creating a small investment fund with spare change but your personal finance math gets a lot easier since you’re only dealing with whole numbers.
The investment portfolios range from conservative, which is heavy on government bonds and other safe investments, to aggressive, which has riskier but bigger payoff potential investments. It’s your call.
While you won’t get rich overnight, the app is easy, and more entertaining, than you might expect. In addition to the round-up investments, you can make one-time investments right from your phone—and feel like a Wall Street hot shot. Acorns charges $1 a month for accounts under $5,000 and a quarter of one percent of the interest on accounts over $5,000. But…wait for it…it’s free for students and anyone under 24!
Available for iOS and Android.
Most apps that round up your spending and then deposit that “found” money will put it either into a savings or an investment account. Qoins wants to corral your spare change and apply it to your outstanding debt.
The founders of Qoins say their company was born out of the belief that you shouldn’t have to pay off debt for the rest of your life, and that financial freedom sometimes needs a little nudge in the right direction.
They also blast this tidbit on their About Us page: “Save an average of 3-5 years on your loan term and thousands on interest!” What that means: The less time you hold a debt, the less interest you’ll pay. Qoins aims to speed up the process.
The setup is easy. (All you need is a bank account and, um, debt.) First, create your account through the Qoins website or smartphone app. Then connect your checking account to your profile. Qoins will make your monthly withdrawals from there.
Next, connect the accounts (student loans, credit cards) where you’ve got debt. That’s where Qoins will send your rounded-up payments. Finally, create your payment rules—instructions that tell Qoins exactly how to pay off your debt, and in what amounts.
Then let the machines take over, chipping away at your debt with every purchase you make.
Qoins charges a $1.99 monthly fee to process your bank transfers. However, you’ll only pay a fee when a payment is sent out. For example, if you round up $70 in one month, Qoins will send out $68.01 toward your debt. The $1.99 fee is a flat charge, regardless of the amount of money being transferred.
Free for the first 30 days, then $2.99 per month. Available for IOS and Android.
Digit assumes you’re an idiot, which is less insulting and more helpful than it sounds.
To you, your finances are simple: Money gets deposited into your account. You blow half of it at wing night on Tuesday, then mooch off friends until the supply is replenished. The genius of Digit is that after you connect the app to your checking account, its robots scour your spending and savings history in search of patterns, unearth hidden complexity, and turn it into an algorithm, enabling you to save the most amount of money with the least pain possible.
Digit will notice things you won’t—for instance, if you spend more in the beginning of each month, and less in the summer. By learning how you spend and save, Digit’s algorithm is able to predict when you’ll be flush and when you’ll be short on cash. Based on its complex model of how your money ebbs and flows, Digit will find safe times to stash some bucks into a savings account and also know when you’re too broke to save.
It will never move more than you can afford and will always let you know what it’s doing. In fact, the site has a no-overdraft guarantee. Digit usually transfers between $5 and $50.
Pro tip: Set Digit’s text message alerts to blow up your phone daily. The morning messages help you keep track of your Digit savings account and your overall finances. You can withdraw your savings anytime you want—24/7/365—or put Digit savings on hold when you’re feeling tight.
Free. Available for iOS and Android; you can also access your account on the web.
For a fleeting moment, you were the dorm hero. The pizza order was on your debit card and everybody’s going to pay you back after Parents Weekend. But then your bank tells you the order dragged your account into negative numbers—so you’re not just paying for the pizza, you’re also paying for overdraft fees on every little thing you forgot you bought this week.
That never would have happened with Mint. Mint’s up-to-the-minute snapshots of your finances make tracking your money easy. Once you’ve connected your loans, credit cards, and bank accounts, it provides real-time email updates on how your money moves. For example, as I was writing this paragraph, Mint let me know that one of my credit cards hit me with a finance charge. It was only $1.67—nothing to write home about, but I’m better off knowing.
The app calculates your spending by category (it offers hundreds of options and also lets you create or rename your own). The categories can be general, such as auto and transport, or super-specific, like Textbooks or Dorm Snacks. You can create a budget based on your particular spending patterns and also see how much you’d save at the end of a month or a year by cutting back in any of those categories. In addition, Mint analyzes thousands of checking, savings, credit card, and brokerage offers and advises you on how to save the most based on your lifestyle and goals.
As if having all your personal finance info in one place isn’t helpful enough, Mint also slices and sculpts the data into pretty, easy-to-understand graphs.
Free. Available for iOS and Android.
You know how you always tune out your parents’ thoughtful lectures about being responsible with money and then regret it when you can’t figure out why you’re broke? Clarity gives you all the benefits of paying attention to those talks without actually having to listen.
Like Mint and Digit, Clarity is a financial planning app that combs through your spending and saving habits for patterns and actionable information. Then it goes a step further by harnessing the power of artificial intelligence and data science to find ways to save your money. Finally, it puts those findings into action. If you’re over budget in a category, it will suggest ways to spend less.
Without asking you to lift a finger, Clarity transforms you into a responsible consumer. It finds you discounts on credit rewards programs you qualify for. And it sorts through your recurring monthly charges and lets you easily cancel subscriptions you signed up for and forgot about. Like the Pretzel of the Month Club or that gym you haven’t stepped foot inside for months.
Clarity will also figure out how to lower costs on things you use by using the negotiation specialists at Billshark to contact services like cable, TV, and phone providers to lower your bills.
Honey and Cently
Available as a browser extension for Chrome, Safari, Firefox, and Opera.
And then there are times when managing your money just isn’t an option. Like when classes and dealing with roommates gets stressful and you need some point-and-click retail therapy.
As convenient (and soothing) as it is to shop from your dorm room, impulse purchases have a hidden cost. When you’re looking for that rush, there’s no time to search for a coupon or special offer code, or a sale. You just want to make your purchase, and maybe get back to more shopping.
Thankfully, free browser extensions like Honey and Cently scour the web for coupon and promotion codes and apply them for you. It’s surprisingly fun! Watching the extension attempt a series of possible codes feels like you’re hacking Pentagon mainframes. When you join Honey, they’ll send an email congratulating you for “discovering a free pile of money on the Internet.” It’s hard to take any issue with that. They don’t find deals every time, but when they do, it feels great. After all, paying full price is for suckers.