In our fifth annual Smart Money Awards, experts helped us select products to help you save, invest, and build your wealth.
They work! And they work hard for you. We assembled an independent panel of personal finance professionals to help us review the apps, accounts, and services claiming to help you hit your financial goals—build a nest egg, buy a home, use your credit card points (on stuff you actually want), and beyond. These are the winners. Introducing, the best financial apps and services of 2023.
The Account Bundle for Serious Savers
SoFi Checking and Savings
Consider this a nudge to get accounts that do more: This bundle earns a hefty 4.4 percent interest rate on savings, more than 10 times the national average, when linked to direct deposit. And the checking account gets some love too, with a 0.5 percent interest rate. In addition to those impressive numbers, SoFi’s higher-than-usual FDIC insurance limit—$2 million versus the typical $250,000—is a bonus. “With banking turmoil earlier this year, having a higher FDIC limit can be a great benefit for those saving up for a large goal,” says judge Elizabeth Pennington, a certified financial planner in Des Moines, Iowa.
An Account That Helps You Budget
Ally Spending Account
Finally answer the baffling question: “Where does all my money go?” This checking account lets you organize expenses into buckets—rent, groceries, bills, etc. Guesstimate how much money you need in each, tag businesses and billers with the appropriate category, and Ally will pull money out of the correct bucket for each expense. (For example, a Trader Joe’s haul will come out of your groceries bucket.) If you overspend in one, the purchase will come from another bucket, as long as you have enough money in your account. “This is a great way to learn where you’re overspending or even underspending,” says judge Hilarey Gould, an editorial director at our sister brand Investopedia.
A Way to Share Finances—Without Really Sharing Finances
FEE: From $3 a month
Let’s say you’re not quite ready to merge your money with a new life partner. (Congrats to you! Also: You’re smart!) If you both sign up for the Qapital app, you can use the Dream Team feature to contribute to a shared goal—like splurging on a new couch or paying for a trip—from your regular, individual accounts. The group money is held in the Qapital app, where you can leave notes to each other and share as much or as little of your personal info as you want. That includes transaction history, deposits, and even account balances.
The Account That Automates Your Cash Back
Apple Card’s High-Yield Savings Account
Apple Card users can sign up for this account and save every time they spend. All purchases made with the card earn 1 to 3 percent cash back. The reward money is automatically deposited into the savings account, where it earns 4.15 percent interest. “For those already using the Apple Card, this can streamline saving,” Pennington says.
Help Finding a Planner Who Gets You
FEE: From $2,000 a year
“Facet is like Bumble for money,” says judge Erin Skye Kelly, author of Get the Hell Out of Debt. Answer a few financial wellness questions and you’ll be matched with a financial planner. Your membership lets you hit them up with questions and schedule virtual meetings. Many traditional planners only work with people who have significant assets, and they often charge a percentage of the funds they manage for you (which can add up!). Neither is the case with Facet. “It’s worth considering if you have disposable, investable income but a lower net worth,” Skye Kelly says. “They start you on your wealth-building journey.”
The Tool That Lets You Imagine the Future
J.P. Morgan Wealth Plan
J.P. Morgan and Chase customers can do a lot with the Wealth Plan, including playing the what-if game via the goal simulator feature, in which you explore different paths to the same destination. Create your target (like saving for a big purchase or retirement), link your financial accounts, and get recommendations for reaching your goal. For example, compare how your dream vacation fund would change if you contributed more each month or if you put off the trip for a year. “This tool helps you see how the decisions you make today correlate with the results you’ll see in the future,” Skye Kelly says.
An Online Community of Smart People
FEE: Free community board; Membership from $10 a month
Imagine being in a group chat with your most financially savvy friends. That’s Penny Finance. The website hosts a judgment-free (and cost-free) community board—which absolutely shines, says judge Ashley Feinstein Gerstley, founder of the Fiscal Femme, a financial platform for women. In the Penny Finance forum, moderated by staff, you can chat with others about how they handle money issues. “Dealing with our finances can feel very lonely,” Feinstein Gerstley says. “Whenever we bring community into it, we get extra support and encouragement, and it’s just more fun!” A membership unlocks tons of virtual classes on budgeting, investing, and saving, as well as access to personalized financial planning to help you make smart money choices. For example, plug in your income, debt, and investments, and the algorithm will do the math on how much you need to save for retirement.
Not-at-All Boring Educational Videos
BlackRock Market Myth Busting
Learning about the markets doesn’t have to be a time suck or a snooze. Gargi Pal Chaudhuri, head of iShares investment strategy at the investment firm BlackRock, does a great job of dispelling common investing myths in her bite-size videos (we’re talking less than two minutes) on LinkedIn. She answers some of the most-searched money questions on the internet so you’ll learn the latest about investing in today’s economy. Is it still a good idea to buy bonds? The delightful and deeply knowledgeable Chaudhuri will tell you!
Credit & Credit Cards
The Easiest Way to Boost Your Credit
Credit Karma Credit Builder
This service is like an interest-free loan that helps you stash away savings and build credit. You get a $1,000 line of credit, which is used to make deposits into a savings account. You’re billed for each transaction, and your on-time full repayments are reported to all three credit bureaus to help boost your score. Plus, there are no fees. “That’s why I like it,” Pennington says. “It makes credit building so much more accessible to the people who need it most.” Note: You need a Credit Karma checking account and a 619 credit score or lower to qualify.
The Card That Gives You Cash Back on Necessities
American Express Blue Cash Everyday Card
Inflation still haunts us, so we’re happy to report that this no-fee card offers 3 percent cash back on essential items hit hard by price hikes (looking at you, gas and groceries). You also get 3 percent back on online purchases at places like Amazon, Nordstrom, Chewy, and many more. Cool bonus: You can get up to $15 in monthly credit toward meal kits from Home Chef.
The Card That Helps Current & Future Homeowners
Rocket Visa Signature Card
FEE: $95 A YEAR; Free if you have a current mortgage with Rocket
This card turns everyday spending into rewards that help you save for a home. Cardholders earn 5 percent back and can put up to $8,000 of that toward closing costs and down payments if Rocket Mortgage is their lender. Existing Rocket Mortgage customers can use points to receive 2 percent cash back toward their mortgage balance. “I like seeing rewards for things that are useful in the long run, not the short term,” Skye Kelly says. And given high housing costs and rising interest rates, this couldn’t be more timely.
Personalized (but Free!) Credit Advice
Chase Credit Journey
This tool analyzes your credit report and lays out steps for kicking up your score, detailing how much it could jump if you followed each step. (No Chase account required!) “Credit scores feel so opaque, so I love that Credit Journey can provide you with clear instructions,” Pennington says. It even looks at all your lines of credit (cards, loans, etc.) and tells you which ones to tackle, in what order, and how much to pay.
The Card for Those Who Like to Travel in Style
Capital One Venture X
FEE: $395 a year
Hard-core travelers with a Venture X or Venture X Business credit card who book a luxury hotel room (domestic or abroad) through Capital One’s Premier Collection will receive the red carpet treatment. You’ll earn 10 miles per dollar on your reservation, get sweet perks (like free daily breakfast for two), and score $100 in credit to use on the property. “This is a good option if you want the first-class experience but don’t want to pay first-class prices,” says judge Linda Rogers, a certified financial planner in San Diego.
An Automatic Bill Payer That Boosts Credit Scores
FEE: From $5 a month
Link your accounts, set up automatic payments for things like phone and streaming services, and build up your credit. As long as your account has the money, StellarFi pays the bill and goes out of its way to report your on-time payments to all three credit bureaus. “I love the simplicity of linking your checking account and having StellarFi automatically handle payments,” Pennington says.
The Easiest Way to Maximize Your Cash Back
FEE: $50 a year
Search through the app’s library of 5,000 credit cards to find the ones you use (no personal info or log-ins necessary) and see their rewards and spend bonuses in real time. “I’ve definitely purchased something and found out later I could have gotten better cash back through a different card,” Pennington says. “With automatic enrollment for offers and reminders on when to use them, this tool is going to be a game changer.” And if you’re shopping for a new card, the platform will show you current sign-up bonuses.
Investing & Retirement
An Open Invitation to Exclusive Investments
FEE: Varies by assets
Want to invest like a billionaire (without being one)? With a $10,000 minimum, you can create a portfolio that includes public markets and investments typically accessible only to ultra-high-net-worth individuals, such as private credit, real estate, and private equity. This is more Investing 301 than 101, but the app is easy to use. “It’s for people who are further along in their financial journey and ready to up-level their financial lives,” says judge Farnoosh Torabi, host of the So Money podcast.
The Trick to Investing Based on Your Beliefs
FEE: $5 a month
Vote with your feet—and your money! This platform only suggests stocks and exchange traded funds (ETFs) that align with your values. For example, it can filter out companies that invest in tobacco. Fennel also assigns companies an ESG score, indicating how responsible they are in terms of environmental, social, and governance issues. “Gathering this data on your own is possible but takes a lot of time and can get very complicated,” Feinstein Gerstley says. Fennel does the work in an instant.
A Better Way to Give Back
FEE: Varies by membership tier
Donor-advised funds are becoming popular because they let people make a charitable donation and take a tax deduction right away. And since donations are invested and any gains are donated, charities can receive even more money. The drawback? Many donor-advised funds charge fees based on your balance, which can be hefty. Daffy offers flat fees based on your membership tier ($0, $3, $5, or $20 a month, with higher tiers getting more options and benefits). Choose from more than a million organizations, including alma maters, places of worship, and local little guys. “I’m glad to see a donor advised fund option that’s accessible,” Pennington says. “This will make it easier for investors without large amounts of wealth to take advantage of some tax-planning opportunities around charitable giving.”
Your Personal, Super smart Online Investor
Vanguard Digital Advisor
FEE: Varies by investment
Vanguard’s robo-investor is known for dishing out top notch advice with proven results. It can customize a portfolio featuring low-cost and diversified ETFs when you plug in your savings goals, risk tolerance, and time horizon. And the company recently updated the algorithm to include tax-loss harvesting, a strategy that automatically sells investments that are losing money and picks winning investments to replace them. “It’s simple and straightforward,” Torabi says.
Career & Taxes
Frictionless Tax Help for Freelancers
FEE: From $84 a year
Just connect your business accounts, and FlyFin’s tax engine will continually scan your expenses to find possible deductions, cutting down on time spent wondering, “Can I deduct this?” Plus, membership gives you access to certified public accountants who can answer unlimited lingering tax questions. “If I were a freelancer or sole proprietor, I’d use this app,” Gould says.
Savvy Bookkeeping for Startup Owners
FEE: From $9 a month
This all-in-one online banking platform comes with a checking account, a tax-planning feature, and accounting software that allows you to organize expenses, invoice clients, and take care of bookkeeping. Judge Tatiana Tsoir, a certified public accountant in New York City, likes Lili Smart for companies that are just starting out: “This can help new businesses get a handle on their books,” she says. “But after you hit $200,000 to $250,000 of net income, taxes can get complex and you should turn to an expert.”
The Free Way to (Easily) Pay Your Business Bills
FEE: Varies by service
Using this online accounting platform, small-business owners can pay vendors and suppliers any way they want. Choose to make payments for free by ACH bank transfer or with one of your credit cards (for a 2.9 percent fee) domestically. Pay international clients in more than 70 countries for a small fee. You can make partial payments, bundle bills, and autopay everyone. “The thing I love most about Melio is that it’s free if you’re only doing ACH payments,” Pennington says. “Business owners can try it out to see if it fits their needs and helps streamline their processes without getting stuck with recurring fees. That’s a big deal when we’re all dealing with subscription fatigue!”
The Service That Helps You Ballpark Your Tax Bill
FEE: Varies by partnering service
April is available through partnering services, like Acorns and Mercury Financial, and gives real-time estimates of how much you owe in taxes. (A plus for freelancers who pay quarterly taxes!) All you need to do: Input info about payroll, investments, bank statements, and your mortgage. “April views filing taxes as a year-round process, not a onetime event,” Feinstein Gerstley says. That makes sense, she says, “because the planning we do throughout the year can impact our taxes.”
The Credit Card That Turns Business Expenses into Cold, Hard Cash
Chase Ink Business Premier
FEE: $195 a year
Chase Ink Business Premier maximizes your expenses by offering unlimited cash back on all purchases. You get 2 percent on anything less than $5,000 and 2.5 percent on larger purchases. “The new ‘large purchase’ cash back is a serious perk for businesses,” Pennington says. (New laptops for the team? Get those rewards!) When you’re ready to take a (well-earned) vacation, earn 5 percent cash back on travel purchased through the Chase rewards portal.
The Card That Makes You a Smarter Business Owner
Hello Alice’s Small Business Mastercard
The Hello Alice credit card rewards owners for the stuff they buy the most. You’ll earn 4 points per dollar on business software and internet services, 3 points on office supplies and shipping, and 2 points on rideshares and restaurants. Redeem the points for cash back, gift cards, or virtual workshops on business topics. You also get access to one-on-one business coaching. “This feels like a place to learn and not just a run-of-the-mill business credit card,” Pennington says.
The Smoothest Way to Shop for Life Insurance
NerdWallet’s Life Insurance Comparison Viewer
This tool converts what can be a head-scratching process into an easy-to-understand buying guide. The website explains how life insurance works and offers a calculator to help you figure out coverage needs. You can scroll through policy types, compare rates, and when you’re ready, buy a plan. “I like that they include complaint data from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners,” Feinstein Gerstley says—like Yelp reviews for insurance companies.
Home Insurance for Folks Who Live in Danger Zones
FEE: Varies by policy
“We’ve all heard the stories of homeowners facing astronomically high insurance premiums because they live in areas prone to wildfires or hurricanes,” Rogers says. Kin aims to serve homeowners in places impacted by climate change by using thousands of data points to evaluate each home and price policies accurately. It’s a long-awaited innovation for homes that can be hard to insure.
Home & Real Estate
The App That Makes Home Buying a Group Activity
FEE: Free for the service; $99 for agreement builder
Team up with your kids, parents, or bestie to conquer the intricacies of buying a home. You and your cobuyers will be paired with a concierge who can answer questions and connect you with local real estate pros. For $99, you use the Agreement Builder to draft a contract (outlining, for example, what to do if one of you wants to sell) so you’re all on the same page before making one of the biggest purchases of your life. “This app could be a good option for someone who wants to own real estate but isn’t able to achieve that goal on their own,” Rogers says.
The Lender That Buys the House for You
Divvy will purchase your dream home and rent it to you until you’re ready to take over ownership. Each month, you’ll pay rent plus a little extra, which goes into a savings account to build up your down payment. If you hit a financial snag, just skip the savings payment until you’re on surer footing. “Divvy is trying to make the path to homeownership more accessible,” Pennington says.
The App That Lets You Buy a Fraction of a Home
Buy real estate with others looking to partner up (similar to Pairadime) or purchase a share of exclusive properties. For example, you can buy a quarter ownership of a vacation home, giving you use of the property for part of the year. You can also sell a fraction of, say, your second home. “My grandparents would have thought this product was absurd, and my children would think this product is brilliant,” Skye Kelly says.
A Handy Service That Outsources Annoying Landlord Duties
FEE: $20 a month
Managing a rental property can bring in some nice income, but it also means your to-do list tends to look like a CVS receipt (long!). Stessa Pro is an online platform that allows you to run background and credit checks, manage tenant applications, and collect rent. “Stessa Pro helps you do a lot of the same things as a management firm at a fraction of the price,” Rogers says.
A Safe & Reliable Way to Home Swap
FEE: Varies by length of stay
Home swapping used to be relegated to Craigslist or friend networks. Kindred expands your options with a subscription-based site boasting properties across the U.S. and in European cities, including London, Amsterdam, and Berlin. Everyone looking for a place to stay is also offering a place to stay, which fosters shared respect of homes, Feinstein Gerstley says. List your place and receive a credit to book a stay for each night you host someone. If you sign up for a premium membership at $600 a year, you don’t have to pay cleaning and service fees.
Kids & Family
Estate Planning Made Easy
Trust & Will
FEE: From $159 for a will; From $599 for a trust; From $600 for probate support
Creating an estate plan on this platform can help your loved ones avoid probate court when your time eventually comes (many, many years from now). You can also create a will or, if you’ve lost a loved one and you need to execute their will, work with a county specific probate expert who can walk you through all the required paperwork.
A Low-Risk Tool to Teach Kids About Investing
FEE: From $5 a month
Because it’s never too early to learn about money, Greenlight has a debit card and financial app that teaches children how to earn, spend, and invest wisely. Parents can track chores and deposit allowance money into the account. Depending on the plan, kiddos can earn 1 percent cash back on purchases and 2 percent interest on their annual savings balance, and make parent-approved stock picks in their investment account. (Don’t worry—you control the spending and investing.) There’s even a fun financial literacy game in the app to teach about saving, investing, and budgeting. “Greenlight offers a very well-rounded journey for kids to learn about so many facets of money,” Torabi says.
The App That Makes Lending Less Awkward
Zirtue helps you hammer out the details with loved ones who borrow money: how much is owed, what the money should be used for, and when it will be repaid. It even generates a monthly repayment schedule. Lenders can track loans and set auto payment reminders. The clarity and transparency will help you avoid those “I thought we agreed on this” or “I thought I paid you back” disagreements, Feinstein Gerstley says.
Help for Anyone Who’s Caring for a Loved One
FEE: From $30 a month
If you’re looking after an aging parent, you likely have your hands full and a lot on your mind. This service helps with some of the financials. You can securely scan for potential fraud under a loved one’s name, monitor their credit, and store their passwords across sites used for banking, investing, and more. The service was updated this year with a new feature to help keep tabs on recurring payments and receive alerts about late bills.
A Hack to Score the Best Phone Deal
Studies show that many of us are paying for more coverage than we need. “Companies use all kinds of price psychology tricks to make you compare apples and oranges,” Tsoir says. Answer a few questions about how many phone lines you want, hot spot preferences, and other needs, and Navi presents deals that make sense for you. You can even compare the results with your current plan for an idea of how much you’ll save.
A Quick-to-Set-Up Nest Egg for Kids
FEE: $5 a month
Children are expensive! (Understatement of the year?) UNest helps parents and loved ones save funds in a custodial investment account, which adults manage until kids are a certain age (typically 18 or 21, depending on state rules). You can start an account without a Social Security number, meaning the saving begins before the baby even arrives. (Rogers likes the idea of adding a UNest account to a baby registry.) You direct funds toward conservative, moderate, or aggressive investments and earn cash back on purchases made through the app from select retailers, including Old Navy and Nike. Up to $1,250 of any earnings may be exempt from federal income tax, and a portion may be taxed at the (generally lower) child’s tax rate.
Solid Money-Saving Strategies From Folks Who Know
“When buying a home, plan to stay for at least five years to weather a housing market downturn.” —Rebecca Jarvis, ABC News Chief Business, Technology, and Economics Correspondent
“I encourage everyone to ask questions about where their money is being invested. It could be in companies that don’t meet your values—for example, gun manufacturers. When you ask, you have power.” —Julie Castro Abrams, founder and CEO of How Women Lead, an organization for female executives
“It’s important to be kind to yourself when it comes to improving financial wellness. Forgive yourself for past money mistakes— we’ve all made them!—whether they were your fault or not.” —Bola Sokunbi, Founder of Clever Girl Finance, a money education platform
To create the Smart Money Awards, we compiled a list of products across eight categories that debuted or were updated between January 2022 and May 2023. A diverse panel of financial professionals rated them and selected winners based on innovation and relevance to REAL SIMPLE readers. All details were correct as of press time.
Meet the Panelists
Ashley Feinstein Gerstley is the founder and CEO of the financial platform the Fiscal Femme and author of The 30-Day Money Cleanse. She wants to help women improve their relationship with money.
Elizabeth Pennington is a certified financial planner in Des Moines, Iowa, who works with clients around the country. She believes planning should be accessible and keeps costs down by charging by the hour (versus a larger flat fee).
Erin Skye Kelly dug her way out of a $2 million hole and wrote a book, Get the Hell Out of Debt, to help others deal with their outstanding balances. (She hosts a podcast with the same name.) Her second book, Naked Money Meetings, is about managing money with your partner and comes out this month.
Farnoosh Torabi is a financial journalist and host of the So Money podcast, Torabi says her immigrant parents helped her learn when to take risks, which ultimately helped her build financial stability. Her upcoming book, A Healthy State of Panic, explores how readers can use their own fears to become financially savvy.
Hilarey Gould is an editorial director at Investopedia, where she helps readers understand financial products and services. She’s also an adjunct professor at the College of New Jersey.
Linda Rogers is a certified financial planner and the founder of Planning Within Reach. She is a virtual adviser, an impact investor, and a military spouse. Rogers works with clients all over the U.S. and hosts the Investing Forward podcast.
Tatiana Tsoir is a certified public accountant and the author of Dream Bold, Start Smart, a Guide to Entrepreneurship. She also hosts the Talk to Tatiana podcast, speaking with entrepreneurs.
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