It’s often been said that one of the keys to bettering your finances is automation. By setting up good money habits, tasks like saving and budgeting suddenly don’t feel as painful. With that in mind, the app Astra takes automation to the next level, offering some unique transfer options along with other handy features.
So how does Astra save you hassle when it comes to managing your money? Let’s take a look at what the app has to offer, my thoughts on the service, and more.
What is Astra and How Does it Work?
Getting started with Astra and linking accounts
Signing-up for Astra starts with the basics: entering your name, email address, and phone number. And… that’s really about it. Once you do this, you’ll just need to confirm your phone number with an SMS code and then it’s on to adding your various accounts.
In order to allow users to link their accounts, Astra utilizes Plaid — a secure API that enables you to log into your account. Incidentally, Plaid was recently acquired by Visa while Astra joined Visa’s FinTech Fast Track Program. Given this backing, you can trust that your data is as safe as possible.
Sub-accounts and savings goals
After you set up your main accounts, Astra gives you the chance to partition your money by creating sub-accounts. Basically, this option allows you to earmark certain funds in your overall balance. Similarly, you can set up savings goals that will also show up as sub-accounts. Once these are set up, they’ll show under your main balance in Accounts, with saving goals also displaying your target amount and progress so far.
While the ability to set savings goals is nothing new for FinTech apps, the idea of creating sub accounts is unique and saves users the trouble of actually needing to establish a new savings account. In my opinion, it’s a pretty clever solution — but Astra has even more up its sleeve.
Transfer routines and more
As cool as the ability to divvy up your funds into sub-accounts is, to me, the coolest part of Astra is the transfer routines you can set-up. Beyond the basic ability to transfer to and from any of your linked accounts (a time-saver unto itself), you can get more advanced with how you move your money and automate your savings. Currently, the available transfer routines include:
- Round up
- Percentage based
- 52-week savings challenge
While some of these are pretty self-explanatory, others are a bit more involved. Take, for example, the 52-week challenge option, which will transfer $1 on week one, $2 on week two, etc. Once complete, this will allow you to sock away $1,378 over the course of one year.
Another clever tool is the round up transfer. Akin to other FinTech tools like Acorns, this routine will round up the transactions on your credit card or checking account to the nearest dollar and then transfer that amount to your selected account. Also notable is the percentage-based option that can help you automatically increase your savings rate without having to do the math manually each week.
When setting up a routine, Astra will walk you through the formula and have you plug in the relevant information such as start date, frequency, source account, and destination account. For recurring transfers (and sweeps), you can choose to have them initiated weekly, every two weeks, or monthly. From there, you can name the routine and activate it. Current routines will then show up under the “Routines” tab, allowing you to edit them by tapping into the selected routine and altering the formula. Here, you can also tap the three-dot button in the upper right to either pause or delete a current automation.
Just as you can set transfer routines, Astra also allows you to customize notification routines. Specifically, you can arrange to receive regular balance updates and/or set up an alert to tell you when your balance drops below a certain dollar amount.
Akin to the transfer routines, Astra will have you fill in the details in order to set up these notifications. This includes supplying a start date, selecting an account to track, setting the frequency or balance threshold, and opting for a push notification or SMS alert. These notifications will then also show up in Routines and can be edited, paused, or deleted from there.
My Experience with Astra
When I first started exploring Astra, I was immediately impressed with the different savings options it offered. Perhaps my favorite Astra routine so far is the Sweep feature. With this, you can arrange to have money move from one account to another when the former surpasses a set balance. In my case, I set the app to transfer money from my checking to my savings account, leaving no more than $300 in checking at a time.
While I’ve found this function works well, there are a few things to note. First, it seems that these transfers are limited to $1,000 (poking around, Astra says you can e-mail them with requests to raise this cap). Thus, when I first activated the routine, the initial sweep was for around one grand. Then, starting the following week, any funds over my $300 floor were moved over as expected.
Something else worth pointing out is that, despite the checking and savings accounts in question coming from the same bank, there was still a slight delay in transfers. For example, my transfer was initiated on June 7th, the funds left my checking account on June 9th, and didn’t hit my savings account until June 10th. Meanwhile, if I had done this internal transfer through the bank, it would have happened instantly. I understand why Astra transfers work this way and don’t fault them for it but it’s important to know about regardless. To that point, Astra notes that funds should clear within three business days after the routine runs, which lines up with my experience.
One nitpick I do have with this routine and some of the others is that there could be more customization. Since I originally set up my routine on a Sunday, Astra made this my default day of the week for the sweep, with no obvious way for me to override this. Similarly, switching to a monthly option would also make the current date the default. This might not be a huge deal but it does strike me as odd — especially since a non-business day like Sunday doesn’t seem like the best day to start a transfer. Theoretically, I could fix this by waiting until the day of the week I actually want my sweeps to occur and then creating a new routine… but I really just hope Astra is able to tweak this option so that it’s easier to edit.
Final Thoughts on Astra
Compared to some of the money apps I review, Astra has a fairly limited focus. However, that’s actually a strength as the service’s simplicity makes it all the more powerful. Instead of trying to do a bit of everything, Astra introduces some very useful ideas and executes them quite well. Incidentally, between the ability to create sub-accounts and to set up transfer routines, the app also helps prevent your money management strategy from growing too unwieldy.
Although there a few aforementioned adjustments I think Astra could make, on the whole, the service seems polished and works well. As a result, I honestly plan on employing some of its routines for the foreseeable future. Personally, I also look forward to seeing what other routine ideas they might dream up in the future.
Overall, Astra is a smart and easy-to-use tool that can certainly help you better manage your money — even if that means taking a less-active role in doing so. For that reason, I definitely think it’s worth downloading the app and seeing which of its automation options are right for you.
Also published on Medium.