Money at 30: Top 5 Personal Finance Apps and Tools to Watch in 2021
Each year, I end up reviewing/re-reviewing plenty of different FinTech apps and tools. Along the way, in the back of my mind, I’m keeping track of which of these offerings I’ll feature on my best-of list for the new year. Now the time has come for such a list — although I’m instating a bit of a twist this time around.
For my 2021 list, I decided to not only feature apps I’ve enjoyed using and think others will get use out of as well but also highlight companies I think could grow and change over the next year. Unfortunately, “change” isn’t always a great thing in the world of FinTech as some past honoraries have diminished in appeal or become defunct altogether. With that disclaimer of sorts out of the way, here are the top five personal finance apps I’m looking forward to using in 2021 and why I think they’re also worth watching:
In previous installments of my top apps list, I’ve included Long Game, which added elements of luck and fun to saving. Sadly, my interest in that offering waned when they began charging for their services and it seems that the platform has since gone on hiatus. But not to fear as Yotta Savings has emerged with a new gamified savings concept.
Yotta allows customers to earn tickets to their weekly lottery based on their savings — the more you save, the more chances you have to win. Currently, users can earn 1 recurring entry ticket for every $25 in their balance (with limitations if you’re stashing more than $25,000). This means that, if you have $250 in your account, you’ll not only have 10 tickets to play in your first contest but would also retain 10 entries per week as long as you maintain your balance. While the jackpots on Yotta climb into the millions, it’s far more likely that customers will earn the lower-tier prices that start at a few cents. Still, with nightly number reveals leading up to Sunday’s “Yotta Ball” pull, the app keeps savers engaged and, hopefully, rewarded.
There are several reasons why I think Yotta is posed for a big 2021. First, with interest rates still low (and somehow getting lower), people like myself are seeing Yotta as an entertaining alternative that may even best the interest rates you may get elsewhere… if you’re lucky. On that note, I did manage to see an effective 2.04% APY in November and 1.10% so far in December.
Another potential boon for Yotta is their upcoming debit card. While details on that are fairly sparse, plans for the card include bonus entry tickets, the potential for comped purchases, and more. For those reasons — and for the fact that the app actually makes saving fun — I think Yotta Savings is a great app to have and to watch as we approach 2021.
One of the often-cited tricks to improving your personal finances is to leverage automation. Yet, while different banking accounts may offer a few options for automatically moving money, your choices are typically pretty limited. Enter Astra, offering a variety of ways for users to set rules and move cash between multiple accounts.
One of my personal favorite Routines (as they’re called) on Astra is the Sweep option. This allows you to set a threshold for an account, with Astra then initiating a transfer to send excess funds to a separately selected account on a regular basis. Meanwhile, other options include round-ups, percentage-based transfers, and even 52-week savings challenge.
Another benefit of Astra is that it allows customers to create sub-accounts for any of their other banking accounts. This feature can be used to set savings goals and earmark money for certain expenses. While this sub-account concept is now finding its way into other FinTech offerings, the ability to do something similar but for “legacy” banking accounts is pretty great.
Early this year, Astra joined Visa’s Fast Track program — which is actually how I first learned of the service. Then, in October, they debuted their own API. Between those two developments, I foresee plenty of growth opportunity for Astra, even if that doesn’t necessarily mean a major expansion for their app. Regardless, I enjoy using said app and think it’s easily worth downloading and experimenting with.
These days, there are plenty of apps that will aggregate your accounts and allow you to view all of your balances in one place. In that aspect, Fion isn’t the most groundbreaking offering on this list. However, the service is refreshingly back-to-basics — something I think could make it more approachable to a lot of people.
Like several other services, Fion utilizes Plaid to link external accounts and obtain read-only data from them. This allows you to not only view your overall balances but also search/browse your various transactions across multiple accounts and cards. Again, this isn’t Earth-shattering stuff, but I truly appreciate Fion’s easy-to-use interface and graphic design. As a result, it’s become one of my favorite aggregation tools to use when I’m looking to get an overview of my finances.
What makes Fion an interesting case is that adding too much to the service could very well spoil part of its appeal. Despite that risk, the platform has been introducing some useful tools — including some I wished for in my review. Of course, one obvious expansion would be to introduce a mobile app as Fion is currently exclusive to web browsers. If I’m being completely honest, Fion is probably a bit of a longshot in comparison to these other tools, but it’s one I’m already a fan of and am excited to keep tabs on in the year ahead.
Fold is a platform where users can buy name-brand gift cards and earn Bitcoin back for their purchases. While it’s a simple enough concept, it’s certainly been getting a boost thanks to Bitcoin’s recent record gains. In that aspect, the platform could prove to be a good option for those looking for an easy way to get started with Bitcoin without technically investing any of their own funds.
On the other hand, users will likely need to have some crypto know-how as they’ll need to set up an external Bitcoin wallet in order to cash out their rewards (once they accumulate at least 50,000 Sats). I found this was easy enough to do using Square’s Cash App and had no issues making the transfer. At the same time, another downside for those not so familiar with crypto is that the higher rewards rates are reserved for those paying with Lightning, whereas those using credit or debit cards will see a lower percentage back.
Incidentally, Fold is also in the process of bringing its own debit card product into the world — although I’m not yet sure how I feel about it. Despite being excited by the prospect of the offering, I was a bit shocked to discover that the no annual fee version of the card still carries a $21 activation fee (the Premium waives said fee but costs $150 a year). On the bright side, the Intro version of the debit card still features some improved rates on top brands, including 5% on Amazon, 8% on Doordash, and more. I’ll have a full review of the Fold debit card after I get mine and have a chance to try it but, in the meantime, just know it’s coming.
I’d be remiss not to mention that Rakuten also has a gift card-selling platform that offers cashback. Therefore, if you’re not sure about this whole cryptocurrency thing, it may be a better option. But, because of the promise it shows, I think Fold is worthy of a feature on this list.
Bella Loves Me
Since we started off this list with a different kind of banking account, I figured we’d close it out with one too. Bella Loves Me (henceforth shortened to just Bella) is a brand new banking services app and debit card that emphasizes kindness and giving. These efforts materialize not only in Bella’s Karma accounts that allow users to pick up tabs for fellow customers, but also through Bella Surprises that randomly reward users for their debit card purchases (between 5% and 200% cashback if a Bella Surprise is activated).
Beyond those big ideas, Bella also features a unique user interface that includes a “Tap to Type” function. This allows users to search and execute different tasks just by entering their request. The app also has several customization features, allowing users to make it their own. That said, as I noted in my review, the app can be a bit difficult to navigate until you get used to it.
In addition to the aforementioned debit card and Karma accounts, Bella also allows customers to create savings accounts that currently earn 0.30% APY. Users can also set up automation to help them achieve different savings goals. Also notable is that, thanks to Bella’s partnership with NBKC Bank, funds are FDIC insured up to $5 million (since NBKC will sweep funds into multiple accounts at other institutions).
To be fair, at this point, Bella Loves Me seems more focused on proving its concept than being a complete banking option. However, it seems they’re already working on new features and improvements. Plus, they really only launched a month ago, so I’ll cut them some slack for sure. In any case, I’ve personally been enjoying the offering so far and look forward to seeing how it grows.
Covering the world of FinTech over the past few years has truly been fascinating. Sure, there’s disappointment when some of my favorite apps deteriorate or disappear but there’s also excitement in discovering new tools and watching them grow. With that in mind, I hope the best for these five tools throughout 2021 and beyond — and think you may want to join in for the ride as well.