Just about everyone these days knows that one of the most common topics those in relationships argue about is money. At the same time personal finance apps that help you stay on top of your spending and budget have become plentiful in recent years. Therefore it only makes sense that a finance app aimed at couples would come along — and that app is Zeta.
Let’s a look at what Zeta has to offer for couples including some of my thoughts on its best features and a few minor flaws.
Using Zeta to Manage Your Money
Signing up and adding accounts
Joining Zeta is not unlike signing up for most other apps, starting with entering your e-mail address and creating an account password. Next the app will ask for your name, birthdate, etc. Plus, since Zeta is designed to be used by couples, it also inquires about your partner’s name and your relationship to them. Of course you’ll also be asked to invite your partner to Zeta so that you can manage your money together.
With that out of the way, you’ll answer a few basic questions about how your finances are arranged. For example the app will ask if you typically use a personal bank account or shared account to pay for personal expenses. It will also ask about how you and your partner split your finances, which we’ll touch on a bit more later.
After this brief questionnaire, the next step in getting set up with Zeta is to link your various financial accounts. Like so many other personal finance apps these days, Zeta utilizes Plaid to securely obtain relevant data from these accounts in order to help you monitor your transactions and maintain a budget within the app. As you’re adding these account you can also designate them as Shared, Personal, or Private. Selecting an account as Shared will allow both partners to view balances and transactions for a given account, while Personal will allow your partner to only view balances. Finally marking an account as Private will render it hidden from your partner.
Overview, budget, and transactions
Once you have Zeta all set up, the first tab you’ll encounter in the app is aptly titled Overview. This basically serves as your dashboard for Zeta and includes numerous pieces of information. Following a welcome message and an always-fun quote that sits at the top of the screen, the first element you may encounter in the Overview screen is an alert regarding new transactions available to review. Scrolling down will reveal other widgets such as your current months’ cash flow, your budget status, recent transactions, and a snapshot of your account balances.
Tapping any of these widgets will take you to expanded sections of the app. For example selecting your budget from the Overview screen will not only allow you to view more details on where you stand but also make changes to your budget overall. This includes the ability to change your expense sharing percentage, update budget category and savings goal numbers, and even create new categories if necessary.
Speaking of spending categories, like many apps, Zeta does its best to automatically categorize transactions made using your linked accounts. What’s cool is that you have a lot of options for how else you want to categorize transactions, who you want to be able to view purchases, and more. When you tap any given transaction, you’ll be taken to a screen where you can not only see more details but also select whether it should be marked as personal, shared, or private (it will default to whatever setting you selected for that account). Beyond the ability to label the budget category — including creating custom categories — you can elect to split a transaction between partners. But perhaps my favorite feature in this section is the ability to attach a memo to any transaction, which will cover a bit more in the next section.
Memos and bills
As I just mentioned, Zeta allows users to add memos to any transaction. Using this feature, you can ask your partner for clarification on a purchase you don’t remember, add reminders about upcoming due dates, or really any other helpful notes you see fit. You can then view all of these notes by visiting the Memos section of the app, accessed by tapping “More” and then “Memos” in the app. You or your partner also have the ability to respond to any of these memos, making it a simple way to communicate when you can’t meet face to face.
Another feature of Zeta I found helpful is the Bills section, also reached via the More tab. From what I can tell, Zeta automatically picked up on due dates for certain recurring bills based on your transaction history and places them on a calendar. You can refine these due dates by making changes to their recurring cycle, amounts, and spending category . Of course you can also manually add other bills you wish to keep track of. Even better, Zeta allows you to select from various reminder options (email, text, push notifications), and select whether these reminders should go to you or both you and your partner. Oh, and you can add custom emojis to mark your billing calendar with — a surprisingly nice touch.
My Experience with Zeta
Selecting bill alerts
Of all the features Zeta has, the bill due calendar may just be my favorite. First of all I was impressed with how the app automatically detected recurring dates and took a lot of the work out by filling the calendar for me. Plus the ability to remind myself and my wife about upcoming due dates — and via my preferred medium — is also super helpful. To be fair most of the items Zeta found are already set up to autopay but there’s definitely still value in knowing when certain transactions will be coming up and receive alerts about those that won’t pay themselves.
The “More” tab
Speaking of the bill calendar, as I noted, this feature is included in the More section on the app along with a few other tabs. This actually raises an issue I have with Zeta in that I find the whole More tab to be a bit clunky. Not only is it somewhat annoying to have to tab an extra button to access what I want (woe is me, right?) but the app also defaults to the main line up once you select your tab, meaning that going from Bills to Memos requires you to hit the More tab in between. It’s also ironic that these happen to be my two favorite features, so perhaps I’m just a bit biased in this area. Regardless I hope the app can find a more elegant way to lay out their navigation and make switching between functions easier.
Building a budget
Another minor annoyance I found in Zeta is that building a budget can be a bit cumbersome. For example, although Zeta auto-categorizes transactions from the jump, it seems you need to start from scratch when selecting which categories to focus on instead of just plugging in numbers to some preset favorites. To be clear, you can add a number of pre-programmed categories and have transactions show up under those tags but, until you do so, they’ll simply be lumped into “everything else.” On the one hand this actually works fairly well for my wife and I as we only focus on a few spending categories instead of getting too granular, but I suspect those who want a more line by line budget may find this set-up process tedious — especially as the “Edit Budgets” workflow seems to operate more like a webpage than an app to me, offering autofill but not great support for scrolling.
Not to pile on but my issues with the budgeting section don’t stop there. For one thing, as far as I can tell, the only way to access this feature is via the widget in Overview. Sure it has a fairly prominent position there but, considering that budgeting is a big part of managing your money, I’d expect it to have a proper home of its own.
Zeta on desktop
After that rant about the troubles I had trying to set up a budget in Zeta, I found that the task is made easier via Zeta for desktop. That’s right — you can also access all of your Zeta data by visiting their website and logging in. The larger screen makes adding new budget categories much easier than on the app. Plus you can access much of the same info and other tabs you do on the app in a slightly rearranged form. For that reason I’d definitely recommend trying out the desktop site when getting started with Zeta and then making subsequent changes and updates via the app.
Final Thoughts on Zeta
Overall I found myself really appreciating some of Zeta’s features. Some of my personal favorites included the ability to append memos to transactions, set bill reminders, and build savings goals into your budget. On top of that I can definitely see how the app could succeed in helping couples stay on top of their finances and manage their money more effectively.
With that said, like I mentioned in my review of Honeydue, I do question some elements of the app’s premise. While I’m all in favor of married couples still retaining separate bank accounts, I can’t help shake the perception that having private or secret accounts feels duplicitous. However I fully acknowledge that not all couples are alike nor is everyone using Zeta going to be in a place in their relationship where they can fully merge their finances. Therefore, although I wanted to at least mention this, I realize I may be unfairly judgemental here.
All in all, aside from the tweaks I recommended regarding setting up your budget, I really like what Zeta has built. Admittedly my wife and I may not use it quite as intended but I do think that the bill reminders could certainly be of use to us as an extra backup. So, if you and your partnering are looking for an easy way to manage your finances together and master your money, Zeta could be a great place to start.
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Also published on Medium.