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Which is the Best Money App 2020 for UK users?

A review of all the money apps currently available to help manage your personal finances & budgeting.

MONEY APPS REVIEWED

  • Emma
  • Yolt
  • Money Dashboard
  • Money Hub
  • Money Box
  • Buxfer
  • Plum

OTHER MONEY APPS REVIEWED

  • Mint
  • Simplify
  • Intuit
  • Freshbooks
  • Credit Monitor
  • Experian

GOOD BOOKS

  • The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey
  • I will teach you to be rich by Ramit Sethi
  • Unshakeable by Tony Robbins

Why did I decide to write a page about money

Why do we struggle with money?

There is one basic rule that money gurus spout: SPEND LESS MONEY THAN YOU MAKE

  • But that is easier said than done.  We find it hard.  That’s because we don’t keep a constant eye on it.   And we don’t keep a constant eye on it because it is too much effort. 
  • We end up spending like crazy.  We have subscriptions and Direct Debits for things like gyms that we never use.  And they carry on for months until we recognise the wastage and finally put an end to them.
  • So what we need is a MINIMALIST system.   A system that (i) gathers the data effortlessly, (ii) tells us that information in real time effortlessly, (iii) analyses that money data effortlessly and (iv) gives us simple analysis and advice effortlessly.   And by effortlessly, I mean with little input or hard work from us.
  • We need a system that tells us these things regularly without us having to log in.   Perhaps a weekly summary that is PUSHED to us rather than us having to log in and PULL the information down.
  • We need a system that is colourful, or attractive and fun to use.   It must not look as dull as accountants and their offices.

We basically need a system that is colourful, or attractive and fun to use.   And the answer is… money apps!!!  Money apps are the future.  They are here to stay.  They can help automate your money matters so that you can concentrate on making decisions.    And you will not mind making those decisions because all the boring number crunching stuff has already been done by them.

Wouldn’t it be handy to log into one website, or one phone app and see ALL of your accounts?   Your current accounts, savings, investments, credit cards and perhaps even your assets?   Well, that’s what some of the money apps I will be talking about help you do.

 

You bet they are.  And they are going to be the norm.   Basically, what ever money app you use, double check to make sure it uses open banking API security.    All of the ones I have listed here say they do – but double check.  The onus is on you. 

Let me explain about Open Banking APIs

On January 2018, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) forced the nine largest UK current account providers (Allied Irish Bank, Bank of Ireland, Barclays, Danske, HSBC, Lloyds Banking Group, Nationwide, RBS Group, Santander) to open up their data.  This enables mobile and web app developers to pull in your financial data in a SECURE and STANDARDISED way, providing of course, you give them permission to do so.  

So rather than logging into each of your (say) 5 accounts to see how things are going, wouldn’t it be handy to log into one website, or one phone app and see ALL of them?  This Open Banking API initiative allows that to happen.   And it is indeed happening!  

API is short for application programming interfaces.    This technology is already used by many well-known companies to provide integrated digital services.   Basically, it enables third party apps to be able to get information from your banks without logging in and knowing your username and password.  In that way, your username and password is always kept safe.  An API is a bit like a permission – a third party is granted access without having to have a username or password, but providing they go through a security check first to make sure they are who they say they are.

Beware of Screenscraping though

APIs aren’t the only way to share your banking data with personal finance apps. Before APIs came in, money apps would ask you to hand over your bank login details and give them permission to collect or ‘screen-scrape’ the data. In other words, they pose as you, the customer, which can expose you to fraud.   Imagine bilious evil person breaking into the third party app and stealing your username and password from them?    And if that happened, you would NOT be protected by the FCSA who usually protect upto £85 000 should your money in a bank go missing – because they say, they will protect you providing you don’t share your username or password with others.

The great thing about Open Banking API is that no usernames or passwords are stored or even requested.  So, money apps that use open Banking API – if they were hacked, there would be no passwords to be stolen!   Open Banking API is more secure than screen-scraping and screen-scraping is being phased out.  

In conclusion

Only use and sign up to reliable money apps who say clearly they use Open Banking API and offer 256K security protection.  Please do the checking yourself.

  • Use the Financial Services Register to see if a third-party provider is registered and authorised for Open Banking API
  • If you want to complain about a provider: go to the Financial Ombudsman Service if you can’t resolve it with the provider first.
  • If the provider or your bank goes bust: go to  Financial Services Compensation Scheme.
  • If you decide you no longer want a third-party provider to have access to your data, you should be able to easily revoke consent – either from your bank or the third party app.

The information on these pages is stuff that has really helped me in m y financial journey.   It is provided for information only.   Remember, only you can be held responsible for the decisions you make and take.   And in terms of investments – remember there is always a risk to everything and money can unpredictably go up and down.  You should be mindful of this and do only what is comfortable with you.   

MY PERSONAL VIEW (2020)
The Best Money Management App for UK users

Here is my recommendation.  In a nutshell it is a toss between MONEY DASHBOARD and BUXFER.
What I currently use for mine is BUXFER.   

Read the table below for my detailed findings – as interpreted by me.     But first, read what I like and hate about each app.   I like the fact that Money Dashboard is UK based.  Buxfer is more US based and that puts me off a little – but it can handle UK bank accounts no problem.  And Money Dashboard is way more attractive looking than Buxfer.   And both provide a web-based PC interface as well as an app.   But at the end of the day, functionality wins – no matter how good looking an app is.   And on that basis BUXFER wins hands down.   Money Dashboard is getting there but not just yet.   For instance, you can create all sorts of amazing categorisation rules with Buxfer.   And Buxfer allows you to change every bit of the categorisation (which it calls tags) – including their own categories and any other subcategories you may want to add.   With Money Dashboard, you cannot alter their categories.  You can only add yours.    And to make it confusing, Money Dashboard comes in two flavours – Classic and Neon.   Classic is meant to be the traditional app and platform that has been going for years.  The Neon is the more trendier looking app – and yes, it does look sweet.   However, the Neon for me is all looks and not much substance.   It’s got a lot of the wonderful features in Classic ripped out of it.   And the way it displays the transactions are bit “chunky” – occupying unnecessary space.  New users I don’t think can sign up to Classic.   It is only available for users who signed up for it years ago.   And finally, Buxfer is amazing at letting you make your transaction headings pretty.   

For example, converting:
DIRECT DEBIT PAYMENT TO MEDICAL FOUNDATION REF 183343693/23285633, MANDATE NO 0023448
to
DD MEDICAL FOUNDATION 

 

I love the fact that Buxfer has a desktop web interface as well as a mobile app one.   But both do look rather dated compared to the likes of Money dashboard and Emma. But Buxfer makes up for it in functionality.  It can do lots of things that other money apps can’t do and gives you the greatest flexibility in terms of the apps.  For instance, you can categorise to the nth level.   You can add subcategories and even change their own default categories (by the way, they call categories tags).   A quick tip from me – create all the primary category headings that you like in CAPITALS.  In that way, if Buxfer creates any of its own later on that you don’t like, you will see which ones it has added – because yours will be the CAPITALISED ones. You can then re-categorise the transactions within them and remove them after…

You can also split transactions and import data from CSV files manually – so you can go back and have more than just one year’s worth of data..   And you can do all sorts of wonderful reports.    You can even export your data – all of it – to the likes of Dropbox or your own PC hard drive.  And I love the way you can make the transaction headings pretty… that’s a neat tool because then the transaction pages look neat and not overwhelming.   However, there is no excuse for a dated looking display these days.

Also, I wish it would give me more insights into how my spending is going.  Other apps are better at this and for their suggestions.  And whilst I like the fact it allows you to scroll through 100 transactions at a time, there is nothing that beats continuous scrolling and auto-loading like Money Dashboard does.   And I do think their pricing structure is unnecessarily complex.   4 tiers – really????  None of the other apps do this.   Just two tiers – free and paid.   Come on Buxfer, no need to be greedy.   Just give two tiers.   Personally, I think Free and $4.99 per month for the Prime plan should be the only two available.   Their current $9.99 per month for the Prime plan is a bit cheeky.  None of the other money apps charge this amount.  

Update…

Only recently, I got in touch with them again to offer feedback on their website appearance.   Not only I, but many other tech review websites have said their display is a bit like websites of the early years.   Money dashboard has a beautiful display and perhaps Emma Pro – the best!   But these guys (Buxfer) don’t seem very responsive to feedback.   I asked them just to create a Money Dashboard account and just take a look for inspiration.  But this was their reply: “We (and our many paying users) think our app is quite pretty 🙂 Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  If you have specific feedback on what you would like us to improve, please do share and we will make a note of it.”.     I’m not sure I will bother giving them more advice.  To me, they just don’t seem to be interested!  What a pity – I am offering free feedback on how they can take over the money-app world and the message I feel  am getting back is ‘No thanks, we are okay as we are’.   I wrote to Money Dashboard and said to them that their app and web app were beautiful, but they lacked some of the functionality of Buxfer.  Guess what they said: “My name is Hayley, can I arrange to have a chat with you either by phone or internet chat?  I would like to know more.”   You tell me, whose attitude do you like?

Another update

Buxfer’s Reply Oct 2020

We will keep a closer eye on Money Dashboard. With them being solely UK based, it’s a bit challenging because we do not have accounts in the UK.  We do not envision pulling out of the UK ever. One of our core founding principles is that our software should work for anyone, anywhere. And over the years we have stuck to this principle through thick and thin. This is why we support banks all around the world, and continue to support manual file uploads. It comes down to our business model. We make money by offering users a great product. Others makes money by selling ads and they naturally focus on markets where that is more lucrative. We are bootstrapped and as long as we have decent traction in any market, we do not have any reason to pull out of it ever if we have a choice.

  • QUESTION 1: Does buxfer use open banking API or screen scraping as its method of bank entry
    We have many different connection methods. Wherever possible, we use Open Banking.  We would like to advise that we use PSD2 which is a European regulation for electronic payment services that make payments more secure in Europe.  See this link for the UK: https://www.buxfer.com/help/sync?q=SyncOpenBanking
  • QUESTION 2: Is Buxfer mainly for the US market and not the UK market? Your logo has the dollar sign in it and it may put of UK clients.
    We offer our services internationally, including UK
  • QUESTION 4: I already have a Buxfer account. If I have forgot to sync to the bank for say 5 months, when I do re-enable the synch and permissions – will it download all 5 months of data?. It wont just download say a month of data and forget the rest because of my failure to synchronize earlier?
    Depends on the bank. Some banks only share 90 days worth of data. Some open banking consents may expire. Best option is to not forget syncing for 5 months.
  • QUESTION 5: Please can you tell me how I can import manually data from a CSV, QIF or MS Money file, please…
    Under ‘Add’. Kindly click on ‘Add’ and the ‘Upload’ button should be part of the dropdown list.
    To download the CSV/QIF/MSMONEY file in the first place from your bank, follow this link.
  • QUESTION 6:

    I would like to have a system of being able to know which transactions I have looked at and approved and which ones remain outstanding. Clearly, the “untagged” items help in this regard to some extent, but bear in mind some of the tagging is automatically done by Buxfer.  So, reviewing the untagged items is easy. But I also want a system of helping me to check items that are auto-assigned by Buxfer just to make sure Buxfer has not got the category wrong. For instance, it would be great if there was a red dot next to each transaction that I have not seen but a green one for ones I marked as okay.
    We provide the ability to reconcile accounts, which can be used for various things, but will also serve the purpose you currently describe.  Simply navigate to an account, and click “Reconcile” near the top right of the page. That will show you a view where transactions are grouped based on whether they have been reviewed by you. Any reviewed (i.e. reconciled) transaction appears with a green checkmark.
    But is it possible to reconcile in other views. For example…. If I want to see all my monthly payments to “OXFAM”, and I get the view that lists all the Oxfam payments – can I reconcile from there?   It’s much easier to reconcile with categories and other lists.  Let me explain. Reconciling from just the reconcile list is difficult because the similar transactions are not grouped. But if I am paying Oxfam £10 every month, then in my previous Microsoft Money program, I could see just the Oxfam payments and tick them all in one go if I felt there were all regular monthly payments and no errors like two payments in one month.
    Yes, reconciling is very much possible in any view. You can simply select the transactions in any view, then click Edit Status > Reconciled. The account reconcile page is a little more optimized, but the basic functionality works in any list of transactions in any view.
    Lastly, We are unable to disclose any details about our userbase or financials. But we have been around for more than a decade and funded by the prestigious silicon valley firm YCombinator. Over the past decade, we have become profitable and can survive much longer than the typical silicon valley VC-funded startup.

Ram’s conclusion: In fairness to Buxfer, they have been pretty good at replying.   And they seem to want to continually improve on their product rather than rest on their Laurels.   So, I’ll be sticking with them for the time being.  


Money Dashboard Classic is way better than Neon.   I think Neon is pants!   It’s so limited in terms of categorisation and subcategorisation.  So, for me, Neon is out, even though it looks pretty.   And why on earth they decided to make each transaction occupy two lines of chunky text is beyond me.  In the classic version, the slim list of transactions is much easier on the eye.   

So let’s just talk about Classic.   But I don’t think new users can have Classic! That means, anyone, reading this who doesn’t already have an account can only have Neon.    So, back to Neon which only allows you to have 15 characters of text for the categories.   Why?  Why can’t I have more like they do in Classic?  What’s the point of such severe restriction.  I am so incredibly angry, frustrated and disappointed with their categories.   Why?   Because they restrict you to 15 characters but they

  1. have more than 15 characters for their own categories and subcategories
  2. have long-winded names for some of their categories – (like food, groceries and home – what’s wrong with just food or groceries, and what on earth is home?  Salary and wages – what’s wrong with just wages or just salary? contents and other insurance – what’s wrong with just home insurance?).
  3. some of the subcategorisation is just illogical – (under appearance, for example, is clothes designer, clothes every day or work – really?)
  4. and some of the categories cover things that would be better as primary categories.   The category ENJOYMENT has so much under it.  
  5. I think they need to sack the person who created the categorisation system and get someone else to have a new look at it.   Log into MoneyHub – they have an amazing categorisation system.   Perhaps mimic theirs. I’m planning to list my personal categorisation and subcategorisation system below. 

And one thing when you do sign up, I believe it only imports 1 month of past data.  I might be wrong, but what on earth is the point in that?  Others, like Money Hub, do 12 months, and Buxfer – you can IMPORT as much past data as you want!   The other thing that Buxfer does incredibly well is something called “prettyfying the description”.  In other words convert something like “Direct Devit Payment to Waitrose 3453443/02346363 Leeds ” to “DP Waitrose, Leeds”.   I have not seen that functionality in Money Dashboard which means that its transaction data pages look rather full-on and overwhelming.  

One thing I DID like about Money Dashboard – both Classic and Neon – is that you can just keep scrolling down and down and past transactions just automatically and effortlessly appear.   The other thing that is good both in Classic and Neon is the Filters and search facility – find a transaction or set of transactions with ease!

I wish all of these apps had a marker to say when you have reviewed a transaction and okayed it.   Perhaps all start with a red dot, which then becomes green when you reconcile or approve it.  In that way, you could focus on the ones you need to focus on.  Most of the apps just highlight the untagged transactions, which you would review.  But what about those that might be incorrectly tagged but difficult to find because there is no way of knowing which transactions you have reviewed and which you have not.  I’m hoping developers of these apps will read my review and start working on improvements.  

Where do I start with Money Hub?   They have a good ethos for not sharing your data and charge 99 pence for the priviledge.  That’s not bad.   And on start up, it imports 12 months of data.  

But this is an ugly interface.   Don’t get me wrong.  I like the fact it has an app and a web based platform.  But the web based platform is ugly – like a website from the 1980s.   Why on earth did they decide to occupy just the middle bit of the 16:9 widescreen display that most of us have these days?  What a waste of creativity in terms of display and design.   My second MAJOR frustration with them is that it is painful to browse through the transactions.  Why?  Because when you reach the bottom of the page, it has an annoying “LOAD MORE TRANSACTIONS” and upon clicking – will only load 7 days worth of data, and then you have to hit the button again.    So, what if I want to quickly scroll through 4 months of data – PAINFUL!!!   Why not autoscroll like Money dashboard does or at least display 100 transactions at a time like Buxfer does.

The good think about MoneyHub is that you can easily split transactions, add attachments to them and categorise them better than in Money Dashboard (IMHO), but perhaps not as good as Buxfer.  

I wish all of these apps had a marker to say when you have reviewed a transaction and okayed it.   Perhaps all start with a red dot, which then becomes green when you reconcile or approve it.  In that way, you could focus on the ones you need to focus on.  Most of the apps just highlight the untagged transactions, which you would review.  But what about those that might be incorrectly tagged but difficult to find because there is no way of knowing which transactions you have reviewed and which you have not.  I’m hoping developers of these apps will read my review and start working on improvements.  

Yolt is a new comer to the scene.   A few years old but is making waves.   It’s free and I like that.  It’s by ING bank – a big Netherlands bank – thus reliable and hopefully secure.   But there is no desktop version which is a severe limitation for me.   And in terms of categorisation of transactions – it is not as good as the other apps and you are limited in terms of what you can change.

I wish all of these apps had a marker to say when you have reviewed a transaction and okayed it.   Perhaps all start with a red dot, which then becomes green when you reconcile or approve it.  In that way, you could focus on the ones you need to focus on.  Most of the apps just highlight the untagged transactions, which you would review.  But what about those that might be incorrectly tagged but difficult to find because there is no way of knowing which transactions you have reviewed and which you have not.  I’m hoping developers of these apps will read my review and start working on improvements.  

Emma comes in a free version which is okay for people who just want to keep a light touch on their finances and nothing heavy.   However, for those of us who want more detailed information, you will want Emma Pro.    Emma Pro costs about £60 a year.  It has a very attractive interface and helps gamify the money analysis experience.   That in itself can help make money management more fun.   However, I do not like the fact that it does not have a web-based PC version.   And it is relatively new.  Will it survive?  I don’t want to move platforms once I am settled in!

I wish all of these apps had a marker to say when you have reviewed a transaction and okayed it.   Perhaps all start with a red dot, which then becomes green when you reconcile or approve it.  In that way, you could focus on the ones you need to focus on.  Most of the apps just highlight the untagged transactions, which you would review.  But what about those that might be incorrectly tagged but difficult to find because there is no way of knowing which transactions you have reviewed and which you have not.  I’m hoping developers of these apps will read my review and start working on improvements.  

 

Emma Pro

Yolt

Money Hub

Money Dashboard

Buxfer

Security

Open Banking API (good)Open Banking API (good)Open Banking API (good)Open Banking API (good) Open Banking API + PSD2 + Other methods – depending on bank.    The other methods bit is a bit concerning!

Desktop & Phone based

No

No

Yes

YES

Yes

Auto-downloads data daily

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Auto-categorises

Yes

But you can only alter categories on Emma Pro version.    Also, transfers of monies between your accounts incorrectly recognised as income instead of a transfer!

Limited categorisation.

Difficult to subcategories. 

 

Yes

Good subcategorisation

Yes

Some very clever rules

Can split categories

  

Yes

Yes

Yes

Sends phone notifications + correct categorisation

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Can publish reports

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Set budgets

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Been around for a while + Likely to last

Relatively new, 2018

Relatively new, 2017

Relatively new, 2017

 

Yes, since 2010

Yes, 2008

Good Support team

4*

4*

4*

3.5*

3.5*
Not always responsive or helpful

Export data

Yes, with Pro version

Yes, 12m of data only

Yes to CSV file

 Yes to CSV

Yes, can make backups to Dropbox!

Inexpensive

About £60 a year

FREE

ONLY 99p/month

FREE

Pro = £45 a year

Prime = £90 a year (the best)

https://www.buxfer.com/pricing

Sells your data

No

No

No

Yes, but anonymously.  To me, not a big deal.

No

My Star rating

3*

3*

3*

3.5*

4*

 

Emma

Yolt

Money Hub

Money Dashboard

Buxfer

Money apps if you're in the United States

  • Buxfer is also good, but check whether they use Open Banking API.   Also, I found Buxfer’s web based application quite slow.  And the team were responsive whenever you needed help but didn’t actually action anything or give you the feeling that they appreciated one’s suggestions for improvement. 
  • I also love the old classic Money Dashboard, which is great for those of us in the UK (even though there is still large room for improvement – especially in terms of categorisation and splitting transactions)..   But it you are in the United States, use Mint.  It is very much like Money Dashboard and free.   It has both a mobile and desktop web-based programs.   It is very well established; been around for years.   Well developed and extremely flexible.  
  • Simplifi – is only available in the US.  Is a relative newby (2020).  Will it survive? 

Please leave a comment if you have a tip, spot an error, spot something missing or have a suggestion for a web resource. And of course, if you have developed a resource of your own, please email it to me to share with others.

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