Best apps to keep you from busting your budget

HOUSTON (KTRK) -- Who loves to budget? No one, right? It's time consuming, a headache, and a chose that many people struggle to handle.

Now there are many personal finance apps out there that can make paying bills and balancing accounts as easy as texting your friends.

Ashley Bona found herself in a boatload of financial trouble when she graduated from college with $70,000 in student loans and no clue how to manage them.

"My college loans were a little bit out of control when I graduated, and I didn't have a realistic grasp on them," Bona said.

But she found a high-tech way to fix that. She uses a couple of different mobile apps that break her spending down into categories and alert her to overspending. She says her go-to personal finance app is Mint.com, and she pays her bills through Chase bank's checking account mobile app.

"I set a budget whether it be monthly or weekly of how much I want to spend on each category. It will send me weekly alerts if I'm going over, if I have room to spare in my budget, and it helps me keep track of where my money's going," Bona said.

Personal financial management apps like the ones Bona uses pull data daily from your banks, credit cards, or even 401Ks. Some apps feature a snapshot of your financial standing with graphs and charts highlighting what bills need to be paid, where you spent that last $50, and how that savings plan is coming along.

"It takes a lot of the headache out for consumers and gives you that good picture of what your money looks like without the tedious effort associated with balancing your checkbook and comparing all of your statements from all of your different online applications," said Julie Conroy, research director for Aite Group Financial Services.

Some apps can help you avoid overdraft and late fees. Others may alert you of opportunities to pay down a balance quicker.

"There are a lot of different things that you can get out of this. The question is what is it that you want? What are your greatest needs and then just go out there and find the app for it," said Mark Schwanhausser, director at Javelin Strategy and Research.

No matter what app you choose, checking your accounts regularly will not only keep you updated on your cash flow, but alert you to any fraudulent behavior that you can immediately report to your financial institution.

"The safety that's involved with mobile banking and digital monitoring is far superior to waiting for the statement to come in the mailbox and looking at it 30 days down the line," Schwanhausser said.

As with any time you download an app and share personal data like financial information and passwords, you must be careful and wary of the bad guys.

One tip that financial experts say is to download the apps directly from the financial management website rather than the app store. Sometimes the bad guys post fake ones that closely resemble the real ones.

"All personal management applications were not created equal, so you do kind of have to know who you are trusting your personal data with," Conroy said.

As for Bona, she did her research with the apps she uses and is happy with the results. She says she only has one regret.

"I wish I would have discovered these apps when I was in college and running around spending all my money," Bona said.

Some of the recommended personal finance apps:

Mint.com
The most popular budgeting app out there and the one Bona uses.

PersonalCapital.com
This app pulls all your investment and financial accounts into one place where you can manage your cash flow, loans, and wealth.

Simplee.com
This is used primarily to help you manage your medical bills.

BillGuard.com
This will sift through all of your credit card transactions for anomalies, say a magazine subscription that you've never ordered. It will then search the crowd to see if there have been other complaints that might suggest the purchase was fraudulent.

Check.me
This app pays the bills for you and stays on top of them so that you never miss a bill or get hit with overdraft and late fees.

LearnVest.com
This is an offshoot from the popular site that started as a financial tool for women. Like Mint, the data is imported to the app and works the same in terms of budgeting and monitoring your spending. It also offers a bevy of information to help educate you on personal finance.

Betterhaves.com
This app helps couples manage their money through the envelope budget. Unlike other budgeting tools, this one will track shared and individual expenses, helps you put money aside for savings, and will even alert you if a money fight is in the offing.

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