You've got the diploma. You've moved over your tassel. Now the real work begins. When you’re paying off student loans, saving and investing may seem like the last things you can afford to do. But it’s never too early to start squirreling away some money for the future, even if it’s only a few bucks at a time. Financial apps can help, as long as you’re not nervous about giving companies access to your financial data. If you’re on board with that, these apps can help make spending and investing a little less daunting.
This investing app takes the concept of “seed money” and runs with it. The app is designed to let you drop in $5 to invest. It also lets you round up purchases you make to the next dollar and invest the difference. The app is simple to set up and makes it easy to start putting money into your account automatically. It's also easy to stop, if you have a bad month and can't afford to invest at the time. The app has clear charts and explanations of what money it's taking and when it's investing, so there are no surprises. It determines your portfolio based on how risky you want to be. Acorns works best when you feed your account on a regular basis, even if it's just a little at a time. This isn't a get-rich-quick strategy; it's about slowly growing your money over time. Eventually, the idea is that you'll end up with a mighty oak of an investment portfolio.
Robinhood’s goal is to make you rich without making brokerage firms richer, by letting you trade without commissions and fees. The real benefit of Robinhood is that it’s fast — much faster than traditional brokerage firms and built with a real-time pace at its core. Users can pick the stocks they want and track their performance on the market. It's also pretty easy to cash out, if you're done playing the market or want to reinvest in another stock. Robinhood is not as strong on educational tools as other apps, but if you already have a handle on how the markets work, it is an elegant and efficient tool for trading. There is a premium membership available for $10 a month, for those who want access to after-hours trading and a couple of other perks.
Stash Invest is also designed to let you deposit just a little money at once so you can invest consistently over time. Stash also provides a lot of educational information to help you pick investment options that work best for you. It offers ready-made portfolios that give you thematic choices for investing — “Clean and Green,” for example, or “Defending America” — and that list companies in a particularly industry or that support certain causes, such as LGBT rights. Choosing among these portfolios can be a little more work upfront than other apps that put your money in a general, diversified fund. But it also gives you a strong basis for moving on to more advanced investing by educating you on the culture of investing.
With options to help you keep track of bills, streamline debt and set up automatic ways to save, Clarity Money is an (almost) all-in-one financial app. It assesses your finances and suggests subscriptions you can cut or bills you can negotiate. It partners with other companies for some of these services — BillShark, for example, helps with bill negotiations — which can come with (clearly disclosed) fees. The app also cleverly takes into account when your next paycheck is coming so you can better plan what your immediate financial moves should be rather than focusing only on the long haul.
Digit is laser-focused on getting you to put something away for a rainy day. This app evaluates what's going in and out of your bank account and socks away money depending on your situation. Digit communicates with you by text message, giving you daily updates about the money it's pulled into savings. You can make a withdrawal at any time, if you want to spend some cash, or if you think that Digit has been overambitious with your savings abilities. But mostly, you can set it and forget it. You won't make more money, because you're not investing or gaining interest. But if saving is all you need, this is a completely manageable way to do it.