Smartphones, now owned by more than 45 million Americans, are the Swiss Army knives of the 21st century. They serve as video cameras, stopwatches, navigation devices, flashlights—even TV remote controls.
Advances in mobile phones are also changing how the world manages money. You can pay bills, get up-to-the-minute stock prices and file expense reports without ever sitting in front of a computer.
“There’s been a real demand on financial institutions to get more active in the mobile space,” said Jeremy Sokolic, director of marketing for the mobile financial information firm CarryQuote. People can get so many things on their phones that help them in their day-to-day life, there’s an expectation that ‘Of course, my financial information should be on my phone.’”
With more than a half-million apps available for the iPhone, BlackBerry, Android and other platforms, the selection process can be daunting. The app store for your own phone is a good place to start, as these stores usually list the most popular free and paid apps by category, along with user reviews.
“When you see an app that has gotten hundreds of ratings, you can probably get at least an idea of what the popular consensus is on what’s good and what’s not good,” says Bryan Chaffin, editor of The Mac Observer.
To get you started, here are the most common types of finance apps, from stocks to financial news to managing your budget, along with popular free apps in each category. Unless mentioned otherwise, all are available on the three major platforms (iPhone, BlackBerry and Android):
Thanks to smartphones, you never have to write a check, look at a check register or worry about late payments again. Highly regarded Pageonce lets you input log-in info and passwords for all your online accounts so you can monitor your bank balances, credit-card transactions—even frequent-flyer miles and mobile minutes—at once instead of having to log in to individual accounts. The app also adds bill due dates to your calendar, reminding you to make timely payments and avoid late fees.
Mint.com Personal Finance (for iPhone and Android), is the free mobile version of the popular budgeting site Mint.com. It syncs with your online credit card, bank and investment accounts and allows you to create budgets for different spending categories. Then you can track your spending against the limits you’ve set and get alerts if you exceed them.
PayPal’s application lets you send money to anyone with an email address or phone number and transfer money between PayPal and your bank account. If you don’t already have a PayPal account, you can sign up from the phone. Out to dinner with friends? Use the Split Bill function to divide the cost of the meal so you know what portion you owe. And if you each have an iPhone or Android, you can “bump” your phones together to send or request money.
Rather than holding onto receipts and sorting them later, you can use your smartphone to track expenses on the road. Apps such as Expensify and ProOnGo Expense turn your phone’s camera into a receipt scanner, so you can easily create expense reports. ProOnGo generates reports from your phone that you can export to Excel for printing. The AndroidGuys blog called it “the most user-friendly expense-tracking application known to man.” While the app is free, the service requires a monthly fee of $1 to $5.
The growth of smartphones, combined with an increase in online financial trading, has prompted a slew of mobile apps from media and financial institutions to keep on top of the markets.
Of all the brokerage apps, E*TRADE Mobile Pro gets the best reviews. It offers the ability to track the markets and, if you’re an E*TRADE customer, trade stocks and access real-time quotes. TDAmeritrade’s app, iStockManager, also gives its customers the ability to see real-time quotes and place or cancel trades. And Wikinvest Portfolio allows you to import multiple brokerage accounts so you can track your whole portfolio in one application.
Blue Mobile are popular among investors for tracking the markets. Blue Mobile advertises real-time quotes and price alerts for financial markets around the world, causing one reviewer at BlackBerry’s App World to rave that it “gives you so much for free, it makes me feel like I’m stealing. The real-time quotes alone make this my favorite stock app.” Morningstar’s app gives real-time prices and quotes for the major U.S. exchanges. BlackBerry user Guy Penn, the founding principal of G. M. Penn Wealth Management in O’Fallon, Missouri, said he relies on the app for basic “on-the-go quotes” and analysis.
“When I’m away from the office and only have time to tap one source of data, I am comfortable relying on them,” Penn told WEALTH.
Financial advisers also like the CNBC app for pulling up stock quotes, company-specific news and breaking news alerts. “It’s what my clients use,” iPhone user Fred Hiatt, chief operating officer of Red Door Wealth Management in Memphis, told WEALTH. “It helps me stay apprised of all the information about which I may be asked for counsel or advice.”
If these don’t interest you, tons of sites offer app reviews. Check out AppCraver, CrackBerry and the Appolicious app directory for Android or for iPhone among others. And rest assured, new apps are being added and existing ones updated all the time.
Daphne Sashin is a freelance reporter and writer based in the Atlanta area who has extensive experience both in print and digital media.