If you only have one hour a month to improve your finances, how do you spend that hour? In my opinion, the best use of that hour is to organize your finances. Figure out your income and your expenses, and make a plan for how to use your money.Deciding how to organize your finances can be a major challenge, especially for people who aren’t CPAs or financial nerds. Struggling to get a picture of your financial life?The Emma app could be a great place for you to start. Here’s what you need to know about the app. See how Emma compares to the other top budgeting and finance apps out there.
Emma markets itself as your best financial friend. I’m not sure about whether the app delivers on the friendship front. Instead, think of it as a budgeting, spending, and net worth tracking app that provides awesome visuals.Unlike many financial apps, Emma uses machine learning to make your financial dashboards more accurate, and therefore more meaningful.
Emma shines in two areas. First, the developers have done a great job implementing a learning algorithm to track transactions. When I first logged into Emma, my rent payments were categorized as “General” (because I make the payments via Venmo). As soon as I recategorized the most recent payment as “Rent,” Emma immediately identified all other Venmo payments of the same amount and prompted me to recategorize them all. Amazing!Because Emma’s learning algorithm is so developed, my financial transactions for the last year were quickly categorized (about 20 minutes in all). That made the “Analysis” section much more valuable. How much money have I spent at Target in the last year? Emma tells me the exact amount. Whether I wanted to slice my spending by category (how much money am I spending on groceries or child care) or by merchant, I had the information at my fingertips.I loved the visuals that show how my checking account balance has changed over the past year, six months, and three months. These visuals are much better than the horrible pie charts the dominate most financial apps.
Hands down, the best features in Emma are its visualizations. The “Analytics” portal slices and dices your financial life in several ways so you can see how you’re spending and saving. It will show you when you’re approaching the end of your budget, and when your credit card balance is running up to (and exceeding) your checking account balance.Anyone who uses more than one account (for example, a checking account and a credit card account) for their financial life can benefit tremendously from the insights provided by Emma.I’ve also waxed poetic about the app’s machine learning capabilities, but I want to reiterate the value this provides. Most apps cannot figure out recurring transactions. Users have to manually touch every single transaction to correctly categorize spending. That’s not an issue when you’re reviewing your spending for the last week. However, when you’re trying to categorize spending over the last year, a smart app like Emma makes a ton of sense.
Emma is really a budgeting app and a spending tracker. The interface is clean and easy to use, but the app isn’t perfect.The one feature that seems to be missing is a credit score tracker. Most financial apps have the credit score as a central feature, but Emma ignores it altogether. In some ways, I appreciate this. I think a focus on credit scores can distract you from more important financial goals (paying off debt, saving money, and building wealth through investments). That said, I hope that the Emma app will deliver a credit scoring feature in its new releases.Another feature that I didn’t love was the app’s budgeting feature. The app looks at your last three months of spending to help you set a budget. This would be awesome, but I sold a house a few months ago. That means that my initial budget was set at $60,000 per month with most of the money going towards investments. Manually adjusting to a more reasonable number took a long time. For some reason, even after asking Emma to ignore the large investment transaction, my preset budget didn’t change.I also noticed that the recommended budgets are based off of spending rather than income. In fact, for all of Emma’s strong visuals and analytics, the income analytics was the worst. I had trouble identifying income trends (such as source of income, etc.). Since I’m a huge advocate of developing multiple streams of income, this was a drawback for me. Of course, no other app offers this feature either, so I guess I shouldn’t be too picky.Last of all, Capital One accounts don’t seem to stay connected to Emma. I think that’s a Capital One problem and not an Emma problem. I frequently struggle to keep my Capital One accounts connected to any financial application.
Emma’s core features are free, including every feature mentioned above. The app also offers a premium version which costs $5.99 per month, $29.99 for six months, or $49.99 per year.The upgraded version allows you to create custom categories, upgrade expenses (useful for when you need to do the books for your business accounting), split transactions, and customize your transaction names. I don’t recommend the upgrade unless you’ve spent some time using the free version first. People who love the free version may decide that the cost of $50 per year is worthwhile.
I’m impressed by Emma. Most of the time, I have to spend an hour or more to get a financial app to give me meaningful insights. With Emma, I had an entire year’s worth of transactions categorized within 20 minutes. That’s amazing! Getting your financial life organized is critical to making financial traction, and Emma delivers on that front.But is this the right app for you? I think the answer depends on what you want from an app. If you want a great visual representation of your financial life, Emma is an excellent app. If you want a budgeting app, Emma is decent (though others like Clarity Money and Mint work well too). If you want a tool to track your net worth, Emma works, but others are better (Personal Capital and Clarity Money are front runners in that space). Need a credit score tracker? Emma isn’t for you (try Credit Karma or Credit Sesame instead). If you want heavy customization, Tiller might be a better option.At the end of the day, the best financial system is the one that you’ll use. If you don’t have a system for tracking your expenses, Emma is a great choice. It will help you move away from financial chaos and towards financial peace of mind.