Let’s face it. Americans have a savings problem. Four in 10 adults would either borrow, sell something or not be able pay if faced with a $400 emergency expense, according to a 2017 Federal Reserve survey. That suggests they have built no emergency funds, let alone the three to six months of expenses financial experts have traditionally advised.
But what if there were a way to automate the saving process—preferably in a way that isn’t too onerous, or you don’t even notice? The solution many fintech companies have settled on is to automate savings through “round-ups.” For example, you buy a $2.75 coffee with your debit or credit card and that purchase is rounded up to the nearest whole number, with the extra 25 cents diverted to savings.
Here are five of the most promising apps that take this approach to automated savings.
Widely recognized as the original round-up app, Acorns launched in 2014 with a mission to invest your spare change. The mobile app rounds up each debit or credit card purchase to the nearest dollar, investing extra pennies in a diversified portfolio of low-cost index ETFs.
With five million users, Acorn has expanded beyond micro-investing and now has five products. For $3 a month, users can also get access to a FDIC-protected checking account and debit card, allowing for real-time round-ups, no minimum balance or overdraft fees, and unlimited free or fee-reimbursed ATM withdrawals.
You’ll also get access to Acorns Later, the startup’s IRA option, allowing users to begin investing with $5 in a Roth IRA, Traditional IRA or SEP IRA (Acorns selects the right IRA for you based on your financial profile).
Acorns “Found Money” program allows more than 200 partner brands to kick in a percentage of purchases to a buyer’s Acorns accounts. For example, if you shop at Macy’s, you’ll get 5% back. But from Apple, and 1.2% of the purchase price will go into your savings accounts.
The fintech’s last product line is “Grow,” a financial literacy platform aimed at educating its users on budgeting, debt and saving, among other topics.
If $3 a month is too expensive – or if having to pay money for a checking account makes your cringe – Acorns offers cheaper options. For $1 a month, you can get the core Acorns round-up app, along with the Found Money program and Grow magazine. For $2 a month, you get those options plus the IRA with Acorns Later.
Mobile-first bank Chime has been gaining some serious traction this year, offering a Visa debit card, spending account and optional savings account.
Chime offers two automatic savings programs: save when you spend and save when you get paid. Save when you spend automatically rounds up transactions made on your Chime card to the nearest dollar, and then transfers the round up from your spending account into your savings account. Unfortunately, the interest rate for this savings account is a pathetically low: 0.01%.
The app’s second automated savings program, save when you get paid, allows users to automatically transfer up to 10% of every paycheck directly into their savings account. Through these programs, Chime says it helped save members nearly $400 million in 2018 alone.
Chime also offers a “Get Paid Early” feature, which allows members to receive paychecks up to two days early with no fee. It recently launched SpotMe – a feature where users who use direct deposit can draw their balance negative without a fee. In other words, Chime will spot them some money until their next paycheck arrives. Users have the option to leave a completely optional tip of $1, $2 or $3.
With no overdraft, service or foreign transaction fees, Chime makes money from “interchange” fees paid to Chime by Visa.
This mobile-first bank blends behavioral psychology with technology, allowing users to save and invest more with customizable triggers.
Upon signing up for Qapital, you’ll choose goals you want to save toward (e.g. a Hawaii vacation or a new car) then apply rules that will send money automatically toward your goals. These are funded by your own outside checking account, which the app connects to. Rules can range from the traditional round-up rule to saving a certain amount every time you run a mile.
You can also opt to receive a Qapital Visa debit card and an FDIC insured checking account that earns you 0.1% interest. Whenever you make a purchase with your Qapital card, it can round up and save the change toward one of your savings goals. There are no monthly or overdraft fees associated with your card, but you may see ATM fees.
When you’re ready to take the money out of your Qapital goals account, you can either cash it out through the app by sending the money back to your checking account, or you can spend it using the Qapital debit card.
New this year is Qapital Invest, which helps users select stock and bond funds based on the level of risk they choose, starting at a $10 minimum.
While not a “round-up” app in the traditional sense, Digit uses automation and AI to analyze your spending and income patterns. When it thinks you can afford it, the app moves money from your outside checking account to your Digit account.
You can create your own spending goals, such as student loans or concert tickets, and Digit will do the budgeting for you. If you save for three consecutive months, your FDIC-insured Digit account will be rewarded with a 1% savings bonus.
Digit says it’s average customer is able to save about $2,500 a year, and it has helped customers save more than $1 billion in total. The company has a no-overdraft guarantee, and says in the very unlikely event your account is overdrawn by Digit auto-saving, it will reimburse you up to two times.
The app recently launched a feature called Digit Pay, which lets you make automatic payments to any major credit card company with money held in Digit.
One word of caution. Digit now charges a monthly fee of $2.99 for its services, with a 30-day free trial for new users. If you are low on funds, it may be best to go with one of the other apps.
One of the newest players on the scene, Qoins aims to get its users out of debt faster through round-ups.
The app requires users to link accounts they make purchases with (i.e. checking or credit card accounts). Each time you make a purchase, Qoins will round up to the next whole dollar and put the extra amount in your Qoins account. This is funded by your linked checking account.
Once a month, Qoins sends out debt payments on your behalf using the extra round up money you accumulate in your Qoins account. You can add multiple debt accounts to your Qoins profile, although the company primarily focuses on credit card and student loan debt.
Like Digit, Qoins also charges a fee: $1.99 for each monthly payment sent out. However, you can pause the automatic withdrawals whenever you want, and during this period, you won’t be charged.