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Updated June 6, 2024

Understanding your money and spending habits can make it simpler to make a budget to achieve your financial goals, whether you’d like to save for a vacation, invest more for retirement, or buy a house. Many budgeting apps can help you get a better handle on your money in order to save it. However, few provide the comprehensive insight of YNAB, which is an acronym for “you need a budget.” If you’re considering signing up for a YNAB account, here’s what to know about this app, who it’s best for, its benefits and features, and more. 

YNAB

YNAB Money Management Tool

YNAB Money Management Tool

Fees
$99 a year or $14.99 a month and free for the first 34 days
Features
Follows zero-based budgeting and is exceptionally specific in detailing where your money goes
Links to accounts
Yes

TIME’s take

YNAB is a hands-on budgeting app that requires you to proactively manage your money. At up to $14.99 per month, it’s more expensive than certain competitor apps, but it’s also unusual in that it forces you to allocate every dollar of your earnings. YNAB can provide comprehensive insight into your saving and spending habits, but you need to be committed to using it to maximize its effectiveness. 

Who is YNAB best for? 

YNAB is best for those seriously committed to creating and maintaining a budget. The app requires you to be hands on with allocating your money, so users must be willing to commit their time to reap its benefits. Those seeking a simple budgeting app that doesn’t require much up-front or ongoing effort should look elsewhere. 

Pros and cons

Pros:

  • Long free trial
  • Proactive budgeting tool
  • Easy spending tracking
  • Multiple users supported

Cons:

  • Relatively high cost
  • Significant time commitment
  • No bill payments
  • No easy way to track investments

Benefits

Long free trial

YNAB offers a long free trial period, providing you plenty of time to determine if it’s the right budgeting app for your situation. You can use the app for free for 34 days. 

Proactive budgeting tool

You create a budget with money you already have using YNAB, assigning every dollar for a specific purpose. This proactive budgeting system can help you stay on track with your spending and avoid unintentionally overspending in a particular category.  

Easy spend tracking

YNAB offers several basic and customized budgeting categories you can use to allocate your spending. It then lets you clearly see how much you’ve spent in a particular category and recategorize easily if you go over your spending limit for a certain category in a given month. 

Multiple users supported

YNAB lets you add up to six users to one account, which can be helpful if you’re interested in budgeting as a family or managing rent and utility payments with a roommate. 

What can be improved

Relatively high cost

YNAB comes with a fairly hefty price tag compared with other more basic budgeting apps. You pay up to $14.99 per month or $99 per year (which comes to $8.25 per month), depending on the billing structure you choose. 

Significant time commitment

While YNAB could help you save more if used well, you need to commit to setting up your budget and following it. This isn’t a set-it-and-forget-it app; it requires a fairly significant time commitment to ensure that you’re allocating your spending and sticking to your budget. 

No bill payments

You can add your monthly bill amounts to the app as part of your budget, but you can’t pay your bills directly through YNAB. This could be fairly inconvenient for someone who’s looking for an app with a dedicated bill-payment feature.

No easy way to track investments

Likewise, you can add the amount of regular investments to your budget in YNAB, but there’s no easy way to track investment performance. The app doesn’t sync with investment accounts, but it does let you manually enter your balances if you choose. Alas, the process isn’t particularly intuitive. 

How does YNAB compare

FeatureYNABEmpowerRocket MoneyMonarch
Accounts offered
Money management account
401(k), IRAs, Money management account
Basic & premium money management account
Money management account
Cost
$14.99 per month (when billed monthly); $8.25 per month (when billed annually)
No account fees, but other fees may apply
None for basic account; $4 to $12 for premium account
$14.99 per month (when billed monthly); $8.33 per month (when billed annually)
Customer service
Chat and email
Phone
Chat and email
Email
Platforms available
iOS, Android, and online dashboard
iOS, Android, and online dashboard
iOS, Android, and online dashboard
iOS, Android, and online dashboard

YNAB: In-depth review

The YNAB system follows four basic rules: 

  1. Give every dollar a job. You assign each dollar you earn to a specific spending category for the next month. 
  2. Embrace your true expenses. Plan for unexpected costs by saving a little extra money each month. 
  3. Roll with the punches. If you overspend in a particular category during a given month, simply reallocate funds from another category rather than feeling guilty about it. 
  4. Age your money. Be mindful about your spending, spend less than you earn consistently, and increase the time between earning and spending money. 

Besides the four rules, here’s an in-depth look at what the app has to offer.  

Usability

YNAB is available on several different platforms, and your information updates automatically across all platforms when you make changes in your account. You can access your YNAB account through the following devices:

  • iPhone.
  • Android.
  • iPad.
  • Apple Watch.
  • Alexa.
  • Desktop and laptop.  

Budgeting tool options

You can set up budgeting categories in YNAB, and the categories are fully customizable to align with your specific financial situation. Once you’ve set up some budgeting categories, YNAB lets you either automatically link bank and credit card accounts or manually add cash expenses, regular monthly bills, and more. It’ll pull information about your spending in those categories from your accounts, making it simple to track where your money is going each month.  

Costs

YNAB isn’t free, but it may help you save more money if used wisely. Thus, the app may be worth the cost for many users. Unlike some competitors that have tiered account options, there’s only one account type in YNAB. You pay $14.99 per month (when billed monthly) or $8.25 per month (when billed annually, for a total of $99.00).

Education

YNAB offers a wealth of educational content on its website, including a blog, free workshops, and guides to YNAB and money management. There’s also a comprehensive help center available on the website and through the app, so you can get guidance if you get stuck. 

Customer service

If you can’t find an answer to your question in its help center, you can connect with YNAB’s customer service team via chat or email. Its chat feature is available through the YNAB app.   

Social features

You can add up to six users to your YNAB account, which is helpful for family and household budgeting. YNAB also offers a referral program, which lets you get a month free each time a friend signs up using your referral link. You can also gift a subscription. 

Security and reliability 

YNAB has multiple security features to help keep your account information safe. It employs two-factor authentication and encryption technology and relies on highly secure, accredited data centers to protect user data.

Company reputation

YNAB is rated highly across several platforms. It receives 4.6 stars out of five on Trustpilot, with users indicating the app is “life-changing” and “invaluable.” Google Play reviews share similar sentiments, rating the app 4.6 and 4.8 stars, respectively.

Other services offered

Besides tracking your spending, YNAB lets you set money goals and track your progress toward them. You can also use it to split transactions, visualize different loan-repayment scenarios, and more. 

How does YNAB make money?

YNAB is a subscription-based service that makes money when a new user signs up for a subscription. Its month-to-month subscription costs $14.99, while an annual subscription costs $99.00. Opting for an annual subscription saves you around $80 per year.   

Bottom line

If you’re looking for a hands-on budgeting app to help you wrangle your money and work toward your financial goals, YNAB is a good option. The app is primarily focused on the budgeting portion of money management, so you won’t get features such as investment tracking or direct bill pay. Despite this, many of the app’s dedicated users report significant savings, some calling it “life-changing” and “invaluable.” Those on the fence about YNAB can try it for free for 34 days. 

YNAB

YNAB Money Management Tool

YNAB Money Management Tool

Fees
$99 a year or $14.99 a month and free for the first 34 days
Features
Follows zero-based budgeting and is exceptionally specific in detailing where your money goes
Links to accounts
Yes

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

Is it worth paying for YNAB?

YNAB may be worth what you pay for it depending on your situation. As the app requires some up-front and ongoing work on your part, it likely only makes sense if you’re able to commit to using it. This app isn’t a fit for those seeking a more hands-off budgeting tool.

Can YNAB be trusted?

YNAB employs several security measures to help keep its users’ data safe, including encryption technology and two-factor authentication. It also receives very high ratings overall from its user base, indicating that it’s generally trustworthy. 

Is there a free alternative to YNAB?

Several free budgeting apps are available, though they function slightly differently than YNAB. Some no-cost options include GoodBudget, EveryDollar, SoFi Insights, and Money Manager Expense and Budget. Another option that isn’t free but is less expensive than YNAB is Quicken by Simplifi.

The information presented here is created independently from the TIME editorial staff. To learn more, see our About page.

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