YNAB Review 2022

Online Service With Bank Syncing

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YNAB YNAB — which stands for “You Need a Budget” — has grown to become one of the most popular budgeting software packages available. If you're looking for an effective budgeting system, then YNAB may be the app you've been looking for.
Cost - 8
Customer Service - 8.5
Ease of Use - 9
Tools & Resources - 8.5
Synchronization - 9
Accessibility - 9

8.5

YNAB (otherwise known as You Need A Budget) is a popular budgeting app. The latest version is now an online service and can sync with your bank accounts. However, it lacks all of the bells and whistles that Personal Capital and Mint have.

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What Is YNAB?

YNAB was started by a CPA named Jesse Mecham to help him and his wife, Julie, deal with real-life financial struggles. They created their own budget app, one that worked for them. In fact, it worked so well — better than other popular budget apps — they rolled it out to the general public.

The app offers not just the mechanics of monitoring income and expenses, but also provides instructional support to help you deal with the root causes of financial distress. It's an example of an app that does one thing and does it extremely well.

YNAB Features

PriceMin: $11.99, Max: $11.99, Term: month
Budgeting
Bill Payment
Investment Tracking
AccessWeb Based, iOS, Android
Credit Score Monitoring
Bill Management
Retirement Planning
Tax Reporting
Reconcile Transactions
Custom Categories
Import QFX, QIF Files
Two-Factor Authentication
Online Synchronization

YNAB Blog — The blog has dozens of articles on related topics and it's updated regularly. This can be important since going on a budget involves changing not only habits and behaviors, but also ways of thinking. You'll need plenty of fresh motivation along the way. The blog delivers that.

YNAB Forum — Everybody needs the help and support that only comes from regular interaction with others in similar circumstances. You'll find that on the YNAB Forum. Topics include the various mechanics of using the YNAB platform, as well as specific budgeting strategies. This is where budgeting becomes a group participation activity.

YNAB Mobile App — YNAB has a mobile app feature available through the App Store or Google Play. You can use the same login credentials for the mobile app that you do for the desktop version.

Site Security — This is an important issue for anyone using a budget app since your entire financial life could be exposed. To start, YNAB staff don't access customer data unless requested by the customer or required by law. Passwords are one-way salted and hashed, using multiple iterations of a key derivative function for passwords, making it nearly impossible for a hacker to determine the exact sequence. Data is encrypted, so it can't be read even if the hard drives were stolen. And when you terminate your account, your data is wiped clean from the database. The infrastructure is built on Heoku, which is the same technology used by the CIA. There's a lot more on the security front, but you get the picture — YNAB is serious when it comes to site security.

YNAB Screenshots

    How Does YNAB Work?

    YNAB allows you to automate your budget and is now web-based. The newest version allows you to take live online courses to learn how it works. They also offer several “Extra Helpful Help Guides” that include both written and video instruction and cover the following topics:

    • User Handbook — This is the general intro to YNAB, how it works and what it does.
    • Transition Guide — If you currently have YNAB 4, this will show you how to make the changeover to the new version.
    • Learn to Prioritize — This guide is the first of the strategy guides, and it focuses on exactly what the title implies.
    • Think Long, Act Now — This guide shows you how to “focus your big goals on today's small decisions.” Basically, it's how to reach long-term goals with actionable small steps each day. If you’ve been struggling to achieve long-term financial goals, then this guide is mission-critical.
    • Deal With Your Debt — Debt is one of the major forces that drive people to use budget software, and YNAB does an outstanding job of explaining the rationalizations that land people in debt, as well as providing strategies to put debt in your past.
    • Join Forces — The importance of putting accountability behind your financial strategies. You team up with a budget partner and hold each other accountable for reaching your own goals.
    • Simplify — This guide is all about streamlining your financial life so you'll have more control over it. In today's world with so many too-good-to-pass-up credit deals, this is an underrated area.
    • Age Your Money and Extend — This is the guide that helps you to create extra room in your financial life by saving and preparing for contingency expenses. The idea is to put you permanently in control of your money.

    YNAB’s overall strategy is built on three basic rules designed to help you live within your means, get out of debt, save money and stop living paycheck to paycheck.

    Rule #1: Give Every Dollar a Job — This rule holds that each dollar in your budget should be allocated to a certain purpose. The idea is to remove unrestricted spending and to impose discipline, order and purpose in your spending.

    Rule #2: Embrace Your True Expenses — The overriding philosophy is to smooth out your budget by taking large, less frequent expenses and allocating funds to pay them on a monthly basis. This can include budgeting money for insurance premiums, vacations, major holidays and birthday expenses. The idea is that if you continually budget for these expenses, you'll have greater control of your cash flow and not find yourself broke in certain high-expense months. Predictability, which is another of the basic YNAB philosophies, is a real stress buster.

    Rule #3: Roll With the Punches — This rule makes it clear events will crop up in life that will take you off your financial game. You will overspend in certain categories in certain months. But it also shows you how to just roll with it when that happens. You make changes and adjustments as necessary, moving money from one category to another, then keep going forward. You anticipate disruptions but never let them get you off track on a long-term basis.

    What's New Compared with YNAB 4

    YNAB's last version was YNAB 4, which was a simple desktop-based application. With the new edition, YNAB has been rebuilt from the ground up. It's now an online application that can sync with your desktop application. You no longer need to manually enter your transactions, and it makes the service more on par with Mint and Personal Capital.

    Some of the “Rules” have changed. Gone is “Save for a Rainy Day” as Rule #2. It's been replaced by “Embrace Your True Expenses” as described above. The thought was to go broader than just saving for certain expenses and to focus instead on going beyond your regular monthly expenses.

    Rule #4 used to be “Live on Last Month's Income,” a rule designed to keep you at least one month ahead in the budget process. Officially, there's no longer a Rule #4, but its focus is now included in “Age Your Money and Extend,” which goes beyond getting ahead of the budget process, to investing your money. The basic concept is to expand the time between receiving income and spending money, to enable you to get ahead of your expenses.

    Some other features in the New YNAB include:

    • Seamless Sync — You no longer need to access Dropbox to use YNAB; it is now entirely web-based. Changes made to your account on one device will automatically carry over to other devices.
    • Direct Import — You can now import transactions from your bank into YNAB; you no longer need to first go to your bank's website to start the process.
    • Goals — YNAB will now make budgeting recommendations to help you reach your goals, whatever the goal is.
    • Category Inspectors — This involves a wider number of color codes to help you see when a category is underfunded (yellow) or when overspending has occurred (red). It will help you quickly visualize potential trouble spots in your budget.
    • The Inspector — This feature allows you to see summary information about your budget, as well as provides quick options. It will let you know, for example, if you've budgeted enough money for an upcoming expense or not.
    • Loan Calculator — Use YNAB's loan planner tool to calculate interest and time savings for each dollar you put towards becoming debt fre.
    • Spending & Net Worth Reports: Get a visually appealing breakdown of your net worth and also your different spending categories.
    • Multiple Budgets: Budgets can automatically categorize expenses with YNAB, but you can also create multiple budgets and split transactions for accurate tracking and record keeping.

    How Much is a YNAB Subscription?

    YNAB has revamped its pricing structure, and it now charges $14.99 per month with the monthly plan and $98.99 for the annual plan. According to its website, YNAB users save $600 within their first two months and more than $6,000 in their first year on average.

    Paying $14.99 per month isn't much to pay for a well-regarded budgeting program. You'll almost certainly save more than that several times over just as a result of the greater discipline the budget will impose on your finances.

    We can also assume the service will be more cutting edge when there's an ongoing fee hanging in the balance. That's why paying a small fee for a service is often better than getting it for free.

    They do offer a 34-day free trial exclusive to Investor Junkie to help you decide if you like the service. They won't collect your credit card information during the free trial because, in their words, “It's lame when companies do that.”

    YNAB Alternatives

    YNAB is a comprehensive budgeting app that's perfect for getting on track with your monthly spending and tackling debt. However, there are several YNAB competitors that might be better fits depending on your financial situation and goals.

    HighlightsPersonal CapitalYNABPocketSmith
    Rating9.5/108.5/107/10
    Budgeting
    Investment Monitoring
    Retirement Planning
    Bill Payment
    Manual Entries
    Bill Management
    Personal Capital is one of our favorite alternatives since it offers numerous free budgeting tools as well as an investment fee analyzer tool. And customers with $100,000 or more to invest can use its Wealth Management service and create an investment portfolio that matches their goals. Plus, Personal Capital also has numerous retirement planning tools.

    As for PocketSmith, it offers useful forecasting tools that help you visualize how your spending habits impact your net worth. It also has a host of budgeting tools and calculators like YNAB. It also has a free plan that lets you test the waters with two accounts and manual transaction importing.

    Pros & Cons

    pros

    • 34-day free trial
    • Available on multiple platforms and has a mobile app
    • Automatically sync your transactions
    • Create multiple budgets
    • Helps you tackle debt
    • Track multiple financial goals at once

    cons

    • There isn't a free YNAB plan
    • The app requires a bit of learning to use all its features

    Summary

    If you're in debt, have little in savings and are not investing for the future, there's a better-than-even chance the fundamental problem is the lack of a budget. If you're going to implement one, it's best to go with an automated system that will make the effort as easy as possible. YNAB is a popular and well-respected budgeting app, and $6.99 per month is a seriously small price to pay for a tool that could literally be life-changing.

    The 34-day trial makes it hard to pass up. That will give you enough time to set up the app, become comfortable with it and see the results of at least a month of budgeting. There is no obligation (no credit card is required), and your data will be wiped clean once you end your participation.

    Many apps offer budgeting as an add-on feature, which has to make you wonder exactly how effective it is. But budgeting is all YNAB does, which is the reason for the multiple revisions of the app. They're constantly working to make it more comprehensive and user-friendly.

    Kevin Mercadante

    Kevin Mercadante is professional personal finance blogger, and the owner of his own personal finance blog, OutOfYourRut.com. He has backgrounds in both accounting and the mortgage industry. He lives in Atlanta with his wife and two teenage kids.

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    9 Comments

    1. The budgeting feature works fine, but YNAB”s direct import simply doesn’t work. It has never worked in the four years I have had the app. Their support team has no idea how to fix the direct import problems and most often they tend to make matters worse. Most of the transactions either import with the wrong payees or the incorrect amounts (outflow rather than inflow, for example). Their answer when you repeatedly ask them for support help is to cancel your account. So unless you like manually entering transactions or trying the file upload thing, which they also can’t tell you how to do, then you’re screwed.

    2. I like Seth’s suggestion to export transactions from my bank account and then import them into YNAB “as a QFX”. It resolves my concern about handing over my bank account’s UserName and Password to YNAB and possibly some third party that provides services to YNAB.
      My bank provides 7 export file formats: Spreadsheet CSV, Spreadsheet FLC, Spreadsheet TSV, Microsoft Money® Active Statement, Microsoft Money® OFX, Quicken® Webconnect®, and Quicken® QIF. Will any of those formats work with YNAB?

      1. Bill, yes they will.
        Personally I use a combination of CSV file import (very easy to do – just be sure you use their required field structure) and manual entry. Works well!
        Good luck with it!

    3. This program seems like exactly what I need. However, I have been told that if anyone had ever stolen my banking information, because I gave my password to YNAB, the banks would not cover any money I lose if someone goes nuts on my credit cards. Even though the person might have gotten my banking information some other way, because I gave my password to YNAB or any other program, I would not be covered. This makes me very nervous!

    4. Hey I thought I would chime in. Full disclosure, I am a HUGE fan of YNAB. I talk it up to everyone who will listen. That said, this article is really fair. For me the key point is that YNAB is not merely personal financial management software, it is BUDGETING software. It, far and away, does budgeting better than anything out there. If you struggle with managing your money and/or have limited incomes, when used consistently, YNAB can change the financial trajectory of your life.

      As is implied from that last statement, if you already do a pretty good job of managing your spendingthen you probably don’t need YNAB. But if you do struggle, then you should at least try it out. It is free for 30+ days and while in your trial period you have full access to any of there online, live, instructor-led training on how to use the software and support.

      I thought I would respond to some of the objections below.

      First, yes, it is not free software. But I tell people who struggle with managing their spending, that you get it back the first month you successfully live on a budget. I don’t expect that a software product that is so well made and that has such excellent (and winsome) support should be free.

      Second, the account integration is spotty. Yes, it has been spotty for me, too. For some people that might be a show-stopper. I have given up trying to automatically integrate it with my USAA bank account. However, there is a type of integration that works flawlessly, 100% of the time. And that is exporting your accounts from your bank as a QFX an then dragging and dropping the file into your account ledger. It WORKS-EVERY-TIME and takes me about 45 seconds AND has the added benefit of letting me peruse the PENDING transactions and incorporate them into my budget. YNAB leaves out the previously imported transactions so you can import overlapping date ranges. This has been more than adequate for me. I personally think that as more and more banks lock down their security there will be more and more integration issues for all providers ESPECIALLY if you enable 2-factor authentication and, guess what, you SHOULD enable 2-Factor authentication for your banking sites.

      For the last “complaint” of not liking the way it does budgeting, I just have to agree to disagree. It is true, that you only budget money when you receive income. As opposed to other “budgeting” tools whereby you set some goals and review after the fact and hope for the best. That method works well for people that are already managing their spending well, but it a complete fail and essentially useless for people that struggle with managing their spending. YNAB give you a SYSTEM and a great tool, to hone in on where you are struggling and, with the right focus, give you a means to turn things around.

      However, it is NOT true that YNAB makes it hard to set goals or “save for future things”. On that, YNAB is absolutely brilliant. If that is confusing to you then you need to looks into the GOALS feature of YNAB. You set a goal (there are 3 types of goals) for a budget category and the status bullet for that budget category will be AMBER until you apply money (sufficient to meet the goal…calculated by YNAB) at which point the status bullet turns GREEN. So, I tell people, set goals and then your objective, each month, is to get your status bullets to green.

      By the way, the exact same philosophy applies to “recurring transactions”. YNAB “won’t leave you alone” (thos pesky amber bullets) until you have budgeted for upcoming bills.

      YNAB is not perfect and it is not for everyone. But, if you are in the large class of people who struggles to manage spending, there is no better tool on the market to help with that than YNAB.

    5. I used YNAB for a few months and liked it. However after a few months, the direct import of my Amex accounts stopped working completely. I use my AMEX for virtually everything, and direct import features were maybe the single most important feature to me so this really disrupted my budgeting. I mailed YNAB over the next five months and it would work on and off. Now every time I email them they blame the issue on a third party and basically tell me to deal with it. In sum, if you use an Amex and direct import is important to you, do not spend the money on YNAB.

    6. YNAB DOES have email support. Thorough, responsive and complete. Just click the question mark, send your question if the answer isn’t available, and they will send an auto-reply acknowledging your question followed by a real-person answer to your question that day. They stick with you and dig in to my specific issue if/when necessary.

    7. I was never a fan of the way YNAB handled budgeting but I’m giving it another go now. I use an older version that I bought on Steam; I hate monthly fees for things. $6.99 a month seems cheap but after a year you’ve paid almost $84 for something I got for $10 (albeit an older version but it still does the same thing just might not have as many flashy new buttons). It’s funny to me that people who are interested in creating a budget don’t take something like that into account but there’s no accounting for taste. YNAB budgets basically the opposite other programs do it. You allocate the money that you HAVE, you don’t project for what you’re making in the future. To me, that seems extremely short-sighted and although I’m sure other people who have worked with the program more have figured it out, it makes saving for future things very difficult for me to visualize. I have a salaried job and I know exactly how much money I’ll have at the end of the month; why can’t I budget that? Well, like I said there’s no accounting for taste.

      1. Hey Brian! I can see what you are saying about having a salary job and wanting to forecast for your budget. The easiest way around this is to get one month ahead on your budget (meaning you have one month salary available at all times). Then at the beginning of the month, you can budget it all out. One of the benefits of the new cloud version of YNAB is the ability to set goals for the future. You can input your goal and the date you would like it funded by and then each month YNAB tells you if you are on target or how much you need to budget toward it. It makes planning for larger expenses or expenses down the road super simple.

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