Empower App Review: The Budgeting App That Does It All
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I love a good, versatile accessory.
The kind that works for any occasion. That’s how I feel about my favorite lightweight cardigan. It’s a great layering piece in the winter. I can wear it over sleeveless shirts in the summer. If I sit in some mustard at my boyfriend’s family barbecue, I can tie it around my waist and no one’s the wiser.
It’s a cold-weather helper, a saver from air conditioning, and, when need be, a stain cover-upper all in one.
When it comes to personal finance, Empower is the only app that matches in versatility.
Empower Review at a Glance
Empower helps you automate your savings goals, budget with ease, lower your bills, and analyzes your finances to provide personalized recommendations for your situation.
- Interest checking account
- Automatically adjusts savings withdrawals
- No transaction or overdraft fees
- Personalized recommendations
- Automatic monitoring of bank accounts
- 30-day free trial
- Limited ATM fee reimbursements
- Can’t deposit cash into your accounts
- Monthly subscription fee
- No traditional banking services like mortgages or credit cards
What Is Empower and How Does It Work?
Empower is an AI-focused, comprehensive money management app that began in 2016. It provides a secure, central place to manage all facets of your money: your budget, savings, and checking account. The app’s core features include:
- Automatic saving
- Interest checking
- Budget and spending tracking
- Personalized financial recommendations
- Access to a human coach
The Empower app is like a buffet — you get to choose and use the features that look good to you. For example, if you want to use the autosave feature but not the interest checking, then just tell the app which checking account to transfer your savings from.
Is Empower Legit?
Empower Deposits are insured by nbkc bank, Member FDIC up to $250,0002.
Although there are no user reviews on TrustPilot, it has a 4.7 rating in the Apple App Store and a 4.4 rating in Google Play. They are responsive to customer complaints, which generally involve technical issues rather than money-management or banking-related complaints.
Empower has been featured in the New York Times, Forbes, and Business Insider. The app has also won “Best New App” from Time and was awarded “New Apps We Love” by Apple.
Empower Money Management Features
Let’s take a deep dive into Empower four core features: automatic savings, budget tracking, smart recommendations (including access to a human coach), and interest checking.
Empower’s automated savings feature is similar to other finance apps. You’ll link a bank account, typically your primary checking, to your Empower account.
Tell the app how much you want to save each week, and it’ll make automatic transfers to your Empower AutoSave account.
Most banks offer the ability to set up automatic transfers from a checking to savings account. What makes Empower unique is that it analyzes your checking account balance daily and saves accordingly.
They’ll make up to four transfers per week in attempt to hit your savings goal. If they aren’t able to hit your target savings number in one week, they’ll try to set aside more money the following week to catch up.
The downside to this feature is that you can only set one weekly savings goal. So if you’re saving for several things, like an emergency fund, vacation, and wedding, then you’ll need to figure out your weekly savings goal for each, add them up, then tell Empower your total number.
Since all your savings go into the same account, you’ll need to track your progress for each one individually. A spreadsheet or pen and paper can accomplish the job.
Because of this, Empower’s AutoSave feature works best for one goal at a time. For example, if you want to save a $1,500 emergency fund this year, you can set your weekly goal at $29 and let Empower do the heavy lifting.
Related: Best Online Saving Accounts
There are lots of budgeting apps on the market. Where Empower stands out is that it gives spending limit suggestions for your budget categories based on your income and expenses.
You can create your own spending categories or choose from their list. Set your spending limits by week or month. Empower will send you alerts to let you know where you’re under and if any categories are at risk of going over budget.
At the end of the month, you’ll get an expense breakdown you can use to make better, more empowered spending decisions going forward.
Empower’s personalized recommendations are my favorite feature of the app.
Their software analyzes your income and expenses to detect patterns and trends. If the app realizes you’ve missed a payment or been charged more than normal, it’ll send you a notification.
Empower can also detect subscriptions you may have forgotten about and no longer use, look for better deals for your phone, cable, and internet, and negotiate a lower rate on your behalf. According to their website, Empower customers save $444 on average1 between phone and cable bills using this feature alone.
You’ll also receive alerts for things like bank fees, bill increases, missed payments, and if your credit utilization is getting too high.
If you have any questions, like which debt to pay off first or how to budget for multiple goals at once, you can send a message through the app and a human coach will provide tailored financial tips for your situation.
These features aren’t unique to Empower. But it’s a powerful combination considering the other aspects of the app.
Again, there are plenty of banks and apps that offer interest checking accounts. But Empower’s stands out in a few ways.
Notably, there are no overdraft fees, account minimums, or card replacement fees. If you lose your debit card, you can freeze it and order a new one straight from the app, no customer service call required.
It also offers the same features as many other interest checking accounts:
- 0.25% APY2
- Empower Deposits are insured by nbkc bank, Member FDIC up to $250,0002
- Visa zero liability insurance
- 1% foreign transaction fee4
- 3 monthly ATM reimbursements (up to $10 each)3
- Unlimited transfers
With Visa zero liability insurance, you’re protected in the event your card is lost or stolen, and you won’t be held responsible for unauthorized charges made to your account.
Empower’s Money Personality Quiz
Working in conjunction with financial experts, authors, and a psychologist, Empower created a quiz to help you identify your unique money personality. The goal of the quiz is to help you better understand and improve your relationship with money.
After you answer the short questionnaire, they provide you with a summary of your money personality, what childhood experiences likely contributed to it, and an explanation of how their features can help you take charge of your finances in a way that makes sense for you.
For instance, my money personality came back as Stockpiler. According to the results, their high interest rates and alerts will help me feel less anxious about my spending.
People who fall into the Celebrity personality, on the other hand, will particularly appreciate the easy budget tracking to help stay on course and avoid overspending.
How Much Does Empower Cost?
New users can try out the Empower app free for 30 days. After that, you’ll pay $8 a month for access to all of the app’s features, including autosave, smart recommendations, and live coaching.
This is on par with apps that offer less robust features than Empower. If you decide to stick with it after your first 30 days, the app will automatically transfer the payment from your checking account each month.
Alternatives to Empower
There are several apps like Empower you can try. However, most of them only offer a few of the same features; they aren’t as comprehensive in their services.
You Need a Budget
You Need a Budget (YNAB) is a popular zero-based budgeting.
As the name implies, this app focuses solely on budgeting. Because of this, its budgeting features are more robust than Empower’s. Users create a proactive spending plan and categorize expenses manually throughout the month.
YNAB lacks many of the other features Empower has, like checking and savings accounts, bill negotiation, and automatic savings.
Like Empower, you have to pay to use their services after the free trial ends. The cost is $84 a year, or $11.99 for a month-to-month subscription.
Mint is a free alternative to Empower. The app lets you view all of your accounts and balances in one place, including your credit score, so you get a comprehensive picture of your finances. It also tracks your purchases, and categorizes them for you, and provides tips on where you can cut back and save.
It also tracks your purchases, categorizes them for you, and provides suggestions on where you could save.
However, Mint doesn’t offer services to negotiate with providers on your behalf, you can only budget your money one month at a time, and since the app is free, you’ll see ads from their sponsors and partner companies.
Qapital offers similar services to Empower: automated savings, a central place to check all of your accounts, a debit card, and no amount minimums. This app also comes with additional automated savings features, including the ability to create saving rules and save for multiple goals at once.
One of the primary differences between these apps is that Qapital doesn’t offer personalized recommendations. However, you can set alerts to help keep your spending on track.
The cost ranges from $3 to $12 per month depending on which plan you choose. Learn more about Qapital in our review.
Many traditional banks are starting to incorporate some of Empower’s key features. They have bill pay services, free alerts, automatic savings, personalized coaching from an actual human, and easy-to-use apps.
You typically won’t receive the same kind of interest rates, and banks often charge high overdraft fees, teller fees, and fees for using other banks’ ATMs. Some banks waive these charges if you keep a minimum balance in your account.
Empower App Review Summary
Though many apps and banks offer similar features, Empower is one of the few that combines so many powerful elements into a single platform. Its most standout features are the smart recommendations, spending limit suggestions, and live personalized coaching.
If you’re looking for a smart app that provides tips tailored to your unique situation, then Empower is a solid option.
If you don’t need the personalized recommendations, then you can easily accomplish your savings goals by opening an online checking account, signing up for free alerts, setting up your online bill pay, and creating automatic transfers to your goal savings accounts.
1 Bill negotiation services provided by Billshark, which charges 33% of savings. Customer savings may vary.
2 Banking services for new accounts provided by nbkc bank, Member FDIC. 0.25% Annual Percentage Yield (APY) may change at any time. APY as of Jun 15, 2020. Empower charges an auto-recurring subscription fee of $8 for access to the full suite of money management features offered on the platform after your first 30 days.
3 Reimbursement for up to 3 ATM fees per month, with a maximum reimbursement of $10 per ATM withdrawal.
4 Empower does not charge foreign transaction fees for the use of the Empower Visa Debit Card outside of the US. However, Visa charges a foreign transaction fee of 1%. Empower does not reimburse this 1% transaction fee on foreign ATM transactions or on any other foreign transactions or purchases.