Clarity Money review: A forward-thinking budgeting app
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Updated February 1, 2018
Clarity Money is a budgeting app that wants to do more than just help you look into the past.
That’s a good thing, because it sets it apart from other budgeting apps. There are a lot of them out there. Like, a lot. You might already be using You Need A Budget or Mint’s mobile app. And once you’re committed to a budgeting app, it can be hard (or at least not worthwhile) to move to another. But Clarity Money wants to take an active role in your money management. With tailored product suggestions and actionable steps available right from the app, Clarity Money wants to make a difference in your financial future.
Is it worth the switch? I sat down with the app and spoke with Clarity Money CEO Adam Dell to find out.
Personal finance has a lot of components, and Clarity Money looks to tackle the most commonplace of them: insights on how we consume and what we spend our money on.
Clarity Money links to your various savings and checking accounts and pulls in your transaction history. It also allows you to set savings goals by setting up automatic deposits to a savings account. Those aren’t anything out of this world; they’re the basis of nearly every budgeting app out there. But Clarity Money takes it a step further by letting you cancel subscriptions and bills, negotiating bill rates, and offering product suggestions that work for you.
Dell says that most of Clarity Money’s competitors "are really good at giving you a dashboard about your past, and what we’re really focused on is a button to press to improve your future. Telling you that you spent two percent more on groceries last month than your peers is kinda like...what am I going to do with that information? But if I show you something you can substantively do in the app that if you take that action you’ll have more money in your pocket, that’s a much more meaningful thing."
The most immediate way Clarity Money helps with this is by lettings you end subscriptions right from the app. There’s no more hunting around for a login to your Apple Music subscription, and no more flat out forgetting what you’re actually signed up for. By using your imported transactions, Clarity Money lets you cancel most of your subscriptions with the push of a button, cleaning up your monthly budget instantly.
Second, Clarity Money offers you financial products that work with your situation. Dell is clear that customers would never be upsold to something they didn’t need.
"We make a commitment to the customer that we will never make a recommendation that does not objectively improve their financial health," he says.
This might mean, for example, a credit card with good travel rewards for frequent fliers. Dell tells me that while credit cards are the only products currently suggested, investments, loans, insurance (you're protecting your family with a life insurance policy, right?), and more are on the table for the future (and won’t sell it to the highest bidder).
Finally, in one of its most unique features, Clarity Money will negotiate bills on your behalf. Tired of paying an arm and a leg for cable? There might be discounts, coupons, and special offers out there that you’re not even aware of. If eligible, Clarity Money will search your bills for these discounts, communicate with your provider, and automatically apply the savings.
This is where Clarity Money makes their money. The app is completely free to use, but Clarity Money will charge you a one-time fee equal to 33% of the annual savings you receive from their bill negotiation service. So if they lower your cable bill ten dollars a month, saving you $120 a year, you’ll be charged $40. Not too bad when you consider you also get to avoid waiting on hold with the cable company.
Clarity Money is only a few months old, and while it’s pretty polished in some places, there’s room for improvement in others.
For example, your transactions are pulled into the app but you need to mark individual bills as recurring or not before you’re given the option to monitor and cancel them. There’s also a graph that charts average spend, but it’s hard to tell where that information is being pulled from without historical data behind it.
It’s important to reiterate here that I’m still in my first month using the app. Average spend will probably make more sense over time, and maybe after the app pulls in several months’ worth of transactions it can begin marking line items as recurring automatically. But that lessens its usefulness right now, and in a crowded marketplace, it’s hard to convince someone to stick with you for two to three months before they see your full usefulness.
Manually marking a bill as recurring isn’t a huge hassle, but for an app that touts the ability to "harness the power of artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and data science to personalize your experience, using a combination of Natural Language Processing, Anomaly Detection and Spectral Analysis," it’s unfortunate that it can’t assume that a Netflix charge is likely recurring rather than one-off.There are also a few pieces of the puzzle that will obviously be built out later. Transactions for investment accounts are not currently supported, but will come down the line. And although Clarity Money is only available for iOS, Dell tells me that an Android and web-based desktop app are in the works for later this year. [Note: The Android app was released in October 2017.]
If you’re already using another budgeting app, Clarity Money isn’t necessarily something you need to jump ship for. It’s nice, but it’s still new; anyone with an Android phone won’t be able to use it yet, and there are some features – both fairly important, like investment transactions, and nice-to-haves, like automatically categorizing recurring bills – that are missing. You’ll have to make the call as to whether or not it’s worth the effort to try something new, or if you wait a few months for the app to be fleshed out.
But if you’re looking for your first budgeting app, Clarity Money is a great start with some really cool tools like in-app bill cancellation and negotiation. If you’ve been wary of budgeting apps because they seem too passive and don’t give you any actionable steps, Clarity Money is a great change of pace.Plus, people who use it really love it. When I asked him what the biggest surprise was in the first few months after launching Clarity Money, he said it was the level of engagement.
"We have customers, we call them the 500 Club, and it’s people who have used the app 500 times, and the 100 Club who are people who have used the app 100 times. There are literally tens of thousands of people in those buckets. It’s kind of amazing."
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