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The best finance and security apps for college students

Control your money and protect your data.

VectorHot via Getty Images

Learning in college is as much about life lessons as it is about the lectures. It might be the first time you’re managing things on your own — particularly your finances — and as you apply for jobs and search for apartments, you may also be increasing the amount of personal data you put online. We gathered up the budgeting apps we have tried and ultimately recommend, as well as services that can help you keep track of passwords and protect your online activities. These are all tools we wish we’d known to use when we headed off as undergrads, and hopefully they’ll make the adulting parts of college a little more manageable.

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When Mint shut down, we went looking for the best budgeting app to replace it and landed on Quicken Simplifi. Unsurprisingly, the thing that stands out most is the app’s simplicity, with a clean interface and a learning curve that’s rather low. It’s just as good at categorizing expenses as other apps (which is rarely great, but, as in this case, just fine) and the budgeting feature was intuitive to set up and understand. 

Unfortunately, there’s no free trial and you have to set up your account fresh, no using your Apple or Google ID to get started. But Simplifi does offer a 30-day money back guarantee, so if you decide it’s not for you before the month is up, you’re not out the $4 monthly fee. But overall, it’s not as expensive as the competition, which we think is pretty important for something that’s meant to help you control your spending.

$4 per month at Quicken

For help creating a more formal budget, a few Engadget staffers use YNAB (You Need A Budget) and we recommend it in our guide to student budgeting. It’s based around a theory that imposes four “rules” to improve your money management, and learning those principles now will benefit you long after graduation. 

The browser and mobile app interfaces are pretty easy to use, and YNAB has a ton of instructional content for newbies that can point you in the right direction when you’re first setting up expense categories, debt trackers and sinking funds. It’s usually $15 per month or $99 per year, but students who can prove they’re in school can get a year for free.

$15 at YNAB
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Between loans, jobs and, if you’re lucky, scholarships and financial aid, a student’s “extra” money can be pretty limited. Goodbudget is a budgeting tool that translates the envelope technique to an app format, earmarking your money for the things you need to pay for. By visualizing what you have and what you need, you can see when there’s room for stuff you want, like going out with friends or decorating your first apartment. 

Plenty of graphs and sliders help map out your situation, and Goodbudget also offers free online classes for those who want to get better with money (granted, that may be a hard sell when you’re already in school). 

The free version gives you twenty total envelopes, split between expenses and goals, and lets you add one bank account. For unlimited accounts and envelopes, the paid version is $8 per month or $70 per year.

$0 at Goodbudget
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Say you indulge in an Iced Toasted Vanilla Oatmilk Shaken Espresso for $5.75. The Acorns investment app rounds up that last 25 cents and deposits it into an investment account, and over time, your money grows. By providing a simple app and recommending just a few different portfolios, Acorns takes some of the complexity out of investing. 

For students in particular, it’s also easier to invest a few cents here and there than larger chunks of cash when you’re already just trying to get by. The monthly plan defaults to $5 per month with an option of a $3 plan at sign up. Both come with a checking and a retirement savings account in addition to the investment features, so if you’re totally starting fresh, this could prove useful. 

$3 at Acorns
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We put 1Password at the top of Engadget’s guide to password managers. Like all services like this, 1Password one helps you create unique and complex credentials for every site you use, and then saves them securely so you don’t have to remember them all. 

It works across most platforms and even lets you share logins and credit card info with other people as needed, which will make it easier to access any family accounts you may need while in school. The security and encryption measures are top-notch, with a zero-knowledge policy that ensures the company doesn’t store your data, as well as a bug bounty program that rewards ethical hackers who discover any vulnerabilities.

$3 at 1Password
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If you study in public places where the WiFi is suspect, a VPN can give you an extra layer of protection. It’s not a cure-all for online security woes, but VPNs do create a protected “tunnel” to keep out people who may otherwise have access to your data, like your internet service provider or hackers targeting public WiFi. 

Proton VPN is the best overall option not just because it’s easy to use. The Switzerland-based company also enforces a no-log policy and their open-source software continually stands up to independent audits. Unlike some VPNs, it didn’t tank our connection speeds in our tests, either. Proton goes for $10 per month to access servers in 65 countries, or you can get the free version with access to just three.

$10 at Proton
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Free email services are everywhere, but finding one that isn’t propped up by selling your habits and history to advertisers is almost impossible. And while you might get a school email address, a good personal email will serve you long after access to your alumni mail is discontinued. 

ProtonMail is focused on privacy: It uses end-to-end encryption, whereas a service like Gmail encrypts messages in transit only. Proton’s open-source encryption methods are independently audited, and since the service is supported by paid subscriptions and not advertising, the company has little incentive to snoop your info. 

Free plans give you one gigabyte of storage and allow for 150 emails per day, while a $13-per-month subscription grants 500GB of storage and removes email limits.. 

$0 at Proton
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As a non-profit, there's no tech giant behind the wheel at Signal, which sets it apart from most other messaging services. A phone number is required for set up, but that’s about all the information Signal ever collects. 

It’s a favorite of journalists, protestors and people living in unstable territories, but students who realize their communications are no one else’s business will find the app useful, too. Texts, videos and images you send are end-to-end encrypted using open-source protocols, and you can even set messages to expire. Recent additions that enhance group chats may make Signal feel a little more like other messaging apps, but the core structure of the service will always be fundamentally more private than many competitors.

$0 at Signal
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Staying safe in college extends beyond online safety, which is where apps like Noonlight come in. Tinder bought a stake in the app a few years ago to help people in the event of a date gone wrong. Within the app, you’ll find a giant white button that you press and hold in sketchy situations. As long as you hold the button, nothing happens. Let go of it, and unless you enter a secret pin to prove you’re safe, the police will be dispatched to your location. 

A timeline feature lets you add names and images when you’re meeting someone new. The safety network allows your friends and family to request check-ins and take action when they don’t hear from you. The free version includes all three of the features mentioned above, while the $5-per-month plan adds an iPhone widget and the ability to sync with rideshare apps.

$0 at Noonlight
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