Level Money (for iPhone) review

For watching your money flow in and out—and for projecting how much you can spend in a day or week based on those figures—the free iPhone app Level Money does a good job. But it's not at all useful for targeting budgeting, shared expenses, or many real-life financial situations.
Photo of Level Money (for iPhone)

If you have simple finances, the Level Money iPhone app (free) can instantly shed light on how much you can spend in any given day, week, or month. It also helps you figure out how much you can save as a percentage of your income, and provides a simple three-tiered diagram that illustrates how much money you put into paying bills, saving, and spending elsewhere. But that’s all Level Money does. It lacks budgeting categories, so money spent is money spent, rather than differentiating between money spent on alcohol versus, say, medicine, or restaurants versus groceries.

Like most personal finance apps, Level Money connects directly to your banks and credit card accounts, so it can figure out how much money you make, how much you spend on bills, and how much you spend on everything else. But it doesn’t have any way to account for shared bank accounts or split expenses, like if you pay for dinner with friends on your credit card, but everyone chips in cash that you take home. In other words, Level Money doesn’t consider how finances work in real-world situations. For that level of detail, nothing beats Mint.com, which is why it’s the Editors’ Choice among best mobile finance apps.

How Level Money Works
When you set up a free account in Level Money, the app first asks you to create a password, and a strong one at that, a good thing, to be sure. You have to enter this password to see most of your data in the app—more on that in a moment.

During setup, you connect Level Money to your bank accounts and credit cards. It then identifies incoming money and asks you to verify whether those transactions are part of your regular income, or if they are anomalies. It’s very simple and straightforward.

Once Level Money knows how much you earn, it asks you to tell it about bills you pay. You can enter these manually or select them from transactions in your accounts. And this is where Level Money started to break down for me. I pay bills with a shared banking account, which I decided to omit from Level Money completely because including it caused each bill to be counted in full against my outgoing money, rather than just the half that I pay. . Instead, I entered my monthly bills manually and only submitted half the amount of what’s charged. Mint.com accounts for all these kinds of issues. Sure, it takes a little time to set them up properly (you can split an expense, and not just in half, and exclude a portion of it from counting), but it handles that real-world circumstance accurately.

The next step is to adjust how much money you’d like to save every month, based on a percentage of your income. Level Money suggests about 7 percent to start, and you can increase or decrease the amount and see, in real time, how the change will affect how much you have left to spend. I like this feature quite a bit, but it’s not much more advanced than pulling out a calculator. It also doesn’t take into consideration how much money you’ve set aside pre-tax from a paycheck. Level Money doesn’t have any features at all to account for retirement account savings, flexible spending accounts, and the like. Again, it’s much more simplified than any real-world personal financial situation is likely to be.

When you’ve customized your income, bills, and savings, Level Money puts together a little diagram showing those three categories, so you can see at a glance how the three pieces compare to one another. This is your “plan.” Beneath the visual representation is a color-coded key with the actual dollar amounts.

Level Money Day to Day
Without signing in, anyone can see the home screen, which shows three huge bubbles indicating spendable dollars remaining 1) today, 2) this week, and 3) this month. Each bubble visually represents how much spending is left with a fill line that drops as money flows out. A solid bubble means you haven’t spent any money yet in that time period.

Tap the menu icon at the top left, and a tray reveals the area where you need to sign in to see all the other details of your account. Once you authenticate, the tray shows spendable (the home screen), activity, save, plan, settings, bug catcher (for emailing the developers about bugs), and logout.

Activity is list of transactions from all your accounts. You do have to dive into the activity and make sure it isn’t incorrectly counting some spending that is “unusual,” which includes payments to your credit card. I couldn’t believe the app didn’t adjust for credit card payments automatically.

The saved section shows a week-long chart showing your daily spending history and how much money you can rollover. It also show the amount you’ve elected to save, confusingly called “AutoSave” even though the app doesn’t take any action to divert funds into a savings account. It’s just money you haven’t spent yet.

From the plan area, you can see that diagram mentioned earlier, but also make adjustments to the data behind it. Making minor adjustments is no problem, but major adjustments, such as removing an account, didn’t go smoothly in testing. After I deleted one of my accounts from Level Money, the transactions from that account did not disappear. I tried to correct the problem a few times, but ended up wiping out my entire account (thankfully, this option exists) and starting over from scratch.

Watch Your Money With Mint
Personal finance apps are a dime a dozen, but none of them work as well or as thoroughly as Mint, our Editors’ Choice. Level Money is simple—too simple. It doesn’t reflect real-world financial circumstances for many people.

For watching your money flow in and out—and for projecting how much you can spend in a day or week based on those figures—the free iPhone app Level Money does a good job. But it's not at all useful for targeting budgeting, shared expenses, or many real-life financial situations.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc