YNAB vs. Empower (fka Personal Capital): Which Financial Tool is Better?

February 12, 2024

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Mint has recently announced that they will be shutting down. As a result, you might be looking for an alternative way to keep tabs on your financial information. This YNAB vs. Empower review will help you decide between these two popular money management tools.

Whether it’s day-to-day budgeting, investment tracking, or monitoring your net worth, we’ve got you covered. In this review, we’ll focus on a comparison between YNAB and the free tools available within Empower (they also offer additional services for a fee).

What is YNAB?

You Need a Budget, more commonly known as YNAB, is a popular zero-based budgeting software that facilitates a unique approach to intentional spending and saving. By encouraging you to allocate every one of your dollars to various “jobs,” YNAB requires you to be proactive. As a result, you have to carefully consider how you want to use your finite monetary resources.

A discussion of YNAB wouldn’t be complete without an introduction of their four money “rules,” which include:

  1. Give Every Dollar a Job (assign all of your incoming funds to categories)
  2. Embrace Your True Expenses (plan ahead for irregular expenses)
  3. Roll with the Punches (be flexible with your budget)
  4. Age Your Money (build a buffer between income and expenses)

YNAB has been around for nearly 20 years. It has evolved from a spreadsheet-based product to the full-featured budgeting software app it is today.

What is Empower?

You’ve likely heard of Empower, but you may know it by its previous name, Personal Capital. Empower gained popularity through its free offerings, including cash flow tracking and tools to analyze investment accounts and retirement planning.

Empower is also a wealth management company that offers investment management and financial planning services, but the tools are free for everyone.

YNAB vs. Empower: The Ultimate Showdown

Let’s take a closer look at some of the pros and cons of these fantastic tools to see which one might be the best for you.

YNAB Best Features

YNAB has released numerous great features over the past years to help its users budget more intentionally, efficiently, and effectively. Since budgeting is their bread and butter, they have a solid offering of cash flow management features.

Here are a few of the most popular features (you can also find more detailed descriptions in our detailed YNAB review!).


Have you ever tried to budget and promptly given up (haven't we all)? It might be that the method you’re using is too restrictive or too time-consuming. It’s essential to have an efficient process that you’ll be able to keep up on (or catch up on quickly if you do get behind!).

After the initial setup of YNAB accounts and categories, you can maintain your budget in less than 30 minutes per month. Some of the ways YNAB helps you automate your finances and efficiently manage your budget include:

  • Direct import from bank accounts
  • Automatic categorization of transactions (based on previous entries)
  • Auto-assign (essentially the ability to click one button and have YNAB assign all incoming funds to various budget categories)


A budget should reflect your day-to-day life, and being able to customize it can be invaluable in reaching your long-term financial goals.

There are numerous ways that YNAB allows you to customize your budget. These include:

  • Category groups & categories (including the order shown in your budget)
  • Account names (including the order shown in your account list)
  • Payee names
  • Focused views (essentially being able to view selected categories together to identify information quickly)

There’s also a Chrome extension called “Toolkit for YNAB” that you can add to provide even more customization on the way you view and interact with your budget. Note: the extension is from a third-party developer and not YNAB, but it’s an excellent free add-on!


Any good money management software should feature your goals as the top priority. YNAB allows you to set aside money for those specified goals, set target amounts for future expenses like car repairs and vacations, and move money around when your goals change (which they do!).


If you’re having any issues getting started with YNAB, there are numerous resources at your fingertips to help you get answers to your questions. Live webinars, podcasts, help pages, blog posts, and a top-rated customer service staff are all available to help its users. There’s also a YNAB book, Facebook group, YNAB Reddit, and more.

However, these things don’t just help you use the YNAB app; they also encourage you to think about money in a way that will directly impact your ability to save and spend according to your values. Even non-YNAB users can benefit from many of the resources they provide.


With YNAB, there’s no excuse for not knowing how much money is left in your spending categories. With a web application, mobile app, Alexa skill, apple watch app, and widget for iPhone, you can easily input and monitor your spending from anywhere. Additionally, you can share budgets with up to 5 additional users without paying additional subscription fees.

YNAB Review

YNAB Areas for Improvement

While YNAB may have one of the most dedicated user bases of all personal finance software programs, a few drawbacks might discourage some from using it.


YNAB will cost you $14.99/month if you pay monthly or $99/year if you choose to pay upfront for an annual subscription.

It may seem counterintuitive to pay for a budgeting app; however, not having to deal with sales pitches or advertisements is a huge plus. They also offer a 34-day free trial, so you can use it for a full month and ensure it will work for you before committing to a subscription.


YNAB has improved its initial customer experience by adding detailed prompts to help you get started adding accounts, budget categories, and setting initial targets. However, because the process is so different than what most people are used to, you probably shouldn’t expect to be off and running as soon as you set up your YNAB account.

While the steeper learning curve is listed here as an area for improvement, the mindset shift needed for YNAB is also a reason for its success. It’s not another budgeting program with a unique interface; it’s a different budgeting method altogether.


Because YNAB solely focuses on budgeting, it’s not meant to be a full-service personal finance app and won’t be a one-stop solution for managing all things money. This limitation could be a negative for some people looking for one program that integrates multiple aspects of their financial lives.

You can set up your investments as “tracking” accounts in YNAB, but it requires you to update the value of these accounts manually. While this allows you to track your net worth within the app, it also requires additional regular upkeep that many may not want to bother with.

Empower Best Features

When Empower (fka Personal Capital) first came out with its personal finance dashboard, it provided arguably better features than those offered even in paid FinTech apps. Empower’s dashboard provides real-time net worth, cash flow, and portfolio information in visual displays that make it easy to see exactly where you stand.

Empower Dashboard

Here are some of the absolute best features Empower offers its free users. (Check out our in-depth Empower review as well!).


Immediately upon signing up for an Empower account, you can quickly link your accounts and access all their free tools. They are simple to understand, easy to use, intuitive, and, best of all, completely free.

While “free” comes at the cost of receiving sales pitches for their wealth management services, someone looking for a simple, no-cost tool to monitor their finances will find it worth the minor hassle.


One of the most popular features of Empower is its “Retirement fee analyzer” tool. Despite the name, it includes all investment accounts, not just retirement ones. Empower analyzes your underlying investments and other fees in your accounts. Then, it summarizes annual totals and percentages of fees, as well as their impact on your future portfolio value.

In addition, Empower has a robust retirement planning tool that utilizes existing investment account information to estimate how likely your portfolio will support your living expenses in retirement. This tool allows you to customize retirement contributions, future income, and spending goals.

Both of these features are typically only found in paid financial planning apps. Having free access to them in Empower is a huge perk.


The dashboard in Empower lets you see all your financial information at a glance. Empower has excellent visuals that illustrate where you’re at in reaching your financial goals in the following essential areas:

  • Total net worth
  • Budgeting and cash flow
  • Portfolio balance
  • Retirement savings
  • Emergency fund
  • Debt paydown

These are many of the most significant components of a financial plan. So, you can’t go wrong with keeping an eye on all of these main areas.

Empower Areas for Improvement

There are a few areas where some may find Empower lacking compared to other available financial management apps.


The “free” availability of Empower’s financial tools does come with sales pitches for investment management. Those who link their accounts and have investable assets over $100,000 can expect to receive a call from Empower with information about available investment management services.

Most people will find it worth it to access the tools. This is true even if you aren’t necessarily interested in any of the services that Empower offers.


Compared to dedicated budgeting software, Empower’s cash flow tool has minimal functionality. Within the app, you can perform basic budgeting tasks such as:

  • Managing and categorizing transactions
  • Setting monthly budget amounts, and
  • Regularly monitoring how much you’ve spent as compared to your target amount.

This approach to budgeting is reactive rather than proactive. Still, it may work for those who don’t struggle with overspending and simply want to ensure they’re spending within specific guidelines without adding unnecessary complexity.


While Empower has a clean, intuitive interface and is simple to use, it doesn’t offer as many options to customize how you view your information. Customization is limited to adding or renaming budget categories, but the ordering and main category groups are fixed.

Of course, if you like how the information is presented in the Empower dashboard and are looking for something minimal, this won’t be a discouraging factor for you.

Final Verdict on YNAB vs. Empower

So, who would the winner be if we had to decide between YNAB vs, Empower? It’s a pretty close competition. Both are great tools that will help you propel your financial goals forward, albeit in slightly different ways.

First, let’s summarize some of YNAB and Empower’s best features to help us decide.

YNAB vs. Empower

Both YNAB and Empower focus on intentionally managing your money and achieving goals. Because of the significant differences, we think YNAB is the winner for managing budgeting and cash flow. Empower wins for gaining clarity on your overall finances with their dashboard, investing, and retirement tools. In addition, those switching from Mint might find Empower to result in a more seamless transition for tracking cash flow.

So, ultimately, it comes down to where you are in your financial journey and which features are currently the most important to you.

Try YNAB for 34 days for free here. And check out Empower for free here.

Where do you fall in this YNAB vs. Empower showdown? What are your favorite features of these tools?

Please let us know in the comments below.

Kathryn Hanna

Kathryn Hanna, CPA/PFS, CFP® is a financial coach & consultant with a passion for personal finance education. She blogs at Making Your Money Matter, where she focuses on helping people create a financial life they love. When she’s not creating personal finance spreadsheets, Kathryn can be found hiking in Arizona with her 3 kids or watching Netflix.

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