We’ve Tested 100s of Banks, Credit Cards and Apps. These Are the Best

Hands hold an Aspiration debit in a urban city setting.
Aileen Perilla/ The Penny Hoarder
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It seems like there are a million financial companies competing for your attention.

Put your money here. Invest with us. This is the best credit card. You’ll get cash back. Hey, we’ll give you a loan! We’ll give you the sweetest deal, we promise. We are totally not a scam. Here at (fill in the blank) company, your financial future is our top priority.

Sound familiar?

We’re here to cut through the noise. We’ve road-tested countless financial apps, products, services, tools, accounts, cards and companies. If it has to do with money, we’ve tried it.

Let’s cut to the chase: Here are the only four you really need. We’re recommending these four because we’ve found them to be legit, easy to use, and effective. Each of them does something different, but they all offer smart ways to grow and manage your money.

Put Your Money in This Fee-Free Online Account

We’ve reached a point where online accounts are simply easier to use than traditional accounts. They’re cheaper and more accessible.

One of our favorite companies, Aspiration, works on a pay-what-is-fair model. You choose to set a monthly tip up to $20 or as low as $0, and you can change it anytime.

That gives you fee-free access to a Spend and Save account — and its perks. Check these out:

  • Earn 2.00% APY on your savings as long as you squirrel away at least $1 a month.
  • Earn 0.5% cash back on purchases with your debit card.
  • Get reimbursed for any ATM fees (i.e. get money anytime, anywhere you need it without worrying about the exorbitant cost of those pesky machines).

Plus, in an age when we all look on the big banks with a touch of suspicion because of years of scandal and mismanagement, Aspiration has popped up with the simple motto to “Do Well. Do Good.” It commits to donating 10% of earnings to charity and makes it easy for account holders to do the same.

Invest Your Money in Real Estate — Even If You’re Not Rich

a man shows his Fundrise app on his laptop
Ting Shen for The Penny Hoarder

Want to try real-estate investing without playing landlord? We found a company that helps you do just that.

Oh, and you don’t have to have hundreds of thousands of dollars, either. You can get started with a minimum investment of just $500. A company called Fundrise does all the heavy lifting for you.

Through the Fundrise Starter Portfolio, your money gets invested in private real estate around the United States.

This isn’t an obscure investment, though. You can see exactly which properties are included in your portfolios — like a set of townhomes in Snoqualmie, Washington, or an apartment building in Charlotte, North Carolina.

You can earn money through quarterly dividend payments and potential appreciation in the value of your shares, just like a stock. Cash flow typically comes from interest payments and property income (e.g. rent).

You’ll pay a 0.85% annual asset management fee and a 0.15% annual investment advisory fee.

Get Cash Back From Your Credit Card

There are so many credit cards to choose from! So many.

Here’s the one we like: It’s the Chase Freedom Unlimited card*. Its claim to fame? You’ll earn an unlimited 1.5% cash back on all your purchases. Plus, if you spend $500 in your first three months of opening the card (hi, groceries), you’ll pocket a $150 bonus.

There’s no annual fee, and the cash-back rewards don’t expire.

As a Penny Hoarder, you just have to be sure you don’t get too carried away with those purchases — and that the card is paid off at the end of each billing period.

Get signed up — and 0% intro APR for 15 months — here.

Cut Down Your Credit Card Debt with a Personal Loan

When you think about how much debt you have, it can make you anxious. A lot of us are being crushed by credit card interest rates north of 20%. If you’re in that boat, consolidation and refinancing might be worth a look.

That’s where a company like Fiona can help. It can help you find personalized lending options to refinance or consolidate your debt to potentially save thousands of dollars in interest.

Fiona will show you all the lenders willing to help you pay off your credit card debt and eliminate the headache of paying bills by allowing you to make one payment each month.

If your credit score is at least 620, you can borrow up to $100,000 (no collateral needed) and compare interest rates, which start at 3.84%. The idea is to secure a loan at a lower interest rate than your credit cards, potentially helping you save thousands. Repayment plans range from 24 to 84 months.

Take, for example, Katherine, who faced $12,000 in credit card debt. Holding her back? The 15.24% interest rate. By refinancing with a 5%-interest, seven-year personal loan, she saved $12,000 in interest.

If she’d kept on the same road, she would have paid something like $14,000 in interest alone over 25 years. Yikes!

If you’re just curious about what’s out there, checking rates on Fiona won’t hurt your credit score — and can probably save you in interest.

FROM THE DEBT FORUM

Cut Through the Clutter and Focus on Solutions

Countless financial services are vying for your business. Too many to keep track of.

Sometimes it’s best to keep it simple, and focus on a few good, solid ones that can really help you out.

Based on our experience, all of the ones we mentioned here are legit. They’re a good place to start.

*The information for the Chase Freedom Unlimited card has been collected independently by The Penny Hoarder. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. The Penny Hoarder is a partner of Credible.

Mike Brassfield ([email protected]) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. He keeps it simple.