Empower is a financial app whose goal is to use several simple tools to help you control your finances, cut back on unnecessary subscriptions and save money through high-yield accounts and auto-deposits.
The app is one of many of its kind that has popped up in the past few years, including Clarity Money and Trim. There seems to be a movement among developers to provide consumers with a platform where they can get a quick overview of their spending habits and find opportunities to cut down on bills.
Empower was launched in 2016 and is based in San Francisco. William Hogarth is the company’s founder. Before starting Empower, Hogarth was a partner at famed VC firm Sequoia Capital.
According to Empower’s website, the company’s goal is to “stay on top of your finances, get objective, personalized recommendations to make your money go further, and discover and save hundreds of dollars per year.”
How does Empower accomplish their goal of helping you with your finances? How does the app help you save? Does it charge any fees?
These are the questions that our review will answer because we believe they’re the questions that matter most to you, the average consumer.
Our review is split up into the following categories:
- What are the app’s main features?
- What are the app’s fees?
- What are other users saying about the app?
At the end of our review, we’ll provide you a general overview of Empower’s pros and cons.
What Are the App’s Main Features?
It’s very easy to get to the app’s features because the sign-up process takes all of two minutes. You provide login information, connect at least one bank account and you’re good to go.
The six main features are Overview, Accounts, Transactions, Recommendations, Auto Save and Reports.
This is the first feature you’ll see because it’s at the top of the app screen. Overview provides you a real-time calculation of how much you’ve spent in the current month and how that compares to your spending limit for the month.
When you first launch the app, your Spending Limit will be the total amount of deposits made to your account in the current month. You can change the limit by tapping “Set Spend Limit” in the bottom right-hand corner
You can tap on “Explore” in the bottom left-hand corner to see transaction logs from the current and previous month, as well as the past three months and past year.
How to Use Overview to Your Advantage
Set your Spend Limit as soon as you start using the app. This will help you see how well you’re doing controlling your spending over several different time periods.
Are you spending more than you want to? Is your budget missing spending categories that Empower is finding? Overview helps you answer those questions and refine your monthly budget.
This section of the app shows the balances on all your connected accounts. When I tested the app, I connected it to my Chase account, which is home to a checking account and four credit cards. The credit cards are classified as “Credit” and the checking account is classified as “Cash”.
Tapping on any of the accounts listed will show your most recent transactions in that account.
How to Use Accounts to Your Advantage
This is section isn’t much different than what the Chase app offers or any other major bank app, too. However, it has value. You can check out your monthly spend in "Overview" then scroll down to each account to see if your monthly spend doesn’t seem right.
Tap on each account to make sure there haven’t been any suspicious charges or transactions you may have forgotten.
Empower uses this section to provide you suggestions for three things: canceling subscriptions, tracking your credit card balances and providing links to high-yield savings accounts.
The app lists your recurring payments and asks you if you want to cancel any of them.
The credit card tracking focuses on your utilization ratio, a fancy way of saying what your credit card balances are compared to their respective credit limits. If your ratio is above 30%, your credit score drops significantly.
This section provides you the balance, limit and utilization percentage of each card connected to your Empower account. You can see each card’s stats by swiping left.
New Savings Account
This section is where the app gives you recommendations for savings accounts that will earn you more than 1% interest every year.
When I tapped on this tile, I received a recommendation for two different savings accounts: Goldman Sachs (1.5%) and Capital One (1.4%).
Tapping on each account they recommend gives you a drop-down menu revealing how much you need to have in the account to avoid fees, monthly fees and whether or not you can use the account to write checks.
How to Use Recommendations to Your Advantage
Take advantage of the credit utilization feature whenever you can.
Tap on “Set Up Alert” so that the app will notify you when any credit card’s balance exceeds 30% of its limit. When you get this notice, try and pay down the balance to get it below 30% of the credit limit. Your credit score will benefit greatly from this move.
In our opinion, you can use the New Savings Account feature to regularly compare the recommendations Empower gives you. However, we think you’d be better off using this as part of your research and not as your only research tool.
There are plenty of online savings account out there: SmartyPig is one that we’ve reviewed.
This tool is what you use when you want to set up automatic deposits from and to your connected accounts.
You can choose how much and how often you want these auto deposits to take place. Empower says the deposits will not take place if your funding account balance drops below $500.
How to Use AutoSave to Your Advantage
Connect a savings and checking account, otherwise, you won’t be able to set up automatic deposits.
From there, look at your budget and figure out how much you can save each month without putting your bottom line in jeopardy. Then, set Empower to save that amount, either on a weekly or monthly basis. Even $25 a week will earn you $1,300 at the end of the year.
This section is the data center of the app. A pie chart shows you how you’re spending your money based on a combination of 13 different categories. You can see all these categories by tapping on the pie chart.
Like the Overview chart, you can customize your spending report to show this month, the previous month, three months and year.
How to Use Reports to Your Advantage
The Overview chart doesn’t give you the specific category-by-category data you need to track your category spending and fine-tune your budget.
This section of the app should be your best friend, as it will have the most influence on how you adjust your spending and understand the effectiveness of your overall budget.
Empower’s Rates and Fees
Empower offers two levels of membership: free and Premium. The latter costs $4 a month. Here’s what it offers over the free version:
- Unlimited custom spending categories
- Spending caps on individual categories and not just overall spending
- Chat access to financial experts who provide advice based on the metrics in your Empower account
In our opinion, the paid version of this app has its benefits, but we’re not sure those benefits are great enough to warrant spending $4 a month. Empower is not quite as robust as a pure budgeting app like YNAB, which costs $5 a month.
User Reviews of Empower
Empower’s ratings in the iTunes and Google Play stores are as follows:
- iTunes: 4.8 stars from more than 1,600 reviews
- Google Play: 4.4 stars from more than 150 reviews
Several of the recent reviews in both stores noted that the user had tried other budgeting apps and found Empower to be easier to use.
Final Thoughts About Empower: Pros and Cons
Based on our research of this app, we believe that Empower is a great tool if you want a simple way to see how your spending is doing, along with the added benefit of categorized purchases, savings account suggestions and credit-card-usage monitoring.
The downsides to the app are that, to truly use it to its full potential, you have to pay to get the ability to customize as many categories as you want (key to creating a good budget) and setting spending caps on all those categories.
If you aren’t convinced that Empower is right for you, there are plenty of options out there. We’ve found Clarity Money, Trim and GoodBudget to be similar to Empower.
Each one provides you an overview of your spending and income and they have their own unique nuances that may fit your personality better than Empower.