High yield or not, these 4 mobile bank apps try to get you in the habit of savings

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With millions of Americans living without any emergency savings, the idea of tucking away some money each month may seem to some people like an impossible challenge.

But several mobile banking apps are designed to help you build your savings slowly but surely. Whether you are planning to start your savings from scratch or pad an emergency fund, these banking apps can help you create the habit of saving in a more painless way.

Ally Bank’s Surprise Savings

The surprise savings feature offered through Ally Bank’s digital banking platform could be a game-changer for kickstarting your savings. The bank’s feature in its mobile banking app will analyze your checking account to look for places where you could save money. When the tool finds something it can save, it will automatically transfer those funds to your savings account.

There are guardrails. The Surprise Savings feature will only make transfers for less than $100. Plus, you won’t see more than three transfers per week.

You will need an Ally savings account, but the tool will work with other checking accounts.

The money will be transferred into a fee-free online savings account offered by Ally. With that, the savings will be secure in a Federal Deposit Insured Corp. account with an interest rate that is competitive.

Best for: Unexpected savings

Cost: Free

Available: Android or iOS.

Huntington’s Money Scout

Huntington Bank offers Money Scout, an automatic savings tool designed to help the regional bank’s customers save money.

The Money Scout tool will analyze your spending habits, income and recurring expenses to determine what money in your checking account could be saved. When the Money Scout finds an opportunity, it will transfer between $5 and $50 into your savings account. Each time a transfer is made, you’ll get a notification — helping you monitor your account balance for any overdraft danger.

If you are interested in using the Money Scout, you’ll have to open a checking and savings account with Huntington. You will find a small monthly fee on most of these accounts, but there is one free checking account option that could work for you. There are also ways to get fees waived.

With your savings growing in an FDIC-insured bank, you’ll know that your money is safe.

Best for: Small transfers

Cost: Free tool. However, you’ll need a Huntington Checking Account and Huntington Savings Account to use the feature. Some fees will apply to manage these accounts.

Available: Android or iOS.

USAA’s Saving Booster

USAA offers several automatic savings options through its Savings Booster. The most notable is the text savings tool, which analyzes your account to determine if you can afford to save between $1 and $9 every few days. If you can, USAA will automatically transfer your savings.

If your checking account balance is less than $100, USAA will not make any transfers. Every day, you’ll receive a text with your checking account balance, which can help you keep an eye on potential overdraft issues in a simple way.

In order to use the Savings Booster, you’ll need a USAA Bank checking account and savings account. Neither of these accounts has associated fees. Plus, the Savings Boost is free to use as a USAA member.

Best for: Military members and veterans

Cost: Free

Available: Android or iOS.

Dobot

Dobot is a helpful savings app owned by Fifth Third Bank. You won’t need a checking account with Fifth Third Bank to use the app. But the savings you build will be transferred into a Fifth Third Bank savings account.

Like the other apps available, Dobot looks for money that you can save and moves small amounts into your savings account.

My favorite feature of Dobot is that you can assign photos to your goals. Since most savings goals have a personal reason behind them, this is an extremely useful feature. Anytime you are tempted to pause your automatic savings, you’ll see a picture that reminds you why you are building your savings. Whether you want to take a trip with your friend or save for your first home, these visuals can help you stay focused on your savings goal.

Additionally, Dobot offers overdraft protection. If Dobot makes a mistake and transfers money you needed in your checking account, the app will reimburse overdraft charges. You just need to let Dobot know through the app.

A difference between Dobot and the other apps is that Dobot is a separate app from the bank and will require another download.

Best for: Overdraft protection

Cost: Free

Available: Android or iOS.

What to watch out for

No financial service is perfect. Banking apps that help you save money are not any different. As you explore these mobile app savings options, there are a couple of things you need to watch out for.

First and foremost, you need to make sure the app is secure. Jacob Dayan, CEO of Community Tax, recommends looking for a banking app that requires multi-factor authentication. “Multi-factor authentication can be annoying, but this is one way to make sure no one will be hacking into your account,” Dayan says.

Cameron Burskey, managing director at Cornerstone Financial Services, recommends keeping the risk of overdrafting your checking account in mind.

“When your money is automatically drafted out of your checking account make sure you are keeping enough money in your account so you do not incur an overdraft fee from your bank,” Burskey says.

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Written by
Sarah Sharkey
Contributing writer
Sarah Sharkey is a contributing writer for Bankrate. Sarah writes about a range of subjects, including banking, savings tips, homebuying, homeownership and personal finance.