Differences from other apps
This is a high-level comparison of Actual to a few other apps out there. There are a lot of budgeting apps and this only focuses on a few. These points are generally the same with many other apps.
Out of all of the apps out there, YNAB works the most similarly. They have an old out-of-date version YNAB 4 and and newer one YNAB 5. The reason this includes YNAB 4 is because many users still use it and have asked how Actual compares.
YNAB 4
  • Actual is a completely free local app whereas YNAB 4 was a local app that cost around $60.
  • Both Actual and YNAB 4 are local apps, but YNAB attempted to use Dropbox for syncing. Actual provides a more robust syncing service that requires zero setup from the user.
  • Actual will release full automatic transaction downloading which was not available in YNAB 4. However, this is not released yet.
  • In Actual, all income is immediately available instead of it automatically being held for next month.
  • Actual provides the ability to create income categories and track income however you like.
  • Obviously, Actual is a new app that is fully supported with a modern UI and not a deprecated old version.
YNAB 5
  • Actual is a completely free local app with your data stored locally, whereas YNAB 5 is cloud-hosted webapp that costs $84/year. Actual with syncing only costs $48/year.
  • Income is immediately available in both, but YNAB 5 has a "future budgeted" amount that it uses in the "to budget" calculations. This is the amount of all budgeted money in the future relative to a specific month. Actual instead has a "for next month" amount workflow.
  • Credit cards are not treated specially in Actual's budget. There are workflows to handle them but the budget doesn't do anything special for them which might reduce confusion about how it works.
  • Actual allows you optionally carry a negative category balance over into the next month. YNAB 4 called this "red arrow right". This allows you to easily track stuff like reimbursements if you're ok keeping a little debt.
  • Actual provides the ability to create income categories and track income however you like.
  • Actual does not have full automatic transaction downloading yet but it will be released soon.
  • Actual does not have goals yet, and we are currently researching the use cases around them.
  • Actual's mobile app is not as fully-featured yet, but it hopefully will be over time.
Mint
Mint has a very different philosophy, so instead of focusing on specific features, this will focus on higher-level differences.
  • Mint automatically categorizes things for you which can be helpful, but we believe quickly going through each transaction (even if we suggest categories) builds better habits for keeping in touch with your finances.
  • Budgets are essentially optional for categories. You create budgets separately for each category, and unbudgeted categories just show the current amount spent. In Actual, every dollar spent must come out from somewhere.
  • Rolling overspending into the next month is optional as well, and is only done on a per-category basis. Here's why we think that's cumbersome.
  • Mint can be a good system, but for budgeting it takes a good amount of work to make sure everything is set up correctly. Because it doesn't offer a cohesive budgeting workflow by default you might need to do more work to handle special cases that come up in your life. Otherwise it's difficult to see if the budget numbers are accurate or not.
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