If you’ve been struggling with organizing your finances and gaining greater control over your money, you can get help from a new app called Stratus.
It doesn’t provide the comprehensive money management capabilities of competitors, like Personal Capital, but it does help you get into a position where you have better control over your money, and can specifically allocate it toward major goals, like savings or getting out of debt.
Best of all, the app is free to use!
What is Stratus?
Stratus is an app that focuses on financial organization. They’ve assembled a team of experts in financial management, banking, and technology, working together to create a community that provides financial advice and personalized guidance.
Stratus works to help you organize and improve your monthly finances, payoff debt, and save money. If you’ve not been able to accomplish these goals in the past, the app is an excellent way to do it.
Stratus isn’t as sophisticated as some of the competing personal finance apps, but if you’re looking for one that’s simple to use, gets the job done, and doesn’t cost you any money, it’s well worth using.
How Stratus works
Link your accounts
Once you connect to the app, you’ll download your various financial accounts. This includes:
- Your bank accounts
- PayPal account
- Student loans
- Financial institutions (savings, etc)
- Credit cards
Many of the financial accounts you’ll need to link are already available on the app.
You’ll also be asked to provide expected income sources. You’ll then be provided with a thorough financial analysis of your situation.
If you download your bank, and you have multiple accounts with the same bank, Stratus will automatically link those accounts to the app. So, if you have a checking account with the bank, but also a savings account, a car loan, and a credit card, all will automatically be included in the app.
Your Money Story
When you link a spending account, Stratus will work to organize your transactions for the previous two months.
Once those transactions are organized, the app will begin analyzing your income and spending patterns. Expenses will be grouped by broad categories, like restaurants, gas, deposits, withdrawals, and transactions from the same sites and sources.
It brings you to a page that says “Kevin’s Money Story”, including “Money In” and “Money Out”, with summaries for the month. Money In will include income and other deposits. Money Out will include cash withdrawals, payments, purchases, and bank charges. Under each list, you’ll get a breakdown of each expense in each category.
You always have the option to add more spending or income categories to the app.
Analyze Your Finances
The “Analyze Your Finances” button will enable you to create goals. For example, you can set separate goals to avoid new debt, pay off old debt, or save money.
They also help you create a plan to help you avoid exceeding your monthly income. Once a week, Stratus will go through your spending, to track it and make sure you’re not over-spending.
For example, you can set a goal of “Build Money Plan”, which establishes a savings goal. It does this by breaking your budget into three categories:
- Must haves
- Nice to haves
- Long-term goals
The long-term goals are the savings or debt payoff targets. Eating out is a “nice to have”. Buying groceries and gas are “must haves”.
They’ll direct you to cut back on “nice to haves”, to carve out room in your budget for reaching your long-term goals. If $800 is in the “nice to have” category, they’ll recommend cutting that number in half, and redirecting it into the savings or debt payoff goal.
Your Stratus plan
Once the app is done analyzing your previous months spending history, it will bring up a plan to commit to for the following month. For example, the app may suggest $20 for your health club membership, $44 for restaurant food, $57 for entertainment, and $20 for extra “nice to haves”. The rest will be allocated toward “must haves”, and your long-term goals.
The app does not move money automatically, but rather it provides you with a spending and budget plan you need to follow. You’ll need to manually move money from spending categories into savings or early debt payments.
How to sign up with Stratus
To sign up with Stratus you complete a single page application, that asks for only basic information. That will include your name, email address, zip code (phone number is optional), then create a password.
Once in the app, you’re asked how you feel about money through a series of questions. For example, you’re asked:
- Do financial issues stress you out?
- Are you comfortable and don’t feel that you need any assistance with it?
- Would you like to have tools to help you organize better?
- You’re not concerned at the moment, but feel you will be later on in the future?
Once you complete those questions, and your financial concerns have been established, you begin connecting the accounts you want to include with the app.
Stratus features and benefits
Stratus is a very simple app, but here are some of the more noteworthy features it offers:
With Stratus you can have multiple long-term goals, and the app tracks your progress. It will also show you your My Money story, which will display the money you’re putting in, and the money that’s going out.
This enables you to track the progress of your spending and goals plans on a continuous basis.
If you’re in danger of exceeding your spending limits, Stratus will send you a notification, letting you know you’re getting close to your limit and at risk of exceeding it.
That’s designed to keep your budget under control, and to avoid exceeding your income.
Monthly spending plan
Stratus can let you know in advance how much money you’ll have to spend. After subtracting money for bills (Must Haves), the app will tell you how much you have left to spend or contribute toward your goals.
No phone support is offered. Communication on the website is by email. However, for immediate contact, live chat is available any time you’re in the app.
Stratus works in “view-only access”, which means while Stratus can see your account, they have no control over your money—only you do. It uses bank-level, 256-bit Secure Socket Layer (SSL) encryption to protect your information, and doesn’t store the login credentials for your linked accounts (credentials that aren’t stored can’t be stolen).
This is one of the best features of Stratus. The app is completely free to use. There aren’t even any ads or service recommendations that Stratus might earn revenue from.
It does raise the question of how the company will stay in business, absent any revenue. It may be that while the app is free to use now, a small fee will be imposed at some point in the future. Still, the app is worth using in the meantime.
Stratus pros and cons
- Stratus is simple to download and link your accounts, and can begin helping you to better manage your finances immediately.
- It’s a perfect app for someone who has had difficulty developing a budget and saving money, or allocating more toward debt repayment.
- Stratus is completely free to use, and isn’t filled with income generating ads.
- The app uses a simple format, is easy to navigate, and highly intuitive in the way it establishes your goals and directs your budgeting activities.
- You can link all your accounts on the app, giving you a holistic view of your entire financial life.
- No phone contact is available, which is more forgivable since it’s a free service. However, the app does provide live chat, which should be just as good in most cases.
- There’s no automatic savings capability.
- The app will have limited utility if you receive substantial cash income (like a restaurant employee who earns a lot in tips), or if you have irregular income.
- Stratus has no investment capability.
Should you sign up with Stratus?
Stratus is a good app to use if you’ve been struggling with managing your finances. It can be especially beneficial for college students and recent grads who may be struggling to get a better handle on their finances.
In addition to the fact that the app is free, it’s also incredibly easy to sign up for, sync your accounts, and see the benefits it provides.
If there’s a negative feature, it’s that the app will only give you suggestions on how to better manage your finances. There are no automatic features, such as transferring funds into a savings account or paying off debt. The app will help you to set goals in those directions, but it’s up to you to actually make them happen.
If you’d like more information, or you’d like to sign up for the service, check out the Stratus website.
I’d like to use the app to begin investing; how can I do that if it doesn’t work with investment accounts?
Stratus isn’t developed to analyze your investment accounts, but it can help you invest by enabling you to save money that can later be transferred to an investment account.
After all, if you can’t save money, you won’t be able to invest. Think of Stratus as being part of your pre-investment strategy.
Do I have to provide sensitive personal information to sign up for the app?
One of the advantages of Stratus is that the information required to sign up is minimal. You don’t need to provide your Social Security number, nor do you need to download identification documents, like your birth certificate or your driver’s license.
The website doesn’t give a whole lot of specific detail on exactly how it works—where can I get more complete information?
Like the app itself, the Stratus website is simple, and doesn’t give a whole lot of detail. The only way to really learn what it can do, and if it will benefit you, is to sign up for the app itself.
Fortunately, that’s very easy to do. You can sign up in a matter of minutes, test run the service, and find out exactly what it does. Best of all, it doesn’t ask for a lot of information, so you can do a “test drive” in well under an hour.
Stratus is a simple, easy-to-use budget planner that can help you save, get out of debt, and organize your financial life. While it isn’t high-tech, like some of it’s competitors, if you’re looking for a free, safe budgeting alternative, give Stratus a try!