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How New Budgeting App Level May Change the Way You Think About Money

By Patrick Nelson – Feb 11, 2014 at 8:02AM

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By getting a daily snapshot of how much cash you have available, conceivably you could start saving some of it.

If you've ever used a bank, you'll know there's room for improvement. San Francisco-based Level Money, funded by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, reckons it has the answer to next-generation financial services.

Level Money pitches its product, smartphone app Level, as a digital version of a wallet. Recently released and just updated for the Android mobile operating system, Level links banks and other accounts, monitors them, and tells you how much cash you have available to spend.

Unlike new smartphone mobile wallet transactional services, Level is a live analytical budgeting tool it describes as a "digital money meter."

Level is available for free in the Google Play store and is also available for iOS.

Signing up with the app and allowing it to link multiple bank accounts lets you in on its simple analytic: income, less bills, less savings, equates to your spendable cash.

The app then guesses at your specific formula values -- for example, income. It does this by looking through the online banking ledger at your transactions, like deposits, bills, and so on. The app then tells you how much you can spend daily, weekly, or monthly, in a clean UI with pie charts.

What it doesn't do -- and this may be one of its selling points -- is it doesn't move money around; it works with existing bank accounts. This is a good thing at the consumer level, because any time you move money, banks take a piece. 

How does Level make money?

The backend is run through its partner Intuit (INTU -1.36%), maker of Quicken, the personal finance software product.

Level promises not to hit you up with ads or sell your data, according to its app FAQ page, but it does provide a caveat that says that it might ultimately offer financial products.

Level won't need to follow the traditional banking slice-of-the action if it can work closely with Intuit, and cross-promote some of Intuit's software products, like tax preparation software TurboTax, already available in mobile app form, called SnapTax.

Intuit is long removed from its 1983-released desktop PC personal finance-oriented Quicken and its business-geared QuickBooks, with its spreadsheet-like ledger and reporting products. Working with Level is a way to appeal to a smartphone-wielding youthful consumer. It takes budgeting to an impulsive crowd that needs personal finance products, but is possibly turned off by them, yet is likely open to new-fangled financial techniques like analytics.

Level makes copious use of the demographic term "Millennials" in its marketing. Strategically then, Intuit and Level is an interesting match.

I liked the app, but not for its obvious daily, at-a-glance budgeting.

Where this app really comes into its own is that by getting a daily snapshot of how much cash you have available, conceivably you could start saving some of it. Hidden away, the app provides what it calls a Rollover screen—an estimate of how much you've saved above and beyond your usual savings, if any.

If you spend less than the daily goal, that dollar amount appears as Rollover. You could then transfer it into a savings account.

Unfortunately, that part of the process will be with your bank's likely cumbersome online banking software or app.

For those interested in how analytics are changing the way we do things, and how to get Millennials to pay attention to the dull things in life, like budgets, the Level app is a must see.

Patrick Nelson has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Intuit. The Motley Fool owns shares of Intuit. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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