Careful budgeting is at the heart of effective financial planning. That simple truth applies to large corporations, small businesses and individuals. The new breed of apps for creating realistic budgets includes powerful versions of older products that have been enhanced for optimum effectiveness.

Most are free, but even some of the top tier cost less than $50, and they are true work horses of the digital marketplace. If you own a car or home, like to stay up to date on your tax situation, prefer to track every loan with ease and enjoy setting bills on auto pilot, these applications take out some of the stress from your monthly household calculations. Here’s a look at what the latest budget related applications do and how they can help you navigate bill paying, tax planning and more.

Auto Payment for All Bills

Once you set your repeating monthly bills to auto pay, you’ll never be able to go back to the old way of trying to remember due dates again. The set it and forget it approach is a fool proof method that takes the drudgery out of what is usually a boring chore. Most programs work with your bank or as standalone payment modules. It’s up to you how you want to set the preferences. For large families who uses multiple financial institutions, this strategy can add many hours of free time to your monthly schedule.

Loan Tracking

Mortgages, vehicle loans and student loans can come with different payment dates, amounts due and terms. Budget related apps are excellent at tracking all your debt as well as the regular payments you make. Taking out student loans is a great way to finance an education, but it’s even smarter to use a tracking application so you always know exactly how much your balance is, what percentage of each payment goes toward principal, what goes for interest, and how much time is left on the contract.

Tax Planning

Whether you know a little or a lot about taxation law, these products can save you money and make filing easier when April comes around. They have the ability to save and sort every conceivable type of tax relevant data in one place, so you’ll never have to hunt for paycheck amounts, charitable donations, medical expenses and a host of other important numbers you need to file your taxes.

End of Year Advice

One of more important perks that can dictate the future state of your finances is giving year end advice. Applications are experts at viewing and assimilating vast quantities of data and seeing patterns where human eyes can’t. When your budget chores are done and you have a clean, efficient list of income sources and expenses in front of you, the program will offer some tips for achieving even greater efficiencies. Suggestions like “your spending category labeled ‘restaurant meals’ is 60 percent higher than the national average,” or, “the amount of credit card debt compared to annual income is 20 percent higher than other couples in the same area code” can be extremely helpful in terms of tweaking numbers and breaking bad habits.