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Best apps to manage money and mental health during coronavirus lockdown

More than nine free apps to help you through the crisis

Managing money during the coronavirus pandemic is difficult. For people with mental health conditions, it could be even harder.

Lynne Ramsay, a retired magistrate and mental health lead in the courts, says that handling personal finances under lockdown could be particularly difficult for people with mental health problems and neurological conditions.

She told Which?: 'A lot of them still don't have online banking. People can offer to help them set it up, but then they can possibly get taken advantage of.'

The rise in the contactless payment cap to £45, although hailed as helpful for social distancing, could also put vulnerable people at risk, says Ramsay. Those with dementia may end up spending more on purchases they don't recall and scammers could influence vulnerable people to make higher-value contactless payments.

Here, Which? looks at a selection of apps that could help you or your loved ones manage money through the crisis.

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1. Kalgera

Free app Kalgera was designed to address the kind of fraud concerns that Lynne Ramsay raises.

It was selected by innovation foundation Nesta as one of 15 'fintech' companies using Open Banking to create innovative solutions to help people manage their finances.

The app uses Open Banking to connect with a user's bank account and alerts an appointed loved one (such as a parent or child) if any unusual activity is registered.

Action Fraud has previously warned of scammers targeting people with mental health issues to use them as 'money mules'. This involves befriending and convincing them to allow the use of their bank accounts to make and receive payments.

Unusual activity such as this would be flagged on Kalgera, allowing a loved one to step in with support.

Ramsay says people self-isolating alone could be more vulnerable to financial fraud as they no longer have access to group support from mental health charities or the Alzheimer's Society.

There is currently a waiting list to download Kalgera, which is usually less than two weeks.

2. Toucan

Like Kalgera, Toucan is a new app that gives parents, friends and carers oversight on loved ones' finances without having to hand over direct control. It's also free to use.

Which? member Rachel Edwards, 43, has suffered with depression since she was 11. She was one of Toucan's earliest adopters, testing the app for 14 weeks while it was in development.

Rachel chose her mother as her trustee for the app.

'She worries about me, so she loved it,' Rachel told Which? 'I tend to keep things from her because I don't want to worry her, but she'd rather know.'

With Toucan, Rachel's mother received alerts whenever Rachel spent money beyond a certain threshold. She called Rachel when she got these alerts to check everything was OK. 'I was more open to her thanks to Toucan.'

Rachel is worried about how the coronavirus might impact people with mental health conditions. She points to payment holidays on credit cards, which not everyone might realise still let interest build up.

'Sometimes it's hard to pick up the phone'

Another Toucan tester, also named Rachel, was diagnosed with severe anxiety and depression when she was 18, and with borderline personality disorder 18 months ago (although mental health professionals say she has had it most of her life).

She's prone to bouts of erratic spending and impulse buying as a result of her illness.

Knowing her daughter would receive a text and challenge her on unusual spending created a barrier for Rachel.

'I started to think twice before clicking the buy button. It sounds weird, but it's a bit like training a dog. It really changed my behaviour.'

Under lockdown, Rachel knows this will be even more helpful. 'You're going to have people who are on their own, who don't want to appear to be a burden to anyone else at this time,' she says.

'When I'm spiralling out of control, sometimes it's hard to pick up the phone and ask for help.' When Toucan sends texts to family members, it triggers a conversation that can be very difficult to start.

3. NHS-endorsed mental health apps

Not all of these apps will help you with money specifically, but the NHS website has a list of mental health apps that you could find useful under lockdown.

There are 20 apps on the list covering a range of mental health issues with different approaches. Not all of the apps are free, and some require GP referral.

Below, is a small selection of free apps from the list:

  • Big White Wall Connects users with round-the-clock support from mental health professionals.
  • Sleepio An online sleep improvement programme based on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for insomnia (CBTi).
  • distrACT Gives you quick, easy and discreet access to info and advice on self-harm and suicidal thoughts.
  • SilverCloudAn eight-week online course designed to help manage stress, anxiety and depression.

4. Money management apps

At the end of last year, Which? Money put together a list of seven budgeting and saving apps for 2020.

Any of these apps could be useful for keeping track of your finances in this difficult time when your mind might be elsewhere.

Below is a selection of free apps that could work for you. Be sure to check the full list if none of these is the right fit.

  • Yolt Using Open Banking, Yolt links your bank accounts, credit cards and pension investments to give you an overview of all your spending, broken down by category. It also gives you reminders of upcoming direct debit payments, so you can make sure you have enough in your account to pay them.
  • Oval Money To help you save, Oval Money has you set up rules (called 'steps') that encourage you to save based on your habits. This could be paying £1 into an account whenever you post on Facebook or leave the house for daily exercise.
  • Cleo A Facebook Messenger chatbot with a sense of humour, Cleo answers questions about your finances (usually with witty gifs) based on your income and spending.

Find out more:best budgeting and savings apps for 2020