Editor’s Note: This piece is part of a weekly series that will appear every Monday in which MainStreet spotlights one new smartphone app that can help readers manage their money, shop better or improve their job search. Check back each week to find out which apps you should have on your phone!
NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Don’t let the name fool you – this tool has little to do with food and certainly isn’t loaded with problems.
Lemon, a free app released this month for the iPhone, Blackberry and Android phones, makes it easy for users to scan and catalogue their receipts to keep them organized and accessible without having to store a pile of paper receipts in a shoebox somewhere.
The Lemon app uses the smartphone camera to quickly scan the receipts and digitize them, but if this were the app’s only trick we wouldn’t be writing about it. What really sets Lemon apart from other apps is that it then can analyze the data on the scanned receipt and extra information about how much you spent and where. The app then takes this information and lets users create detailed charts of their weekly or monthly spending habits for all purchases, as well as organized by specific venues or methods of payments (cash, credit, etc.).
In this sense, Lemon functions like a more precise version of other budget-tracking services like Mint.com. Instead of seeing just broad categories of purchases (restaurants, clothing), you can home in on just how much you spend at specific restaurants and retailers. The downside, of course, is that one must scan each and every receipt to get this data, whereas Mint automatically collects your purchases by connecting with your bank account. Then again, if you are the type of person who likes to keep a record of your receipts for expense reports, this app could easily save you some time.
The app’s other major perk is that users can sign up for an e-mail account with Lemon and have their electronic receipts sent to that address rather than their personal e-mail. So if you were shopping at stores like Urban Outfitters and Best Buy, which offer the option of receiving a paper or digital receipt, you could opt for the latter and have the store send it directly to your Lemon account, which you could then incorporate into your spending reports. This feature will only become more valuable in the coming months and years as more merchants offer the option of digital receipts.
As with any personal finance app, though, the main downside is that a third-party company will have access to some of your financial information, which in this case means your receipts. In the terms of service, Lemon says explicitly that it may collect certain information from users including “the data displayed in your receipt” such as your name, the merchant’s name and the date and time of the purchase.
To be fair, very little of that qualifies as sensitive information since receipts never show your full credit card number, Social Security number or home address, but if you are interested in using the service, we would suggest you avoid scanning any questionable purchases you might have made, just to be safe.
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