Account Types

Should I set up all my accounts in YNAB?

That’s entirely up to you. You can budget quite successfully with just your checking account - but here are basic guidelines to help you decide which accounts to track in YNAB.

  • If you spend from an account, you should set it up in YNAB - otherwise your budget won’t know about this spending. Likewise if you earn income that’s deposited to this account, you’ll want to record that in YNAB so you can put it to use it in your budget. 
  • If you don’t spend from an account, you don’t need to set it up in YNAB. If it’s a debt account like a car loan, or student loan, you need a category to budget for the payment.  You don’t need the account. The payment is recorded in whatever account you make the payment from.  For example, if you pay your car loan from your checking account, you would record that transaction in the checking account categorizing it as car loan.  Some users set up Off-Budget Accounts to track the balances or to keep their debt-reduction efforts in one place, but it isn’t necessary to budget successfully.

What’s the difference between Budget Accounts and Off-Budget accounts?

YNAB has two main account types:

Budget Accounts

Budget Accounts are accounts that fund your budget. The money from these accounts is sent to the Budget so you can put it to work. Similarly, if you spend money from a Budget Account, you would need to notify the Budget about this spending.

Information is sent from Budget Accounts to the Budget through the Budget Category column that appears in Budget Accounts - this is true for both income and spending. 

When entering income you need to decide when the money should go to work in your budget. There are two ways to enter Income in YNAB - you can either allocate it to the current  month or the next month. The income options in the Budget Category field are based on the date of the transaction. For example, if the transaction date is a September date, the choices under income in the Budget Category field will be Income for September (the current month) or Income for October (the next month).

To record spending in a Budget Account, enter a transaction and choose the appropriate category from the Budget Category menu.

Off-Budget Accounts

Off-Budget Accounts are accounts that you have added to YNAB primarily to track their progress. You may make payments to these accounts, but these accounts do not provide money to fund your budget - they typically have limited activity.

These accounts are NOT a part of your budget or spending plan.  Examples of these accounts would be retirement accounts, long-term savings accounts, or a liability account such as a consumer loan. Money transferred from a Budget Account to an Off-Budget Account is an outflow (usually an expense) for budget purposes; money transferred from an Off-Budget Account to an On-Budget Account is an inflow (usually income) for budget purposes.

Categories exist and are used only within the Budget, and because an Off-Budget Account is not part of the Budget, neither outflows nor inflows to this account need a category. In fact, the Budget Category column is not visible in Off-Budget Account registers. Any money sent to an Off-Budget Account (e.g., a tax refund direct deposited to an Off-Budget savings account) is not income for budget purposes and is not added to the amount Available to Budget.

By default the following accounts are Budget Accounts:

  • Checking
  • Savings
  • Credit Cards
  • Cash
  • Line of Credit
  • Paypal
  • Merchant Account

By default the following accounts are Off-Budget Accounts:

  • Investment Accounts
  • Mortgage
  • Other Assets  
  • Other Loan/Liabilities

Did you know that your YNAB register can replace your paper register for your checking account?   If you're tracking your expenses in YNAB, entering them in a paper register is double entry!  Save yourself the trouble and let go of that paper register.

How do I decide whether or not my account should be a Budget or Off-Budget Account?

If you spend from it and that spending affects your budget, or if the accounts funds the Budget, it should be set up as a Budget Account.

If you don’t spend from it and it doesn’t fund the Budget, it should be set up as an Off-Budget Account. 

Learn how to organize your accounts.