Mint is a FREE online personal finance (web 2.0) service similar to Quicken. For over three years now, I’ve taken mint.com for a test spin with my personal finances. With Mint you have no local software to install, and it’s a service you can access with any web browser or mobile device. This review of Mint.com has been updated for 2013.
To use Mint it’s free to signup. Mint is a breeze to add accounts. I picked ten accounts we have to test their service. I selected a mixture of: banking, credit cards, loans, and investing brokerage accounts. Upon initial setup, Mint.com seamlessly downloaded my financial data.
Every time you revisit their web site, your financial data gets updated automatically. The web site presents your financial information in a slick easy-to-use web interface – pretty graphs and all. Though the service appears to be more about the glitz than useful functionality. Mint’s dashboard web page gives you summary of what’s going on with your personal finances.
Budgeting and Goal Setting
Mint’s primary feature is all about budgeting and setting up goals, and this is where their service shines. Budgeting is super easy to setup. Downloaded transactions will get auto-categorized into predefined categories. You can create your own subcategories, but unfortunately cannot modify the top level categories.You also have the option to make changes to your transactions after downloaded. The auto categorization is far from perfect, and you will need to make adjustments from time to time. Though once memorized, Mint will remember repeating transactions so it will automatically match to the same category in the future.
Mint.com’s service seems to be more focused on catering to the masses. It is very strong with budgeting and tracking expenses, but its investing area is simplistic at best. Like most of Mint, it is much simpler than Intuit’s Quicken and lacks many features (see our Quicken Review).
With the acquisition of Mint by Intuit, it’s obvious this is the future of the Quicken product line. In addition, Microsoft discontinued Money January 2011, so there aren’t many viable alternatives around.
Mint.com Apps and QuickView
Mint offers access to your financial data via their web site, and by your favorite mobile device. They have mobile apps for Apple’s iPhone, iPad, and Google’s Android. This allow for quick and easy access to your finances on the go. You’ll need to sign up for an account on mint.com first, before you can use the app.
First released in 2012, Mint QuickView is a companion app available only for Apple’s OS X operating system. It’s another method to get a quick glimpse into your personal finances. Mint QuickView is easy to install from Apple’s App Store, and syncs up with your Mint.com account. You then get a green leaf at the top of your toolbar that’s always running in the background. The app will alert you via badge notifications of changes to your finances. If you have Apple’s Mountain Lion or Mavericks edition of OS X, it can also put notifications into your message bar which is quite useful. QuickView has similar functionality to Mint’s web site, and is recommended if you use Apple’s OS X and like Mint’s service.
Get Alerts From Mint
Mint keeps an eye on your money, so you don’t have to. Alerts can go to an Email address or directly to your smartphone. Get alerts for:
- Late Fees
- Over budget on a category
- Bill reminders
- Rate changes
- Large purchases
Great Features in Mint
- Weekly summaries via Email – Find out what’s happened in the past week with your finances.
- Alerts via Email or SMS page – Mint will alert on pending bills ,and ways to save money on transaction fees.
- Budgeting and Goal Setting – Know exactly where you are spending your money in a easy to understand graphical format.
- Mobile App Support – Support for the Apple’s iPhone, iPad, OS X, and Google Android. The apps are all free. Get your financial information on the go.
- Automatic Downloaded Transactions – Automatically syncs your financial data into Mint (when it works properly).
Issues with Mint
- Lack of advanced features - Their investing section is OK at best. Personal Capital is a possible alternative that offers better investment tools.
- Synchronization Issues – This is a sore point with many users of Mint. At times syncing with your bank breaks, and can take a long time to get resolved. At the moment I have accounts syncing up with Mint, but are no longer showing in my accounts area to modify.
- Lack of report generation – The only way to generate a report is exporting a CSV file to a spreadsheet like Microsoft Excel.
- No Reconciliation – You cannot reconcile against your monthly bank statements. Mint assumes the data downloaded is always correct.
- Lack of Customer Support – Mint.com is a free product. I assume because of this the support is lacking in this area. You have support via Email (reported to be very slow to respond) and their forums. Phone support is not available.
- No History Before Mint.com – You cannot import data from other personal finance application into Mint.com.
- Security - I understand their security setup. What concerns me is the centralization of so much data by itself. This can be very useful for a hacker. You can’t write checks or purchase stock, but that’s not the issue I’m concerned about. It’s the disclosure of financial information in one central location.
- Backups – With many web 2.0 services, you are relying on them to perform proper backups. While in this case no critical data can be lost (account data is stored with the bank), the setup of categories and alerts are stored with Mint. Users have reported loss of transactions within the service.
- Auto Categorization – Assignments to income/expense categories are not always correct, and sometimes manual intervention is needed.
How Does Mint.com Make Money?
The service is free to use, and there are no hidden fees – otherwise known as the freemium model. You might be asking, “How does Mint make money from this free service?” Mint makes their money by offering “ways to save” or make you money by recommending various financial services in which they get a referral fee.
Mint also sells the aggregate (not your individual) financial data to various providers. Things like: consumer spending, the average credit card balance, how many retirement accounts a user may have, etc. It must be stressed, the data is collected anonymously and does not reference back to individual usage.
Is Mint Safe?
I think locally installed applications like Quicken are going the way of the Dodo bird. I know, call me old fashion, but I like having all of my data locally within Quicken. I do think a hybrid of local and remote application (cloud based) like Mint.com is the future of this industry. Intuit’s Quicken 2014 edition shows some future possibility of this realm.
Since I’m in the technology industry and deal with security all the time, I know the risks of leaving security to a third party. Mind you, I’m not saying Mint is insecure. In many cases an individual’s desktop computer is much less secure. Of course, for Mint the perception of security is their biggest adoption road block.
How Does it Compare to Quicken?
While I use Quicken as our primary method to manage our finances, I have also somewhat outgrown Quicken as well. Recently, I’ve been creating Microsoft Excel spreadsheets for managing parts of my portfolio. Specifically I manage our precious metals, and security bucket (which is primarily fixed income) outside of Quicken. Quicken, or any other application for that matter, does not seem to have tools to help manage these areas of your finance. To manage these assets, I wind up transferring the total amount into a Quicken account. With this said, Quicken still has many features and functionality that in Mint is either very simplistic or non-existent.
Mint is great for creating, and tracking your budget. The alerts via Email are useful and welcomed feature. It’s unfortunate that Mint’s investing area is very weak for all but the basic investors. The investing area is so weak – they don’t list it on their own web site as one of the primary reasons to use Mint.com.
Mint, unfortunately, does not have investment and asset allocation tools like Personal Capital (see Personal Capital review). If you have over $100,000 in investments, Personal Capital is a much better fit.
In addition, Personal Capital doesn’t have the same synchronization issues as Mint.com. When Intuit acquired Mint.com, it replaced Yodlee (which does the financial synchronization) with their own internal system.
Many users of Mint.com stated synchronization issues started happening only after this switchover occurred. Personal Capital uses Yodlee to link up accounts. Our experience Personal Capital’s synchronization is more reliable.
We recommend using Mint for its basic budgeting features. Since Mint.com does not cost anything to use, you might as well signup and give it a spin. For better investment tools and more reliable synchronization, I recommend Personal Capital instead.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars