Mint is a FREE online personal finance (web 2.0) service similar to Quicken. Over the past several years 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 browser or mobile device.
What is Mint.com?
With over 15 million users, Mint.com is a simple personal financial program that’s web-based. It’s free to signup and only takes a few seconds to add new accounts. I picked ten personal accounts 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 visit their site, your financial data gets updated automatically. It presents your financial information in a slick easy-to-use web interface, with pretty graphs and all.
Though the service appears to be more about the glitz than useful functionality, it’s still very helpful for things like budgeting, creating goals and aggregating all your financial accounts in one place. Mint’s dashboard gives a quick summary of your personal finances at a glance.
The Best of Mint’s Features
Budgeting and tracking expenses. Mint’s primary feature is all about budgeting and tracking expenses, and this is where their service really shines. Budgeting is super easy to setup: after downloading and syncing your transactions they will get auto-categorized into predefined categories. You can create your own subcategories, but unfortunately cannot modify the top level ones.
You also have the option to make changes to your transactions after they are downloaded. The auto-categorization is far from perfect, and you’ll 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.
Creating and managing goals. Another prominent feature of Mint’s is the goal tracking and managing feature. Creating new goals, like paying off credit card debt or saving for a new home, are simple to set up and easily reflect in your monthly budgeting.
Monitoring credit scores. They recently rolled out a free credit score tracking option, which makes keeping track of your entire financial picture as easy as logging into Mint.com. Just click on the “Show Details” button to view your credit score, payment history, age of credit accounts and lots more. You also have the chance to upgrade to a premium version.
Mint.com’s service seems to be more focused on catering to the masses. It’s very strong with budgeting and tracking expenses, but its investing area is simplistic at best. Like most of Mint, it’s 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 complete access to your financial data both through their website, and your favorite mobile device. They have mobile apps for Apple’s iPhone, iPad, and Google’s Android. This makes it easy to access your finances on the go. For added security, they recently rolled out the Touch ID sensor for iOS that quickly reads your fingerprint and automatically unlocks your phone, allowing you quick access to the Mint.com 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. It’s easy to sign up for alerts to be sent via email or directly to your smartphone. Get alerts for:
- Late Fees
- Over budget on a category
- Bill reminders
- Rate changes
- Large purchases
Good Features of 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).
- Credit Score Tracking – View and monitor your credit score, account usage, payment history and errors at a glance.
- Two Factor Authentication (New) – Validate your use before logging in by either your email message or cell phone SMS message.
Issues with Mint
- Lack of Investing 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 Questions – 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; this is otherwise known as the freemium model. You might be asking, “How does Mint make money from this free service?”. Well, they make money by offering “ways to save” or make you money by recommending various financial services in which they get a referral fee. They also recently introduced ad banners in various parts of the web site to monetize users. Additionally, you can now sign up for premium access to your credit report.
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 do think a hybrid of local and remote application (cloud based) like Mint.com is the future of this industry.
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.
The recently added two-factor authentication is a nice but needed touch for any financial service. Mint won’t allow you access to your account until you validate your computer with something you have (this is the second factor with your password being your first). You can do this via one of two methods; either via the email address when you signed up, or by a SMS text message to your cell phone. Mint will send you a random code which you then must enter on their web site.
How Does it Compare to Quicken?
While I use Quicken as our primary method to manage our entire 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 our 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, goals and credit score. The alerts sent via email are a useful and welcomed feature. It’s unfortunate that Mint’s investing area is very weak for all but the basic investors. In fact, the investing area is so weak that they don’t list it on their website as one of the primary reasons to use Mint.com.
Mint, unfortunately, does not have investment and asset allocation tools like Personal Capital (check out our 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 (which is what Mint used prior to the Intuit buyout). My experience Personal Capital’s synchronization has been more reliable.
We recommend using Mint for its basic budgeting, goal and credit score 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.