Using Mint.com To Keep My Money Fresh

When turned first turned 18 in high school, the first thing I did wasn’t go out to buy a lotto ticket, go see an R-rated movie, or buy a pack of cigarettes.  Instead, what I was most excited to do was open up my own personal bank account to manage my money.  I know, I know, living on the edge, right?  I was tired of lugging cash around and handing it over to my parents to deposit at our local bank when I was underage.  I was excited to finally be in control over my finances and the first thing I did when I got my newly minted bank account was figure out a way to manage it properly.  For that I turned to “Mint.com” and I haven’t looked back since.

Mint.com is a free web & app based personal financial management service used by over 20 million people worldwide.  It’s certainly not perfect as I’ve learned over the years, but it’s a great and easy way to keep track of what your money’s up to and where it’s all going.  It puts all your financial information into your place so that you know exactly how much you’ve spent each month, how much you have budgeted for that month, and how that spending has compared to in the past.

For example, want to know how much you’ve spent on your cable bill each month for the past 7 years? Mint can pull that for you with a click of the button across 3 different credit cards and 2 different providers.  Very useful information so that when you’re calling your cable provider to complain about how much your cable bill’s increased over the past 18 months (Thanks a lot ESPN!), you have the facts to support your argument of getting a rate cut.

How does it work?

After you make an account, Mint.com will ask you to load any and all financial accounts that you use on to its portal.

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You just type in your bank, credit card, loan provider, investment account, etc. and then type in your username and password for that account (it uses a secure system to access your information) and Mint will automatically find and upload all the transactions it can find to the portal.  For your safety, you are unable to actually perform any monetary transactions (wiring money, paying bills, buying/selling securities, etc.) on Mint, it’s sole purpose is to pull the data and aggregate it in order for you in one unified format.

For credit cards, it will show pending transactions once you make a purchase and then once the transaction has posted, it will place a realized transaction underneath.

For cash transactions, you can manually input the amount and category of the transaction (either income or spending).  It doesn’t track how much physical cash you hold, but it will adjust your monthly transactions based on cash spending that you share with Mint.

For investments, Mint will automatically refresh to pull the most recent market value for your investment accounts and will include any dividends/purchases made.  These transactions will not be included as part of your monthly spending, but instead appear in a separate column.

What does it look like?

Below is a generic example I pulled that gives you a sense of the interface:

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The column on the left shows you how much you have in every active account you’ve added.  Note how it’s broken out by cash, debt (and investments, car payments & loans if available).  Also note how it gives you you’re TRUE net value as it subtracts your loans & credit card payments from cash.

The budgeting category allows you to build a monthly budget that gets automatically tracked to your spending.  After uploading your data, Mint will actually compile an approximate average historical spending in that category based on your data.  You can either choose to use that average or change it to how you see fit.  Are you close to exceeding your budget for restaurants?  That line item in the certain will turn from green to yellow to red as you get closer to hitting that budget limit, serving as a clear cut indicator that you need to cut back on Anna’s Taqueria 6 nights a week.

The trends is probably the most valuable feature for those who are interested in improving their finances.  It lets you track your spending/income over time and incorporate your own goals to reach your financial destinations.  By regularly tracking and sticking with a goal, Mint.com can help bring about financial success.

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How does Mint.com make any money?

Mint makes their money by occasionally recommending financial products that are “customized” to your financial profile.  I’ll occasionally see bank and credit card products on their page that will be an ideal fit for me.  I usually just ignore them, they’re not very distracting.  As Intuit purchased Mint in 2009, I am seeing an occasional push to use their TurboTax services around tax time.  But again, not too distracting and I small price to pay to use their interface?

Wow, this sounds great!  What’s the catch?

The problem is that occasionally Mint’s greatest resource, it’s ability to accumulate a wide variety of bank data across different platforms, can be it’s greatest weakness.  Occasionally a bank will be uncomfortable with Mint logging in as a user and will block Mint from gaining access to it’s data.  What this means is that I occasionally get a notification saying that my “XYZ Bank” data is 2 days old and the information is stale.  Not exactly reassuring when I use Mint regularly.

Also, I have changed financial products multiple times across the years, and while it’s usually not a problem adding a new account to Mint, I occasionally will get “Zombie” account transactions from an account that have closed in the past.  For example, I’ll look back at a previous account that was closed and notice that Mint decided to create duplicates from every transaction from 2008-2010.  Perfect.

Lastly, the investment tracking feature was rush in my belief and does not actually track investment performance, it’s only useful for seeing your investment portfolio value for that day.

In Conclusion

If you have multiple financial products and are tired of remembering 19 different logins for tracking your finances everyday, use Mint.  I would also use an old-fashioned spreadsheeet as a backup just in case, but Mint gets the job done 95% of the time.

10 comments

  1. Great post! I think Mint.com is an awesome creation and I used it as well. I think it’s a super helpful way to organize all the different platforms and apps we use to handle money. However, I stopped using it awhile back for a simple, but to me very important reason: security. From what I have read, Mint.com has very secure and encrypted systems to protect user information, but it doesn’t change the fact that you’re providing your access information for every important bank or money management account that you own. If someone was able to hack Mint, they would know everything about you and how to get all of your assets. I also wonder if Mint.com were to close up shop, what would that mean for user information? These are probably very unlikely situations, but IMO the fewer websites and apps that have my account numbers, the better.

  2. diiorion · ·

    I remember seeing advertisements for this a few years ago and thought it would be a great service to use but never really got around to creating an account. As graduation gets closer, this definitely seems like a very effective tool that I should look into as I start the daunting task of creating and sticking to a strict budget once I move to New York.

    Although, I have a slight bit of concern regarding security issues as well. Like I said before, I’ve never used the service so it might be much more secure than I’m picturing right now. But the thought of loading the service with every single bit of financial information you have seems pretty scary. But then again, pretty much all of the financial information, at some capacity, exists online anyway.

    Great post. Now that you’ve reminded me, I’ll definitely be looking further into this service very soon.

  3. laurencondon23 · ·

    Interesting post! I am also taking a capstone course “Life, Money, and Generosity” this semester and Mint has been discussed multiple times as a way to help us effectively budget our money. The course has required us to track our spending each day and the majority of the class began to utilize Mint to do so within the first week. I however have stuck to old fashioned excel spreadsheets for this assignment due to similar concerns of security that others mentioned here. The idea of providing my account information to any third party has never sat well with me, no matter how secure any system appears to be. I would rather put a little extra time into budgeting and remain assured that I am being as safe as possible with my financial information. That being said, I absolutely believe that Mint is a valuable tool for those who are either unwilling to budget the old fashioned way or are confident in the security of the system.

  4. Cool! I was much more familiar with Mint when they came on the scene a few years ago but I am glad to hear they have created such a sustainable platform. What I am most surprised about is just how little functionality they really offer. Not to underplay the value of Mint, but to have 20 million users, they must be doing something right. If you had told me that you were building a platform for tracking an individual’s financial services, but it does not allow you to wire, trade or withdrawal, I would have laughed. However, I now see the added benefit if you have so many differing financial services. The question that comes to mind for me is, what’s next? They can continue adopting additional financial services to accelerate user growth but is there something else, maybe something bigger they are now looking to accomplish?

  5. lenskubal · ·

    Great post! I have several friends that use Mint.com, but I never adopted the application. Honestly, I had no idea what it could really do for my personal finances. Your blog post did a great job explaining, and convincing me why I might want to start using it. I think Mint.com could be an extremely effective tool for all students about to be in the real world. Control of your own money is very important to me, so this might be my next step to monitor my accounts. I do have some concern regarding the “zombie” transactions you mentioned. That is a bit scary, but you didn’t seem too concerned about it. Perhaps this feeling is just my lack of experience and knowledge about such applications.

  6. benrmcarthur · ·

    Great post! I haven’t heard of Mint.com before but I could get a good sense of the product through your blog. I manage my finances through my credit card reporting through my bank. I’m able to see how much I spend per month in each sector and from there I get an accurate idea of what my tendencies are and what my budget should be for that topic. But it looks to me like Mint.com takes a few steps further in some of the things you described. Their visual aid as well as the appropriate goals with your income seems like things I do not currently have but can predict on my own. Can’t say that I’ll be using Mint soon, but I do see where they earn their business.

  7. I started using Mint years ago, and really liked it. I, too, dropped off because it was just too cumbersome to keep all the accounts linked (and the banks developed better tools too).

  8. I think Mint does a decent job of giving you a way to consolidate your accounts into an easy-to-see format, but truthfully, I didn’t stick with it. Compatibility issues with various financial institutions was the deal-breaker for me, however. I didn’t see as much of a reason to keep my account when it could only access 75% of my accounts. On the other hand, I think it’s a great tool for people who tend to be slightly less-than-organized. If they’ve made more progress in the platform, I’d definitely consider giving them another chance though.

  9. katherinelgold · ·

    Really interesting post. Similar to some of the other commenters, I downloaded Mint, but never made an account because of security concerns. I’m curious if/how Mint will remain sustainable going forward. If it’s not perfect, and both people and banks are uncomfortable with sharing information, I wonder what would be an alternative? While I use mobile banking through my credit union, it doesn’t help with budgeting or sorting my purchases by category.

    I suspect Intuit’s name on Mint brings with it more trust. Rather than being some random startup that takes your bank information, it it backed by a trusted company. Marketing to overcome potential security concerns would be a challenge, but it is necessary if they want to gain trust.

  10. mikeward7 · ·

    Unlike most of the other people commenting, I’ve actually never heard of Mint before. I went to the website after reading this though and it seems really helpful. I do a terrible job of managing my little amount of money as a college student so this could definitely be a great system for me to start using in order to know how I’m spending. This was a really interesting post!

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