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.
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:
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.
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.
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.