I‘ve been a long time user of Mint.com. If you’re not familiar with Mint, it is a free online personal budgeting tool that allows you to see your whole financial life in one place. Whether it’s checking, savings, credit cards, PayPal, investments, retirement accounts or many other personal finance accounts, Mint.com is your one stop shop to manage them all. In this review, I’ll share my experience with Mint.com.
Before I go into specifics, let me say that there is a difference between liking a product and liking what it does for you. Mint.com is an example of an innovation that delivers on both. It’s an inherently good concept and very well executed.
Before getting to the review, it’s important to understand that Mint, like Quicken, attempts to manage all aspects of your finances. That’s good and bad. It’s good in that it covers everything. It’s bad in that there are more specific tools that do each job better. For example, if your primary goal is to track investments, then Personal Capital is by far the better choice. And if all you want to do is track a budget, YNAB is the better choice.
How to Get Started with Mint.com
To begin, simply create a Mint account (it’s free). Once created, you will be prompted to add all of your financial accounts, including your bank account, credit cards, home loan and investment account information. This is the critical step to getting the most out of Mint.
You add these accounts in two steps. First you search for you financial institution on Mint. They have just about every bank, credit card company, and investment broker imaginable. Once you locate the financial institution you want to add, you’ll be prompted to enter the log-in credentials you use to access that account. This allows Mint to access your accounts and download your financial information into Mint.
There are three things to note about this process. First, Mint.com uses the same back-level encryption to protect your financial data that banks use. Second, the access you give to Mint is read-only, meaning it has no ability to actually move your money. It can only read the transactions and balances in your account. And finally, the process takes roughly five minutes.
I have to confess that I was a bit nervous the first time I entered this information. But I’ve used Mint for about two years now and have never had my financial data compromised.
What Makes Mint.com So Awesome?
First and foremost, it’s free. Who can object to free when software like Quicken Deluxe costs $60. Second, Mint.com is easy to use, which is why over 6 million people use Mint. It categorizes everything for you, every day. You can name the categories yourself, if you’re not happy with the default options Mint.com has set up for you.
Called an Overview, the first thing you see when you log into Mint.com is a snapshot of your finances. I use this screen more than any other. From the Overview I can look at the balances in all of my bank accounts, see how my investments are doing, check my credit card balances, and get alerts about upcoming bills.
Here’s a screenshot of the Overview in Mint:
The Overview screen also gives you a snapshot of your monthly budget. From this snapshot, you can quickly see if you are on track or if you are spending too much in one or more areas of your budget.
As the name suggests, with the Transaction page you see all of the transactions from all of the accounts you’ve linked to Mint. I use this page to categorize all of my spending. Mint does a reasonably good job at knowing how to categorize many transactions automatically. But there are always some transactions that I have to categorize myself.
The Transactions page has several helpful tools. First, it’s a snap to few your transactions by account, budget category, or payee. For example, I can quickly few the transactions for groceries across all accounts or just one. Second, Mint compares how much you’ve spent say on gas versus the U.S. average. This can be a helpful tool when setting up a budget.
For many, this is the heart and soul of Mint.com. The Budget feature makes it ridiculously easy to set up and track your monthly budget. There are two approaches to creating a budget in Mint.
First, you can create one as soon as you sign up for Mint. You simply select the categories you want to track and how much you plan to spend in each category. Mint has a list of categories to choose from, or you can create your own. As noted above, for each category Mint gives you the U.S. average that people spend for each category, which can be a big help.
The second approach, and the one I used, was to wait a few months before setting up your budget. Let Mint track your spending, and then it will suggest a budget based on how you’ve spent your money. This makes creating the budget very easy. As you can see from the screen shot below, Mint has suggested a budget for me for groceries of $270 a month (a bit low because I had not categorized all my grocery transactions):
Mint Goals are a simple way to track your progress on important financial steps. While you can customize your own goals, Mint offers several goals to choose from, including paying off credit card debt or saving for an emergency.
Goals are useful in several respects. First, Mint integrates your account information with the Goals functionality For example, if your goal is to pay off your credit card debt, Mint automatically grabs your credit card balances and brings them into your goal. Mint also offers useful calculators to help you establish your goals, and it provides a simple and intuitive way to track your progress.
This is the disappointing side of Mint.com, at least for me. You can track investment accounts in Mint just like a bank account. Every day after the market closes I update the investments in my Mint portfolio. This snapshot is very helpful. But that’s about all Mint provides when it comes to investments.
So what’s the problem? Well, there are two problems. First, Mint does not provide any features to help with asset allocation. It would be very helpful if Mint broke down my investments by asset class much like Morningstar or Vanguard can do. Now in theory Mint can do this. When you go to the investment page, there is an “allocation” tab. Here’s what mine looks like–
Not exactly helpful.
The second problem is even more frustrating. Mint seems to have a problem when it comes to connecting with brokers and mutual fund companies. It’s not uncommon for Mint to have trouble downloading investing transactions. And even when it does download the transactions, they don’t always appear on its Investing page.
For example, my Overview currently shows all of my investment accounts. But when you go to the Investing page, my Scottrade account is mysteriously gone. Actually, it’s listed, but it is greyed out and the value of the account is not added to my total investments. this must simply be a bug in the system, but a very frustrating one.
The fact is that Mint.com is for budgeting, not investing.
So here’s where I come out on Mint.com. If you’re a visual learner, like me, Mint.com has all the right graphs and charts to make me feel in control of my finances. It’s orderly, easy, and don’t forget, free. I suppose your expectation level will dictate how well you like this product. I expect mass market products to have pitfalls. Nothing can be everything to everyone. If you’re on the fence on whether or not to use Mint.com, just look at all of the information you see simply after you’ve logged in.
Mint.com was already named the best online personal finance tool by Money Magazine, PC Magazine, and is PC World’s Editor’s Choice. And since Intuit purchased Mint.com, there have been big improvements. It’s still not perfect, but I think it is a good overall option for online budgeting.