Do you ever get frustrated by the sheer volume of financial accounts that you need to keep track of?
It can be maddening to monitor your bank accounts, investment accounts, credit card bills and loans. Having all of these accounts on separate websites makes it challenging to get a full picture of your financial situation.
There are solutions to this problem. There are a number of budgeting tools and apps that can help you manage your finances. Mint.com is one service that I use to help monitor my accounts in a single view.
In this review, I will cover all aspects of Mint to see if it is right for you.
There aren’t many downsides to using Mint, though it’s understandable why some people would shy away due to concerns over privacy and security. If I had one criticism, it would be that while Mint is useful as a tool, there is not much information provided on how it can be used best.
- Easy to use
- Convenient one-stop
- Easy tracking & budgeting
- Minimal user instructions
The Background on Mint
Mint was founded in 2006 in Silicon Valley by entrepreneur Aaron
At its core, Mint helps people track their money, set budgets, and get smarter with their finances. Aside from some integrations with Intuit’s software (such as Quicken and TurboTax), the concept behind Mint has not changed much.
Mint does not report official figures on numbers of users, but various published reports peg that number as between 15 and 20 million.
Before you get started, make sure you have your financial information ready to go.
Setting Up and Signing On
All you really need to get started with Mint is an email address, a password and a phone number.
To link your outside accounts, you go through a process of entering the login information and passwords for those accounts. This can be a bit tedious, but it’s not required every time you hop onto Mint.
Once all of your accounts are entered, they will sync up with the Mint website. Each time you log on to Mint, you’ll see the accounts listed on a dashboard.
In most cases, in takes several minutes for accounts to sync, so don’t be alarmed if the balances seem old at first
When you log into Mint, you’ll see all of your accounts and their balances on the left side. Toward the center of the page, you’ll see a listing of any bills due and the status of any budgets you set up.
At the top of the Mint page are menus directing you to your transactions, bills, investments and some written articles on personal finance.
Tracking and Budgeting
I find the most powerful feature of Mint is the ability to see virtually every financial transaction you make. If you make most of your purchases using credit cards and debit cards, you can see all of your spending in a single view.
It’s important to note that cash purchases obviously can’t be tracked automatically, but you can enter them manually.
Every listed transaction is categorized and labeled based on how items are categorized by the card companies. The log is customizable based on what you want to see.
From my experience, Mint has about a 90% accuracy rate with identifying transactions; maybe one in 10 transactions is mislabeled.
I was amused recently when my purchase of running shoes was labeled as “pet supplies.” When something like that happens, you can go in and manually set the correct category for the purchase.
The ability to track all of your transactions helps you get an understanding of your cash flow. It lets you see the sources of your income and — most importantly — what you are spending money on.
Thus, you can set budgets for categories of spending. In fact, you can set up an unlimited number of budgets, and the website will let you know whether you are on track or overspending each month.
It helps to do some work outside of Mint to create a budget before deciding on Mint budget categories. Also, look at recommended budget percentages by categories of spending when setting up your category budgets.
My wife and I used the Mint budget feature when we analyzed our spending and realized we were spending a significant amount of money eating out
Mint’s tools present your budgets in the form of helpful charts that help you visualize your spending patterns. You can set up goals, such as saving for a car or schooling, and Mint will keep you apprised of your progress.
Keeping Accounts Synced
Mint’s ability to give you a full view of your money can only work if your outside accounts are synced properly. From my experience, Mint does a very good, but not perfect job in this area.
Nearly half the time I log in, there is at least one account that won’t sync, so I have to enter my login information for that account again. If I go several weeks without logging in to Mint, there may be multiple accounts that aren’t synced.
When you change a password for an outside account, you must update the login information on Mint. It’s also possible that some accounts won’t sync at all, especially ones that require two-factor authentication.
Mint recently began using the OAuth open standard for some bank accounts, including Bank of America, Chase and Capital One. This allows Mint to receive a token from your bank that allows access even if you change a password.
What else does Mint offer? Here are some other helpful features:
- Free credit score from Transunion. This includes some detail on the items impacting your credit and can help if you’re trying to clean up bad credit or just want to keep a healthy credit score
- Trend monitoring. Mint breaks your spending down into categories and displays it on a pie chart. You can see this breakdown for any time frame. You can filter trends by account and create comparison charts.
- The ability to create “hidden” accounts. This is useful when you may have accounts that you want to track, but don’t want them included in your overall financial picture.
- Alerts and emails. Mint can give a summary of your transactions via email. You can receive alerts when a bill is due, if your bank account balance drops below a certain level, if you exceed a budget and more.
How Mint Makes Money
You may ask how Mint can offer all of these services without charging. The company brings in revenue from paid advertisements on its website, including credit cards, investment companies, insurance companies and lenders.
These ads aren’t intrusive, but they can look like site content. For example, a menu called “ways to save” takes you to a page of credit cards that Mint suggests. These credit card companies pay Mint if you purchase a product.
As with any financial platform, it’s natural to be worried about security. Mint makes it possible for anyone to access information about all of your financial accounts. Strong security is a must-have for any cloud-based operation.
Mint uses 256-bit encryption for your login information. The data exchanged with Mint is encrypted with 128-bit encryption. This makes it essentially impenetrable from a brute force attack.
Mint also uses Verisign for security scanning, and partners with BugCrowd on security audits.
Mint uses a 4-number PIN for access to apps on Android and iOS smartphones, as well as the option for Touch ID or Face ID. Two-factor authentication is also available.
Account security also relies on users creating strong passwords and keeping them secure. Change your password often, too.
So Mint tries hard to keep your data secure, but what data is it collecting from you and how is the company using it
The site uses the IP address to collect what it calls “aggregated non-personal” information, in part to help determine what region users are coming from.
Mint acknowledges using cookies and other tracking technologies. It says it uses people’s information to conduct research, but “only in a way that would not allow you or any other person to be identified.”
“Do not track” feature don’t work with Mint. This is because Mint is “not currently configured to respond to browsers’ ‘Do Not Track’ signals because at this time no formal ‘Do Not Track’ standard has been adopted.”
Limitations of Mint
We’ve talked a lot about what Mint can do, but it’s not an all-encompassing solution to all your financial needs.
The main shortcoming of Mint is that while it’s great as an account aggregator, it cannot help you actually manage each individual account. You can’t deposit or withdraw money, transfer money, or pay bills using Mint.
There are other competing services that are alternatives to Mint. Some offer more in the way of financial advice.
Personal Capital is one service that offers similar account aggregation capabilities, but with more helpful information for investors.
Most of all, it’s important to remember that Mint can help you track your spending and set budgets, but only you can control your income and what you buy.
If you haven’t gathered, I am a big fan of the Mint service. I think the account aggregation concept is one of the smartest introductions ever in the personal finance space.
There aren’t many downsides to using Mint, though it’s understandable why some people would shy away due to concerns over privacy and security.
If I had one criticism, it would be that while Mint is useful as a tool, there is not much information provided on how it can be used best.
For example, what are the steps to start saving? Mint can help me set up a budget to save for college. But how much should I save each month? How much does college even cost, anyway?
Mint is lacking in useful information and instead seems content to let people use their service but find advice and answers elsewhere.
Do you use Mint? Do you use any other account aggregator services? Tell us about your experience on our Facebook page.