I originally started using Mint back in 2007 as a casual user. I checked it out and thought it was useful, but I really didn’t spend too much time with it. At this point, I was in college and not watching my money too closely. Fast-forward to 2011, and it’s without a doubt my favorite personal finance tool. On a basic level, Mint is an aggregator of personal financial data. There are a number of similar services out there, but Mint really is the best. Why else do you think Intuit (the makers of Quicken and TurboTax) purchased Mint? Intuit’s Quicken Online couldn’t compete with Mint, so it decided it was easier to just buy the competition.
Getting started with Mint is simple. You simply sign up and start entering your login information for your financial institutions (banks, brokerage accounts, loans, etc.). Mint pretty much takes it all, from PayPal, to Chase, to Direct Loans. Your information is stored and transmitted using the same encryption banks use, so your information is about as safe as it’s going to get on the internet.
So what is it that makes Mint so great? First of all, it’s free. Mint makes money by pitching you offers based on your habits. These offers are not intrusive and you usually won’t notice them at all. It’s well worth having some advertising for this great service.
Mint excels at providing a snapshot of your financial situation. It automatically calculates your balance sheet for you, providing you with a total net worth. From this overview snapshop you can then click on the twisty next to each asset or liability class to see the breakdown. Mint will allow you to add accounts from nearly any financial institution. When it wasn’t as popular, Mint was limited in its ability to grab information from regional financial institutions. I have Mint tracking transactions in my bank accounts (five different banks), PayPal, Scottrade, Direct Loans, and each of my 11 (yikes!) credit cards. It takes every account I’ve been able to throw at it. If you do find an account that Mint doesn’t like, make sure you report it to Mint so that they can work on integrating it.
Beyond giving you a nice balance sheet, Mint also provides you with a number of ways to keep an eye on your income and your expenses. When Mint imports transactions you’ll want to categorize them. For many transactions, Mint will already know how to classify it based on data it has gathered. Mint will also learn from your actions and you can instruct it to always categorize a certain type of transaction to the category of your choosing. Once you have your categories set-up you’ll be able to keep track of your spending by category and pinpoint areas for improvement (like cutting back my Starbucks spending).
Another cool feature that Mint recently added is the Goals section. Mint allows you to create goals, such as saving for a trip. Mint will even help you estimate costs based on destination, etc. It’s pretty cool, you should check it out. It works best if you link the goal to an online savings account because then Mint can easily keep track of your contributions and progress.
Mint is great, but only if it does what you’re looking for and provides everything you need. Mint is basic and very easy to use. Some people love the automation it provides, and others won’t want to give up this control. Some people prefer to enter transactions manually in an Excel spreadsheet or Quicken because it ensures that they really know where every dollar is going. I highly recommend Mint for anyone who, like me, doesn’t want to be bothered having to manually keep track of transactions. Even if you don’t care about the transaction data, it can be beneficial simply to track your net worth. If Mint sounds like something you might be interested in, you should check out Mint.com. If you sign up and decide it’s not for you, you can simply abandon or delete the account and no harm done.