A few years back, someone pointed me in the direction of Mint.com. While it was an interesting approach to managing my finances, it lacked the oomph that it needed to take over for my preferred weapon of choice (Microsoft Money). Water passed under the bridge and soon Mint.com became a small figment of suppressed memory.
Enter: a random Facebook friend a few months ago that recommended I check out Mint.com. Unbeknownst to him, I had once led on a short affair with Mint, but had since gone back to my first love. Out of curiosity, however, I thought I'd give Mint another look. That re-visit changed the way (and cost) of managing my finances.
What is Mint.com? Mint.com is an online personal finance software system that allows you to track all of your monetary transactions, as well as market values for other assets you may own (such as homes, cars, etc.). This information is automatically fed from your financial institutions, which populates various categories of spending and income in order to quickly and simply populate your budget, which allows you the ability to monitor your spending with a simple login, logout approach. Additionally, they point out areas in which you may be able to save money (for example, by opening an account with a bank with a higher savings rate or a credit card with a company offering better terms).
Mint.com has been around since 2005. With over 1 million accounts, they've seen a nice pace of growth over their history. But only recently have they become a viable option for serious financial management. Why?
1. Coverage of Financial Institutions
If you're a typical Everyman, you've got a checking account at a bank that's accessible to you at home and/or work, a savings account with a bank from your childhood days, a mortgage with another institution, a house, a retirement plan, some student loans with a few different lenders, and an auto loan (which I don't recommend, but that's for another post).
In my case, I have various accounts with Wells Fargo, ING Direct, ShoreBank, Smarty Pig (West Bank), PayPal, Citi, US Bank, Affiliated Computer Services and Firstmark Services (student loan processors), Prosper (p2p lending), Zecco, and a retirement plan - ALL of which automatically feed every transaction directly into Mint.com. One of the problems I had during my first run-a-round with Mint was that it didn't cover many of the institutions that I use. That problem = gone.
2. Ease of Use
By simply logging into the system, the update process will begin pinging your financial institutions for new transaction information. This will fall into your various budget categories and show you (in multiple formats, such as charts and graphs) where you're spending your money.
3. It Keeps You Informed
One of the neat features that Mint.com offers is the ability to receive alerts. For example, you can set the program to notify you when one of many outcomes occur (such as overspending in a category, transactions above certain dollar amounts, etc.). I've set it to email me when such an event occurs (mostly because it's a way to also monitor any fraudulent activity that could be occurring in my accounts - if it says I spent $2500 on tickets for me and a dozen of my close friends to a Hannah Montana concert, for example)
4. It's Free
Probably the best feature - it's free! No more having to fork over money to Microsoft for a program that does essentially the same thing!
And draw backs?
With their growth, it doesn't appear they've been able to keep up with customer service requests. However, this seems to be improving with the advent of community forums that allow users to post issues that they are having. For the most part, they appear to have become more willing and able to help deal with issues that arise.
Mint.com is worth the time it takes to set up (basically, if you know your login information for the various financial institutions, you're all set). With its ability to show you your financial position and trends in an easy to read and navigate manner, I'd recommend it to all Everyman's Money readers.
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