First, what is Mint? Mint is a free, online tool designed to help you manage your money. Best of all, it does a lot of the work for you. You input the information for your banks and credit cards, and Mint access and compiles all the information. Mint tracks and categorizes your income and expenses (and you can change those categories if you don't like Mint's recommendations). You can set budget amounts for the various spending categories and Mint will tell you when you are getting close to your budget and when you have blown your budget. Additionally, one of Mint's more unique features is that they search for and recommend "offers" for you. They look for credit cards with lower interest rates, bank accounts with higher interest rates, and other services as well.
Sounds great, doesn't it? Let's break it down into the good and the bad.
- Automatic - Mint downloads everything for you.
- Charts and graphs - who doesn't like pictures?
- Alerts when your balances are low or when you have spent a certain amount
- Automatic categorization, but you aren't locked into these categories
- Mint recently added the option to split categories as well. For example, yesterday I went to the grocery store. I bought food but I also bought cat litter. I would like to categorize the food as "groceries" and the cat litter as "pet supplies," even though it was all in one big purchase. (Until this feature was added, the inability to split transactions was one of the big reasons I wasn't sold on Mint.)
- Historical view of your income and spending. While you may not always notice that you're spending a lot on X every month, when you look at what you spend on X over time, you might be more inclined to rethink those expenditures
- On occasion, Mint makes some ridiculous categorizations and renames the item they downloaded so that it makes no sense to me and I think there is a fraudulent charge on my account. But Mint does allow you to click and see the original name for the downloaded item, so you can make any changes necessary.
- You do have to enter your log-in information into Mint's servers. Personally, I am not concerned, but any time you are dealing with financial information over the internet, there is a risk. That said, Mint appears to be doing everything they can to protect your information. You can read more about that here.
- It's not magic. You still have to log in and actually read the information. As of yet, no company has figured out how to port this information directly to your brain. And then, after reading it, you have to do something with it.
- Mint's "Ways to Save" offers. Because I already have a high yield savings account, Mint has yet to recommend anything along those lines to me. But the recommendations that Mint has provided have been... less than spectacular. They are recommending I switch from Comcast to Verizon Fios - which I would consider, if it were offered in my area. They are also recommending I ditch one credit card for another purely because it has a slightly lower interest rate. Because I pay off my credit cards every month, I am less concerned about the interest rate and more concerned with the benefits and rewards provided by the card.
All in all, I think Mint is definitely a worthwhile product to try out. And it is very important to note that Mint is still in beta. They are continually making updates and upgrades to their system. As I mentioned above, one of my negative points about Mint got moved into the positive category after a recent update.
Do I plan to continue to use Mint? Probably on and off, but not on a regular basis. Why? Because I track all of my finances, including my investments, in Microsoft Money, something I have done for years. But I do think that Mint is great for someone looking to start using some sort of personal finance tool, or for someone who is looking to switch. One of the hardest parts about getting control of your finances is tracking your spending and Mint does that for you. You just have to be sure to use that information wisely.