For the purpose of this post, I am assuming that you already believe in budgeting. Meaning, I intend to review Mint.com as a budgeting software solution and not attempt to persuade you that you should be budgeting (though you should be).
Before detailing my experiences, let me start by saying that I love Mint.com. I had been a hardcore Microsoft Money user for years and was devastated to find out that they were discontinuing the product. Looking for a cheap, straightforward alternative, I decided to attempt Mint.com.
Here’s a brief outline of what I like and don’t like.
- Free – If you are just starting to budget, then Mint is a good way to get your feet wet with a strong tool that is user friendly and free.
- Auto-updates my accounts – This feature is fairly standard to most budgeting software but still worth mentioning. You use an obscure bank or credit union, then auto-updating may not be possible.
- Offers – Mint.com makes money through third party offers such as credit card companies and brokerage firms. First, the “advertising” is not obtrusive to the user experience and you usually have to go looking for the offers (“Ways to Save” tab). Second, although I am opposed to credit cards and the like, I believe that consumers with credit card debt may benefit from lower interest rates or better terms. So I believe there is value in helping compare offers.
- Only simple reports – Having used Microsoft Money for years, I had fallen in love with being able to quickly and easily create custom reports to analyze just about any part of my financial house. With Mint, you are restricted to a small set of non-customizable reports.
- No debt management tool – Ok, so that statement is a little misleading. Until the recent addition of Goals, Mint offered no way to systematically eliminate your debt using techniques such as the debt snowball. Though, I outline my experience with the tool below.
- Does not take into account savings – I really like the Budgeting feature. It is straightforward and easily accommodates custom budgets and helps you save for non-monthly expenditures (i.e. it tells me how much to save each month in order to pay for my wife’s salon trip every 4 months that always costs more than she says it will). However, I tried to add a budget for what I stick into my Roth IRA account, which is tracked by Mint, and the budget disappeared. Meaning, that investment amount isn’t subtracted from my spending and it appears that I have more money to spend than I actually do (see image to the right). I tried adding a ‘dummy’ Savings budget so I’d know not to spend the money, but then the investment isn’t tracked correctly.
The new Goals feature
Let me start by saying that it’s about time!
I’m honestly a little surprised that it has taken the team at Mint.com this long to add a goals feature. Either way, we have it now. When you click on the Goals tab, you are presented with a number of “off the shelf” options or a create your own goal option.
“Get out of Debt” goal
Excited to see how the debt elimination feature worked, I decided to see how I could payoff my mortgage sooner. To my surprise, the only debt I was allowed to eliminate was my one credit card (which has a balance of $176). Dismayed, I selected my credit card and hit Next. Mint then analyzed my discretionary income (or extra income after expenses), the minimum due on my credit card, and the interest rate. Mint’s advice was to pay the minimum, only $15, for one year despite sufficient discretionary income to pay it off much sooner. Like now. Simply put – Mint’s debt management program failed.
“Take a Trip” goal
Though, I believe everyone deserves a fair chance. So I attempted to create a different goal. My little family will be headed out to Washington D.C. next Spring to see her family. Below is what I entered. This time, I felt everything worked very well. We were able to give the goal our own name and upload a pic to motivate ourselves – very cool.
Despite the drawbacks of the debt reduction goal, I definitely give the Goals feature two thumbs up.
Last question, is it safe?
Let’s be honest. If I am sharing my account information with a site, I want to know that it’s safe. In a video posted to YouTube, Mint’s CEO Aaron Patzer explains how Mint approaches security. I’m pretty paranoid about my identity being stolen and take a good number of precautions. So far though, I have felt completely safe using Mint.
My recommendation is that if you are not currently using any budget software or if you are unsatisfied with the one you are using (this includes Microsoft Excel), then check out Mint.com.
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