US-centric: After just four weeks of their public beta, financial management web site Mint is already boasting over 50,000 members and managing over $2 billion of their money, and early next week Mint is launching several new features intended to improve its already impressive all-in-one money management tool. There's no question that this snazzy web application deserves of much of its hype, but is it ready for your money?
A Word on Security
As soon as any web-based financial software like Mint is mentioned, the security watchdogs among us pounce on the comments to let the rest of us know that we should never, ever trust anyone with our financial data, especially our aggregated financial data.
I'm not quite as cynical or concerned about my security with Mint, especially after having read Mint's Privacy and Security statement (give it a look before you naysay). That said, ultimately some of you will be comfortable with this, and some of you won't. If you are comfortable making the leap to web-based, aggregated money management, the question remains: Is Mint good enough to justify that leap?
The fact is that even if Mint is secure enough to satisfy you, nobody wants to move their financial nerve center to a web application that's not completely up to snuff. So let's take a look at the good and the bad of Mint to get a better idea of whether or not it's time to hand Mint the keys to your cash.
The Presentation, Integration, and Features
Automatic, no-hassle importing of your financial transactions from over 3,500 banking and credit card institutions is what Mint does best. First, let's check out how Mint integrates all of that financial data and presents it to you in an attractive, user-friendly interface, including its soon-to-be-released budgeting and account customisation features.
Mint takes a look at your bills, spending, and credit cards, then suggests ways you can save money through different offers. In fact, Mint makes its money through these referrals. Some of them are sponsored deals through Mint partners and some are not, but Mint will always suggest the best offer first.
Likewise, Mint can save you money with the alerts described above. Receiving an SMS or email alerting you of a low balance or unusually high spending can provide you with a reality check before you go overboard and over budget.
Of course, Mint's not all daisies—at least not yet. You can't import data to Mint in any way other than through your financial institution, meaning that if you've got years' worth of financial data in Quicken, don't count on importing it to Mint. That said, Mint can load over a year of your most recent financial data (depending on how long your institution provides it) when you sign up.
On a similar note, Mint doesn't export data—meaning if you decided to ditch Mint for another money management solution, you're not going to get a CSV file or any other export of your data.
The most notable and practical drawback to Mint came in the form of strangely named, incomplete transaction descriptions (the imported name was strange—the actual transaction name at the originating financial institution was more descriptive). As a result, I ran into problems setting up renaming rules for transactions in Mint. For example, a transaction that read in my checking account (at the actual US Bank web site) as "Web Authorized Payment AT&T" showed up in Mint as "Web Payment" or something along those lines. I set Mint to automatically rename this transaction to AT&T, but then every Web Authorized Payment in my account was renamed AT&T, although some were gas or water and power bills. Similarly, "Purchase with PIN" shows up in the ledger as "With," which is not terribly helpful. Next to the all-in-one account integration, automation is Mint's biggest draw—which means these sort of minor issues need worked out before you can set up renaming rules with complete confidence (especially since you can't currently undo renaming rules). On the flip side, Mint claims to accurately identify and rename 90% of imported transactions without any need for user import, compared to Quicken's 40% (their numbers).
The Future of Mint
According to the people at Mint, their next major moves will be integrating other financial realms, meaning that someday you may also be able to track and manage your student loans and investments from within Mint. Imagine an all-encompassing financial dashboard that provides you with a snapshot of your entire financial situation at a glance. And since Mint completely automates your data imports, it requires very little work on your part.
As you can see, Mint has done its homework when it comes to how it organizes your information, and Mint's marquee feature—the ability to see and understand all of your finances at a glance—is astoundingly good. I've used Quicken in the past but am embarrassed to say I've never really gotten the hang of it. If Quicken had an ounce of the easy-to-grasp interface of Mint, I suspect that most of us would be happy to shell out the premium for the software.
With Mint as a free contender, you almost have to wonder what normal person (i.e., anyone with a relatively normal and uncomplicated financial situation) won't be using Mint or an application like it (maybe even built by your bank) within the next five to ten years to manage their finances. We're already managing most of our finances online in some form anyway, and the technology will continue to improve while consumers will continue to grow more comfortable with the idea. To that end, let us know what you think about Mint—whether that's explaining what you like, don't like, what you'd like to see, or why you'll never use it—in the comments.