What is Mint?
Mint is a website and app that gives users a convenient place to manage their money. You can link your bank accounts, credit cards, loans, and investment accounts to keep them all in one place. Whenever you visit Mint, it updates all your financial data automatically (which can be shocking if the market is tanking) and presents it in a sleek, easy-to-use interface, complete with pretty graphs.
Because the Mint dashboard gives a quick summary of the user’s personal finances, it’s helpful for making budgets, setting goals, and tracking your net worth.
Mint’s Best Features
Automatic syncing: I’ve already mentioned that Mint updates financial data automatically, but I feel I should mention that it also gives you a snapshot of your spending via your credit and debit cards. When you log into Mint, you can see your account balances, bills due, and recent transactions. Your horrible spending habits are right there in front of you!
When you look at your recent transactions, you’ll notice that Mint tries to automatically categorize everything. This is well-intentioned, but it does make mistakes. For example, I use Royal Farms and Wawa to purchase gasoline. Mint correctly categorizes Wawa purchases as “gasoline”, but incorrectly categorizes Royal Farms as “fast food”. However, you can fix incorrect categories in a snap and Mint will remember repeating transactions so it can match to the same category in the future.
Budgeting: Once you’ve correctly categorized your expenses, you can create a budget. Mint tries to create one immediately by tracking your spending patterns and averaging them, but every person’s situation is different. The budgets are completely customizable – if you only want to spend $100 per month on gasoline, you can set that as your budget and Mint will track your spending (and let you know when you’re over budget). Budgeting is Mint’s primary feature, and it’s where the service really sparkles.
Creating and tracking goals: Within Mint, you can create goals such as “pay off credit card debt” or “save for a down payment on a home” and insert them into your monthly budget. You can set up automatic transfers from your bank account and watch Mint track your progress for you. The budgeting and goal setting features are life-savers, because they let know exacting where you’re spending your money in an easy to understand format.
Free credit score: Your credit score is one of your most important financial metrics, so it’s crucial to know. Mint gives you your credit score for free, but there is a caveat. The score you get from Mint uses information from Equifax only. This is not your FICO score. Your FICO score is based on your credit reports from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. All you have to do is click the “show details” button to view your payment history, age of credit accounts, credit score, and so on. This is a great feature because it shows you everything you need to see and nothing you don’t, drastically cutting out all the noise. You can also update this information every three months.
Alerts: Mint is constantly keeping an eye on your money. You can sign up for alerts to be sent directly to you so you’ll know when you’re over budget, when you have a bill due, if you have any late fees, and if there have been any significant changes to your financial situation.
As a Mint user, you’ll also get a weekly summary sent to your inbox, which gives you an overview of what’s happened in the past week.
Security concerns: While I’ve never had a problem with Mint (knock on wood), I can definitely see why people would have concerns. Mint is essentially the centralization of a huge amount of data, which is a gold mine for a hacker. Although you can’t transfer money, close accounts, buy stock or use credit cards directly from the app, there’s still a large amount of disclosure in one place.
Mint prides itself on its triple-layer security, which includes 128-bit SSL data encryption and even a PIN number, but a cyber breach could be extremely damaging. There’s also the question of liability – would you be liable for the losses? If your financial institutions prohibit you from sharing your account information with third-parties, the answer is yes. So keep that in mind.
Poor customer support: Mint is a free app, so I guess you get what you pay for. There is support via email, but they’re very slow to respond. There’s also a forum online, but that’s not too helpful. There is no phone support. You’re on your own, buddy!
Ads: Mint has to make money somehow, so I understand that ads are a necessary evil – I’ve got tons of ads all over this site! Mint makes money by offering you “ways to save” or other recommendations to various financial services. Aggregate financial data (not individual) is sold to various providers to use on Mint, giving Mint a referral fee when the services are used. I must stress that the data is collected anonymously – none of the data is tied to a particular individual.
The Bottom Line
For a free app, there’s not much more you can ask for. Mint is a wonderful tool for creating a personalized budget, setting financial goals, and tracking your credit score. You can look at your entire financial picture in a few minutes and know exactly where you stand. The alerts are great (you’ll never miss a bill again) and you can work towards improving your credit score.
If anything, you should give Mint a try. It’s quick and simple to set up and get started.