OVERVIEW: Mint is available at no charge in the App Store and on Google play. It is web based, so it’s accessible on the computer as well as the smartphone. Mint’s dashboard provides a quick summary of all your personal finances at a glance. Review income, expenses, investments, home value and day-to-day transactions in a centralized location. Pay bills, create and track budgets, set goals and obtain your credit store. Sensitive data is encrypted using financial-grade security. Mint was created by Intuit – the makers of TurboTax and Quicken.
BACKGROUND: When it launched several years ago, I used Mint. While I really liked the concept, it took substantial time and effort to setup. It was difficult to continue updating the data, so I stopped using it. Recently, my husband told me he had downloaded a current version of the app. I was surprised to find that he doesn’t use it to track his spending. Instead, he uses the app to pay bills and get a visual snapshot of his financial situation at any given time.
TRENDS: If you want to gain a granular – and automated – understanding about your spending, Mint may be the app for you. Once accounts are synced, transactions are aggregated and categorized. There are 24 main categories and 100 subcategories. There are SO MANY OPTIONS. The initial set up was overwhelming. Being a bit of a perfectionist, I spent a lot of time ensuring that all of my purchases were properly classified. Doing so was beneficial, as the graphs and charts displayed my spending trends by month and by category. Data is updated every 24 hours and displayed when you log-in to your account. Transactions are automatically categorized. If you choose to re-label a charge, the app will repeat your classification each time the same vendor appears. The app allows you to split single purchases into multiple categories. For instance, when you buy groceries, pet food and baby supplies at Walmart, you can then allocate that singular change into three separate categories. This app feature produces a revealing picture of your spending.
BUDGETS: Mint gives you the ability to set up budgets for things like bills, food, entertainment, etc. The app pre-defines budgets based on pervious months’ spending. You can change the categories and the dollar amounts to suit your desired results. Bar charts show the total amount spent in each category. The color turns from green to yellow when a budgeted amount has been reached. When the bar turns to red, you’ve exceeded the desired amount of spending for that category of your budget. Then, begin to consider what you can trim in other categories to offset excess spending.
PORTFOLIO: If you choose to link to your investment accounts, you can get a high-level overview of your portfolio performance. While this doesn’t take the place of logging-in to the brokerage accounts themselves, it can be beneficial if you want to see your overall net worth on your dashboard. Stay mindful of your long-term plans. Don’t allow this real-time data to cause knee-jerk reactions.
ALERTS: An “alerts” section displays upcoming “bills due” reminders, large purchases and late fees. It can also tell you if you’re over budget on any of your categories. Other alerts include, recent transactions, fast approaching budgets and recently used accounts.
FREE CREDIT SCORE: You may also “verify your identity and get a free credit score in under two minutes.” This feature gives you an even deeper understanding of your financial picture.
ADVICE: Mint makes money by offering “advice” on things like consolidating debt and applying for credit cards. It’s not too invasive. The advertising keeps the app cost free.
BOTTOM LINE: To be honest, I preferred the Penny app over Mint. However, I did not use all of Mint’s available features. I tracked my budget and set spending goals. I did not pull in my investments or pay my bills. I felt that the category listings were a bit excessive. It was time consuming to sift through nearly 125 categories each time I wanted to re-classify a new transaction. I can think of more exciting ways to spend my time. :P
If you choose to use the app to its full potential, it could be a great tool for you. Mint is very robust and can display all of your financial data in a centralized location.
Try it out for yourself, and let me know what you think.