Mint.com has been receiving a lot of press coverage and a lot of positive recommendations from its users in the recent months. A few months ago, ABC ran a TV special called “Unbroke: What You Need to Know About Money” and used celebrity power (Will Smith, Jonas Brothers, Seth Green, etc.) to get some simple financial principles across to its viewers. Midway through its segment, host Mellody Hobson even gave a plug for using Mint.com as a sound budgeting tool.
About a year ago, I gave Mint.com a chance but found it to be lacking in what our family needed. I know they’ve been putting on some better touches to their website and enhancing their features, so I jumped back on Mint.com to see how it looks now and to give it a more updated review.
Overview: Mint.com is an online financial budgeting tool website that enables its users to connect their financial institutions and accounts into one convenient location. Mint.com is designed to help you create a budget to keep track of your spending habits and attempts to set you up for a better financial situation for the future. What makes Mint.com stand out is that it attempts to do everything for you so that everything is automated and extremely easy on the user end. What you’ll do is connect your banks and cards to Mint.com, then create a budget (i.e. $600 for Rent, $200 for Entertainment, $125 for Utilities, etc.) and Mint.com will pull up your transactions and try its best to match it to the appropriate category. It is also the most aesthetically pleasing financial website with an incredibly user friendly interface, which makes usage and setup very appealing. While that’s all fine and dandy, my problem that continues with Mint.com is that it’s backwards tracking and not forward-thinking. I also have a huge problem with some of its promotions (FreeCreditReport.com) and its “Ways to Save” category. I understand that these offers are Mint.com’s way of revenue but I don’t find those offerings in any way good for the consumers.
Mint.com is a free site, which is a huge draw and advantage for using their site. They are able to operate and give their services for free based on what they subtly advertise on their site. An example is when they ask for your credit score estimate, they advertise using FreeCreditReport.com which is not free and comes with a monthly charge. But why would Mint.com ask me for my best guess on my credit score? The answer lies in their “Ways to Save” category where they promote different sorts of Credit Card offers that match your profile. This category sells products (credit cards, brokerages, etc) rather than giving actual helpful advice on how to save money.
This is where Mint.com really shines… kind of. Their big draw is their ease of use in getting accounts started and creating a budget. It is actually quite easy for you to get things rolling on Mint.com but I did run into a few problems getting some of my accounts to load up (I had to retry several times) and they even said that my Wells Fargo account doesn’t exist!
If you’ve never set up a budget before, Mint.com has you covered. They’ve already compiled a very comprehensive list of possible spending categories for you to choose from, but will also allow you to create your own manually. This makes Mint.com very user friendly and customizable to your needs.
I’ve said this all over the review and I will say it again, using Mint.com is extremely easy. After you’ve set up your budget and categories, Mint.com will do its best to match each transaction to your categories so you won’t even have to do anything on your end! Obviously, it won’t get it right every single time but it does a decent job. An example would be if you went to Olive Garden and paid $24 for dinner on your debit card, Mint.com will recognize that Olive Garden is a restaurant establishment and put it in your “Food” or “Eating Out” or “Entertainment” category. This kind of automation is great but sometimes you’d rather have manual control on how to categorize your expenses. An example would be is a trip to Target under the “Groceries”, “Clothing” or “Home Upkeep” category? Of course you are allowed to make changes but since it is automated, sometimes you might forget to make the changes yourself.
The reason why we never went with Mint.com is because the system is designed to track your spending habits, and not so much your savings. This is what I meant by backwards tracking and not forward-thinking. Mint.com just creates a spending cap that monitors how much you’re spending in each category. That is fine for certain categories, but what about savings for big ticket items such as an engagement ring, a down payment for a home or a vacation fund?
A new feature they’ve added to their budgeting system is allowing their categories to roll over to the next month. But this doesn’t help with those bigger one time purchases that you save for. TJ and I have a “Car Replacement” fund going which I’m finding hard to incorporate with Mint.com. Let’s just say we have a hypothetical amount of $6,000 already set aside for a car; there is no way for me to tell Mint.com that we have those funds already. All I can tell them is that I want to spend $6,000 and project a date on when I might make that purchase.
- Easy to use
- Aesthetically pleasing
- iPhone app (Thanks Megan!)
- “Ways to Save” Category is advertising, rather than advice
- Lack of an actual envelope system
- No mobile version
While Mint.com is taking steps in the right direction, I still feel that it is lacking in some areas; mainly an envelope style system. However, even with its deficiencies I believe Mint.com is a decent place to start for somebody who has never had a budget or a spending plan and is unsure where to start. I think Mint.com will provide good information and data on your spending habits to help you see where your money is going. But I believe to truly gain financial freedom, you’ll need something more than Mint.com.