I used to keep track of my personal finances in spreadsheets, by logging into my Bank’s website to check balances and transactions. If I had the patience, I would export bank records as a CSV file and import them into my financial spreadsheet for tracking and analysis. This worked OK when I had one bank account but the exporting and importing always took a lot of time and because of that I rarely kept up with it. I didn’t have an accurate picture of where my money was going and I was overspending left and right. Over the years I collected a few more banking and credit accounts and realized that logging into multiple accounts to check balances on a daily or even weekly basis was a tremendous waste of time.
I learned about Mint.com, which claimed to offer a solution, and signed up for an account. After creating an account, Mint asks you to set up access to all of the accounts you can access online. You’ll log into each of these services once through Mint and then they’ll be saved so you don’t have to log in again. Mint then pulls read-only transaction data from all your accounts, organizes them into categories, and performs analysis for you. You’ll get a breakdown of your assets and liabilities, income and expenses in simplest terms, with all the bells and whistles for in-depth analysis if that’s your thing. Information can be read in a table of transactions or displayed in graphs and charts for easy interpretation. You can search for transactions across all of your accounts. A very useful feature if you frequently use more than one account.
Mint supports every large banking institution and almost all small private banks (all of the local banks in my local area are supported). This means you can still use Mint with your hometown local bank (which I highly recommend anyway). You can add your credit card accounts, paypal, home mortgage, car loan, student loans, and other debts. Mint also supports most retirement accounts such as 401K’s and IRA’s so you can keep track of your long-term investments and their yields. Incorporating all of these accounts will really give you the full picture of your financial situation and will force you to re-prioritize your financial strategy to stay on track and get rid of debt. Since you’re getting a list of all your transactions across all accounts, Mint is also an ideal method for detecting fraudulent transactions. When I first signed up, one of the first things I saw was that I had been paying for renter’s insurance for 4 months after having bought a house. I contacted the company and they gave me a full refund (since I also had my homeowner’s policy with them). Without Mint this would likely have gone unnoticed.
Mint is a completely free service. When you log in you’ll see suggestions on how you can save money, usually advertisements for rewards credit cards or investment products. Mint makes money from these companies through referrals. For a detailed explanation of what Mint will and won’t do with your information check out this page. I find their information security policies and website encryption to be on par with those of major banks. Keep in mind that since Mint collects read-only data, if someone were to obtain your Mint account information, the most they could do is your balances. Your money would still be safe. Mint also allows you to view all of the devices that access your account to make sure there is no unauthorized access.
My favorite feature of Mint is the automatic sorting of transactions into categories. Any time you make purchases with a credit or debit card, Mint will automatically categorize the purchase based on the vendor information. This can always be changed by the user, so if you disagree with Mint’s assessment, you can re-categorize the transaction. Forexample, Mint mistakenly categorized my bar tab at “Hair of The Dog” in Manhattan as a “Pets” expense. For transactions such as cash withdrawals or transfers, you can enter your own category or note about the transaction. These categories are helpful because they allow you to see where your money is going and to make adjustments to your budgets where needed. Importantly, Mint also allows you to manually enter transactions and accounts that you can’t access online. Do you keep cash in your mattress? Does your friend owe you $50 for concert tickets? Keep track of it all on Mint. You can create budgets for certain transaction categories (Entertainment for example) and have Mint notify you via email when your remaining budget is getting low. A goal setting feature helps you save for a long term goal such as a house, car, retirement, or dream vacation. Mint has apps for iOS and Android devices so you can get your financial information quickly, anywhere in the world. And if you’re one of those people who don’t trust the cloud, you can download your transaction data from all of your accounts in a single CSV file from Mint’s website.
Keep in mind that Mint is meant for personal, not business finance. I will be writing another review of a similar service geared specifically toward small businesses in the coming weeks. Until then, sign up for Mint and give it a try with your personal accounts. You will be surprised with how helpful the results are.