Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Tech Time ::: Mint

Photo: Screenshots I took of my sessions of Mint.com

By now I am sure you've heard of Mint.com, the online budget aggregator and financial powerhouse owned by Intuit, the people behind TurboTax and Quicken. If you haven't hopefully this post introduces it to you.

We, as a couple, have used this site for about maybe 5 years now.  My husband was at first very hesitant to load our financial information into it, but once he saw everything laid out, I think that excited him more than scared him. Ok, seeing where our money went still scares him...

What this site does is allows us to see every active account, and a few that we don't pay a lot of attention to, as well as our investment accounts to see how they are performing. That's been both exciting and insanely depressing over the years!

When you log in, you open onto your Overview page. On the left is a listing of all of the accounts you have loaded, and any balances you have on them (i.e. your bank account balances, your credit card balances, if you put your house or car loan in it will show the balance you owe--often depressing!)  On the right, it gives you little messages or alerts about uncategorized transactions, new bills, upcoming bills, your budget and where you stand based on the amounts you set for yourself for each category, and a few other odds and ends.

At the top, you'll see a few more tabs to click, besides Overview, including Transactions, Budgets, Goals, Trends, Investments and "Ways to Save."  The Transactions tab is kind of a running check register that collects all of your transactions from across all of the accounts into one register. You can click by account on the left to see individual accounts.   Assuming the accounts are all updated (sometimes this doesn't happen well, and sometimes because your bank decided not to allow Mint in), it's pretty accurate. We've seen postings in here that are not even showing up yet in the actual banking website log.

Side note::: It's really a good idea for you to stay on top of properly categorizing transactions. Mint will do some of it, but often they're unrelated to what the transaction really is, for example, Nordstrom West County gets tagged as Home Improvement because for some reason, the transaction comes in as "West County Deck". I have to expand on the transaction to see more information to properly correct it. There are often uncategorized as well, which it alerts you to correct.  You want this done right because otherwise your Trend tab won't sort correctly.  You can set up your own categories as well, in the categorizing page. I set up one for Magazines in my business section since I buy wedding magazines like crazy for reference.

In Budgets, you can set up a budget for each of several categories, like Food and Dining, Groceries, Home Improvement, etc. You can set them based on what you are used to, and it will keep track of that for you.  You can also set it to email you or otherwise alert you if you're close to exceeding one, or if you have reached a specific point in your bank account or on your credit card (balance wise) so you're aware.  Under the Goals tab, you can set a goal, like Retirement, and an amount, plus a timeline for reaching it. It will keep tabs on that as well.  The Goals show under Budgets now as well, just in an update bar.

The Trends tab is probably the most useful, I think, for this site. It helps you figure out where your money went. Like I said above, having your Transactions properly categorized is key to this working well. Between the two of us, we're pretty good about staying on top of this.  When you initially click the Trends tab, you land on a page for the specific month you're in, and you can change it to various time windows, so if you wanted say a week or just a few months time, you select those and it adjusts the chart. It gives you options in the dropdown, even a custom selection. The data defaults to a pie chart, but you can switch to a bar graph.  You can hover your mouse over each section to get a total, and amount of transaction, and if you click it, say on Food and Dining, then you go into a new pie chart specific to that category that shows more specifically (assuming you specified more specifically) each type of place you ate, like Coffee Shops or Fast Food for example.

The next tab is Investments, and since we have ours loaded, it shows us a giant ziggy zaggy graph of the performance, as well as a current update of each individual fund, stock, bond, whatever. Depressingly, there's a lot of red, which means they're underperforming. Ew.

The following tab is "Ways to Save." Which is in quotes because it's essentially a sales pitch of products they "recommend", like different credit cards, loans, etc.  Haven't bothered much with that section since discovering it, mostly because I have no use for it.  But they have to make money somehow!

Besides the website, which is mostly the format we use, there are apps, for iOS, MacOS and Android. They are really a more abbreviated form of what's on the site, just giving mostly the overviews. They're nowhere as robust as the site, but in a pinch can give you what you'd need to know. They're very nicely designed and seemingly just as secure as the site.

This has been a pretty invaluable tool for us, mostly for my husband to see where I spend all our money.   Knowing that the site cannot take money from any account, or put any into any account, is good, and in theory, it's relatively secure.  We do try to keep a pretty good password on it, but almost everything is abbreviated or encrypted in some way that it wouldn't be very interesting for a hacker. 

What I would say has been the only con for us has simply been that we've had issues with the places we bank with maintaining a relationship or connection with Mint, and if we ever stopped using it, that would probably be why, but we've cancelled cards/accounts that won't work with Mint, versus cancel Mint, if that's any indication of how much we value the service.  For a while Discover wouldn't work, and I assume enough customers complained to Discover about it that that changed.  Last year I got an email from Nordstrom that they were cutting off the connection as well, and I know I was not the only one who complained, and I actually said that if they don't reverse that decision I will likely close my card with them.  I think enough people must have told them that because about 6 months later at the most that decision was reversed.  I know my credit union has issues as well, because sometimes there will be days we cannot get any data from the credit union to Mint, but what I have noticed is that their relaunch of the online portal is almost a direct ripoff of Mint's service, so they probably are trying to force the members to use their version over Mint's, and frankly, we don't like our credit union much at all enough to do that.  We don't have our current mortgage on there because the bank that it's held through will not allow a connection. 

All in all though, over the last several years, it's gotten better, and we've gotten better at paying attention to the trends and how we use our income and this site and it's tools are very much responsible for that.  I know I am not alone in this Mint-love, having seen it listed repeatedly in top-app lists.

Any other Mint users/lovers out there?

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