Mint.com turned out to be a near perfect solution for my financial needs. To understand why, I’m going to give a little background.
I used to obsessively enter every single receipt into my financial software of choice and track all my expenses. I knew exactly how much money I had in my account at any given moment.
A few years ago, I decided I was tired of this slavish devotion to my computerized checkbook, the annual upgrade costs were getting tiresome, and my bank’s online services were improving to the point where I felt comfortable using those every day (being able to pull images of cleared checks still makes me stop and think how cool the internet is). I just wasn’t feeling it anymore, and I let go.
A few $34 fees for overdrafts this year, and I realized that I needed to keep a little closer tabs on things. Enter Mint.com.
Mint.com’s Award Winning Online Service
Mint was born out of Aaron Patzer’s personal frustration with existing money management software that required too much effort to categorize and organize transactions to get a good view of his own spending. The engineer in Aaron took over and he decided to build some software that would make the whole process easier.
Mint.com moved into public beta in September 2007 after nearly two years of development and won a prize at TechCrunch 40 last year as the best new web application. After getting a private beta invite in 2007 (Thanks, Mike!) I fell in love with the service almost immediately. The Mint.com service is completely free and is supported by the ability to recommend alternate financial services (low-interest credit cards, etc.) that might offer some benefit to the user. The goal is to support Mint by helping users save money.
Mint.com tries to eliminate all the configuration and manual tedium of managing your money. It does this by sucking in transactions from your accounts and credit cards (Mint has multiple security audits and certifications to help you trust them with your login information).
Once the transactions are loaded the real beauty of Mint is realized. Mint uses their software to automatically figure out what category the expense should be assigned and builds your reports automatically. You can get current balances for all your accounts, transaction reports, and nice pie chart graphs that highlight your spending. Mint isn’t a direct replacement for Quicken because it doesn’t have features to look forward to upcoming expenses and export tax information for income tax preparation. It does recognize patterns in past spending though and help remind you of upcoming regular bills and manage budgets based on spending in different categories.
Their patent-pending categorization technology and the ability to match users with financial services that will help them save money has led to a few awards from major publications and several glowing reviews.
Because the Mint.com web site is flash-based, all this goodness hasn’t been available on the iPhone. At least until now.
Mint.com, on the iPhone
The Mint iPhone app (FREE) was released a few weeks ago in the app store and it gives you access to many of the features of the web site. You can get an overview of your accounts, check your balances, and see the transaction history for each account.
You can see how you’re doing against the budgets you’ve set for different categories.
You can also see your cash flow reports that show where you are spending money for the current month.
Unfortunately, the reporting on the iPhone is still very limited compared to what is available on the web site (which, again, uses Flash to present all the pie-chart eye candy).
One big omission is the lack of reports for investment accounts, which would be really useful to check during the day from your iPhone. The other major shortcoming of the iPhone app is that you cannot assign categories or edit merchant names in transactions as you can through the web site.
Still, despite these limitations, the iPhone app is a very useful companion to the Mint.com website. I prefer the native iPhone app to a web app because the power of Mint really comes from being able to navigate quickly — check spending by category, check budgets, check cash flow, get a quick glance at transactions. I am able to get a quick feel for what’s happening with my accounts. I also really appreciate the various alerts that Mint generates to let me know when unusual transactions appear in my accounts.
If you’re an obsessive Quicken user, then Mint.com might not be the right fit for you. But for everyone else, I highly recommend that you check out this free service and use it to get a better handle on your financial life. Once you have your accounts connected to Mint.com, head to the app store and download the free iPhone companion app so you can keep tabs wherever you are.