I’m lazy, and I’m cheap. There, I said it. This means that I don’t have paid money management software like Quicken or You Need a Budget to track my finances. Instead, I learned how to make a budget on spreadsheets and in notebooks, and used them for years.
So when I first stumbled upon Mint.com, the free online personal finance budgeting application, I knew that I found something that would be very beneficial for me and my family.
When Mint first started out, the site was a pioneer in world of online personal finance tools. In fact, many companies have since created similar applications with a different spin, following the example set by Mint. And while competitors have come and gone, Mint has grown stronger and has become even more useful to people who use it most. It’s also worth mentioning that Mint was acquired by Intuit, the creators of finance software like Quicken, QuickBooks, and TurboTax.
Mint recently added some new features and improved its classic components. Read on to find out what’s new on the site, and how the improvements are working out.
New Features on Mint
1. Net Worth Calculator and Asset Management
Mint.com has always made it easy to set up your online accounts: They ask you a few questions, and then you choose your bank from a pull-down list and enter your username and password. You never leave Mint’s secure servers, and the system quickly ports in your account information.
You used to be limited to basic bank accounts only. Now, one of the most impressive changes is that Mint allows you to sync almost all financial accounts to your Mint account. You can hook up checking accounts, savings accounts, stock brokerage accounts, credit card accounts, mortgages, car loans, and student loan accounts. The system will even estimate the value of your real estate holdings.
With all of this information in one place, you can see a virtual real-time update of your net worth – a feature that’s even more fun when you’re paying off debt and saving up money.
2. Creating a Budget and Tracking Trends
Mint’s new budgeting tool lets you set up monthly budget categories with amounts attached to each of them. When the system recognizes a transaction that falls within that budget category, it will automatically assign it to that category. This is especially useful if you stick to a strict budget in areas like food and entertainment. You can even choose to get alert (via email or your mobile phone) when you’re exceeding your budget.
Once you have your monthly budget information set up, you can use Mint’s colorful charts to get a graphical look at your spending. Further, you can compare your own saving and spending habits to trends that other Mint users are setting. Using this data, you might realize that you’ve set an unrealistically low food budget for your neighborhood, or that you’re overspending on your gym and fitness costs. So far, my family and I are generally spending less than nearby families here in Florida, but that will surely change as our family grows.
3. Setting Goals
Choose from Mint’s common choices for goals or customize your own in a new feature that lets you set long term financial goals and track your progress. My personal favorite is the “getting out of debt” option, but you can find many others as well like buying a car or saving up for a summer vacation.
One selection everyone needs to try is the savings goal. It offers specific ways to cut back in certain areas to save more. Whatever your financial goals, Mint allows you to easily track them.
4. Ways to Save
Mint.com continues to maintain the insightful “Ways to Save” tab, which analyzes specific items in your budget and compares the prices and interest rates to those of Mint’s partner sites. If one of those companies can save you money, Mint will recommend their service to you.
For example, if you’re paying an overwhelming interest rate on one of the worst credit cards, Mint will search other cards you qualify for and recommend one that can beat the APR on your current card. This is especially useful for 0% APR balance transfer credit cards.
Also, I learned that if I switch to the package that Verizon has for my Internet, cable TV, and cell phone, I could spend $530 less per year than I spend with Comcast and T-Mobile separately. The only problem is that Verizon doesn’t offer cable service where I live. Also keep in mind that you’ll only see companies that have signed on to partner with Mint (i.e. this is how Mint makes money with the free service).
- Customizable experience. Mint lets you break down your spending habits as much as you want. If you love numbers, Mint is for you.
- Free. You’ll get the tracking features and analysis that other sites and experts charge for, but you won’t spend a dime.
- Mobile applications. Mint’s mobile applications (available for the iPhone and Android) will alert you when you’re about to overdraft on one of your accounts or when you exceed one of your budget categories.
- Great interface. Mint is specifically designed to help you win with money. The interface, charts, and overall visual appeal is highly motivating when it comes to cutting debt and boosting savings.
- Customer service. If you’re facing trouble online, it’s tough to get a hold of a real person. Mint has worked on improving their visibility, especially after Intuit bought the site, but they really need customer service staff specifically for the service.
- Security. Many people worry that having so many accounts synced with Mint means a hacker could easily get access to all of them by breaking into Mint. The company may have robust security measures in place, but this is always going to be an area of concern for new users on the lookout for scams.
- Automation. Mint isn’t always accurate when categorizing transactions. It’s tough to keep up with the system and correct everything, especially if you’re looking to automate the process.
- Advertising and promotion. Mint heavily promotes credit cards throughout the site, so it’s likely that they make a lot of their revenue from credit card sponsorships. Mint does a great job at pointing out when you’re paying too much interest, but be careful about opening new accounts unless you know how to use credit cards and rewards wisely and responsibly.
To be honest, I started out using Mint all the time when it first came out, but then didn’t keep up with it. Now I’m back in the swing of things and am using it all the time again. I love the iPhone app, and I love that it keeps track of entertainment, food, and gas/household budget categories in real time. The goals feature is also great because I enjoy tracking my progress and getting milestone alerts to keep me motivated.
Personally, I don’t worry too much about the security concerns. Intuit, the established company behind Mint, knows how important security is, and dedicates a lot of financial resources to keeping the site safe and secure. Overall, Mint is a great online budgeting tool and I highly recommend that you try it out.
Have you signed up a for a free account on Mint.com yet? What’s your take on the features and the budgeting experience? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.