Overall, I was very impressed with both the feature set and beauty of Mint.com . While aesthetics isn’t the reason why you use a tool like Mint, having a smooth interface certain improves the user experience and I, for one, appreciated how responsive the site was. It makes heavy use of AJAX, which allows you to navigate the site while the back-end does its information gathering.
I’m going to hit this topic first, before all others, because this was the main reason why I waited so long before opening an account at Mint. I’m usually the first to sign up for these things but the thought of having all of my account information in one place scared me.
The biggest reason why you don’t have to worry about fraud or identity theft is that they don’t ask for or store any of that information. You never provide your name, address, date of birth, social security number or other personal information. So how do they get your data to aggregate? They encrypt it and send it along to Yodlee, who stores it on their servers. As data moves around, it’s 128-bit SSL encrypted.
Here’s more about Mint’s security protocols .
Sign Up & Account Setup
The initial sign up process literally takes only a few seconds (that first screen asking for an email, zip code, and password is all there is) but the setup process takes a little while longer. The setup process is the process of entering all the account information for Mint to aggregate. It’s where you let Mint know which credit card, banks, loan and investment accounts are yours.
As you can see, I have three Citi cards but I use only one of them, my Citi mtvU card and it has a balance of a little under $900.
There is a ton of information on that screen. In the upper left, there is a summary of all your linked accounts. Right now it’s bare because it only has my Citi credit cards listed (and only the ones linked to that one login, though I don’t have any other login) but you can enter you checking accounts, savings accounts, investment accounts, mortgage and student loans. After all that, they add it all up and give you a Net Worth figure that you can track.
Below the summary list is a cash flow tracker. If you link up a checking account, Mint can recognize direct deposits as income (with some help) so that the cash flow won’t look as red as it does on mine. It’s a good way to figure out if you’re spending more than you’re taking in. In this particular case, since I have no income (no linked bank accounts), the cashflow is negative.
If you return to the top of the screen and look at the fatter column on the right, you’ll see a “Your Alerts” section. That’s where Mint takes a look at your historical data, your own settings, and alerts you of abnormal behavior. Right now the alert says “This month, you spent $22 on Gas / Fuel. This exceeds your budget of $10 by $12.” That’s because Mint saw $22 in charges on my mtvU card under Gas / Fuel and my default budget for that is only $10.
Below that you can see your budget and how faithfully you’ve stuck with it. If you’ve exceeded it, it’ll appear as an alert and the bar will be really far on the meter. You can adjust your budget, adding and removing categories, with the Add Budget and Spending TRends buttons.
Finally, below all that is a “Ways to Save” section. This is where Mint makes its money, by finding offers that can save you money. Since I’ve only entered in a credit card, the only offer available to me is in the credit card group. They also have checking and savings offers, comparing your bank’s listed APY versus their affiliates. There currently is no support for investment accounts but I can’t imagine that’s too far away. If I click on the credit card group, a pop up appears asking me for my credit worthiness (pick from Excellent, Good, Medium/Some Problems, Poor, and Limited/None plus two credit score service offers – one from FreeCreditReport.com and one from myFICO ). I say I’m Excellent and they offer me the Chase Freedom card based on its cashback offer which could save me $161 over the next twelve months.
While the power of Mint is in its ability to aggregate all of your data and give you a pretty dashboard to view it all in, the second coolest feature is the trending data it can provide. Not only will it tell you about how your current spending compares against your history, it can also compare it with spenders in a select group of cities, states, or the whole of the United States. The shot to the right is a thumbnail of my own spending, with the large section listed as No Category.
When you first start using Mint, there’s a transaction register associated with everything. Each line item from my credit card is tagged with a category and in the beginning Mint will attempt to guess the correct category. If it can’t guess, it just marks it as No Category and moves on. As you change them, you can tell Mint that transactions of a certain name or from a certain vendor should always be a certain category.
One feature that I’ve seen but never used was notifications. You can get email summaries weekly (every Friday) or monthly (1st of each month) of all your account activity. You can also get text message (SMS) summaries every Friday. All of these are managed in your profile. (You can also change those alerts you see on your Overview through the Alerts section)
In Summary, I think Mint  is a pretty slick tool (after looking at the screenshots, I think you have to agree with me there). Can you live without it? Of course you can. Will you likely learn more about your spending if you use it? Definitely. Is it worth the security risk? That depends on your level of risk aversion and how well you trust the securities measures they’ve taken with your data. I personally don’t see it as a risk (I’m currently using it so I’ve already bought into it) but I’ve also been lucky with regards to both my identity and financial data, so to each their own. But you do have to admit, it sure is pretty for something that’s free (Quicken isn’t free!).