Mint: Organize Your Finances Online

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Prologue: Twitter for WordPress for Groups

Mint is a personal finance manager created by Aaron Patzer.  According to Aaron, personal finance can really be reduced to three basic principles.  First, spend less than you earn.  Second, make the money you have work for you.  Third, plan for the unexpected.  The Mint.com crew have taken these ideals to heart and have designed a very useful free service.  Mint is nothing new, having been awarded the TechCrunch40 Best of Show award and having received at least one large round of funding.  I am reviewing Mint now because I was seriously disappointed the first time I used Mint to organize my finances.  After a few months of fine tuning, Mint has created a much more useful and entertaining product.

Interface

The Mint interface is divided into 5 main tabs. The overview tab shows you your account balances, your cash vs. debt status (very useful), any alerts (like overdue payments), and a graph of your budget spending.  The transactions tabs shows a detailed list of each transaction and includes the merchant name, category of the purchase and the date.  Each transaction category can be changed, because by default Mint will choose the wrong category sometimes.  The spending trends tab generates a colorful graph of your spending and lets you know just exactly how much you spend at the different categories.  This tab also provides detailed information on other categories like gas spending so you can track how much you spend each month.  The ways to save tab provides you with offers that will help you save money.  This is also how Mint has decided to monetize the service, charging businesses to list their offers here.

Security

The fifth and final tab asks for bank account information.  This is where Mint  gathers the transaction data for each account you wish to include.  This raises some important security issues, so I’ll walk you through some of the security measures Mint employs to make your data safe.

First, Mint does not gather any personally identifiable information to set up your account.  An email address, password and zip code are all that is required.

Second, Mint does not see your internet banking passwords and no Mint employees or potential Mint hackers can see your bank passwords.  Mint works with Yodlee, a well established online finance company which is audited by the FDIC, the OCC, and the Federal Reserve.  All data transferred to Yodlee is encrypted at the 128-bit level, and all data communicated between Mint and your browser is encrypted at the 128-bit level as well.  With these measures in place, Mint may even help make your financial life a bit more secure with the addition of the alerts you can set up for very large purchases.

Conclusion

Like I mentioned earlier, I was disappointed with Mint the first time I tried the service during beta.  I recently gave the service another try, and I am 100% happier with its performance.  Mint provides great tools for monitoring spending, and the interface is much more accessible than desktop solutions such as Quicken.  One of the main problems with Mint has been transaction categorization mistakes.  This seems have been addressed, with the majority of transactions correctly categorized.  For those that are still incorrectly categorized or not part of a category, users can quickly correct the mistake by changing the category for all transactions.  The spending trends display also is very useful.  Through Mint, I have learned that I need to eat at restaurants less, and that gas purchases take up a large part of my budget.

For many, Mint can provide a great set of tools for managing finances and for finding ways to save money.  I give Mint two thumbs up and recommend giving it a try.


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