Even the least financially savvy can stay on top of their cash flow with Mint. Through its web and mobile apps, Mint provides transparency into one’s spending, debt, investments and net worth. The personal financial management (PFM) platform is especially appealing to the recent college graduate who is just learning to manage his or her wealth. Simplicity and ease of use are two reasons why the tool currently supports more than ten million users and 17 million accounts. Best of all: it doesn’t cost a penny to use.
How It Works
Upon account inception, users link Mint to financial accounts such as checking / savings / money market accounts, investment portfolios and 401Ks. Users can also enter outstanding debt from loans or mortgages as well as the equity value of high-value assets such as homes and automobiles. From there users are able to categorize expenses, set budgets, evaluate investment performance and develop financial goals.
Users have the option of using the web app, mobile app or both, with updates synced between the two in real-time. Logging onto the web application has become less and less necessary as most functions have been made available through the mobile app. This is likely a product of Mint management recognizing its users’ desire to manage finances exclusively through mobile. Now, most fundamental features like budget-setting have been made available through the mobile app.
By far the most popular feature offered by Mint is budget tracking. Users can set budgets for one month, multiple months or one-time and specify whether the balance should be rolled over at the end of the period. While Mint offers detailed expense categories – such as Fast Food and Restaurants under the broader Food & Dining category – a high-level expense classification strategy may be preferable for those with limited time for transaction maintenance. Users can create their own categories and sub-categories for infrequent or uncommon expenses.
Originally some visibility to true expense breakout was lost in the transaction at Walgreens that included snacks, housing supplies and toiletries. Mint quickly addressed this shortcoming by rolling out an expense splitting feature for both the web and mobile app. An ‘Exclude from Mint’ category is available for transactions such as credit card payments and balance transfers that don’t fall under a periodic budget.
Mint’s portfolio of financial guidance isn’t limited to analysis of spend. The web app provides several different dashboards around investment performance and allocation. Additionally, users can set financial goals that range from purchasing a car, saving for retirement or paying off debt. Mint provides an aggregated view of a user’s finances in the Trends portal, which helps highlight changes in one’s net worth and overall financial stability.
For those of us that like to track finances in near real-time, Mint can be a bit frustrating. Transactions sit in a ‘pending’ queue for roughly two to three days (depending on the merchant) and are unable to be categorized through the mobile app during that period. While this is really a flaw on the part of the individual’s bank and/or merchant, it does decrease Mint’s value in timely analysis of income and expenses.
Occasionally a payment at a restaurant will correctly cycle through the pending queue but a pre-gratuity version of this transaction will remain in the queue until it is manually deleted by the user. This is likely due to the delayed processing of gratuity by restaurants but nonetheless can cause issues in Mint. Often times users find themselves heavily over budget for Food & Dining in a given month just to discover that multiple restaurant transactions had been logged twice.
Other shortcomings include some flaws with push notification alerts on the mobile app. Every now and then notifications for financial advice show up as unread even after the notification has been viewed by the user. Though not so much of shortcoming as it is a risk, security over financial data remains on users’ minds when linking financial accounts to the third-party website. Mint does its best to suppress these concerns by offering features such as automated logout from the web app if idle for more than ten minutes.
Since being acquired by Intuit in 2009 Mint has done an outstanding job at responding to shortcomings in its software and applications. The management team recognizes simplicity and ease of use as key staples to its service and continually works to meet the needs of the financially uneducated. As technology in finance evolves the playing field will certainly change for Mint; for better or worse is unclear.
Expect Mint to stick around for at least the near term as banks and other financial institutions (FIs) drag their feet on finding a way to integrate PFM platforms amongst each other. It is generally rare to find an individual that stores deposits with the same bank that manages his investment / retirement accounts and services his loans. Despite the vicious cross-selling efforts by bankers, individuals will continue to have financial assets spread across multiple FIs, making Mint a must-have for now.