I finally entered the 21st century this week when I began using an online personal finance application called Mint.
I’ve been a long-time user of Microsoft Money to keep track of all my bank accounts: checking, credit cards, loans, and investments. I enjoy the comfort of manually entering all my transactions, and reconciling the bank statement at the end of the month. This process lets me keep an eye on my accounts and watch out for suspicious activity. But in ten years of banking, I don’t think I’ve ever found a truly unauthorized transaction.
Microsoft Money made data entry painless and provided many simple reports about where my money is going. But I’ve had trouble finding a similar solution after I switched to a Mac in 2007. Both Quicken Personal Finance for Mac and iBank have atrocious data entry processes that require constant movement between the keyboard and the mouse. It’s also very difficult to generate simple reports in either program. I’ve been using iBank for a year and I still can’t figure out how to see a list of all transactions in a category.
Frustrated with the lack of Mac options, I finally decided to try some online finance apps instead. Mint has developed a very good reputation online so it was the first site I tried. Mint is a web application that actually connects to your banks every night and downloads all of your transactions. It presents you with a summary of your recent transactions and your current balances. You can easily drill down and find more information about your accounts and transactions. The site is beautiful, and reports are easy to generate and customize.
Security was my overwhelming concern—they have your online banking password, so they could access all of the money in your accounts! But they say that they’ve developed reasonable safeguards, and they work with a third-party intermediary to secure your data.
Some more things I like about Mint:
- It was incredibly easy to add most of my bank and investment accounts to the site. Mint was pre-configured to work with nearly all of my financial institutions.
- The site automatically imports new transactions every time I login. This works well and it’s easy to customize the way different transactions are handled. Mint will send me a text message when large transactions clear or when my balances are low, which is a great service.
- The forums are fantastic and there’s already a strong user community sharing tips and tricks about saving money with Mint.
- Mint is free, and they make money by suggesting new financial services. But they only recommend services when it’s likely in your best interest. For example, right now Mint says I could save money by moving my checking account to HSBC. This is an unusual business model because most referral programs are difficult to set up and don’t pay well. But financial referrals usually do pay well—think of all the gimmicks to entice you to sign up for a credit card. I suspect Mint will become profitable quickly.
What I don’t like:
- I’m still not eager to give my bank account credentials to Mint. It’s impossible to know exactly how Mint stores this data or how secure their service providers are. I’m not sure that there is a good solution to this problem in any environment where the data is outside my immediate control.
- If your bank isn’t supported by Mint, there’s no way to track an account manually. This is a significant problem for me. I have a health savings account (HSA) which Mint can’t recognize. Either I need to keep using Quicken for this one account—which is silly—or I need to stop recording transactions from my HSA. Neither option is satisfactory. I will not be able to rely on Mint alone unless I can enter data manually and have my HSA treated equal to all my other accounts.
Next week I’m going to try Wesabe, another site similar to Mint, and see how it stacks up. I also might try Quicken Online, which Intuit is now offering for free. I’ll post reviews of those applications once I’ve had a chance to try them.