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Budgeting with Mint.com

© December 2009 Anthony Lawrence

Mint.com is a financial tracking and monitoring tool. I have known of it for a while, and have seen it recommended in many places, but I only started using it just this week.

Mint works by you allowing it to access your bank and credit card accounts. That right there is enough to turn off most people, but as they explain at their privacy faq, money can't be transferred with Mint and all they need is your email - no names or other personally identifiable information. They argue that they actually increase your security by being able to notify you of any unusual activity in your various accounts.

They also point out that they don't actually store your login/password data. They pass that off to Yodlee.com (which also has budgeting/monitoring tools).

I think that's unlikely to satisfy many of the readers here. Employees of Mint and Yodlee certainly have at least theoretical access to customer accounts, right? Maybe Mint and Yodlee can't move money, but if an employee got your credentials, they could steal money directly.

Sure. And so could employees at your bank, your credit card company. Anyone who ever takes your credit card information can steal from you. Anyone you allow to make ACH transfers (your direct deposit paycheck) could theoretically mess with your life. I think I tend to agree with Mint: if I'm watching all transactions daily and can get alerts of anything unusual, I think I'm safer overall. But.. I'm sure some of you won't agree. That's OK.

My reason for signing up is budgeting. When business was good, we didn't care about that because there was always enough money. I don't mean that we could just spend whatever we wanted, but there was enough excess that we didn't need to pay close attention to spending. That's all changed: we need to watch our income and expenses.

We've always lived simply. I've never made a LOT of money, but until recently we usually made more than we needed - we could afford to be a bit careless. In this economy, we just cannot do that. So Mint helps us.

Traditionally that meant keeping a spreadsheet and logging every purchase into the appropriate category. That's cumbersome and annoying. Mint makes it easy because it picks up your checks, deposits and credit card charges as they post. Mint knows how to categorize many things by itself - if you use your credit card at a gas station or a supermarket, it will put those in appropriate categories (though you can override its decisions, of course). If you have a transaction that you need to categorize manually, you can tell Mint to treat all future occurrences the same way. These features take most of the drudgery out of budgeting.

There are annoyances. Mint can't seem to access ING accounts at all right now. Supposedly they are trying to work with ING to resolve this, but posts in the forums indicate the problems have existed for some time. Another problem is that Mint sometimes needs help updating accounts - I usually have to answer extra questions when it tries to access my bank. The concern there is that too many bad accesses could trigger the bank to cut off Internet access as a security measure; that would be extremely annoying! A forum post I read said that someone had their Paypal account frozen because of Mint access (though others insisted they'd never had this happen).

One oddity: Mint obviously knows what my credit card balances are and it also knows the current statement balance because it sends an alert as that is coming due for payment. However, when logged in to Mint, I seem to be only able to see the total balance. That seems odd and I may just be missing it.

Overall, this looks like a good tool. There are a number of competitors (including the Yodlee site that Mint actually uses), so I''ll be checking out a few others.

Got something to add? Send me email.

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-> Budgeting with Mint.com


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Thu Dec 17 18:10:23 2009: 7763   anonymous


actually no, Yodlee employees don't have access to any consumer financial information. All the data is under lock and key and gov audited.

Thu Dec 17 20:14:48 2009: 7764   TonyLawrence


That doesn't mean no one has access - it just means that it's protected better than most things.

But the real point is that worrying about this is silly. It's safer than a lot of other things we do without a moments thought.

I've been using Mint every day and found that we spend about $800 more every month than I thought we did - that's "interesting" :-)

Thu Feb 25 19:27:50 2010: 8141   TonyLawrence


I'm now into my 3rd month - not really long enough for Mint to be super valuable, but we're getting there. I wish I had started earlier.

Thu Feb 25 19:46:55 2010: 8142   TonyLawrence


The Bank issue mysteriously went away recently - Mint now needs no help logging into my bank.

I just tried ING again - it failed once and then worked the second time.


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