Mint is an excellent personal finance service that has won multiple Editors’ Choice awards thanks to its simplicity, usability, and smart blend of financial tools. It lets you set up connections to all of your online finance accounts, check your credit score, and get a good estimate of your net worth. Mint is easy to access on your smartphone or even your Apple Watch. Even better, Mint is free, which is possible because the service frequently displays ads for credit cards and other finance products.
Mint offers a feature tour when you first create your account, then launches right into requesting user names and passwords for your banking, credit card, and other financial accounts. The site is fairly useless unless you agree to make these connections, since it uses this data for everything it does.
There are a few other setup tasks that you can access by clicking Profile in the toolbar. That screen contains blank fields for your contact and demographic information. Click Settings, and you see data boxes for all of your accounts and links to other setup tasks. The most critical one is Notifications. Click it, and you can request email and on-site updates that alert you to, for example, upcoming bills and changes to your credit score. You can also ask to be notified if an account balance drops below a certain level or credit availability dips below a specified dollar amount.
It’s entirely up to you how much information you let Mint track. If you want a comprehensive picture of your finances and the best possible recommendations from the service, you should link everything. This includes assets like your home and vehicles; Mint links to third-party sites to get estimates of their value.
One of the best aspects of Mint is that within moments of setting up an account, it already sees habits and trends in your spending because it’s pulling a few months’ worth of data from the past to analyze. In other words, you get insight into your financial health right away. You don’t get that with apps that only start looking at your spending and income starting on the day you sign up. Since Mint has access to your history, it can tell you what you’ve been doing with your money from the start.
This automation and use of historical data to give you a head start on visualizing your finances contribute to Mint’s superiority. Sites like Mvelopes and YNAB (You Need a Budget) focus on budgeting almost exclusively, rather than net worth and investing, which Mint provides. Those other services rely heavily on guesswork at first, rather than your history of transactions.
Even better, Mint is free, so you can sample the service without handing over any money. Quicken Deluxe, the Editors’ Choice for paid personal finance services, demands that you fork over an annual fee.
Working With Your Money in Mint
Mint.com’s interface is exceptional, both visually and in terms of usability. It’s clean, crisp, colorful, and so simply designed that it’s hard to get lost. The Overview screen—Mint’s dashboard—is also very good; it shows a one-page summary of every element of your financial picture. It updates once a day, or more often if you force an update, and you can customize it to contain only what you want to see.
The left vertical pane displays all of your financial accounts and assets along with their total value. The site tallies these up and presents you with your total assets and debts, and, of course, your current net worth. You have total control over what is and is not included here. For example, if you want to exclude real estate from your net worth, you can. If you want to exclude an emergency fund from showing up in your available funds, you can. If you want to exclude a joint checking account from your personal budgets, you can do that, too.
The right pane includes a list of upcoming bills, a spending chart and your current credit score, and a graph of your current budget versus actual spending. If you’ve established goals and linked to your investment accounts, you’ll see your progress and status here. A series of graphical links at the bottom takes you to financial products that Mint thinks you might like. Beyond viewing data, you can take actions from this opening screen, such as managing your budgets and checking for bills that are due.
Working With Transactions in Mint
Though you can initiate a lot of activity from the opening screen, there’s a lot more to Mint. A toolbar at the top divides the site into its individual functions: Transactions, Credit Score, Bills, Budgets, Goals, Trends, Investments, and Ways to Save.
You’ll probably spend a lot of time working on the Transactions page, since this is where all the data Mint has brought in from your cash and credit accounts appears. The site displays them in what looks like a checkbook register. Each entry shows the date, description, category, and amount. Mint guesses at the category for each transaction (such as Food & Dining, Shopping, Entertainment, and Bills & Utilities) but quite often you need to change it manually. Mint lets you edit subcategories, but not the main categories themselves.
To work further with a transaction, click the Edit Details link below it. Here, you can assign tags and add to the list of suggestions offered (such as Tax-Related, Reimbursable, and Vacation). You can also split the transaction between multiple categories, mark it as a duplicate, and add a note. Mint lets you add your own transactions manually, but it doesn’t support account reconciliation.
Assuming you entered your Social Security number during setup, Mint automatically pulls your credit score and presents the number on both its dashboard and under the Credit Score link in the toolbar. You can get a little more detail about your credit score and the factors that influence it in Mint, but you don’t get a full credit report. For that, you can sign up for Credit Karma. This free service provides your current scores and reports from two of the three agencies. Like Mint, it pays for itself by suggesting financial products that might appeal to you.
No More Bill-Paying Tools
Since we last reviewed Mint, the service stopped supporting its bill-paying tools. You can still schedule and track bills, though, in one of two ways. You can connect to your billers’ sites by entering your user name and password there. Mint pulls in the payment amount and due date, but you’ll have to handle the actual transaction outside of Mint. Once you’ve done that, you can click a Mark as Paid link and view your payment history with the vendor. You can also manually add bills that aren’t linked to a biller’s site, like rent or your dog walker. Either way, bill reminders appear on the dashboard.
Budgets and Goals
Many people dislike budgeting because it’s hard to predict what you’ll spend on different categories of purchases. Mint simplifies this for you by presenting existing data in the form of the categorized transactions that it pulls in from your online accounts. In fact, the first time you select Budgets in the toolbar (assuming you’ve imported transactions and categorized them), Mint will have already started your budgets for you. You can edit budget categories or add your own.
We usually think of a budget as one giant spreadsheet. Mint calls each category a budget; each is represented by a colored vertical line. It shows you your budgeted amount vs what you’ve actually spent (or received) by both filling in the line proportionately and displaying the actual numbers (like $185 of $200). Hover your cursor over one, and you can increase or decrease the budgeted amount by clicking arrows. Click Edit Details, and the Edit Your [Clothing, for example] Budget window opens. You can specify whether you want the budget to occur once, every month, or every few months, and enter a dollar amount. If you choose Monthly, you can start each new month with the previous month’s leftover amount. A line graph shows how your budget compares to the national average.
Mint’s Goals section comes with nine predefined financial goals and the option to create a custom one. You can plan to save for a vacation, put away money for a down payment on a house, or pay off your credit card debt. Smart, multistep calculators help you establish a plan that will work for meeting your goals and tie it in to an existing Mint account or a new one.
The Investments section is Mint’s least informational and interactive area. All you can do is connect to your brokerage accounts and monitor them. If you want more in-depth support and tools, a site like Personal Capital is a better choice for at least that element of your finances.
How Are You Doing?
One of your rewards for conscientiously categorizing transactions and setting goals comes in the form of a page full of charts and graphs that provide insight on your finances. Click Trends to see them. They include multiple views of your spending, income, assets, debts, and net worth. You can customize these with a number of filters and compare the results to those of last year or the previous month, for example. If you want to do more sophisticated analysis, you can export the underlying data to CSV format.
Ads and Security
Mint uses targeted advertising—very targeted advertising. Because it knows exactly how much interest you’re earning or paying on all your financial accounts as well as any annual fees you pay, it can suggest banks and accounts from its ad network that can give you a better rate. It shows you not only the better rate, but also how much you can save over one, two, and three years, in case the service is offering a special rate or no fees for the first year. When the ads are irrelevant, you can dismiss them by clicking them off.
We understand that Mint has to pay for itself somehow, and that some of these ads may be helpful to many users. There’s an excess of them, however.
Mint uses bank-grade security, which means it doesn’t even have access to what you type. From the Mint interface, you can’t initiate transfers of money or payouts of any kind, which means no one else can either. In addition, the site automatically logs you out after 10 idle minutes.
We used to consult our wallets or checkbook balances to see available funds while out in the world, but many people are more likely to pull out their phones these days. Mint’s mobile app is one of the tools that makes this possible. With the exception of a few cosmetic differences, the Android app and iOS app are identical. You can create accounts, transactions, and budgets; receive alerts; and view Trends and the dashboard. The major pieces missing include Goals, Bills, and Investments, but you’re unlikely to be working on those when you’re standing in line at a coffee shop.
The mobile apps have an optional passcode lock. If you jump to another app and then return, Mint asks for the passcode again. And the app wipes your data every time you sign out. These are good security practices.
Mint’s ease of use and smart blend of personal finance tools make it a good choice for people who want to track and manage their spending, budgets, savings goals, and investments. This insight makes it possible to positively affect users’ financial future. The fact that it’s free makes it even more appealing. Mint once again reigns as the PCMag Editors’ Choice for free personal finance apps.