Mint – Slightly Bitter Taste

When I first heard about Mint I wondered what website analytics software was doing getting into finance. Then I realized it was a different Mint. Then I found they already had established competition and weren’t so unique.

Most info I saw about Mint came from blogs and seemed to be more of the “press release” type. Heavy on adjectives and short on details. There were exceptions. So I decided to give Mint a try.

I had problems from the beginning. I was able to create an ID OK but my account couldn’t be added due to time-out errors. A couple of days later they posted a notice saying they were “overwhelmed” by the response. I went in Saturday and was able to add a couple of accounts but still got errors and things were slow. I went back in Sunday and noticed they had a notice on their homepage that apologized for being overwhelmed and that their site was back to normal. But I still had problems today. The previously added accounts had updated themselves but also had a message that “There was a problem updating your account. Please confirm your logon information.”. Nothing changed since adding the accounts and the bank’s regular online banking was just fine. They seem to still be having performance issues.

The website does have a “beta” label which does give them a bit of an out for performance issues. But they’re asking us to trust them with our financial information so it can’t be used to excuse much else. Still, the performance issues were a cause for concern due to the confidentiality of the data.

Despite the performance issues here’s my impression of Mint.

  • They realize security is a concern of anyone who’ll be providing account information to them. They have all the proper security buzzwords and they seem to take security and privacy seriously. The only information they require is an email address and zip code. They use the zip code to target offers. You do provide online bank account logon information and they import your transactions.
  • The one security related issue I have with them is they use an email address as the logon ID. EMail addresses are fairly public and I see no reason to give away half the logon information.
  • A lot of imported transactions were missing payees and even more had an incorrect category. When transactions are imported the payee is listed along with a budget category. What I found interesting is that even though they had the payee from the bank they didn’t use it directly. Holding the mouse over the payee field did cause the payee information from the bank to be displayed which made it easy to update the transaction.
  • Some payees just had bad names. They seem to pattern match payees in some cases. For example, I used a ATM at a bank branch (same bank that had the account) on “Shunpike Rd”. The payee Mint displayed was “Shunpike Auto Wash” and they use a category for auto service.
  • Updating category and payee information is simple. It’s also possible to check an “always” option which will create a rule and rename a payee or always assign the selected category to the payee.
  • My gut feeling is that about half my transactions needed to have a payee, category or both update.
  • Category changes don’t get incorporated into the spending trends for awhile. I don’t know if this was due to their performance problems or not. But I updated categories around noon on Sunday. The spending trends still didn’t reflect the changes at 1:00PM but they did reflect the changes by 10:00PM. It may have been much sooner as I didn’t check between 1 and 10.
  • I like the way they handle checks. Since checks don’t have a payee listed you can set up a rule to always make a check of the same amount a certain payee. This works well for something like my rent check.
  • There’s no way to do splits when a payee has more than one category. For example, if you pay the cable company for broadband, TV and VOIP you’ll get one bill. You can only pick one category.
  • You have to use the categories they pick. If you’re just starting out the choices are fine. But if, like me, you have categories you already use you’ll have to settle for what they have. For example, I split out computer related expenses into types, but with Mint I have to lump everything under “Electronics and Software”.
  • You can add notes to each transaction.
  • They say they can automatically balance my checkbook but I couldn’t find any way to do that. They just show the current balance and all transactions. This leads to what I see as a big weakness. There’s no way to find bank errors. If you go “all-in” and assume the Mint transactions are right you’ll never catch a bank error. There needs to be some way to reconcile to your non-Mint records. You shouldn’t trust what your bank tell Mint to always be right.
  • The spending trends feature is kind of cool. They show how your spending in a category changes from month to month.
  • Mint makes money by providing offers that save you money. They get a cut if you sign off for an offer they present. I don’t have a problem with this since they are money saving offers. (As with everything else – verify the details)
  • It would be nice to be able to “cancel” or “decline” a money saving offer. In my case it recommends I move to Vonage from AT&T. The problem with that is Mint assumes my AT&T expense is all phone when in reality it’s also the Internet connection needed for Vonage. It be nice if I could just tell the offer to go away. I can drill down into other offers that Mint says will save me less money but in reality may be something I could use (I’ve already dropped AT&T)
  • While bank account information can be easily deleted, I couldn’t find a way to delete the Mint profile. The information they keep is minimal, just an email and zip.

Conclusion

As with most things, their marketing over promises on what they delivered. But still, it was an interesting site. Will I keep Mint? No. Here’s why…

Fast expansion, reacting to unexpected demand, may cause them to get sloppy and compromise security. Considering the type of information they have (online banking logon info) this causes me concern.

But even if I wasn’t concerned about security I’d still leave. Their way of managing money isn’t for me. I’m no fan of Quicken but use it as a transaction register and to generate transaction reports (but not much else) since it’s double-entry, downloads transactions from the bank and I can reconcile accounts.

But if you’re just starting out or don’t have a financial management system that works for you then Mint may be worth looking at. But I’d recommend waiting until the website loses it’s “beta” label before relying on them and trusting your online banking into to them.

But Mint has piqued my interest in this type of website so I’ll probably check out Wesabe, which (on the surface) seems to be a more mature website that’s more appropriate to the way I manage finances.