Mint.com, a free web service that lets users monitor the balances for their various bank and credit accounts, and also helps them create budgets, has become something of a household name in the three years since it launched: it currently boasts over 1 million users, and is adding 3,000 per day. In fact, it's already won a four-star review from us and has made the shortlist of our favorite iPhone apps. Now available for free on the iPhone and iPad and, most recently, on Android, it's still one of our favorite finance apps, particularly for people who want a better handle on where their money goes each month.
Setting up a Mint.com account is free, and requires little information to start. Although you don't have to right away, there is a wide selection of banks and institutions whose accounts you can access through Mint.com. This includes not just banks and credit card companies, but stores that issue credit cards, such as Gap. Unlike more complicated finance apps, such as Splashmoney, you won't have to enter any account numbers or routing numbers; just enter the username and password that you would use to access that account online (e.g., on CitiCards.com).
For the most part, adding accounts was quick and easy, although we encountered an error when setting up a Bank of America account. At least, though, the error message described it as a known error and suggested we try again later, which meant we didn't waste our time trying in vain to add that account at that moment.
In the case of both the Android and iPhone apps, Mint is all about the big picture. On both apps' home screens, the first two things you'll see are red and green color-coded bars showing whether you've exceeded your budget, and also how much money you have once you take into account all of your bank accounts and looming credit card bills.
While it's nice to not be overwhelmed with stats as soon as you open the app, we found this single balance to be misleading. Our balance, for instance, didn't include the paycheck we were about to receive, and also subtracted our credit card balance from our pool of money as if we had already paid it. Ultimately, we found it more useful to jump to the accounts page and see how much money was available in our primary checking account and how much money we had racked up on our credit card. Here, you can see a neat list of accounts and balances, which are further divided into categories such as "Credit cards" and "Cash" (i.e., checking accounts).
Budgeting and Goals
Compared to Pageonce, another popular finance app that aggregates bank account information, Mint is best for seeing not just what your balances are, but where your money goes. When you dig into the Cash Flow section of the app, you can see how much you spent on utilities, restaurants, clothing. Mint.com is smart enough to know that when you pay ConEd or Time Warner, for example, you're paying utility bills.
From the website Mint.com, you can customize your budget, adding categories and removing ones that aren't relevant to you. In creating a budget, you can do more than just specify how much money you'd like to spend in a given area per month; you can also set aside recurring payments, such as a mortgage payment or monthly rent. Unfortunately, users can't add bank accounts or adjust their budgets from the Android or iPhone app.
In addition to assisting you with sticking to a budget, Mint can help you achieve a larger financial goal, such as getting out of debt, saving enough money for retirement, or buying a home. For each of these goals, Mint has a template, as well as national averages to help you estimate how your saving will progress. If you're interested in buying a home, for instance, Mint asks you to plug in your salary, and uses national averages for monthly maintenance payments and interest rates to calculate how much you can afford to spend. While not the be-all and end-all, this information is helpful, and the fact that users have to plug in so little information makes these templates simple to use.
If you want to use Mint not just to glance at your balance information, but to become a more responsible spender (or saver), you can set up alerts, which you can receive via e-mail or SMS. By default, for instance, we received an e-mail informing us that our checking account balance was low. (It wasn't, in our opinion.) There's also an Alerts section in both the Android and iOS apps, but its information isn't always relevant. For instance, the iPhone app displayed our credit card bill as an alert, even though we had long since paid it.
While Mint.com and its free iPhone and Android apps easily and safely sync with your bank accounts, displaying account balances for each, what it really excels at is helping people become more fiscally responsible, whether that means sticking to a budget or exercising willpower while saving up for something important. While its popular competitor Pageonce (also free) shows a wider variety of information, such as social networking updates and flight stats, Mint.com remains the best choice for people who want to see not just how much money they have left but where their money has gone.