Mint.com is hands-down the best personal finance service. Fresh in my mind are the experiences I’ve had with several other online services and local software products, some of which focus on helping individuals get out of debt and others which closely replicate Mint. All pale in comparison in at least one area, and often in more than one. Mint has the most efficient setup, excellent usability, and well-honed controls for customizing Mint’s automation. Mint gives you the best control over your finances, even though it does most of the work for you.
Mint connects directly to all your financial institutions so that every transaction appears in its ledgers without you lifting a finger. Every transaction is automatically categorized, too, and when you need to adjust something, intelligently designed tools let you do it once, for many transactions (if you choose), and in a way that can teach Mint how to better handle the same payment or income the next time it happens if you want. Other sections for budgeting, setting financial goals, and learning how to better invest your money also impress, making Mint a five-star service and easily our Editors’ Choice for personal finance.
Mint’s Exquisite Setup
A huge part of what makes Mint so successful is the ease and efficiency with which it helps users establish new accounts.
I’ve had far more tedious experiences setting up competing personal finance software, such as the online Mvelopes (free to $9.95 per month) and the offline YNAB (You Need a Budget) ($60, 3 stars). Both of these systems focus on budgeting almost exclusively, rather than net worth and investing strategies (which Mint provides, including the value of your real estate and other properties, should you choose to list them). And the process of establishing budgets in those other programs relies heavily on guesswork, rather than your actual transaction history. Sure, you can adjust your finances month to month as you start to see patterns, but Mint reveals those patterns for you from the start.
Setting up a free Mint account is a cake walk. After you create a password, the website takes you point by point through everything you need to do: authenticate your bank accounts, link to credit cards, and decide whether any of these accounts should be kept separate or “hidden” from your working finances. One example is an emergency fund account you don’t want counted as available money.
Once the basic accounts are connected—and mine populated with more than a month’s worth of recent transactions within about two minutes—Mint offers you a guided tour of all its features. Compared with Mvelopes, an online service that left me guessing what the heck “sweep envelope” setting might do to my money, Mint gave me all the information I needed to continue using it properly right then and there. Even Pageonce (4 stars), Mint’s closest competitor, doesn’t go the distance in giving you the information you need at the point you need it most.
Working With Your Money
Mint.com’s interface is one of the best I’ve seen: clean, crisp, colorful, and so simply designed that you can’t get lost. The dashboard, or Overview screen, is also very good, providing you a one-page summary of every element of your financial picture, updated once a day at least, more often if you force an update. All account totals run in a vertical pane on the left. You can click on any of them to see a register or an informational page. Alerts, like having a low balance appear at the top, and you can fully customize these to what you want and to get alerts by email or SMS.
As mentioned, Mint calculates your net worth, and it displays that figure prominently at the top of your Mint account, although you have total control over what is and is not included in that figure. In fact, you have total control over all the minutiae: spending categories, exclusions, marking money movement as a transfer rather than a payment or income, and so forth.
The essential features, like keeping track of your spending and allocating income to various budgeting categories, are really only the beginning of what you can do with Mint. Goals are treated separately, but they get full attention to detail, too. You can plan to create an emergency fund, save for a vacation, put away money for a down payment on a house, and much more, with built-in calculators helping you establish a plan that will work for meeting your goals.
Ads and Security
One thing you can’t fully control is advertisements, but even these are remarkably useful. Mint is free through targeted advertising. Very targeted advertising. For example, Mint noticed the piddly interest rate I’m getting from my current savings account and suggested some other banks where I could be earning more money. From the top navigation pane, you can move into the Ways to Save section to look up additional financial institutions that would very much like your business, and you can even set some parameters to help you find the ones that directly meet your needs, considering factors such as starting balance and number of years you’re willing to invest.
Understandably, whenever you use an account aggregation site like this one, it’s good to know what kind of security is behind it. Mint.com 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 could either.
Mint.com’s usability, up-to-date look, and smart blend of personal finance tools make it an obvious recommendation for people who want a guided tour through their spending, budget, and investments. The fact that it’s free seals the deal. Hands-down, Mint.com is the best tool for managing personal finances, and the easiest one to use, making it PCMag’s Editors’ Choice. If you’re concerned about your finances (and who isn’t?), you really ought to try Mint.com. You’ve got nothing to lose, and a lot of insight to gain.
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Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc