Mint.com (free) was one of those solutions that instantly made sense. It’s evolved over the many years it’s been available, adding tools and welcome insight, but it’s essentially what it’s always been: an online home that gives you real-time access to the accounts you hold at financial institutions. You supply your login credentials for each bank or credit union or credit card company, and Mint pulls your transactions and balances in and makes them available to you in a simple, clean environment that uses both data and graphical representations of data to tell you exactly where you stand financially.
People clearly want the same kind of information that browser-based Mint offers on their mobile devices. Today, you can download Mint’s app for iPhone (reviewed here), as well as iPad, and Android. While the mobile app can’t provide absolutely every feature included in the full website , it does enough that you can pull out your smartphone when you’re at a retail establishment and see how the purchase you’re considering will affect your cash flow.
Setting up a new Mint account via the iPhone app requires just a few minutes—more or less depending on how many accounts you want to access. You click on the settings, whose working screen provides links for three activities. You can set up a passcode, or four-digit PIN that you’ll need to enter to access the app. A link for Help and Legal takes you to standard terms of service and privacy statements. You can also visit the Mint help files and email support from here.
Click on Accounts and tap the plus sign, and you can select from a list of popular financial institutions or search for your own. Enter whatever login credentials you use to access your online accounts individually, and Mint will download the current batch of transactions. This includes bank, credit card, and investment accounts. When you’re finished adding accounts, tap Done to return to the main page.
A Plain Jane
Personally, I could have lived with a little more graphic design in the iPhone version of Mint. As it is, there’s little to liven up what is a pretty plain user interface. But this doesn’t detract from Mint’s usability, and it probably contributes to its speed.
The app’s dashboard (called Overview) is Mint’s opening screen, and it displays every element of the app–without scrolling. This comprehensive bird’s-eye view is exactly what you want to see when you’re standing in line at the Apple Store, sweating your impending purchase.
The first two entries here tell you how much total cash you have and what your credit card debt is, based on the accounts you’ve connected. Tap a right arrow to drill down to a complete list of your accounts with their individual totals. Tap the right arrow again next to any account to view its individual transactions. Mint updates this screen when you open that page, so there are no unpleasant surprises when you get to the cash register.
Predicting Your Financial Future
Next up: budgets, everyone’s favorite fiscal activity. Mint makes this easy, but you’ll have to spend some time really thinking about your needs in every area and coming up with some realistic goals based (hopefully) on past spending and your financial objectives. Click the ubiquitous right arrow under the Budgets heading to get to your data input screen, and then then the plus sign to get to Mint’s generous list of expense categories.
This screen also has a section called Unbudgeted Spending, which you should watch like a hawk. Budgets are most effective when you’re categorizing and tracking absolutely everything possible.
Click on a category like Pet Grooming, and Mint displays a screen with a suggested monthly budget amount that you can change by moving a slider bar up and down until you get to the desired amount. Click Save, and repeat until you’re finished. Your completed Budgets page always displays how much you have left to spend in the current month in all categories.
In the Red or the Black?
The entry below your budget is critical. It displays your cash flow in both amounts and a red/green bar graph. How much have you earned and what have you spent? The right arrow here takes you to a screen that breaks down your income and expenses into categories. This area also shows the transactions that comprise each category.
You can split these individual entries where needed. If, for example, you bought both groceries and clothing at Target, click the right arrow next to that transaction, then tap the Split button in the upper right corner. Use the right arrow to select categories, then tap the “-$” next to each. Mint opens a numeric keypad in the lower part of the screen for data entry.
Mint is more than a giant calculator and categorizing tool. Its built-in intelligence is always searching for transactions and totals that are higher than usual or take you over your budgeted amount for the month. You’ll also be alerted, too, when, for example, a credit card bill is due; a large deposit has appeared; or an account has a particularly low balance. A page displaying these opens when you click on Alerts on the Overview page; you can also get them in email.
Mint also uses what it learns from your accounts and its own knowledge of financial products and services available to give you bits of advice. It might notice that you’re using credit a lot for shopping and suggest a better card alternative. Or maybe it saw a tax refund and wanted to offer advice on using the extra cash in smart ways.
The final tab takes you to information about your investment accounts.
Best of, Online and Mobile
There are many good personal finance apps that take small slices of your money management tasks and make them available on mobile devices. But no financial app offers the scope, depth, and usability that Mint does. I only wish the mobile app had all the pie charts and mini-reports found in the browser-based version.
Mint is our Editor’s Choice financial mobile app because it gives you a quick look at your overall cash flow and accounts while you’re out and about, while also letting you drill down to the transaction level for more details. It supports the major and many minor financial institutions. And it makes good of iPhone technology. I recommend it for anyone who wants secure, in-depth access to their personal finances remotely.
|Type||Business, Personal, Enterprise|
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc