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Web Site of the Week: December 8, 2008

Mint.com

 

Like many of us during these troubling economic times, you’re probably refocusing your energies on tracking your family’s finances, especially this time of year.

You might even have a nagging feeling that you’re just not doing enough to manage your money. Fortunately, what used to a be a cumbersome and tedious task requiring the purchase of pre-packaged software can now be accomplished by some terrific online tools available to you for free.

If you’re looking for a simple way to track your spending, make a budget, or follow your investments – without splashing out any dough – then Mint.com might be just up your alley.

Getting Started

Getting started with Mint couldn’t be easier but you do need to hand over the username and password to your financial institution. You can reassure yourself with Mint’s privacy policy, along with a detailed FAQ of security issues some of which we cover below.

You’re actually anonymous on Mint.com; you don’t share your name, address, social security number or account numbers. Mint doesn’t even know your bank account or credit card numbers. It uses only your account login credentials for access to your account information and does not store these credentials.

It’s easy to add accounts to your Mint dashboard, and thousands of financial institutions are available from which to choose. In less than five minutes total, I was looking at an extremely detailed (yet manageable) analysis of three of my accounts, along with transaction information, spending trends, saving suggestions, and lots more.

Getting Minted

If you’re financial software-phobic like me, you’ll love Mint’s simple yet comprehensive financial habits breakdown. There’s no need to reach for a manual here – it’s all pretty basic and easy to understand.

Overview: This is your main dashboard where you can see a quick snapshot of what your money’s been doing: recent account activity, budget trends, any alerts, etc.

Spending Trends: This gives you a pie chart of spending, where you can dig down within each category to see what your spending looks like.
 
Transactions: You can get a quick overview of all your transactions here, filter them by individual account, search via transaction type or just type in a search term like “Best Buy”.

Ways to Save: Mint pays the bills with sponsored offers on the “Ways to Save” page; this is also where you’ll be offered potential moneysaving deals, such as a higher interest rate for your savings account.

Mint Alerts: The most convenient tool that Mint offers is e-mail or SMS alerts that can warn you if you’re about to go over your credit limit, about to incur some fees, getting a bit low on your account, and a lot more. This is an amazingly simple yet effective way to stay on top of your finances.

Mobile Access:
You can even access your entire Mint profile from a web-enabled cell phone. For instance, you can text “Bal” (balance) to “MyMint” (696468), to get instant balance reports for any account you’ve added to your Mint dashboard – and, heading into the holiday season, this could come in especially handy.

Credit Management: Mint also offers a credit management program that scans for better interest rates and fees in addition to information on how to lower your current credit card debt – again, all for free.

Investment Management: You can manage all your investments – 401K, brokerage accounts, etc. – in one easy portal with Mint (rather than logging into one out-of-the-way site after another). Also, since Mint automatically updates your investment information, you can stay on top of exactly what’s going on, rather than relying on an annual update.

Security

You are forgiven if you’re still a little wary of putting all your personal and family finances online. To allay these concerns, you should be aware that Mint provides bank-level data security for the transaction information it stores.

You can save money using Mint, but you can’t transfer money. In fact, with Mint’s automatic e-mail and SMS alerts, you can increase your online security by learning of — and acting on — any suspicious activity in any of your accounts more quickly.

It might also help to know that Mint has over 600,000 users and is adding new ones at the rate of 2,000 per day. The site is led by an experienced team that includes industry veterans from Charles Schwab, eBay, Expedia, Intuit, PGP and other leaders in the finance, security and software industries.

Cons

Mint’s not perfect and you should always check directly with your financial institutions if something seems awry. With Mint, the following relatively minor drawbacks are at least worth mentioning:

  • You can’t import from any other financial software (such as Quicken), and you can’t take Mint data anywhere else.
  • Mint also trusts your bank or other financial institution to be completely right, there are no inherent checks and balances.
  • Good for keeping track, but shouldn’t be the only thing you use - always go to the source.
  • Can’t be used offline
Competition

Well, of course there are other sites on the Web offering similar services. If you’re looking to do a little comparison shopping to find the one that best suits your needs, you should check out Rudder, Geezeo, Thrive, and Wesabe.

Conclusion

Mint is simple to set up and gives you a detailed yet completely understandable money analysis, with tools that can quickly help you become more financially savvy. Credit, investments, budgets – all of these are concepts that many of us tend to avoid, but Mint makes them accessible using our own accounts as a springboard to a healthier financial outlook.

Rather than spend more money to purchase expensive financial management software that ends up sitting unused on the shelf, Mint offers simple yet powerful money management tools that anyone can use, no matter what their level of financial expertise.

Contributed by Barry Myers

And be sure check out previous Web Sites of the Week:

Daily Lit: December 1, 2008

TGI Black Friday: November 24, 2008

Wee Web: November 10, 2008

Savvy Auntie: November 3, 2008

Woot.com: October 27, 2008



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