Sunday, October 21, 2007

Review of Mint On-line Personal Finance Tool: The Vault is About Half Full.

Mint is a great concept. Create an account. Enter a few usernames and passwords. See your whole financial world from one control panel. While getting started is easy and the concept is great, the product could definitely use some refinement.

First, let me focus on the positives:

  1. The product is easy top use, it took me about 10 minutes to get up and running.
  2. They offer support for a wide range of financial institutions. I was able to link accounts from Wells Fargo, Discover, AmEx, Chase, Countrywide, and Emigrant Direct with relative ease.
  3. I like that they make recommendations to save you money.
  4. Finally, diving up your spending categories so you can see how much you spend in each category is a great tool that I typically have to wait to see once a year with my credit card statement.

For anyone who doesn't check all of their accounts regularly, Mint is a good tool to get started and I would recommend trying it. Even if one does check his accounts regularly he might like to try Mint, though it might not be quite as in depth as one might like. For a 10 minute investment, it is at least worth checking out for anyone if you ask me.

Now let me focus on some of the negatives:

  1. Where are the brokerage accounts? I couldn't link my Wells Fargo or Fidelity accounts. Ideally Mint should expand to support brokerage/retirement accounts to so I can monitor my whole personal finance life/net worth from one window.
  2. Some of the money saving suggestions don't make sense. For instance, Mint said I could save $1200 per year by switching to Verizon FiOS. Unfortunately, despite having my zip code, Mint failed to realize that FiOS isn't available where I live. All this recommendation ended up doing was waste my time and make me jealous of all those people who have Fios.
  3. Finally, I wish their categorization algorithm was better. For instance, in my checking account I have regular electronic payments to Xcel, a rather large publicly traded utility. There is no reason Mint shouldn't have a list of large utilities and automatically categorize regular checking activity as a Utility expense instead of requiring the user to categorize it manually. Both the frequency and the name of the company are dead giveaways. The same goes for Mountain Parks Electric, or Denver Water. The algorithm that categorizes spending should be smart enough to categorize these as utilities instead of not categorized.

So the bottom-line here is that Mint is a great alpha stage on-line personal finance tool. It has a long way to go before it replaces your budget or Microsoft Money or Quicken. I hope they eventually get there, because what they have is a great start. Now they just need to focus on expanding the functionality and improving some of the algorithms driving the savings and categorization suggestions.

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