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Just a little while ago, Mint.com officially launched in Canada. Originally only in the United States, Mint.com is a finance tracking service offered to consumers that have a hard time manually tracking their income, expenses, and budgets. They do this by associating your Mint.com account with your bank accounts, your credit card accounts, and your loans and debts. They then take each individual transaction (income, expense), label it to the best of their knowledge, and start outlining a budget. You can also read an interview Tom did with Aaron Patzer about the Mint launch in Canada. I signed up for Mint and have played around with their website. I had a couple of gripes about the site, but I loved many more things, and therefore recommended it as a product worth using.

Pros

If you've ever taken the time to go over a month of expenses, and manually write down and track each individual purchase, then you know that it can be a daunting task, especially when there is more than one person involved. Recently, my wife and I sat down to look over the last few months worth of purchases, and that required a fairly high time investment to write out each expenses, categorize it, and calculate the total cost per month. Using Mint.com, this same work was done relatively accurately within minutes, and flawlessly within half an hour. It can be a huge time saver.

The service is very easy to setup. It simply asks you to find your bank, then give your login details. Then find your credit card, and add your login details. Done deal, the basics are setup, and you are good to go. It pulls your transactions and starts to track them. Of course, you can spend more time establishing budgets or going over each individual transaction, making sure that they are accurate, but again this isn't a hard thing to do. It's very natural and intuitive.

Mint.com has the ability to alert you if you overspend on a particular budget. It comes with standard budget areas like Groceries and Mortgage, so if you spend over what you are allotting for the month, Mint.com will email you and let you know – a handy service if you split purchases between two or more family members.

Mint also has a free iPhone app, one that is not as detailed as their web service, but is perfect for on-the-go checking of bank account balances or quickly settling budget disputes. Again, very quick and easy to set up, and smooth and intuitive once up and running.

I don't like to spend a lot of time on my finances. I'm much more of a “set it and forget it” kind of guy when it comes to budgeting, so I have all my bills and savings automated so that I never have to worry about not having enough for the phone bill or not being strong enough to set money aside for the future. Therefore, I absolutely LOVE Mint's ability to let me hop onto the website, and within seconds the website has accessed my bank accounts and credit cards, gotten updated information from their websites, and compiled it all neatly in front of me. I often will just log into Mint, ensure that nothing looks terribly out of place, and will rest assured that I don't have any fires to put out.

At the same time, Mint is also great at getting down to the nitty and gritty. Once every two weeks or so, I will go through all the transactions that I've made, again, just confirming that transactions went through okay, I wasn't double charged for anything, and everything is labeled correctly. Every single transaction in or out is listen for me, chronologically, and I can quickly find a bill and sort the transactions by that type to ensure that my latest cable bill, for example, matches with what I have been getting charged in the past.

Best of all, Mint's powerful budgeting and trends calculations get better with time. At first, I could only look back a month or two, but now that I have been using it for 8 months, I have almost a year's worth of data to look back upon. I can see exactly how much I am spending on my car, for example, and if I spent more in the summer or in the winter. I can see in which months we spent a lot on groceries, and in which we were eating through our freezer. I can tell in which months we were tired and stressed the most, as those are the months we ate out the most. Seeing all of this incredibly personalized data about myself helps me learn about my own personal spending habits, and helps me address them for the future. Mint teaches me how I have been using my money, and by doing so, teaches me how to use my money better

Cons

By far, the biggest one for me, is that they didn't have the ability to add my British Columbia and National Student Loans. These represent the majority of my debt, so being able to track them in terms of net worth is huge. This is something that I am sure a lot of Canadians have, and it is unfortunate that they do not have access to the system just yet.

Sometimes the service mislabels transactions. It looked like we had spent a lot of money on alcohol in November, but in reality Mint.com just mislabelled our fuel purchases from a “gas bar” as alcohol, not transportation costs. However, once I recognized the error, it was a quick fix.

Finally, you have the option of adding assets, like a vehicle or real estate. However, there is no objective way of finding its worth – Mint just asks you, and you tell it. Without doing outside research into the value of an asset, you are basically just guessing how much something is worth. My vehicle, for example, could be worth anywhere from $8000 or $12000, and I honestly have no way of knowing unless I attempted to sell the vehicle. Furthermore, its value is constantly depreciating, so if I put in a value (say, $12,000), then the accuracy of the value is constantly changing and becoming less and less accurate. I'm not sure if I am doing something wrong or if that is just the nature of the beast. Regardless, it offers the potential of artificially inflating your net worth.

I still can't add my Student Loans (seriously Mint?), Mint still mislabels transactions, and Mint still has me adding assets manually, so depreciating assets like vehicles are going to constantly mess up my financial totals that Mint provides to me. I would have to go in and manually change them as the valuation on my vehicle or home changes. I avoid that particular problem by just not adding any additional assets.

There's a few more negatives have popped up in the few months since I signed up. The first, and foremost, was a weird issue with the system. To be honest, I don't know exactly what happened, but somehow I started seeing duplicate transactions in my account. I thought, at first, that I had been charged twice at a particular restaurant, but when I noticed that I had multiple charges at a couple of locations I got suspicious. I checked with my credit card's website, and that did not report the same double charges. Back on Mint, I finally figured out that my credit card had been added twice to my account. At first, I just went through and labelled the duplicates as duplicates, and Mint removed them. That, however, was time consuming. I then tried to figure out how to remove one of the credit cards from the site, but was unable to. When I contacted Mint's support, I finally figured out that this was an issue that they are aware of, and the “fix” was to go into the settings on one of the credit cards and to mark it as “hidden”. It seems quite odd to me that there is no easier way of removing an account from my Mint's portfolio, and to this day it is still sitting there, hidden away. Mint is still usable, but I do not know if a bunch of the data that I had marked as duplicate is now completely gone, as I do not know if the transactions that I marked were from the duplicate or the original.

The only other issue that I have is that Mint will randomly stop being able to pull the information from one of my accounts. Currently, my credit card account has not been updated on the site for about a week. Mint keeps asking me to confirm that my account still exists on the credit card's site (it does), and to confirm my login information (it is correct), yet will constantly time out and be unable to pull the credit card's data. It has done this before with my online account and my other bank account. Often this problem fixes itself within a few days, but is nonetheless annoying to deal with.

Conclusion

Mint.com is definitely worth using – especially if you enjoying having a “hands off” approach to your finances. While I haven't yet had time to fully explore all of Mint's features and options, I can definitely say that it will become a part of my personal finances. Instead of going to two or three different websites to get a quick picture of my finances, I can quickly go to Mint.com and get an accurate estimate of my financial health.

Overall, Mint is a fantastic resource and I highly recommend people check their site out. I, personally, have not had any type of privacy or security concerns, and the benefits that I get from having all my personal financial information in one location, stored historically, is far greater than any fear I have. If you were unimpressed with Mint's tools, check them out again once they have a few more months of data, you may be surprised at what it can do.

Have you been using Mint? What do you think?

About Alan Schram

Alan Schram writes about personal finance and his encounters with it in his everyday life. Alan is recently married and is looking to save money on expenses and reduce his debts.

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