Thanks to ever-advancing technology, it’s become easier than ever to keep track of your personal finances using a wide range of software solutions, apps, and cloud-based programs. One service that consistently stands out in this space is
When you fire up Mint for the first time, you are asked to add any accounts you are interested in tracking. These include checking, savings, investment and credit card accounts. To link an account, you simply enter the login details for each and the software does the rest, bringing your transactions directly into the Mint interface. While it might sound a bit scary to turn over those credentials to a third party, the software takes extra precautions to safeguard your data, including storing login details in a separate database protected with multi-layer encryption. Mint is also owned by Intuit, the same company that owns TurboTax and QuickBooks, so they’re no strangers in handling and protecting sensitive data – and they are certified by security experts Norton.
Once your accounts are uploaded, the software immediately begins analyzing your spending patterns to spot trends. It does this based on the automatic assignment of categories to each transaction and while it does a fair job of guessing, for complete accuracy, you’ll want to go through all transactions initially and assign them according to the way you do your accounting. The program will remember your choices and make the correct assignments going forward. While you can’t change top-level choices, you can create second-level categories to fine-tune the software. You can also use custom tags for transactions to make it easier to search your financial history.
Accounts are updated frequently, or you can force an update through a sync function, which means you don’t have to wait until your banking statements arrive each month to see where you stand financially.
Mint also provides you a real-time look at your credit score for free (as long as you provide it your social security number when you get started). It gets this data from TransUnion and will alert you whenever new information is added or a query on your credit status comes in.
Investment tracking is also included for no extra charge and Mint will even compare your portfolio to major benchmarks like the S&P 500, as well as analyze brokerage fees and alert you to potential savings.
Finally, Mint will help you create a budget and will alert you whenever you are coming close to exceeding spending in the categories you set up. Alerts will also come through when unusual fees (such as credit card late fees) show up or when large, suspicious transactions appear on any of your accounts.
Why is it free?
Mint comes with advertising for financial products that may be of interest to you. While ad-based software is typically annoying, we found that Mint actually does suggest useful products and investment tools. For example, because it knows how much you are paying in bank fees, it could suggest accounts that have lower fees, saving you money.
In all, it’s virtually impossible to find a more robust, secure, and helpful financial planning app anywhere for free. In fact, Mint can even hold its own when compared to most paid accounting solutions, so it’s certainly worth a try.