SURF THIS: Finding a stray $500-a hint of what Mint can do

Jim Cota
August 4, 2008
Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

I received an email the other day offering some suggestions to save about $500 a year through a variety of basically painless financial moves. Most consisted of suggestions like "move this account, which is making next to nothing, to this bank where they'll pay you 4 percent." The email also recommended that I build an emergency fund, provided a list of all my account balances (everything from banking to credit cards to investments), pointed out the top purchases of the previous week and provided a snapshot of my current budget (complete with successes and failures.)

The curious thing is that this email didn't come from my banker, my financial planner, my wife or my mother (though it certainly seemed like something that could have come from my mother, had she had this kind of detail about my financial life.)

No, this email was automatically generated by Mint (www.mint.com), an amazing free online service that will almost certainly change how you think about and interact with your money.

I'm tempted to say this is one of those things you have to see to believe and, perhaps, fully understand. But I'll try to paint a clear picture by starting with what it's not. It's not a financial planning service. You can't pay bills using Mint. It's not affiliated with your bank, but it does connect with more than 5,000 US banks and credit unions, and credit card, brokerage, and mutual fund companies to keep your transactions and account balances automatically up-to-date.

The result is very likely something entirely new to you: a simple service dedicated to pulling information from a variety of sources and making it easier to understand and analyze. So while it doesn't really help you spend your money, it does help you better manage it.

There are two truly beautiful things about Mint. The first is that it is absolutely simple to use. Just enter your login information for your accounts and the service does the rest. (I should note here that this might be the biggest hurdle users will face in the entire process. After years of being told not to enter our usernames and passwords in any Web interface or transaction that you didn't initiate, I'm now telling you to enter all of your usernames and passwords in one location. To do this, you may need a stiff drink or sedative handy. Or both.)

To its credit, there has been considerable effort put into the security procedures in place at Mint, and I can say with a high degree of certainty that your information will be safe. You probably take bigger risks handing a credit or debit card to a server in a restaurant than a Mint server on the Internet, but that's a different subject.

It might help to know they have extensive security information available on the site, and I recommend you read through it before you sign up. (That sedative might not be necessary after all.)

After you set up your account and provide the basic information, Mint queries your financial institutions to access transaction data.

After that, the patented Mint money management software does the rest, with virtually no work required. In their words, "It automatically pulls together your bank, credit union and credit card data, and provides up-to-date and amazingly accurate views of your financial life-from the big picture to specific details, in a friendly and intuitive way."

In reality, that description might pale compared to what it can do.

Which brings us to the second beautiful thing about Mint: It does everything it does beautifully. Well-designed pages, easy-toread and understand charts. Gorgeous graphs. It makes managing your money something pleasant, regardless of how much (or how little) you have.

Mint goes well beyond the reporting/ analysis to help you take control of your cash. It automatically creates a budget based on past purchases. You can use its numbers or adjust them for accuracy and control. You can set alerts, both email and text, to let you know when certain triggers happen. For example, if a balance falls below or a purchase happens above a threshold you determine, Mint can instantly notify you by sending an email to your account or a text message to your mobile phone, or both.

In addition to helping get a clear understanding of your current financial picture, Mint goes one step further (and, I'm guessing, makes its money) by helping you find better solutions for your situation. Using a unique search algorithm, Mint looks through thousands of offers from hundreds of providers to find the best deals on everything from bank accounts to credit cards. These suggestions are based on your situation and individual saving and spending patterns. They claim that Mint typically finds users $1,000 in savings opportunities in their first session. Your mileage may vary; it found about $500 in savings for me.

I've experienced and written about a lot of Internet applications over the last 15 years. But with its simple set-up, outstanding design, amazing features and ability to make a positive impact on your life, Mint is at the top of the list.

Cota is creative director of Rare Bird Inc., a full-service advertising agency specializing in the use of new technologies. His column appears monthly. He can be reached at jim@rarebirdinc.com.

Post a comment to this story

We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in IBJ editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by

facebook - twitter on Facebook & Twitter

Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ on Facebook:
Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ's Tweets on these topics:
Subscribe to IBJ
  1. Socialized medicine works great for white people in Scandanavia. It works well in Costa Rica for a population that is partly white and partly mestizo. I don't really see Obamacare as something aimed against whites. I think that is a Republican canard designed to elicit support from white people for republican candidates who don't care about them any more than democrats care about the non-whites they pander to with their phony maneuvers. But what is different between Costa Rica nd the Scandanavian nations on one hand and the US on the other? SIZE. Maybe the US is just too damn big. Maybe it just needs to be divided into smaller self governing pieces like when the old Holy Roman Empire was dismantled. Maybe we are always trying the same set of solutions for different kinds of people as if we were all the same. Oh-- I know-- that is liberal dogma, that we are all the same. Which is the most idiotic American notion going right back to the propaganda of 1776. All men are different and their differences are myriad and that which is different is not equal. The state which pretends men are all the same is going to force men to be the same. That is what America does here, that is what we do in our stupid overseas wars, that is how we destroy true diversity and true difference, and we are all as different groups of folks, feeling the pains of how capitalism is grinding us down into equally insignificant proletarian microconsumers with no other identity whether we like it or not. And the Marxists had this much right about the War of Independence: it was fundamentally a war of capitalist against feudal systems. America has been about big money since day one and whatever gets in the way is crushed. Health care is just another market and Obamacare, to the extent that it Rationalizes and makes more uniform a market which should actually be really different in nature and delivery from place to place-- well that will serve the interests of the biggest capitalist stakeholders in health care which is not Walmart for Gosh Sakes it is the INSURANCE INDUSTRY. CUI BONO Obamacare? The insurance industry. So republicans drop the delusion pro capitalist scales from your eyes this has almost nothing to do with race or "socialism" it has to do mostly with what the INSURANCE INDUSTRY wants to have happen in order to make their lives and profits easier.

  2. Read the article - the reason they can't justify staying is they have too many medicare/medicaid patients and the re-imbursements for transporting these patient is so low.

  3. I would not vote for Bayh if he did run. I also wouldn't vote for Pence. My guess is that Bayh does not have the stomach to oppose persons on the far left or far right. Also, outside of capitalizing on his time as U. S. Senator (and his wife's time as a board member to several companies) I don't know if he is willing to fight for anything. If people who claim to be in the middle walk away from fights with the right and left wing, what are we left with? Extremes. It's probably best for Bayh if he does not have the stomach for the fight but the result is no middle ground.

  4. JK - I meant that the results don't ring true. I also questioned the 10-year-old study because so much in the "health care system" has changed since the study was made. Moreover, it was hard to get to any overall conclusion or observation with the article. But....don't be defensive given my comments; I still think you do the best job of any journalist in the area shedding light and insight on important health care issues.

  5. Probably a good idea he doesn't run. I for one do not want someone who lives in VIRGINIA to be the governor. He gave it some thought, but he likes Virginia too much. What a name I cannot say on this site! The way these people think and operate amuses me.