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Uh-oh…Mint.com isn’t looking so good


Posted in Finances, Posts, Reviews, Technology by

Ok, it’s only been a couple days since I said I was going to give Mint.com a two-week trial, but things are already looking a bit bleak in terms of Mint.com being my primary personal finance tool. Here are a few of the issues:

1. Budgeting feels like an afterthought

Budgeting and planning are pretty important parts of personal finance, but they feel like an afterthought in Mint.com. From what I understand, it launched without them, and then they were added later. It shows. Budgeting should probably have its own tab, but it’s just a box on the overview tab. Adding budget line items feels clunky and the list isn’t organized in any meaningful fashion that I can discern, so it’s hard to check a specific category without scanning all of them.

2. No way to enter manual transactions

Here’s another reason that budgeting isn’t terribly useful: transactions lag several days before they show up in Mint.com. This isn’t their fault, it’s just how the financial institutions work. But if I could enter a manual transaction and then clear it when it posts from my bank, I could keep my budget up-to-date. If Mint.com doesn’t know that I just dropped $300 on a new iPhone, it might think that I still have plenty of money left in my spending category, when it’s actually over budget.

Plus, I do occasionally spend cash and it would be nice to enter manual transactions for that. You can split ATM transactions into different categories, so perhaps that accomplishes the same thing for most people.

3. No way to enter manual assets or liabilities

I like tracking my net worth, and I currently enter all the numbers once a month into networthiq.com, but it would be great if the tool I use to track personal finances could tell me this. And Mint.com does have this feature, but the problem is that you can’t add manual assets or liabilities. This is a bit of a problem if some of your assets or liabilities are in institutions not connected to Mint, or if you’ve got real estate. Ironically, you can add mortgages, but not the underlying real asset that the mortgages are written against, so your net worth will be ridiculously skewed to the negative if you do this.

4. No custom categories

Mint lets you create budget tracking items and categorize your spending, but the categories are all pre-defined and there doesn’t seem to be any way to create your own categories. This is really annoying, because you spend a bunch of time hunting for the best category, and often end up using one that doesn’t fit super well. I’m guessing that one of the reasons they do this is that having every user on the same category taxonomy makes it much easier to automatically tag transactions based on how other users have tagged them. Still, it would be nice to have the option, even if you do give up some benefit.

5. No way to anticipate future spending

This is similar to #2, in that it prevents your budget from being a true picture of what you have available to spend. One of the best things about the envelope method of budgeting is that it allows you to allocate income for *future* expenditures that you anticipate. This is really handy, because if you have $15k in your checking account, it might be because you have a lot of free cash to spend, or it might be because your rent is $1500 and your taxes due are $13k and you’re paying them in two weeks, in which case you’ve only got $500 to spend. To be fair, this one isn’t completely Mint’s fault, as a lot of personal finance and budgeting tools work like this. However, it would be awesome if Mint could find some way to work it in.

6. No way to transfer money between budget categories

If you’re spending way too much in one category, and a lot less in another, it would be nice to adjust your budget temporarily for the month by transferring money from one budget category to another. You can do this with Mvelopes, but the only way to accomplish the same thing with Mint is to edit your budget and then remember to change it back at the end of the month.

So it’s looking like I’ll have to stick with Mvelopes for now, though I plan on checking Mint.com on a regular basis for its analysis tools. Perhaps they’ll get their act together on some of the points above, but for now, it’s just not that useful to me. Too bad, because the design and UI are one of the best I’ve ever seen on a web app.

If anyone from Mvelopes ever reads this, please listen to me: your model is awesome and your features are amazing. But your platform sucks. Ditch the flash, cut your price down, and you’ll have a customer for life.

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11 Responses to “Uh-oh…Mint.com isn’t looking so good”

  1. Nick Thomas says:

    Ryan. Thanks for the encouragement and the feedback. We at Finicity (the makers of Mvelopes) are listening and have some very innovative and cool projects in the lab coming soon to our subscribers that address your feedback. Stay tuned. In the mean-time, we continue to strive to prove our value to customers through consistent improvements to our service. I’d welcome a direct phone call from you or any or your readers with ideas on how we can improve at (801)984-4210.

    -Nick Thomas
    Co-founder and COO of Finicity, the makers of Mvelopes.

  2. Weekend Edition VII: Links of the Week…

    Here are a few interesting articles and videos that I’ve collected over the past week….

  3. Steve says:

    Ryan, thanks for blogging your thoughts and experiences about Mvelopes and Mint. I have the exact same opinions as you — Mvelopes has the right model but it’s a drag to use, and Mint looks really good (and fast!) but is missing key features, not the least of which is envelope budgeting. Like you, I’m paying for Mvelopes but hoping for a spiffier option.

    I’m very intrigued that Nick Thomas posted a response. When he says “innovative and cool projects in the lab coming soon” it hard to believe that would include replacing the painfully slow Flash interface. That would be such a huge change of the type that companies rarely make. New features bolted onto the current platform aren’t going to help, no matter how innovative and cool they are.

    Best regards,
    Steve

  4. Rick says:

    Steve,

    This is the best info I've seen on the pros/cons of mint. I signed up for mint two days ago and customized my family budget w/ their new sub-category feature. This is a new feature since your original post—i.e. the ability to add customizable categories—mint calls them “sub-categories” b/c they still must live under one of their original (unchangeable) categories. Kudos to mint for adding these new customizable “sub-categories”. This has allowed me to replicate on mint the exact budget categories that I use in Quicken desktop.

    Drawbacks (you’ve stated them all but some are worth underscoring):

    1. ORGANIZING BUDGET CATEGORIES. Now I have on Mint a monthly budget that matches all of my Quicken categories BUT it’s all out of order. Mint automatically orders the budget categories from the most expensive monthly category to the least expensive. So when you look at my budget, Mortgage is at the top of the list followed by Groceries, followed by Property Taxes, followed by Utilities, followed by Orthodontist, followed by Auto Insurance, followed by Dining Out… I have 53 budget categories so this looks like one big mess. Mint needs to add functionality that would allow people to group “like categories” together (all of my Home categories would be together, all of my Auto categories would be together, etc.).

    2. THERE IS NO WAY TO ENTER TRANSACTIONS MANUALLY. It may just be me but it seems that every once in a while there’s a quirk in the system with downloading my online transactions. What if Mint misses a transaction? There’s no way to manually enter it. Maybe Mint has found a way to ensure that 100% of your transactions will perfectly download from each institution 100% of the time. Again, I could be mistaken about this.

    Summary

    Mint is definitely not a way to manage your cash since it does not have any intelligence about what your money looks like right now (it doesn’t know what you just purchased this morning or yesterday) or what your money is about to look like several days from now. Instead, Mint gives you an almost brilliant “after-the-fact” look at what “already” happened to your money. Smart Mint users will hopefully use these “after-the-fact” snapshots to rein in their (our) out-of-control spending habits in many areas that they (we) were once blind to.

    Again, Mint provides a great snapshot of where your money went and this will be a huge advantage for the overwhelming majority of people in the world who would never take time to get a grasp on their personal finances if it took even the slightest effort (let’s face it, we’re all pretty lazy).

  5. Elizabeth says:

    PERFECT! Thank you so much — this is exactly what I was needing to decide. I agree with everything you Rick, and Steve have said. So it looks like I'll stick with Mvelopes.

    I, too, looked at mint.com last year, but saw that it was about tracking the past instead of planning for the future, although it was a slick and cute (I love green) site and Mvelopes is a pain to use and looks like Windows 98. My friend just e-mailed me saying that they'd added budgeting, but WTF, no manual transactions? Adding the manual transactions as you spend (for which mobile Mvelopes is key) is the only way to really power-use Mvelopes.

    It's pretty clear from the cons you guys have mentioned that you're getting what you pay for with mint.com. Since they are free, they've made the site for them, hence no/limited customizable categories. They are collecting your spending habits for their own purposes and are doing you the favor of letting you look at your spending habits, too. Mvelopes, on the other hand, is designed for the user (to use, not necessarily to look at).

  6. Susan says:

    Thanks so much for this post. I'm a current Mvelopes user and was just revisiting my options for switching due to it's high cost and bad interface. You've saved me the time of switching and trying out Mint for myself. I'll just stick with Mvelopes for now and wait until they improve their site or someone else comes out with a similar concept that's better.

  7. Ron says:

    Ryan,

    Thanks for the post about Mint and Mvelopes. I came here looking for info on entering manual transactions at Mint.com, and have been disappointed that such a great interface and system (including the iPhone App) doesn't have more flexibility as Mvelopes does. I hadn't heard of Mvelopes before coming here, but it looks like it has a terrific feature set. I would gladly pay $13.xx/month for these features, but there are a few deal breakers – here's why I won't use Mvelopes:

    1) Flash interface – Get serious. I think it's amazing they were able to build such a robust data driven system with the buggiest software platform out there, but I just can't trust it when I can't even access it with limited browsers (such as Safari on the iPhone – If point two were addressed well, I might consider forgetting about this issue)

    2) No iPhone app. There is a mobile and smartphone option…there's no SMARTphone if not an iPhone. I don't make decisions in front of a computer screen, I do it on the go. If I can't access my current financial pulse from my handset, I'm going elsewhere

    3) Customer sentiment: It seems everybody loves the features of Mvelopes, but feel that isn't enough – they are looking for a system that looks/feels like Mint.com, and I see why. Mint is beautiful, and they have thought about the full user experience, not just the technical ability of the software (unfortunately, their aim of 100% effortless tracking is not the direction I need). This is a critical factor in software selection for me. If I wanted a crappy Windows-looking convoluted bloatware ridden software experience, I wouldn't be looking for a replacement for Quicken, the king of accounting trashware.

    The ironic part about #3 is that I agree with Mint's overall mantra of effortless tracking. Where Quicken makes you do EVERYTHING, and makes it a pain in the ***, Mint wants you to trust IT to do everything. I want Mint to do everything – RIGHT – but give me 5-10% more control than I have now to make modifications if I feel I need to. With that little bit of control, I'd add the occasional custom or cash transactions, and manage an envelope budget system. Otherwise, I think it's killer that Mint is so simple and clean.

    Hopefully either Mint or Mvelopes comes through soon.

  8. David says:

    I agree. Mvelopes is hard to use, yet it is the best option right now. I may look into NeoWare…however, the fact I have to upload my statement (4 steps) makes me wary.

    The Envelope model is great, keeps us from spending more than we make…there just isn't a great digital solution yet that

    a) automatically uploads transactions

    b) has a usable, speedy interface

    c) uses the envelopes model

    If NeoWare creator is reading: I like your model, your layout looks great (and usable). Maybe you can shed some light on the "uploading of statements". Is that something we have to do weekly/daily in order for us to be on top of our spending? If that is the case, is there something in the works to automatically sync transactions?

    Thanks!

  9. Michele says:

    Thank you for this post. Recently I've started on a path to build a budgeting website to be of assistance to people around the world. Before I decided to create the site, I didn't know what other sites existed. I googled and found both Mint and Mvelopes. I have a problem with Mint for a lot of the reasons you listed and with Mvelopes for its high cost. I hope to launch my site in the next few months and will let you know when we go live.

    Thank you for reminding me with your post that the service I plan to provide is lacking in the current tools and is sought after.

  10. lepont says:

    this information is obsolete as most of these features have been added

  11. baxleybarley says:

    This article gives the light in which we can observe the reality. This is very nice one and gives indepth information. thanks for this nice article. autoloanscreditarticles

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