If you need an easy-to-use app to chart your spending and keep tabs on your budget, Mint.com is an excellent choice – among many other finance app alternatives.
Instead of visiting multiple sites to check your bank account or credit card balances, you can view everything at once using this free app.
With so many security breaches making the news, banks are stepping up their efforts to make debit and credit cards more secure but it remains to see if it’ll be enough to stop hackers in their tracks.
What is Mint?
Mint is a free budgeting app that syncs users’ bank accounts, credit cards, PayPal.com (PYPL) – Get Report accounts, and other accounts to help track incoming and outgoing money.
The app is part of Intuit (the creator of TurboTax and QuickBooks) and has over 20 million users. Among other services, Mint gives users a free credit score and reminds them when they go over budget.
Mint also tracks users’ bills and is able to provide alerts to ensure they won’t miss a payment. And, Mint has an online version (www.mint.com) that allows users to manage their finances at home or on their smartphones or other devices.
Additionally, the app is available for Apple Inc’s (AAPL) – Get Report iPhone or iPad, as well as Google’s (GOOG) – Get Report Android and Microsoft’s (MSFT) – Get Report Windows devices.
How to Use Mint
1. Tweak the dates to track ATM withdrawals and cash.
Mint is designed to automatically record transactions made with your debit or credit card; anything else has to be entered manually.
If you make regular ATM withdrawals or you rely on cash for everyday spending, it can make keeping tabs on what’s going out a little confusing.
You could opt out of tracking the cash altogether by hiding ATM transactions from your budgets but that kind of defeats the purpose of Mint.
If you want to be able to track your cash spending without having it wreak havoc on your budget setup, there’s a pretty simple solution.
First, you assign any ATM withdrawals to the “Cash & ATM” category — that way, they won’t show up in your budget.
Then, you just alter the date of the ATM transaction to the last day of the month, so you’ll always know how much cash you’ve got on hand.
As you spend your cash, you can split up the transactions to reallocate the money to your various budget categories.
For example, say you take out $100, for example, and spend $30 of it at the grocery store. You’d go to the original withdrawal, click the “Split This Transaction” button, and categorize the money you spent under “Groceries.”
This allows you to record your cash spending without having to worry about it showing up twice in your budget.
2. Keep account history intact.
One of the nice things about Mint is that it’s an all-in-one financial tool, which means you can use it to monitor your spending, keep an eye on your credit card balances and see how your different investment accounts are doing.
For instance, you can see what your 401(k) or IRA is worth and even backtrack to gauge their performance over time.
If you end up moving your investments to another brokerage or cashing out one of your accounts, you might be tempted to close it or delete it from Mint altogether, but you shouldn’t be so hasty.
Any time you delete an account, whether it’s a mortgage, retirement fund, or just a checking account, all of the transactions associated with it disappear.
If you ever need to verify a transaction down the road, you won’t be able to access that history. A better option if you’re changing your accounts around is to deactivate it instead of deleting it altogether.
You can do this by going to your Accounts at the top of the page, clicking on the one you want to deactivate, and then changing the dropbox option to “Closed.”
This will keep Mint from updating the account from that point on, but you won’t lose any of your previous transaction information.
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3. Filter transactions by date.
While Mint offers lots of features and tools to help you manage your money better, there are a few capabilities it lacks.
One of the most irksome is the ability to automatically sort your transactions by date.
That can be a real pain if you’re trying to pinpoint a specific purchase or you want to be able to view all of your spending for a particular category over a set period of time.
Fortunately, there’s an easy workaround to view your transactions by date:
- If you go to the Transactions page, the URL that displays should be: mint.com
- To get information for a specific date range, all you have to do is alter the URL a little by adding a start date and end date.
For instance, if you want to view your holiday spending, you could change the URL to look like this: mint.com
Once you change the URL, you just hit enter to refresh the page and display the transactions for the dates you’ve selected.
While it would be nice to just be able to click a single button to see your spending by date, this is a fairly uncomplicated fix that works just as well.
Update: There’s a new Chrome extension downloadable to Chrome users, which allows you to easily choose a date range for your Mint transactions list.
You can download the extension and learn more about it here.
Tagging transactions in Mint takes the guesswork out of things like keeping track of your goal progress or grouping expenses for tax purposes. It also comes in handy if you need a way to verify transactions without having to sort through a stack of receipts.
All you do is create a tag to identify those expenditures that have been verified, like “Accepted,” “Noted,” “Seen,” whatever is easiest to remember. Any time a new transaction shows up, you just assign the appropriate tag.
If you think you might have overlooked something, you can do a quick search for the tag name, which should highlight those transactions that haven’t been tagged yet.
Using a tag for verification purposes makes record-keeping easier but it’s also a good idea if you’re concerned about one of your accounts getting hacked.
If you do a tag search and a charge shows up that you don’t recognize, it could tip you off to possible identity theft before the crooks have had a chance to funnel any more money out of your account.
When you consider the kind of information a hacker would be able to see if they were able to access your account, it’s much less than what they’d get if they managed to hack your bank or credit card’s website directly.
From that perspective, Mint looks pretty appealing.
On the other hand, you are taking a gamble by sharing your financial information, so you have to ask yourself whether you’re willing to accept the potential risk in exchange for the convenience that Mint offers.
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