When I first checked out Mint.com, I was extremely excited and optimistic by the possibilities. I still am. A service that permits you to track your spending, debt, and income, while offering you ways to save money, is a great benefit.

The Psychology of Finance

From a psychological standpoint, Mint strives to motivate individuals to pay off their debt faster and learn to live their best financial life. Unfortunately, email reminders are obvious at best, disheartening at worst. For instance, one notice states: “You paid $8.74 in finance charges this month. You should pay off this balance to avoid finance charges.” If I could pay off my balance, don’t you think I would?

I’d much rather see motivational statements like, “Congratulations! Your overall debt decreased by $300 this month.”  It’s Psych 101 that people respond better to praise than reprimands – even when it comes from computer programs.


Technical Issues

In my first month of using the program, I found the service intuitive to use and easy to set up. Unfortunately, there are a few technical issues that keep the service from living up to its promise and potential. A perusal of the Mint.com forums indicates I’m not the only one with these issues, either.

Problems Interfacing with Chase

I have my Mint.com account linked to my Chase checking account and Chase credit cards. When I have a payment due, Mint.com notifies me via email. For two months straight, it has listed my “account balance” on my credit card as the “minimum payment due” – which it is not. I called the Mint.com reps on Thursday about that and I’m waiting for an answer.

Additionally, Mint.com doesn’t seem to register that I paid the credit card before the due date, so it notifies me I have a payment due when I paid it two weeks prior. To be fair, my other online credit accounts do the same thing; they send out automatic reminders a few days before the due date, regardless of whether or not you’ve already made a payment for that billing cycle.

This is, at the moment, the least of Mint’s problems when it interfaces with Chase; users have not seen an account update for approximately 2 weeks. According to a system alert on the site, Mint.com is aware of the problem and working to fix it. This technical problem, particularly if it crops up with other major banks, is a glitch that may prevent people from relying on Mint.com 100 % for all their financial record-keeping.


Problems Tracking Expenses

Mint.com lets you set budgets for various living expenses, including groceries, restaurants, alcohol, entertaining, auto, etc. When I made a purchase through BJ’s Warehouse Club using my debit card, Mint.com filed it as groceries. I purchased contact lenses  last week at BJ’s, so I received notification that I completely blew my groceries budget for the month, when, in fact, the money went toward a one-time health expense.

With superstores like Wal-mart and Target selling everything from groceries to flat screen TVs, it’s nearly impossible to track your “grocery” budget through Mint.com if you shop at these stores. The problem could be solved if we could manually enter expenses, or edit categories once Mint.com automatically logs expenditures.

Nearly a year ago, a Mint.com forum participant posted a question about manually tracking income and expenses. Last month, a Mint.com employee mentioned that it is in the works. I’m looking forward to seeing this feature because, until that time, Mint.com’s best use is for tracking credit card payments and total debt.

Benefits of Mint.com
1. Close to Limit Warnings

Mint.com posts notices when your credit card account draws close to its limit or when you’re checking account balance gets low. This service is extremely useful for anyone who tends to get distracted about their finances.

2. Getting a Handle on Finances

By permitting users to set a budget for monthly, quarterly, semi-annual and one-time expenses (like those contact lenses that took me by surprise this month!) Mint.com really does have the potential to let people get a better handle on their finances. Previously, I had no idea how much money I actually spent in a month. I had a budget to let me know how much I should be spending, but I never did a good job of tracking my actual spending.

After one month of using Mint.com, I definitely have a better idea of where my money goes. My personal banking isn’t that complex that I can’t look at my $600+ “grocery” bill for the month and know, logically, that the bill actually paid for my 20/10 vision. Likewise, when I see I’m under-budget by a significant amount, I know Mint.com hasn’t accounted for the cash I gave to my husband for half the mortgage payment.

3. Overall Views After One Month:

I stand by my assessment that Mint.com is a handy (and free) financial planning tool, but, until they get a few bugs worked out and perfect the program, I’d recommend a back-up system, such as online banking through your bank’s website.