According to the guidelines for my personal finance app review for my Android phone and/or tablet, I’m basically looking for how the app and I “get along.” I’m not looking to “interface” with an app. I don’t want to have to go through even a 5-minute tutorial but want instead something that’s very intuitive. That said, what’s intuitive to me may not be to someone else, and vice-versa.
Here’s my review based on my previously-established criteria:
- Account Connectivity (x5): If the app can’t connect to my bank, credit union, lender or broker, there’s no point in the app taking up space on my mobile devices.
I have to be careful with this part of the review. Mint’s account connectivity is generally pretty good. I had no problem adding my credit cards, my investment accounts and even a regional home furnishing store account. Where I ran into trouble, and where I could easily let my review get out of hand, was with my main financial institution. My wife and I have our main checking accounts at a regional credit union. It’s not huge, but it’s one of the largest in my state. Mint.com will not connect to my accounts at this credit union. This has been the case for years. I submitted my credit union information (name, address, etc.) to Mint several years ago and have never heard back about their efforts to make connections with my institution.
That being the only problem I had, though, I will overlook the patronizing “temporarily down” and “perhaps the site is down” notifications (which I know to be false) as mere optimism on the Mint’s part. Unfortunately for me, “temporary” must include a time frame of at least two years, since that’s how long I’ve been trying to get my account to connect.
As I indicate in my initial review criteria, if I can’t connect to my account(s), the app doesn’t do me much good. That said, I won’t give Mint less than a 4, since I was able to connect virtually all of my accounts without any trouble (and since they actually gave an explanation on another account connectivity problem). My disappointment is palpable, though, since a previously-reviewed app (Personal Capital) was able to get my lowly credit union accounts connected. I know Mint is number one here, but I get the impression Personal Capital was just trying harder for me.
Okay, now that I’ve got the ugly stuff out of the way, and as you’ll see below, there are some very awesome features to this app. If you only have national-level banks, you’ll likely not have any issue with Mint.
4 out of 5!
- Stability (x5): Equally frustrating is an app that crashes regularly or predictably. If the app closes unexpectedly at some point during my mobile experience, it will receive a 2. If it crashes my phone or tablet, it’s a zero.
I’ve not had any stability issues with Mint. When I previously had it on my old phone through the Android Market, it was also perfectly stable. Great job, Mint! Unfortunately, it’s only via Google Play for Android phones. I’m not sure when it was removed from the Android Market. I didn’t find out until after I’d done a factor reset on my old phone and could no longer download it.
5 out of 5!
- Mobility (x5): This is, after all, a review of mobile apps, right? If the app is not fully mobile (i.e. it requires desktop activity to add account, adjust budgets, identify expenses, etc.), it’s going to get less than a 5 on my scale.
All of the accounts that I was able to add to Mint, I was able to do so via my phone. Unfortunately, when I was unable to connect a couple of accounts, Mint directed me to the desktop version. At one point, I thought that I would have to use the desktop to delete the orphaned accounts, but I eventually found the Delete option on my phone. Additionally, the two features that I would really like to be able to modify on the fly (the budgeting tool and the alerts center) can only be significantly changed through the desktop version. To be sure, you can edit a budgeted category by phone, but you can’t add an expense. When I think of something to add to my budget, I will likely forget about it if I have to wait until I get home and sit down at the PC. Same thing goes for the alerts center.
Generally, though, all of the day-to-day functions I want in a personal finance app are available in the mobile app.
4 out of 5!
- Multiplicity of Accounts (x4): If the app only connects with my bank or credit union checking and/or savings accounts, it will get a 2 or 3. I want an app that connects to my mortgage account as well as my small credit union checking account; that connects to my IRA account as easily as my bank’s saving account.
Mint delivers as expected here. You can add a checking account, a savings account or both, of course. If you have multiple accounts at a financial institution and you access them with the same user ID and password, Mint will list all of the various accounts under that single login. Additionally, I was able to include my investment accounts, retail store cards, and online-only accounts. While I don’t have any, I was impressed that Mint can also add pre-paid cards (such as Green Dot and Bluebird), which, given the security issues with pre-paid cards and given Mint’s robust alerts options (see Extra below), this can be a nice app to have around.
5 out of 5!
- Budgeting Tool (x4): As a budget and credit counselor, I can’t NOT require this in a mobile app I recommend. If the app doesn’t easily help me create a forecast of my income and expenses, it’s going to get a 3 or less. If the app requires that I input the budget, it’s going to definitely get a 2 if not a 1. I can enter expenses and income in a spreadsheet, but I want the app to do this for me.
Hallelujah! A real, honest-to-goodness, forecasting and cash tracking budgeting tool! You can create a budget by assigning an estimated monthly expense amount to various categories. Either automatically or manually, expenses are then categorized as they process. Then, Mint tracks your remaining cash for each category and can even notify you when you estimated balance dips below a specified level.
Mint only gives one income option (so you have to combine salary, dividends, assistance, expected gifts, etc. into one line item), which is not that big of a deal. However, it only gives a once-a-month income option, so this could play havoc on your cash flow if you get paid twice a month or every two weeks and you have expenses you need to time after the second paycheck.
Still, I have to admit, the budgeting tool is what I’ve always wanted in a mobile app. Beautiful! That’s what I’m talking about. Unfortunately, talking about it is all I can do, since my main checking account doesn’t connect to this app. Yes, budget-envy! I’ll just have to let it go, let it go… Still, beautifully done, Mint… (grumbling under my breath).
5 out of 5!
- Security (x4): I’m not going to rate the level of technology (that’s beyond my expertise), I do want to rate the security’s intrusiveness and my level of comfort with it. If I have to enter a 15-digit pass code into my smart phone every time I want to use the app, well, let’s just say I’m not going to use the app. On the other extreme, if there’s not at least a four-number pass code to punch in, I’m going to be uncomfortable having my financial information on my mobile devices.
Accessing Mint’s mobile app, once you’ve logged in with your Username and Password, requires a 4-digit PIN. While I’m confident that will keep most fraudsters out of my app, I’m would prefer a 6-digit (numbers only) code. Still, I guess if a 4-digit PIN is good enough for my debit card, I’ll give Mint a pass here.
5 out of 5!
- Intuitiveness (x3): This is a mobile device, for goodness sake. If the app requires either a Ph.D. in computer programming or that I refer even ONCE to its help page or online manual, it’s getting a 1 or less at best from me.
No real complaints here. The pop-out menu on the left hand side provides easy access to whichever feature you want. The top right is where you’ll find the refresh and the alert icons. Solid design and easy to navigate.
How about putting a “Settings” icon up in that right hand corner empty space as well so I could edit my budget and alerts? No? Well, you can’t blame a guy for trying.
5 out of 5!
- Expense Tracking (x3): Not to be confused with the budgeting tool, an expense tracking feature should tell me where I’m spending my money and how much I’m spending in general categories. To receive a 5, the app would have to determine automatically from my connected accounts how much I’m spending at restaurants and fast food joints, on entertainment and recreation, on utilities, on loans and credit, etc. If I have to enter the transactions myself and, gasp! categorize them myself as well, the app is getting a 1 or 0 in this category.
Click on any account and you’ll see a history of transactions with their date and a general automatically-assigned category. If you don’t like or agree with the category, you can simply tap the transaction, tap the category, and choose a new one. Same for the date. You can also add notes to each transaction.
If you prefer to look up your expenses by category, simply go to the Cash Flow option on the menu. There you can find all of your expenses for “dining out,” or “housing” or “automotive.” Very helpful!
I love the two options for finding the same information. Depending upon what I’m wanting to know about my finances, I will take advantage of them both.
5 out of 5!
- Extra (x1): At this time, anything beyond the above criteria is a bonus. And while I love bonuses, they are not the main course. If it comes with a free credit score, a breakdown of my investment portfolio, or an analysis of my daughter’s driving habits, that’s great, but not necessary. Still, I’ll give a few bonus points for any nice add-ons the app might have.
Here’s where Mint really shines (along with the budgeting tool). Being the biggest and one of, if not, the best funded apps in the category, Mint is able to throw in a lot of very nice, convenient and actually helpful extras. Check this out:
The account alert center (albeit set up via the desktop version) provides some great options to being notified of various types of activities on your accounts, from low balances (you can choose from several amounts) to unexpected activities (read here, “fraudulent,” so a nice feature especially for debit and pre-paid cards), from changes to credit card and loan interest rates to bank fees. This is a well designed and potentially money-saving feature. Think how many bounced check fees I could have saved back in college if I had learned about a bounced check fee immediately rather than waiting five days for it to arrive in the mail (meanwhile I kept writing checks on an overdrawn account)!
Like another app I recently revived, Mint has some nice visual charts, including a spending pie chart by category and a couple of bar graphs showing spending and income. I’m a very visual person, so such graphics will always win points with me.
Now we get into some sweet extras. Mint has been able to get hooked up with both Zillow and Kelley Blue Book to provide automatic estimates of property values (real estate and vehicles, respectively). No more going to a third-party to figure it out and then having to enter it in by hand every time I want an updated net worth estimate. I love this feature. It’s not a gripe (since these are “extras”), and nothing against the blue book, but I typically prefer the yellow book value through nada.com, since that’s usually what lenders look at? Still, if I were to sell my car to a private party, I guess the blue book works as well.
Finally, there’s the free credit score. I can’t believe I’ve been teaching personal finance for over a decade and finally found where Equifax’s free credit score is available: Mint! While it’s not your FICO, it’s pretty darn cool to know and understand. For example, if you were to see a dramatic and unexpected drop in your credit score (you get an updated version every 3 months), you should take that as a sign of some potentially fraudulent activity happening on your credit report. Go immediately to www.AnnualCreditReport.com and look over your truly free, no-strings-attached credit report from Equifax to see what’s going on.
5 out of 5!
I have used Mint several times in the past number of years. I believe I was among the half million users who signed up for it back in 2007-2008 when it first launched online. Later, I downloaded their Android app almost as soon as it was out of testing.
I’ll be honest, though, I wasn’t expecting much. I had been greatly disappointed previously by Mint’s lack of a true and practical budgeting tool. The last time I had used Mint, they were referring to their expense tracking section as the budgeting section. For this financial educator, that’s not a budgeting tool. Thankfully, Mint got it right. I love the budgeting tool now available in the palm of your hand .
One thing is for sure. Mint hit it out of the park with all the extras they have thrown in. The credit score is a nice surprise (check out my webinar on credit to learn why this can be such a helpful feature). The alerts center is easy to set up (online) and can help prevent serial bank fees. But the budgeting tool is the crowning achievement.
While I continue to have trouble accessing my main checking accounts through Mint (somethings may never change), the rest of the face lift Mint has undergone over the past year or two have been dramatic and very welcomed. What else could you possibly want in an app? Automatic bill pay? Automatic savings roundups on purchases? A debt pay down center? I don’t know what Mint might have in mind, but whatever it is, I’m looking forward to it.
Have a great week!