When Intuit last year announced its acquisition of Mint.com, the popular online money-management and budgeting tool, I opined here that Mint could benefit from adopting some features from Intuit's Quicken Online. Mint was sexier than Quicken Online—and far less clunky than the original Quicken software. But, as noted in a Consumer Reports Money Adviser report on online budgeting tools, it lacked an important feature present in Quicken tools: the ability to account for yet-to-clear transactions. For anyone who wants to prevent a bounced check, this feature is a must.
Well, Mint finally incorporated that Quicken feature, and the results are quite good. Now, it's finally possible to add checks and other yet-to-clear transactions and really see your cash position.
It's fairly easy, too. On the Transactions page, you click "Add a Transaction," and a drop-down box lets you identify the type of transaction—cash, check, or pending—as well as the account you used, and to click any personalized tags you may have created (mine are "vacation," "reimbursable," and "tax-related").
I input all my yet-to-clear checks recently, and the tool worked well—so well that it immediately warned me that a large check I'd written might trigger an overdraft. I quickly called the recipient and asked her to hold off cashing it 'til after pay day.
The next day, a couple of the checks I'd input into Mint had cleared. Mint had matched up the check numbers and moved them from pending to completed transactions.
This one improvement makes Mint much more appealing for those of us who don't conduct all our finances with credit and debit cards. Other features also have merit:
• A Quicken-like planning tool lets you create budgets for unlimited expense categories. You can decide whether you want Mint to track how you're meeting budget goals monthly, every few months, or once a year. You also can "roll over" unspent funds into the next period if you didn't spend all that was budgeted. As it's always done, Mint tells you what you've spent on average on each category, so you have a basis for determining your budget.
• A financial "fitness" gauge. This tool tells you how far along you are in completing tasks to save money and keep you on track financially. I ignored many of the reminders; I didn't feel the need to shop right then for a checking account that pays higher interest, for instance. But the tool did remind me that I hadn't reviewed my credit reports of late. Mint took me directly to www.annualcreditreport.com, the official site for consumers to get free annual credit reports from the three major credit-reporting bureaus. Kudos to Mint for sending consumers there, rather than to other sites that try to rope you into buying credit-monitoring services. [UPDATE: This feature, in limited beta (10 percent of users), will be replaced at the end of June by a "Goals" platform "that will tie users' day-to-day spending to long-term goals," in a spokesperson's words.]
Mint says it's also added a Q&A section, where posted personal-finance questions get answered by professionals. I haven't tried it yet, but if you have, comment here on your experience.
A good, simple option
Mint's reliance on sponsors still doesn't thrill me. But Mint makes it clear when one of its suggested money-saving services is a sponsoring bank or credit-card company. For a completely ad-free environment, I still prefer the free Yodlee MoneyCenter. Yodlee also still has more features and ways to slice and dice your financial transactions.
But for simplicity and ease of use, the new Mint is a good option, even for us inveterate checkbook-balancers. It doesn't hurt that Mint's design is easy on the eye.—Tobie Stanger