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Account Watchers and Account Ignorers Anonymous, Meet Mint

This article was written by in Reviews. 23 comments.


A review of Mint.com follows.

Seven years ago, you would have found me blissfully unaware of my spending practices and their impact, flourishing my credit card without a second thought as I ran up my tab at restaurants and shops. I defined living life fully as having the things and experiences I desired, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself, imagining that I could travel anywhere and do anything I liked.

There was a catch, though. Only through intentional ignorance could I stand to keep it up, refusing to look my finances straight in the wallet. When I was confronted with bills I’d flinch, pay what I could, and hope to straighten things out later.

It was a frightening day when I finally faced my situation. During such “rich” living, I’d not realized the weight that my debt added onto my life. I was tipping the scales way out of balance, and the only way to even begin to fix things was to gather my finances and face the situation head-on.

Now, I watch my finances daily, with a slight degree of paranoia. I suspect that any moment I’m not paying attention, a spending mishap or stock fluctuation will sneak in and alter my financial landscape. I am obsessed with a constant need to know where I stand against my goals, planning strategies and swelling with pride at every small stride forward. I thrive as I watch my debt dwindle.

Besides my mindset, my biggest obstacle to financial awareness was my hatred of math. There, I’ve said it. I despise balancing checkbooks, tallying accounts, and performing almost any analysis involving a calculator. And though I’m starting to get to know them better, balance sheets, cash flows, and other documents which look like corporate financials make my eyes glaze over.

I have outlined my own budget and expenses several hundred times in Excel, only to find I never want to look at them again. It’s just how I am.

While I had high hopes for MS Money and Quicken, I found them to be expensive and somewhat burdensome to work with. I spent hours categorizing things only to realize that I didn’t have the time at home to keep it up, nor did I find the reports all that helpful.

I kept wanting it to be simpler, clearer, cheaper. My finances at a glance, in one place, but accessible online from anywhere without needing to remember scores of passwords.

I found this to some degree in Yodlee’s account aggregation, encountering the service first as Wachovia’s “One Stop” and then as Fidelity’s “Full View“. Some use Yodlee MoneyCenter directly, I’ve heard, but I always access their services via one of my account providers.

Though the service can look and work differently based on implementation, it’s relatively simple. Essentially, there’s a one-time setup phase, where you add your accounts, and then each day you log in and refresh your data to view a snapshot of exactly where you stand financially.

Bank accounts, loans, brokerage, credit cards, 401K and other investments tally up to a neat net worth, with transaction information easily accessible. Even insurance, frequent flyer miles and my billpay service can be added to this view. I set it up once, and now log in every day, sometimes two or three times a day. I told you it’s an obsession.

The problem? It’s great to get such a high-level at-a-glance view, but it hasn’t grown with my needs. There are no analytical tools, no way to categorize and tag items and get different views or reports of the information presented or any helpful tips to improve my situation.

Until Mint.com, that is. Launched last week, this free online money management service features the security and ease-of-use of the Yodlee platform with a host of simple yet effective tools for categorizing, analyzing and ultimately improving one’s relationship with money.

Their web site makes some impressive claims:

Mint is the freshest, most intelligent way for you to manage your money online. Not only is Mint free, it saves you money. While existing personal finance software “solutions” require hours to set up, a passion for accounting (is that possible?) and hours of weekly maintenance, Mint is virtually effortless.

Can it be true? Can it really save you money? Most importantly, can it save me from the things I most dread, mathematics and accounting?

I’ve been beta testing their service for a few months now, and have formed some strong opinions so far. So, let me introduce you to Mint.

The Setup
Signing up is extremely simple – enter your e-mail, zip code and password and you’re ready to begin adding accounts. The site advertises “Two minutes to financial organization”, and I found that to be true once the traffic surge resulting from Mint’s recent TechCrunch 40 award win finally subsided.

The Add Accounts page itself is set up like a virtual wallet with each account on its own “card”, so you click a card to find your financial institution from the over 10,000 banks and credit card companies Mint currently supports and then add away until your finances are fully represented. You enter your access information and answer any security questions once, and Mint stores this information for future retrievals.

While some may have concerns about the security of this setup, I feel comfortable with it because of my experience to date with Yodlee. Plus, most of the access information is not stored in clear text so it would not be easily harvested if the account was compromised. Overall, I find that daily monitoring of one’s accounts is the best way to ensure that damages are limited and quickly controlled if unauthorized access occurs.

Mint does not currently allow users to add brokerage and investment accounts, however since the Yodlee platform offers this I am expecting it to be part of a future release. My bank and credit card accounts alone were sufficient to give me a taste of what Mint can offer, but I feel that including all types of financial assets is what will make the service a true success.

For now, this is what my Add Accounts page looks like:

Mint Add Accounts Screen

The Service
As depicted in the screenshot below, Mint has one of the friendliest, clearest net worth depictions I’ve seen to date, with a clear outline of accounts and a “financial health” meter that shows cash versus debt in a high-level, easy to understand way. The dashboard displays important alerts for things like low balances or deposits, bringing these to your attention. E-mail alerts are available as well, keeping your money on your mind even when you’re not logged in.

Mint Overview Screen

But that’s not all. Within the Transactions tab, all transactions from these accounts are displayed and pre-categorized for you, although you can change categories or add notes at any time. A handy chart shows your spending history for the last three months when you highlight any vendor, and a similar income history is provided for deposits. Labels can be added for additional clarity and classification, but the whole interaction is very easy.

The Spending Trends tab offers some great graphs and charts, showing spending by category and, once a category is selected, provides percentages of spending by vendor. The bottom of this page features a section called “How is my spending changing?”, especially valuable for those seeking to benchmark progress on altering spending habits. The graphical approach makes interpretation extremely simple.

The feature which really distinguishes Mint from its competitors, however, lies within the Ways To Save tab. Unlike Wesabe, which when I tried it offered a small group of user-provided comments intended to be hints, Mint points out exactly what kinds of savings can result from simple changes in account providers, whether in terms of interest earnings or credit card interest rates. This, too, is clearly illustrated, as shown below:

Mint Ways to Save Screen

As Mint is still growing its offering, I expect these suggestions to grow more extensive and robust over time. I am a bit of a rate-chaser and have spent hours on BankRate trying to determine where I should move my money or credit account and what my savings can be if I do so. If Mint can provide sufficient information for me to do a true comparison within their service, I won’t have to search elsewhere for rates and will remain on the pulse of what’s competitive.

Unlike Yodlee, I don’t need to constantly refresh my account data with Mint. Mint updates this information automatically and can e-mail alerts regarding unusual activity, low balance or other bank fees and more, making sure that I’m kept aware of important happenings even if I forget to log in and check up on things. Features like this help people like me to be a bit less obsessive about checking my accounts – I can hand-pick the alerts I’d like to receive and even have them sent to my mobile phone or wireless device if I’m traveling.

Mint.com delivers on its promises to help users better understand their spending and financial habits and highlight opportunities for savings. Their web site boasts that they can help users “stop overpaying” and “start oversaving” by locating lower prices and higher interest rates, and it seems the architecture is in place to accomplish this if Mint develops a strong and varied range of partners.

I believe Mint provides a great, easy and best of all FREE way for people to begin a daily relationship with their finances, and if the service continues to grow over time to encompass my entire financial picture, I’ll be completely sold.

I may never do math again.

Updated March 21, 2011 and originally published September 28, 2007. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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Points: ♦644
Rank: Dime
About the author

Along with her partner, Sasha owns and manage six residential rental units. Sasha endeavors to support the causes and organizations she believes in through more conscientious spending practices. View all articles by .

{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Luke Landes ♦127,365 (Platinum)

Now that Mint recognizes my ING Direct accounts, I’ve had a good experience with the software. I probably won’t become a full-time user, thogh, because I’ve invested so much effort into Quicken for many years now — I already do enough money management.

That’s the same reason I never got into using Yodlee. I don’t want to duplicate any effort.

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avatar David Mackey

I signed up for Mint recently as well. Unfortunately, I haven’t had a ton of luck. While it has interfaced with several of my accounts, there are more that it hasn’t…and thus I can’t have a whole financial picture. They said these issues should hopefully be fixed over the weekend…so here’s hoping, its a great idea.

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avatar Sasha ♦644 (Dime)

I understand that as a startup company, there’s a push to bring the product live ASAP, however I do feel their launch was a bit premature. I would have liked to see them wait until the vast majority of Yodlee connectivity issues were resolved. I know they’ve been working to address them and I’ve been actively commenting on their forum in the hopes that they’ll resolve them sooner.

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avatar ispf

Flexo, quick question. Doesn’t it bother you to put all your “eggs in one basket” so to speak? What if someone hacks into a mint /yodlee account – doesn’t that person then have *all* the information he needs and then some, served to him on a silver platter? I am very tempted to try out some of these services, but paranoid as hell :(

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avatar Luke Landes ♦127,365 (Platinum)

Ispf: I think your question is probably directed at Sasha, the author of the review above. The only information a hacker would gain would be balances and spending analyses… no personal information, no bank passwords, no SSN. I don’t see it as a huge risk. I guess they could determine which stores I frequent in order to say hello.

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avatar Mrs. Micah

I just signed up for Mint. Read enough reviews which show how it’s potentially useful.

Plus, I’ve been having some trouble with Quicken. So now I’m going to have both going through October and see which one performs better. May post periodical reviews, we’ll see.

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avatar cms

I found Mint last week through a random link on a money site, and it was like finding gold! This is the kind of thing I’ve been asking the internet gods for for YEARS. I periodically check the Quicken site, because it blows me away (as it has for at least the last 7 years) that they have not moved to an online model. I don’t like to have software that I have to manually update (upload, import, etc.) when it’s all electronic and online anyway. Finally, someone figured out what we all really want — easy access to all our financial information including breakdowns of spending habits.

I start and stop using Quicken (and now on Mac, iBank) every few years, because the process is just so difficult to stay on top of. With Mint, I don’t have to keep everything updated — it does it all automatically. The only thing I have to do is make sure I set up online access when I open new accounts (bank and credit cards). I, too, am a bit of a rate chaser and have a ridiculous number of bank and credit card accounts (15 at the moment). Keeping track of them all is awful, so I used the 80/20 rule. Not perfect, but working as far as time/benefit goes.

With Mint, I’m going to MAKE money. I opened an American Express Cash Back card, and am going to start putting my everyday expenses on it. I didn’t before because I wanted everything to come out of my checking account right away, which was my clearest view into my activity. With a credit card, if I missed a few days of loading the data, I could get too far off track and did not want to take the risk. Now, my information will always be there, categorized and up-to-date — so I can use a cash-back card without feeling like I’m in danger of over-spending.

I do wish there was a way to customize categories, and am looking forward to enhancements like drilling down to the transaction level from the pie chart and, of course, investments (though that information is very easy to update in Quicken/iBank, so it’s less of any issue for me). But Mint is already like a dream come true for me — and it caught that one of my cards (on which I don’t keep a balance so I never noticed) is actually charging me 32% interest!! I had no idea. I called them the same day and canceled it. I can’t believe that rate is legal.

Thank you, Mint!

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avatar Sasha ♦644 (Dime)

Mrs. Micah,

I’m a big follower of your comments–I’ve seen them on this and other blogs and always find them insightful. I see you have a blog, and will have to check it out. I look forward to reading about your ongoing experience with Mint–I plan to use it too and send the company all my comments so they can make Mint the product I want it to be.

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avatar Sasha ♦644 (Dime)

CMS,

I’m so glad to hear that Mint is proving helpful for you. I am in total agreement about the downloading. During the 8 months I was trying to use Quicken, I downloaded data into it only 2 or 3 times. I have tons of accounts to manage, and it was far too annoying to have to do all that downloading and importing.

I definitely want to see more category customization with Mint, plus a way to disregard certain accounts. I have escrow accounts for my tenants with one of my banks, and when I try to import my finances, my tenant’s security deposit always gets pulled in to. That’s not really my money nor is it my interest, since it all goes back to the tenant unless they break things, so I’d arther not have it counted as part of my savings or net worth.

Okay, I have to know–with 15 accounts, what’s your current favorite?

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avatar Sasha ♦644 (Dime)

Ispf,

This is Sasha, but I do agree with Flexo.

From what I’ve seen, Mint is actually more secure than most implementations of Yodlee (i.e via Fidelity and Wachovia). For those, if I logged in and chose to edit my account information, I could see all my security question answers in clear text. The password, however, was not and could not be cut and pasted or otherwise harvested.

In Mint, you really can’t see much of that information at all–once it’s entered, it doesn’t seem to be stored in a user-accessible place. Sure, you could see my balances and accounts, but someone could very easily find that going through anyone’s garbage (who doesn’t burn or shred like I do) or stealing their mail.

I am very concerned about my security and privacy online, however I think people often forget that the most easily compromised of all is a mailbox sitting by the street (outside someone’s house, no less). Anyone stealing mail could get abalances, account numbers, plus credit card applications and cheques neatly preprinted with your name. Mailboxes are one-stop shops for identity thieves, and often have very little security.

There’s so much that’s vulnerable. Last year 3 coworkers and my mother found that thieves had made false ATM cards drawing upon their accounts and withdrew funds. They hadn’t even needed any data to begin with–they apparently came up with an algorithm that would generate actual card numbers which somehow worked using default PINs and just started tapping funds from accounts.

It was a known issue the bank was addressing, but my mother had an especially hard time regaining her funds because she didn’t notice anything was amiss until her statement arrived one month later.

The advantage of checking your accounts every day is that you’re acutely aware of every transaction, and so can stop this kind of abuse in its tracks. I would have an account shut down promptly at the first sign of abuse. And account portal services like Mint and Yodlee just offer an easy way to aggregate this information. Mint even has alerts, which mean 10 minutes after an instance of abuse occurs, I can find out about it on my mobile phone.

You can be robbed (or a victim of attempted robbery) at any time. The key is to limit your liability.

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avatar Mrs. Micah

Thanks, Sasha.

With Mint, I think we have more hope of their listening than with Quicken. :-)

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avatar Jason Kratz

The author complains that the Yodlee-based services just don’t go far enough and talks about categorization, reports, etc. Yodlee’s own MoneyCenter does all of those things and it does a lot more than Mint does. I tried Mint for a very short time and was deeply unimpressed and cancelled my account with them.

The author does note that Mint doesn’t follow investment accounts even though Yodlee does. From what I can see Mint doesn’t seem to be interested in supporting those types of accounts (forum postings). My own not-so-generous review of Mint is on my own blog. Not trying self-promotion here but I am not going to type in everything here thats in my own blog post.

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avatar Jon

Even though the data isn’t displayed in your browser, it’s stored in databases on their servers. Their security page says they use encryption and all that, but it *is* still a risk.

Anyway, I just signed up because it sounds really great! The only issue I’m having right now is that it didn’t find *any* transactions for my Chase credit card (the only I use now). Bills paid through ING show up fine, but nothing on the credit card.

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avatar Mrs. Micah

@ Jon

The details of my husband’s Chase card aren’t coming up, but since we just paid it off I’ll know that any number shift is bad.

Also, it can’t get details from my checking. But Quicken is having problems with that too (though it worked at first). I’m about to move all that anyway and I know it picks up on Wachovia where my husband banks.

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avatar Sasha ♦644 (Dime)

Jason,

I tried to access Yodlee directly a few times, but it seemed the only free way was through my financial institutions, so that’s been my experience. After seeing your comment earlier, I searched for MoneyCenter and found a signup link, but after I entered all my data I was promptly greeted with an error page. I will try again later to see what they’ve got to offer. Do they offer saving tips, or just charting capabilities, and is the service free at all levels of functionality? I’d happily review it too if I could get in….

I checked out the review on your site with great interest, and will say that understanding a bit about the situation of startups nowadays, I can see both sides of the issue.

On the one hand, you want to have servers and systems hardy enough to withstand Paris-Hilton-Goes-To-Jail type web traffic without the slightest slowdown. You want v1.0 to be whiz-bang impressive, to slice, dice, julienne and fricassee with ease.

I’m a perfectionist, so I certainly get this, and I want the products I use to be really great and reach their potential. In general, there’s not much I encounter that I can’t imagine several improvements for.

But if you did hold out to launch until you’d built out every conceivable piece of functionality, you might run out of funds before you even got to launch a thing, and the world would never know you existed. That’s where you’re at a loss against the big companies.

To make your mark as a startup in the post dot-com era, I think you may need to launch small, give people a taste of what a service can be and then let their feedback help shape the rest.

Mint has at least launched their concept, a relatively functional concept, and from this point they can work to get partners and other relationships in line. This, in my view, is what will make or break their service.

I don’t feel that just showing banking and credit card accounts will be sufficient for Mint going forward, and can’t imagine they do, either.

I do feel that we’re in the unique situation here of being able to request, even demand what we want. Why not make this what we want it to be, be as vocal as possible to bring about the changes we want? During my beta testing of Mint, I inundated them with markups, screenshots, and at one point, a 30-page report. Do I expect them to use my insights to make it better? Absolutely. And now they have a $50,000 award to channel back into improvements. It’s a start.

I can tell Intuit that I’d like their Quicken service to be free, accessible online, and to automatically aggregate all my account data. I’m sure people have. They’re an established institution with the money to build this and a nice big staff, so why haven’t they? There may be an element of having lost touch with their user base here. Sure, they’re plenty profitable, but it’s still a shame.

Can we make Mint a money management tool of, by, and for the people?

Only time will tell, but I’m giving it a try.

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avatar Sasha ♦644 (Dime)

Agreed, Jon – databases can certainly be hacked if not properly secured. Some trust certainly comes in there.

I realize that in 2007, I’m probably in more databases than I care to think about, but that’s the tradeoff with convenience. Even our own government has been impromperly protecting our information. See: http://www.govtech.com/pcio/articles/125413

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avatar Jason Kratz

Sasha-

Yodlee MoneyCenter is more like Quicken. They don’t have saving tips. Incidentally the only “saving” tip I was able to get out of Mint was switching to Vonage from AT&T…which really wouldn’t save me any money since my internet connection is part of my AT&T bill ;) (obviously they have no way of knowing this)

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avatar Cap

Sasha,

Thanks for the in-depth review! You’ve nailed it on the head that Mint aims to be a simpler and easier tool for people to track and manage their money. You’re also right on the money that Mint doesn’t store sensitive information such as financial account numbers, nor require personal identifiable information to use the service.

There’s obviously lots of improvement to be made, and here’s a list of verified features in upcoming release:

* Transaction-level drill-down from the spending pie graph
* Rename / nick-name an account
* Exclude accounts (e.g. don’t show my business account, just my checking)
* Support for student loans, mortgages, and brokerages.

As you mentioned, we really do care about user feedback. The point is to build a service that’s helpful, with intuitive and simple functionality.

In regards to the “Ways to Save” offer pages, the service/account offerings algorithm will definitely be tweaked as time progress. For those interested, you should note that Mint only shows offerings that are calculated to save users the most money – whether or not Mint gets a commission. The aim of the system is to present users with objective results in finding better rates and services. Although veteran rate-chasers can visit forums such as Fatwallet’s Finance or PF blogs, our goal is that, down the road, average users can find the best rate possible by utilizing Mint, without the effort and research required.

Thanks again for the review.

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avatar Emily

http://techlahore.wordpress.com/2007/10/03/the-fools-at-mintcom-or-mintcom-sucks/

I just read this article…. “Mint Sucks”– on Techlahore’s weblog an enraged blogger shares his experiences. He makes some really, really good points.

After reading this, I decided to delete my account. I had signed up and was liking it. BUT! While you can delete your “profile” all your account info stays . Yes your passwords. They do not delete your information if you decide to leave. My information is now their’s forever more.

I really suggest reading this.

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avatar Sasha ♦644 (Dime)

Emily,

I did read the article but don’t necessarily agree. The author mentions that transaction information was sent via e-mail alert, but did not mention whether the account number or other truly personally identifying information was included. I’m only really concerned if that’s the case, and I know I can turn off the alerts so it doesn’t bug me. The article seems a bit alarmist to me and I’d rather find out the details for myself.

I’m also wondering where the account information “stays” after an account is deleted. They should post their database archiving and purge policy for users to see. I’m going on a trip or else I’d look for this tonight, but will do when I return.

It definitely seems that the close account option needs to be more prominent on the Mint site, since I’ve seen a few comments to that effect.

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avatar Sasha ♦644 (Dime)

Hi again Emily,

I should really be packing, but you raised a pretty serious concern so I couldn’t help looking up the data retention policy, which is in Mint’s Privacy policy here under “12. You can transport or delete your data”: http://mint.com/privacy.html

What they have to say actually seems consistent with what I’ve seen on similar sites. It would be a huge liability for them if they did not treat personal data properly, and what I read seems to be on the up-and-up:

“Your data is yours. You can take it with you or remove it anytime you want. When you request us to delete your account for the Service, your data will be permanently expunged from our primary production servers and further access to your account will not be possible. We will also promptly disconnect any connection we had established to your Account Information. However, portions of your data, consisting of aggregate data derived from your Account Information, may remain on our production servers indefinitely. Your data may also remain on backup server or media. Mint keeps these backups to ensure our continued ability to provide the Service to you in the event of malfunction or damage to our primary production servers.”

They have lots of other info too farther down about how the servers are protected.

Still, only you can decide what your comfort level is with using and accessing personal information online, however–I know people who NEVER even provide their credit card number online for fear of compromise, and then there are people like me who hardly give it a second thought as long as there’s SSL in place. It’s quite a personal decision.

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avatar Cap

Sasha, thanks for the pointer to our Privacy Policy.

Emily, thanks for pointing out that blog post and your concern. As Sasha mentioned, in accordance with Mint’s Privacy Policy and Terms of Condition, your data is yours, and it can be deleted or removed whenever you request it to be deleted. If you want to close an account at Mint, you can currently email security@mint.com to request the removal. I do apologize for any inconvenience the current method of removal may cause.

But again, to stress, your data is yours! And rightly so. The main reason why we limit the collection of personal identifiable information on Mint is because we care about our user’s privacy and anonymity. If you have already requested your account to be deleted, rest assured it’ll be removed in accordance to our deletion policy.

I personally always encourage anyone to read the privacy policy along with the terms and condition to any service they are consider using – not just to Mint! Feel free to browse the summary page on safety, and if you have other concerns on security, please email security@mint.com for further clarification.

Cap
Mint Community Team

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avatar Sand

I was just reading your reviews of Mint because I’ve been interested in user friendly money management. I accidently stumbled onto the site in an other search and saw Mint. It sounds like a dream come true to have my accounts in one site for me to view and (mainly) keep up with. I am curious if Mint is accually a great investment in someone’s time and effort.

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