Mint.com is Scary

Kind of.

Last night, when I was writing the post about manageME 7, I logged into my Mint.com account first time in many months in order to make some comparison I needed for the post. I mentioned before that I mainly use a desktop version of Quicken to track my finance, not the online version, despite that the web-based too is absolutely free. So even though I have accounts with Mint.com and Quicken Online, I don’t really use them.

Anyway, after I got into my account, what I saw first really shocked me a bit.

Mint.com Alerts

Under the Alerts section on the account homepage, I saw messages like these:

  • This month, you spent $566.27 on Alcohol & Bars. This exceeds your budget of $480 by $86.
  • In the past 30 days, you spent $6,500.00 on Entertainment. Usually you spend $681.
  • In the past 30 days, you spent $1,326.60 on Sports. Usually you spend $297.

Since I linked Mint.com to my Bank of America checking account, the only account I use to pay bills, and the downloading was automatic, the transactions are the latest shown in my BofA account. But no way in the world I could have ever spent $566 on alcohol, $1,326 on sports and $6,500 on entertainment in one month.

Related: Compare Credit Karma and Credit Sesame, two free money management tools

Realizing that there must be an error, I went back and forth between Mint.com and BofA to check out what those transactions really are. Well, it turned out that the $566.27 I *spent* on alcohol last month are actually payments I sent to Chase to pay my credit card bills; the $6,500 on entertainment are in fact ACH transfers from BofA to my savings account; and $1,326 on sports include more than $1,200 mortgage payment I made to BofA (used to be Countrywide).

Mint.com Transactions 2

We all know how important it is to track each and every spending correctly so the budget, developed based on past spending, can make sense. However, after seeing how Mint.com categorizes the transactions, I have some doubts on whether I can trust the tool to follow a budget and keep spending in check or not (though I don’t have a budget either). Sure, I can edit t the category myself to move the transactions to where they really belong, but that will reduce the value of the tool significantly if I have to manually correct many transactions.

Do you have the same problem as I do if you are using Mint.com too? If so, how do you deal with it? Since I don’t use Mint.com that much, maybe there are other ways to sort the transactions, however it does seem that Mint.com needs to do a better job in categorizing the transactions.

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27 Responses to “Mint.com is Scary”

  1. Debt Kid |  Sep 15, 2009 at 2:10 pm

    You just need to spend a little time doing the correct categorization. Mint will get smarter the more transactions you correct, at least in my experience.

    It’s not perfect, but I like to check in about once a week on Mint. I just love the visual aspect it brings to transactional data.

    • legaleagle |  Sep 24, 2010 at 12:17 pm

      Very disappointed in Mint.com and will tell everyone i know to avoid it. It cannot (by the Intuit staff’s own emails) pull all of my accounts, making it worthless to me. Lousy support. Another worthless Intuit product.

  2. David |  Sep 15, 2009 at 2:16 pm

    This is why I gave up on Mint.com over a year ago. Even after spending a couple hours categorizing purchases, it would still apply things to the most outrageous categories, making the budgeting tool fairly useless for me. I also got frustrated that account balance updates it would e-mail to me would be *days* out of date. I love the concept, and they’ve obviously done something right to get bought out for $170mil, but they’ve got some work to do before they’ll be my go-to personal finance tool.

  3. Sun |  Sep 15, 2009 at 2:41 pm

    @Debt Kid I found it’s rather unacceptable for Mint to make this kind of error. Mint isn’t new. As far as I know it has existed longer than other online money management websites. However, it’s unbelievable that Mint categorizes a payment to Chase, not some weird, little known bank, as spending on Alcohol. That’s too far off in my opinion. I am sure Mint will learn and get smarter, but the error is just so obvious that I thought it should have already learned from other users after years of existence. I hope correctly categorizing each transaction isn’t too much to ask at this point.

    @David So I am not the only one who has this problem. I too like the concept of providing a free tool for users to manage their money and follow their budget, but with errors like this, I don’t know how it can be useful. I think I will have to check out other websites to see which one can do a better job in categorizing my transactions.

  4. Lulu |  Sep 15, 2009 at 2:45 pm

    I have not had classification problems with Mint….what I did find was scary was the $666 listed in your budget. :-)

  5. Sun |  Sep 15, 2009 at 2:51 pm

    @Lulu Haha. I don’t really have a budget. The number was probably a random number I entered when I first created the account to test it out.

    • Blue bell |  Jul 06, 2011 at 9:15 pm

      Its funny how you put little of no effort in the budget portion, throwing useless numbers around, but expect us to believe that you took the rest serious. It looks to me like you did not want the product to work anyways. Your tools are only as good as you areā€¦. hmmmmmm.

  6. drew |  Sep 15, 2009 at 3:26 pm

    I can’t pull up a link for you right now, but in all the hoopla yesterday about the acqusition of mint by intuit I remember reading that future iterations pf mint will incorporate the billing data from quiken’s database. I think the logical notion is that mint will be as accurate as quiken is in the future. Maybe they’ll even prompt you to categorize expenses they aren’t 100% sure about. I hope it happens; only time will tell.

  7. Daisy |  Sep 15, 2009 at 3:58 pm

    It makes me laugh that I read this because today was -the day- that I went through and deleted my mint.com account.

    It’s funny that I loved it in it’s beta testing phase but hated it after they went through and made their changes. Here are a list of reasons why I no longer use mint.com

    a) For some reason, they used to update my balance correctly. However, in the last week or so, Mint has decided to use my “available balance” (ie my account balance + balance with my overdraft protection, in this case, my credit card) as my real balance which is completely off since my credit card available balance is very high. No, I do not have 15,000 in my checking account at this time, mint.com, I have $1,000. I am anal retentive and it drives me nuts that this completely throws off my net worth, etc.

    b) I had the same problem you were having. Now mint.com used to have a handy feature where you could “apply change to all charges” meaning that if mint kept categorizing your subway payment as transportation instead of food, you could ask it to apply all subway charges to food from this point forward. However, I can no longer find this handy dandy check box, making me have to manually change it and mint did not get smarter over time with my purchases. In fact, I think it got dumber.

    c) They changed the budget and I am pretty computer savvy and still spent many minutes trying to figure out how to edit my budget before I got annoyed and gave up. Their user interface magically become counter-intuitive overnight.

    I may revisit mint in the future, but for now, these annoying changes have caused them to lose a previously happy user!

  8. mapgirl |  Sep 15, 2009 at 4:59 pm

    I’m not fond of Mint and most other sites that aggregate financial data in one place. I am paranoid. I will admit that, but I’ve also never been hacked. I thought I’d give Mint a try once, but I have categorization problems with Quicken as well. An interbank transfer to myself gets all sorts of weird stuff auto-assigned that’s wrong. It’s one of the most despised features. I’d rather have a transaction be *blank* so I can scan for it quicker than *wrong* and overlooked.

  9. TFB |  Sep 15, 2009 at 10:05 pm

    You should also get your budget priority right. :) $10/month for gas and $480/month for Alcohol & Bars?!

  10. tom |  Sep 16, 2009 at 11:43 am

    And how much $ did you spend to subscribe to Mint?

    It’s free…so it’s not perfect. Spend 2 minutes each day downloading and doublechecking your categories. 2 minutes of maintenance for a free piece of software is too much to handle?! Quicken requires a lot more maintenance than that and it costs more too! Plus, you haven’t logged on in how long? Of course things are going to get out of whack.

    Just thought I would put it in context.

  11. Craig |  Sep 16, 2009 at 1:11 pm

    Full Disclosure: Mint is a great resource and a lot of people praise them. There are other options, manual options for those who have security fears or don’t want the hassle of poor categorization and would rather do it on their own. I would like to introduce you to BudgetPulse.com. A manual budgeting software for free where you input and classify your transactions or import your financial bank statements in minutes. We have a brand new site coming out in a few weeks. If anyone is interested in hearing more, please feel free to contact me.

    Craig Kessler
    Marketing Director at BudgetPulse
    craig@budgetpulse.com

  12. The Digerati Life |  Sep 16, 2009 at 4:59 pm

    If you aren’t pleased for a reason, there’s a problem. However, I can see how default categorizations made by the tool can throw you for a loop. And if it doesn’t “learn” quickly enough, then yeah, that isn’t a good thing. This is great feedback. I work with Mint on some things so I can take this back to them. Perhaps I can get a response on this.

  13. Jen |  Sep 17, 2009 at 2:06 am

    After mint has been acquired by Intuit, its users have dropped by around half. This is attributed to Intuit’s poor customer service.

  14. Sun |  Sep 17, 2009 at 8:46 pm

    @Tom A product has to be useful, whether it’s free or not, for people to like it and use it. Yes, Mint is free and I actually quite like the idea. However, it’s just hard for me to believe that a product that has been in existence for a few years could link bank and mortgage payments to alcohol. Is this such a difficult to job to categorize a transaction correctly? Remember, the whole idea of managing finance and budget depends on correctly tracking every expense. Like mapgirl said, maybe it’s better that Mint doesn’t categorize the transactions at all than messing it up.

  15. Meg |  Sep 17, 2009 at 11:38 pm

    I don’t have those sorts of problems at all, but I login a lot more often than once every three months. But I have dozens of transactions a month, including all sorts of transfers and payments. Every once in awhile a transaction will be categorized wrong because of the way the bank or merchant labels it internally, but all you have to do is change it once and check the box where it says to always categorize something with that name in that way and that mistake won’t happen again.

    Mint is way better than anything I’ve ever tried with regard to automatically categorizing transactions. I usually only have to correct a few each week (and it’s not that freaking hard to do; Quicken makes you categorize every one). But there are going to be things it doesn’t “know” until you instruct it.

    I can see how some versions of “Chase” and “Countrywide” could be alcohol and sports related, especially if the whole bank name isn’t on the transfer ID (which only your bank controls).

  16. Luke |  Sep 18, 2009 at 8:33 am

    Talk about a petty gripe? You had to click a little box and change a single savings transfer from a DVD purchase? Ohhhh my, how terrible! This post sounds like an out of touch 75-year old’s complaint.

  17. Sun |  Sep 18, 2009 at 8:56 am

    @Luke Yeah, it’s terrible. A financial product that treats a credit card payment to Chase as spending on alcohol is stupid and terrible in my opinion and probably useless no matter how you defend it.

  18. Sun |  Sep 18, 2009 at 9:01 am

    @Daisy I took another look and it looks like the feature you were talking about (apply all changes) is now call Edit Multiple on the top left of the transaction screen.

  19. Luke |  Sep 18, 2009 at 10:22 am

    Your opening paragraph you admit to not using Mint and you have a very minor, petty gripe that takes all of 4.5 seconds to fix. You sound 75-years old. Sorry. Tell me about the good ole’ days Sun, back in the 1930′s when life was grand….

  20. Mneiae |  Sep 18, 2009 at 1:38 pm

    I know exactly what you mean! I love Mint because of the graphs and the fact that I can search my transactions by type. This has really helped me track my expenses. (I realized how much money I was spending on food on the first day I signed up.) I hate it when they miscategorize, which they do all the time. For instance, my educational expenses (I’m in college) were categorized as Food and Dining, which made my budget look awful. When I bought food at a restaurant, it was categorized as printing. When I transferred money from one of my linked accounts to another, it was categorized as income. Those 3 are the only two examples I can think of off the top of my head, but I’ve had to edit my categorization rules more times than I can count. What I hope is that with Intuit at the helm they can fix this error.

  21. Sun |  Sep 18, 2009 at 2:44 pm

    @Mneiae I can understand the frustration when all the charges were put in wrong categories. So far this month, I have 42 transactions in my BofA checking account, 10 are completely wrong and 6 are uncategorized. 16 out of 42 is not a small percentage in my opinion. It looks to me the only transactions Mint didn’t confuse are deposits and those with Check and a check number in the description. If I exclude 12 such transactions, then Mint miscategorized 16 out of 30 transactions, meaning more than half are wrong.

    Since I don’t use Mint regularly, what I did can be just a random test of Mint and it failed miserably.

  22. Holly |  Sep 18, 2009 at 9:06 pm

    Mint is awful! I cancelled after having to categorize endlessly what seemed like obvious categories: pet store, cc payments, and hair salons should be easily identifiable. Try again, ‘Meant’, I mean ‘Mint’!

  23. tom |  Sep 23, 2009 at 4:00 pm

    I don’t agree with the way he said it, but I do agree with Luke in that it’s such a small problem that Mint learns very quickly to solve and doesn’t deserve a full blog post complaining about it.

    I agree that it should probably know the category of an institution as big as Chase and BofA, but it takes, literally, 1 minutes to review your recent transactions. Not one financial program out there knows how to automatically categorize every single transaction. Some may be better than others, but none are as expensive as Mint.

    PS… I do not work for Mint if anyone was thinking that.

  24. Chris |  Sep 30, 2009 at 3:27 pm

    I’ve been using Mint for a few months now and yes, it does occasionally get a transaction wrong. I finally realized the devil is in the details tab. If you look at the details of the transaction, often you will see an odd abbreviation. This causes Mint to “guess” at the transaction type. For example, if Mint sees the word Chase followed by a space and the letter B, it seems to scan its database and selects “Chase Bar & Grill” as a match for vendor, and then assigns “Alcohol & Bars” to the type. Took me a bit to figure that one out. Sadly, unless the merchants use the long name for the business and quit using bizarre abbreviations, Mint and other auto routines will make these mistakes. Easy enough to correct though, change the transaction manually by going into details, correct the error, check the box to make it “from now on”. Now if I can just get World of Warcraft/Blizzard billing to show up as Entertainment and not Travel. :P

  25. Andrew |  May 05, 2010 at 3:24 pm

    Lot’s of trouble using mint.com. It has connection problems with 4 different banks and brokerages, but yet if I go directly to the bank web site, I can sign right on. Values my house at $150,000 under value easily. I live on waterfront property, yet values it at a ranch house in a bad neighborhood??? Yes, I just had it appraised by a bank for a refi, and even they came in much higher, even though they lowballed me. Free, yes, but come on, fix your problems before making me work through this all day. Could be much easier to use…yodlee.com here I come.