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Mint.com Launches Financial Fitness Feature: Interview w/ CEO

Mint launched a cool new feature today that helps you plan your financial fitness strategy. Y’all know I’ve been a fan of Mint since their private beta in 2007, and it has been exciting to see them grow over the past few years.

The new feature is brilliant from a business standpoint for them. Continuing on their money-making concept of high-profit referrals to financial accounts, the financial fitness tool suggests places to tune up your fiscal health. I hate the term win-win situation when describing product features, but if there ever was one it would be this, and all of the related features Mint rolls out.

Mint CEO Aaron Patzer took the time to chat with me via phone yesterday to show me the new feature and answer my questions.

The new feature is basically a page that offers 12 different steps to get your finances in order, and you get points and other sorts of rewards for getting closer to your goals. Game theory at its finest. For us personal finance bloggers / blog readers, the steps are not enlightening in their own right. (Check your credit report. Get cheap health insurance. Set up an emergency fund. Pay off debt.) But what is really neat about this feature is that Mint can access your bank accounts and tell you exactly what you need to do where to get financially fit.

Patzer admits this feature is designed mostly for 20-somethings who are in debt and not 30 or 40 somethings who have more complicated finances, adding that in the future they will add even more features to help people without debt look at ways to grow their networth and invest.

“The next phase of Mint is financial goals,” Patzer told me. “It’s what do I want, when do I want it? I want to retire by 50, put my kids through college, what are trade offs for all those goals, what do I have to save each month in order to achieve them. How can Mint help me find ways to save for my longer term goals?”

(I’m looking forward to that!)

I grilled Patzer a little bit on if the offers are really the best for the users (or just the ones they’d make the most profit on) and he said that they do get offers that are actually good for users — for instance, they went with Annual Credit Report which is “truely free” as opposed to FreeCreditReport.com which costs money after seven days.

With 1.1 million registered users, it looks like Mint won’t be going anywhere. While there are lots of other personal finance startups out there, their only real competitor these days seems to be Quicken Online. But that product, while similar, is really suited for a different audience… one that’s older, and that might not be so hip to the web. Plus, 40% of Mint’s users are using their recently-launched iPhone app. (That actually says a lot about the type of person who would use Mint, since the iPhone crowd, which I don’t currently belong to, is definitely a cult-like group of uber hipness.)

One interesting point Patzer noted is that their female adoption has gone up since they launched – it started out as 85% guys, 15% gals and now they’re at a 60/40 split. Count my mom in to that mix, I signed her up for Mint and am teaching her the ropes of personal finance that she needs to learn now that my dad has taken ill. It’s also nice to hear that other women are really getting empowered to take charge of their finances with the help of Mint.

“Even if you go to Quicken Online or Microsoft money, the color scheme, product design… the way it’s positioned is for 45 to 60 year old man that has a half million dollar networth and manages stocks all the time,” said Patzer. “Mint is really more about where do you spend your money, where do you cut back, and that appeals to a younger audience and to women.”

There are still some features I hope Mint adds, and some kinks that need to be worked out, but overall I’m still a fan. Will keep y’all posted on new features they roll out, as long as they keep me posted. Thanks to their PR firm for reaching out to little ‘ol me for the interview, and for Patzer to take time out of his busy schedule to chat.

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November Expenses (as tabulated by Yodlee, Mint and Geezeo)

Yodlee tells me…

Rent: $1050
Other: $675
Clothing: $199.07
Telephone: $156.61?
Online Services: $136.20
Auto: $97.36
Health: $73.12
Cable: $62
ATM/Cash Withdrawls: $40
Gasoline: $31
Uncategorized: $927.47???


Mint tells me…

No Category: $2,216
Shopping: $891
Entertainment: $32
Healthcare: $35
Business Services: $104
Personal Care: $119
Food & Dining: $137
Auto: $198
Bills: $260

Total: $3992

But then… after I try to figure out why my expenses are so high for November, I find that the month is counting two month’s worth of rent (why is nov 1-nov 30 counting a check cashed on dec 7?)… so $1050 should be subtracted from that.


Geezeo Tells me…

(as far as I can tell there’s no easy way to pull up one month’s worth of transactions and find a category breakdown in Geezeo.)


Wesabe tells me…

I need to upload my bank statements for the past five months or so. Uh, no thank you. Why bother with uploading when all these other sites do it automatically?

—-

In short, all of these online personal finance sites are still far from being perfect. I don’t need fancy social networking capabilities, I just want to be able to track my monthly spending (accurately). This would require the ability for me to go in and manually change the transaction date (or what month it should be reported as).

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Well, Don’t I Feel Important?

This week I was interviewed for a Newsweek.com article on online personal finance sites like Mint, Wesabe, Geezeo, Yodlee and all the rest. I didn’t expect for my quote to end up in the lede. Ok, so here goes my anonymity, but I think it’s worth pointing to a personal finance article where I was quoted on my personal finance blog.

The thing is, my quote on there isn’t exactly right. It’s not wrong either, it’s just that I didn’t say “I’ll stick with that” when I was talking about Yodlee. I basically was saying that for now, I’m sticking with Yodlee because they have all the features I want. As soon as Mint ads the ability to track my mutual funds and such, I’ll go back to using that site. Actually, I still use that site, but I use Yodlee to keep track of my net worth since it’s interesting to see how my overall savings goes up or down depending on how the market is doing.

The funny thing is, Mint is powered by Yodlee’s back-end software, so they’re both very similar sites. It’s just that for one reason or another, Mint has yet to add Yodlee’s full functionality to its site. But I have a feeling they will at some point, and the day they do is the day I stop logging into Yodlee.

I wouldn’t mind so much that my quote says I’m going to stick with Yodlee, except I recently wrote this glowing review of Mint for a technology blog I used to work for — and I didn’t just change my mind. But if anyone read both articles, I’ll sound like a hypocrite. And no one likes a hypocrite.

Oh well.

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15 Ideas for a Better Personal Finance Site: My Big Hopes for Geezeo, Wesabe, Mint

I’m still going back and forth between Wesabe and Geezeo. I’m curious to see what Mint has up its sleeves. For the time being, the sites don’t offer exactly what I want. Since I don’t have the time or skills to code my own perfect PF site, I figured I’d write out what the site would be like…

1. Sign In – would auto save my name, securely, on my computer.

2. Accounts – site would automatically update all of my accounts, including checking, savings, CD’s, and mutual fund accounts.

3. Graphs: Home Page would display relevant graphs/charts regarding my monthly spending versus income. Detailed graphs would be available to customize. For instance, I could place a graph on my homepage that would chart my monthly gas spending.

4. Tagging: each item would auto tag accurately as close as possible.

5. Tagging, part two: Retagging (or adding more tags) to items on a statement should be easy, and not require any additional drop down windows. Each item should include an entry text box where tags can be added. Each tag would autosave after a space is inserted. Double word tags would not require quotation marks. Tags would be separated by commas.

6. There would be a way to alter the date posted for income/spending since often I deposit my checks late or pay bills late. I still want to track these payments/income based on the month they should be posted for.

7. Graphics: Have little images for each basic tag.

8. Have separate tag/box to mark as “to be reimbursed” and a reminder to check that reimbursement has gone through

9. Optional income breakdown chart, for those of us who earn money from a variety of sources

10. Comparison on mutual fund income/losses versus other user’s investments.

11. Easy mobile access to my accounts.

12. Ability for all the accounts to “understand” each other. So if I transfer a certain amount of money from checking to an investment, it is not posted as spending for the month (it can be counted in separate investment category)

13. Budget tools: Ability to create charts w/ predetermined expenses, to know how much extra cash to spend/save per month is available.

14. Ability to pay bills directly through site, including cell phone bill and cable bill (I know this is a long shot, but It’d be nice)

15. Widgets and graphic saves that include graphs of above information that can be easily pasted in my blog.