Mint vs. Quicken Online: two online tools to organize your finances

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In good times and bad, a balanced budget and an understanding of your savings and spending are essential. It is also wise to create a budget and stick to it. Wouldn’t it be great if you could manage all of this in one place too? Mint and Quicken Online promise to help achieve this and the price is right: Free! We’ll take a look at both free web services and put them toe-to-toe.

Mint

Mint is the underdog in this fight. Launched as an entrepreneur’s startup in 2006, Mint has a lot of ground to make up before it can stand on its own when compared to a veteran like Quicken. Mint uses Yodlee to aggregate and consolidate multiple accounts into one place. It can then analyze your accounts and track your spending, savings, investments, loans, and more. Mint currently lists that it can connect to over 7500 financial institutions as of this writing.

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I have been able to add every account of mine, from car loan to credit card to retirement fund, except my bank accounts. The bank I use is listed in the institutions they can connect to, but for some reason it will not work for me and others list a similar problem with this bank. This strongly devalues the usefulness of Mint for me; between direct deposit and automatic withdrawals, it doesn’t really provid
Setting up your accounts is a breeze, you just provide your login info for the web access to those sites and then Mint goes and brings all that information into its site for your account. You can do this with relative peace of mind as Mint is secured and vouched for by VeriSign, TRUSTe, and McAfee. The site uses SSL and logs you out after 10 minutes of inactivity.e an accurate picture of my finances without capturing my bank accounts. This should be one thing to note when evaluating a service that’s right for you, “do all of my accounts connect?”

Once you have your accounts all setup, Mint can go to work and prove that it is more than just an aggregator. Mint provides financial analysis across your accounts for an interesting perspective on your spending habits. With a pie chart that will grow and shrink sections accordingly as you move from one month to another, you can see what categories cost you more money. You can click on a category to “zoom in” and see the actual transactions. This is a cool feature but still has room for improvement. You can look at these categories and see if you’re spending more than you’d like at restaurants, shopping, gifts and any number of sub-categories, including custom ones that you can create. Currently the analysis and categorization is based on each transaction or vendor. I would like to be able to further divide these transactions into their respective parts. I might go shopping at Wal-Mart and spend money in a variety of categories: car, groceries, gifts, health & fitness, and more. At the present, I have to categorize that entire transaction into one category.

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Along with analyzing your own spending to see what categories you’re investing a lot into, you can also see how your spending compares to other people by location. You can narrow down to a state or major city. They also provide a breakdown by month and by merchant. Pretty interesting and pretty random.

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Mint also keeps track of your investments. It adds a graph to show their performance with comparisons to different metrics like the Dow Jones, S&P 500, or NASDAQ.

Budgeting, the final Mint feature I’ll cover, is also integrated into the service. You can configure a monthly budget for different categories and track how well you’re complying as the month goes on. If you go over budget, have a low balance, a bill due, bank fees, or many more triggers, these can all be configured to send you an e-mail or text message letting you know.

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Sometimes, you might not trust a company unless you know how they’re making a profit. Mint is actually up-front with this information: Along with the transactions, trends, and investments tabs, there is another called Ways to Save. This tab contains suggestions and comparisons for credit cards. They then act as a referral and get a pay off from a credit card company if you sign up for one. It’s pretty much out of the way and doesn’t bother you unless you want it to. The information about the credit cards is equally upfront and clear about what you’re getting and Mint tries to find a perfect match for you based on what it knows about you and your spending habits.

Mint also has a nifty blog which breaks down financial ideas and related news stories.

Quicken Online

summaryQuicken has been in the game for a long time. They have had financial software on the market with Quicken Software since 1984. (It’s as old as I am!) Quicken Online is a free “software-as-a-service” offering and has only been around in late 2007 when it went into private beta. They have no ads and make no promos for credit cards like Mint in order to generate revenue. I have to assume that Quicken Online is offered free to get the Quicken name out there. Quicken, similar to Mint, also uses SSL throughout the site and is secured by TRUSTe. You are automatically signed out after 20 minutes of inactivity to protect your account. They support more than 5000 different financial institutions as of November 2008, but I was actually able to successfully add all of my accounts (including the bank accounts that Mint could not) providing a complete and accurate picture of my finances as Quicken Online similarly aggregates all of your accounts for viewing and analysis.  Quicken Online’s dashboard similarly provides a summary of all your financial balances at the moment and also includes a little countdown until the next payday, in case you’re living paycheck to paycheck.

remainingAlong with the summary, it tries to be a little more predictive than Mint. You can set the recurring rate of some events, like monthly rent, bi-annual car insurance, and so on. This is helpful for those things that don’t necessarily come with due dates, but takes a little teaching to get straightened out with the right frequency. Quicken Online also has a pie chart and spending trend analysis so you can track which categories are getting your money. The images seem to be a little more static than Mint’s rendering where the motion helps emphasize a change in spending habits from month to month. You can still click on sections of the pie chart for closer analysis or just hover over for more information beyond the color coding. Unfortunately Quicken Online has the same issue as Mint by categorizing an entire transaction instead of being able to break it up into more accurate categories. A plus for QO, is the fact that you can move the slider to an arbitrary amount of time. With Mint it is fixed at one month length from the 1st of the month to the last day. Quicken Online allows you to move the slider at the top to any number of days starting at any point in a month. This flexibility is nice for when your bills and income doesn’t flow with the calendar.

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You can also add a budget per category if you’re trying to hedge your spending. You can set a budget for each category and a total and then configure alerts to contact you if you near your budget. You can also configure alerts for a weekly digest, your remaining balance, if a checking account goes below a certain balance, upcoming bills, a credit card balance goes beyond a custom amount, or a particularly large expense clears one of your accounts.

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Summary

Choosing between the two of these services is difficult to me. At the same time, it’s a lot of work to keep them both accurate with categorizing the same transactions twice (though they do learn) and other account maintenance. Unfortunately, Mint currently does not handle my bank account properly. If it did, Mint would win hands down. The Mint interface is or at least feels more versatile and adaptive. It’s also more friendly-looking while Quicken Online offers a more professional feel to it. Extra Features

  • Mint has an iPhone application and mobile alerts.
  • Quicken also has a mobile version, you can activate it after they text you a unique key. You can text them to retrieve your balances or visit the mobile version of the website.

If neither Mint or Quicken Online sound like they’re what you’re looking for, check out some of the other free competition:

  • Geezeo – Feature: Community-based (think throwing social networking into the mix) financial control
  • Buxfer – Feature: Handles split charges; keep track and shuffle debt among a group of friends.
  • Thrive – Feature: Personal financial advice to help you achieve your goals
  • PageOnce – Feature: Only an online account aggregator, limited features for personal financial management.

Hopefully you’ll be able to find a service that works for you, helps you remain organized, and keep a handle on your finances to save you money.