Mint: Everything You Need To Know - Security, Tips, and Tricks
If you need an easy-to-use tool for tracking your spending and keeping tabs on your budget, Mint.com is an excellent choice (among many other finance app alternatives).
Instead of visiting multiple sites to check your bank account or credit card balances, you can view everything at once using this free app.
With so many security breaches making the news, banks are stepping up their efforts to make debit and credit cards more secure but it remains to seen if it'll be enough to stop hackers in their tracks.
If you use it to manage your finances, you may be wondering:
Is the Mint app safe and secure? Is your information at risk of falling into the wrong hands? How exactly does Mint work?
To help put your fears to rest, we got the inside scoop on the security and logistics of Mint.com.
Quick answer: Mint uses bank-level encryption and monitoring through various 3rd parties companies for read-only access to your financial accounts.
What Is Mint & How Does It Work?
Mint is a great tool to use if you're looking at ways to improve your financial management.
How it works is you sign up for a free account and then link your bank and credit card accounts by entering your login credentials when prompted to do so.
This is the part that gives many pause and we'll get into more details about it below.
After you've linked your accounts, you can use Mint to track your budget, creating savings goals, and get alerts on your spending.
You can even participate in billpay to manage your monthly bills on Mint as well.
Mint has a website and a phone app, which means you can manage your money at home or on the go.
For someone who wants to stay plugged into their finances and goals with little daily effort, this tool is a great find.
And if you're a cash budgeter? Mint can still help you.
Every time you make a purchase, such as for a latte, you can stand in line waiting and plug the purchase into Mint manually before your latte is even handed to you.
This makes it easy to track your spending no matter what type of budgeter you are.
Finally, Mint offers a chance to plug in spending before you do it so you can see how it will work with your overall financial plan.
And, keeping you on the ball all the time, you can sign up for account alerts to find out if you're nearing budget limits or getting low on your account balances.
All in all, Mint is like a financial coach in your pocket. Now, to understand the tips and tricks on how to use it.
How to Use Mint
While Mint seems basic on the surface, there are tons of ways you can use it to get a more complete picture of your finances.
Here's 4 basic tips and tricks to get the most out of Mint:
1. Tweak the dates to track ATM withdrawals and cash.
Mint is designed to automatically record transactions made with your debit or credit card; anything else has to be entered manually.
If you make regular ATM withdrawals or you rely on cash for everyday spending, it can make keeping tabs on what's going out a little confusing.
You could opt out of tracking the cash altogether by hiding ATM transactions from your budgets but that kind of defeats the purpose of Mint.
If you want to be able to track your cash spending without having it wreak havoc on your budget set up, there's a pretty simple solution.
First, you assign any ATM withdrawals to the "Cash & ATM" category -- that way, they won't show up in your budget.
Then, you just alter the date of the ATM transaction to the last day of the month, so you'll always know how much cash you've got on hand.
As you spend your cash, you can split up the transactions to reallocate the money to your various budget categories.
For example, say you take out $100, for example, and spend $30 of it at the grocery store. You'd go to the original withdrawal, click the "Split This Transaction" button and categorize the money you spent under "Groceries."
This allows you to record your cash spending without having to worry about it showing up twice in your budget.
2. Keep account history intact.
One of the nice things about Mint is that it's an all-in-one financial tool, which means you can use it to monitor your spending, keep an eye on your credit card balances and see how your different investment accounts are doing.
For instance, you can see what your 401(k) or IRA is worth and even backtrack to gauge their performance over time.
If you end up moving your investments to another brokerage or cashing out one of your accounts, you might be tempted to close it or delete it from Mint altogether, but you shouldn't be so hasty.
If you ever need to verify a transaction down the road, you won't be able to access that history. A better option if you're changing your accounts around is to deactivate it instead of deleting it altogether.
You can do this by going to your Accounts at the top of the page, clicking on the one you want to deactivate and then changing the drop box option to "Closed."
This will keep Mint from updating the account from that point on, but you won't lose any of your previous transaction information.
3. Filter transactions by date.
While Mint offers lots of features and tools to help you manage your money better, there are a few capabilities it lacks.
One of the most irksome is the ability to automatically sort your transactions by date.
That can be a real pain if you're trying to pinpoint a specific purchase or you want to be able to view all of your spending for a particular category over a set period of time.
Fortunately, there's an easy work around to view your transactions by date:
If you go to the Transactions page, the URL that displays should be: https://wwws.mint.com/transaction.event.
To get information for a specific date range, all you have to do is alter the URL a little by adding a start date and end date.
For instance, if you want to view your holiday spending, you could change the URL to look like this: https://wwws.mint.com/transaction.event?startDate=12/01/2018&endDate=12/31/2018.
Once you change the URL, you just hit enter to refresh the page and display the transactions for the dates you've selected.
While it would be nice to just be able to click a single button to see your spending by date, this is a fairly uncomplicated fix that works just as well.
Update: There's a new Chrome extension downloadable to Chrome users, which allows you to easily choose a date range for your Mint transactions list.
You can download the extension and learn more about it here.
4. Verify transactions with tags.
Tagging transactions in Mint takes the guesswork out of things like keeping track of your goal progress or grouping expenses for tax purposes.
It also comes in handy if you need a way to verify transactions without having to sort through a stack of receipts.
All you do is create a tag to identify those expenditures that have been verified, like "Accepted," "Noted," "Seen," whatever is easiest to remember.
Any time a new transaction shows up, you just assign the appropriate tag.
If you think you might have overlooked something, you can do a quick search for the tag name, which should highlight those transactions that haven't been tagged yet.
Using a tag for verification purposes makes record keeping easier but it's also a good idea if you're concerned about one of your accounts getting hacked.
If you do a tag search and a charge shows up that you don't recognize, it could tip you off to possible identity theft before the crooks have had a chance to funnel any more money out of your account.
How Mint Security Protects Your Information
Mint was created with your financial prosperity in mind. As such, it doesn't take your security lightly.
Mint comes with a number of security features that it touts as being on par with what your bank already offers. Specifically, it relies on things like 128-bit SSL encryption and monitoring through third-party sites like TRUSTe and VeriSign.
Once you've synced up your accounts using your bank's login information, you can create a unique PIN to sign into your Mint account.
Additionally, the information you use to sign in to Mint is stored in a separate database with its own hardware and software encryption. If something happens and your phone is lost or stolen, you can delete your account from another computer or mobile device remotely.
Mint also monitors user accounts remotely for unusual spending activity -- that means, if something pops up that you didn't authorize, you'll receive an alert immediately.
The sooner you know about things like this, the faster you can take care of them and get your accounts back in good standing.
What Details Could Hackers Actually Get their Hands On?
The reason people like Mint is because it allows you to see all of your financial details in one place.
When you create an account, you're able to link all of your bank accounts, credit cards, and investment accounts.
This linking enables Mint to update your transactions automatically.
The catch is that you have to provide the username and password you use for each one, which can certainly make you feel jittery if you're worried about a security breach.
Mint is designed to be a read-only service, which means you can't transfer money back and forth between accounts.
If someone were to get their hands on your Mint login, all they'd be able to do is view your balances and transactions.
Your full account numbers aren't displayed, nor are your bank account or credit card usernames and passwords; the only thing that would be visible would be your email address.
If a hacker was interested in taking things a step further, there's always the possibility that they could physically steal the information from Mint's secure servers - but that's really a long shot.
That would require knowing where the servers are located, bypassing the physical security measures that are in place, and cracking the code on how the data is encrypted.
If that were to happen, then your personal information might be at risk, but so far, there's no record of it being attempted.
How to Keep Your Mint App Account Safe
Even though Mint's security seems to be pretty airtight, there are still a few things you can do to make sure you're keeping your account information as safe as possible.
Create a separate email address
For one thing, you can set up a separate email address to sign up for Mint.
That way, you don't have to worry about your regular email getting hit with phishing scams if someone succeeds in getting a peek at Mint's information.
Always update your bank/credit card passwords
Whether or not you're using a personal finance app like Mint, you should always be changing your bank and credit card passwords on a regular basis.
And you'll want to make sure you're not using the same password for more than one account.
To further strengthen your passwords, you can try setting passwords that are long and contain a mixture of numbers and characters.
Just be sure you're updating your information on Mint when you make these updates to ensure that your accounts are syncing properly.
Don't use Mint over unknown Wi-Fi services
Finally, you should avoid using Mint over Wi-Fi services and you should also be mindful about allowing third-party access to your account through Facebook or other apps.
Who's Liable if You Get Hacked?
One thing you need to keep in mind when using Mint is how it affects your fraud protection with your bank.
If your account terms and conditions prevent you from sharing your username or password with a third-party site, you may end up being held responsible if someone is successful in compromising your Mint account.
Basically, that means that instead of the bank covering whatever money the hackers made off with, you'd just be out the cash altogether.
There's the possibility that Mint could be held liable for your information being stolen but since there haven't been any breaches reported to date, there's no way to know how the situation would pan out.
If you're thinking of signing up for a Mint account and you're worried about a security threat, you should check with your bank first to find out what the consequences would be if your cyber thieves make off with your information.
You could also read Mint's terms and services to get the details they provide.
It may not be an easy document to decipher, but it's publicly available on their website and should contain everything you need to know about having an account with Mint.
The Bottom Line
Taking everything we've outlined into account, Mint is a top choice for a safe, easy-to-use personal finance tool.
When you consider the kind of information a hacker would be able to see if they were able to access your account, it's much less than what they'd get if they managed to hack your bank or credit card's website directly.
From that perspective, Mint looks pretty appealing.
On the other hand, you are taking a gamble by sharing your financial information, so you have to ask yourself whether you're willing to accept the potential risk in exchange for the convenience that Mint offers.