Is Safe?

The online budget space is going through something of a shakeout.  It wasn’t long ago that new players seemed to emerge every month, most with strange-sounding names like Wesabe, Yodlee, Geezeo (which now seems to be focusing on working with financial institutions rather than individuals), moneyStrands, and Mint.  However, Intuit’s purchase of Mint seemed to solidify Mint’s leadership position, and in recent days the once-prominent Wesabe announced it is shutting down.  These developments led The New York Times to take a closer look at Mint’s safety.  After all, in order to use the service, or most of its competitors, you have to provide your bank and credit card account numbers and passwords.  The Times story concluded that Mint is safe—for the most part.

Of course, Mint’s founder was emphatic about the site’s safety.  For a more impartial view, Identity Theft Resource Center co-founder Jay Foley described Mint’s security as “pretty decent, all things considered,” noting that it is on a par with the security systems in place at most financial institutions.  Paul Stevens, Director of Policy and Advocacy at the Privacy Rights Clearing House, said, “There is no doubt that it probably is very secure but anytime that you provide your information to an additional entity, you are really compounding the opportunities for your personal information to be breached.”

I use Mint and am comfortable doing so.  It’s the biggest player in the online budget space and its founder realizes that its success depends completely on its security.  What about you?  Are you using an online budget tool?  Why or why not?  How do you feel about the security issues related to such tools?

16 Responses to Is Safe?

  1. sam March 11, 2012 at 11:49 PM #

    i was concerned about placing my credentials just to any risk if any. i use spending viewer ( ) a windows app that installed on my local machine, it does not ask for credentials. I download transactions from my banks and upload them in bulk. its fast and gives lot of tracking options. it automatically puts transactions into right categories after initial setup.

  2. Matt Bell March 20, 2011 at 9:19 PM #

    Randy –

    I’ve heard Mint’s founder say that if they were to sell info it would only be in aggregate, which I don’t have a problem with.

    As for security, right now Mint is read-only. You can’t actually move money via Mint. I believe I’ve heard, though, that they may be headed toward the ability to pay bills through the site. So, maybe this will become a bigger concern, but still, I would think no more of a concern than online banking. They realize that there whole business is based on security, so they seem to be going to the nth degree with that.

    It’s definitely not for everyone, but so far I like the service.

  3. Randy March 18, 2011 at 4:25 PM #

    I said threefold but added a fourth. Even more objections than I anticipated.

  4. Randy March 18, 2011 at 4:24 PM #

    I really want to trust Mint and be able to recommend it to clients but I have reservations that have kept me from trying it out. I actually registered but couldn’t bring myself to registering my log in info.

    My issues are threefold:
    1. the marketing suspicion: a free site has to make money somehow. There are ads, yes. What a treasure trove of information to market to me and sell even as an aggregate. I don’t know if they are mining this data now, but I think doing so in the future will be an irresistible siren call.

    2. security: hack or inside job, the greater the concentration of this info, the greater lengths people will go to in order to gain access to it. Why do you rob banks–because that is where the money is.

    3. privacy: Mint at the moment promises that they will not sell your data. We have seen the creep of privacy standards on places like Facebook. I suspect Mint will be tempted down the “change the privacy agreement and hope no one objects too vehemently.”

    4. As I understand it, many financial institutions expressly forbid sharing your log in information with any entity. The bottom line drives these big banks and credit card companies. If fraud were to occur, my expectation would be that they would consider me on the hook for the fraudulent purchases.

  5. ivan August 13, 2010 at 1:02 PM # is the most comprehensive one. it includes virtually any bill including gas, telephone, etc

  6. Matthew Lewis August 9, 2010 at 2:36 PM #

    Thanks for checking on that, Matt. If I’m understanding correctly, their answer doesn’t really help in my situation since I’m not starting fresh – I already have a lot of money in a lot of categories and I need to keep those allocations.

    However, I did find a way that (I think) will fix this shortcoming. I simply set the budgets for my first month to what I actually need to set aside for that month, PLUS the amounts I already had in each category. (Naturally this meant I also had to increase the total budget amount, which wasn’t a problem because I have the money in the bank to cover it.) Next month I can just edit the budgets down to their usual levels.

    So I got that hurdle all worked out and it seems to be fine.

    Unfortunately, that’s when I realized that Mint apparently doesn’t support split transactions, which is another requirement for my overall record keeping to work. So for now, I’ve switched over to “Budget” from Snowmint. This is an envelope budgeting program, which I see Mint says they don’t support but seems to be what my real need is.

    “Budget” doesn’t automatically retrieve transaction data or bank account balances, but otherwise it’s very slick. Clunky interface, but very easy to use and I think it will do what I need.

    Thanks again for checking with Mint about that. Hopefully the tip about increasing the first month’s budget will help someone else.

  7. Matt Bell August 5, 2010 at 9:38 AM #

    I checked with the folks at Mint and they tell me their service does not allow for a starting credit in a budget category. That’s an “envelope” budgeting type feature which Mint doesn’t offer.

    Here’s their suggestion: “Set a rollover budget where the monthly budget equals your total electricity spend in a year divided by 12. It should net out over time. Because there’s no envelope budgeting, there’s no start point kitty to assign to a budget. You’ll just go under for a few months, which will roll over into winter and be balanced by the higher months.”

  8. Matt Bell August 4, 2010 at 4:14 PM #

    Matthew – I have a note in to my contact at Mint to ask about this. I’ll add an update when I hear back. It’s a good question.

  9. Matthew Lewis August 3, 2010 at 9:18 PM #

    I’m trying right now but am frustrated because there doesn’t seem to be a way to enter an opening balance for my budgets. As just one example, our electricity use is way down during the summer, so we currently have several hundred dollars in that budget. However, Mint starts the budget at zero and I can’t find a way to tell it that I already have quite a lot of money already allocated for electricity.

    Does anyone know how to do this with Mint, or with another financial-tracking service?

  10. Brian July 11, 2010 at 12:43 PM #

    Along the Mvelopes discussion, I see one main difference. Proactive vs. Reactive. Mint and everything else reports and shows what is “done.” Mvelopes separates your ‘income’ into categories when you recieve it, actually creating little pockets of “savings” so that the money is really there when that bill comes due. This one change puts people roughly one month ahead in their bank accounts which is really a big deal when you lose a job.

  11. Matt Bell July 8, 2010 at 10:55 PM #

    Carolyn – Have you checked recently to see if they can now connect to your credit union or bank? They’ve been adding a lot of financial institutions recently, so it might be worth another look.

  12. Carolyn July 8, 2010 at 3:00 PM #

    I started using it, but they don’t serve my credit union or the bank where I have my emergency account. They said enter those manually 🙂 Not going to happen! I do like what I can actually use.

  13. Matt Bell July 7, 2010 at 4:15 PM #

    Judy, what is it about Mvelopes that you prefer? I’ve heard good things about it, but have never tried it, mostly because of the price.

  14. Judy July 7, 2010 at 3:30 PM #

    I tried Mint and really prefer Mvelopes although the latter is not free

  15. Gigi July 7, 2010 at 3:19 PM #

    I signed up for Intuit’s site and was transferred one day to I don’t use it as much as I could bc I use a custom excel I made and my bank statement to do my budget. I was actually going to cancel the account but seeing that you are comfortable and use it, I might give it another try. Thanks!

  16. Mitch July 7, 2010 at 2:01 PM #

    I use Mint also but in a very loose fashion because I just don’t get around to use all of its features.

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