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Need Help Keeping Track of Your Financials? Mint.com to the Rescue.

Published February 22, 2011 - 7 Comments

I’ve never been the best one to keep track of my expenses.  That might be part of the problem that led me to financial trouble… albeit not the overwhelming reason.  I’ve tried before to use different methods of tracking.  I bought a file cabinet.  I’ve used spreadsheets.  I’ve bought more than one version of Quicken.  I’ve tried to budget.  And like in so many other areas of my life, I start off well-intentioned, and eventually get sloppy and give up altogether.

Then I noticed something interesting… Mint.com is now available in Canada! If this means nothing to you, it should.  Mint.com is a company that was bought by Intuit (makers of Quicken).  They allow you to track all your financials in one easy to understand website that syncs with your banking institutions automatically to show you everything you need to make proper decisions regarding your money.  Best of all… It’s free!  Second best of all… there’s an iPhone app that syncs with your Mint.com account.  There’s even an Android app.

So what does Mint.com actually do that you can’t already do with your online banking or Quicken software?  Well, I know that Royal Bank now has free online software through their website that allows you to set up budgets and track expenses.  You can add accounts from other banks into your account listing (although I’m not sure if you can add that to the budget views or not).  Mint.com goes a step beyond that… I have ALL my different bank accounts as well as my Sunlife Financial retirement account, my TFSA account, my mortgage… everything… added to it.  It gives me access to everything.  My Canadian Tire Mastercard is there as well.  Not only do I see the balance of every single account, but I also get access to the transactions.  Royal Bank isn’t going to give me that stuff… especially the retirement accounts from Sunlife.  I imagine that Quicken does, but then again, the last time I looked at Quicken it was somewhere around $100.  Mint.com is free.

I haven’t gotten into the budget aspect yet, but I see that the program is automatically starting to build a profile of my spending habits.  It sends me an email if my account balance falls below a certain point.  It notifies me when my paycheque has been deposited, if I have spent an unusually large amount on something, if my banking fees are higher than projected, etc… all of these things are configurable, so you can turn them off one by one if you aren’t interested in the notifications.

Another of the interesting things is that Mint.com offers you suggestions where you could save money.  These are offers from different financial institutions, and presumably part of Mint.com’s monetization strategy.  I haven’t been blown away by anything that they’ve offered me, but you never know.  There might be something later.  They also include a section to enter your credit scores.  I need to update mine, so I’m not sure what effect that has on your Mint.com profile.

If you’re concerned about security (and you should be with anything you do online that involves your bank accounts) Mint.com is no less secure than any other online banking you already do.  And even if someone did gain access to you Mint.com account, they can’t actually move money from it.  Mint.com gives you a total view of your financial outlook, but you can not make changes from within Mint.com.  You can not transfer funds, pay bills, or modify your accounts in any way.

I’m really enjoying Mint.com… I know that it sounds weird, but I actually check my account through the day to see my networth status as it changes automatically depending on how my retirement account is doing.

I really think that it’s worth checking out.  It won’t cost you anything except a little bit of time to set up your accounts.

Check Your Credit. Check it Once. Check it Twice.

Published March 12, 2010 - 0 Comments

As part of my credit rebuilding mission, I requested copies of my credit report from both agencies tasked with maintaining that information in Canada.  There’s a fair amount of confusion when it comes to these credit reports.

First, in Canada there are two companies that maintain credit files: Equifax and Transunion.

Second, you do not need to pay a penny to see a copy of your credit report.  It’s totally free, but you will need to make your request in writing.  You will also need to include copies of two pieces of identification.  I used my driver’s license and my medicare card.

Third, your free credit report does not include your credit score.  For that, you will need to pay roughly $25.  I did not bother to request my credit score, as I have a pretty good idea what it is already.  (Although as I write this, it might not be such a bad idea to pay to receive my score, so I can get a baseline and do it again in a year or two.)

I dropped both envelopes into the mailbox on the same day, and oddly enough, received both credit reports in the mail on the same day, about 10 days later.  The difference between the reports is staggering.

Equifax’s report literally had 4 lines on me.  It told me that I have a cellphone account, and that it was paid in full.  It made no mention of the mortgage that I still hold in my name, which I thought was a little strange.

On the other hand, Transunion’s report was 6 pages.  It listed every single mailing address I’ve ever had, right back to when I was in high school.  It listed every phone number I’ve ever had, every single credit card that I’ve ever applied for, and every single company that has ever done a credit check on me.  It also listed the mortgage, and all the bank accounts I currently hold.  (Except the offshore one with all my millions that I’m safekeeping until the divorce is finalized…) Once you got past the fact that your entire financial life was being summed up in a half-dozen sheets of paper, it was quite interesting.  Even a little scary.

And there were actually a couple of surprises there in the form of who has done credit checks on me in the past.  Atlantic Lottery Corporation?  Back in 2002?  I don’t remember winning any large sums of money in the past, but I do think that I might have applied for a position with them around that time.  I don’t think that it went anywhere.  There was also a check from Capital One in 2007, which really surprises and annoys me.  That was during the CCS debt management program, and I would never have applied for a credit card.  So I’m a little confused as to why they ran a check on me.

For the sake of a few minutes of your day, photocopying a couple pieces of ID, and the cost of a stamp, I think that it’s well everyone’s time to send away for both of these reports.

Just in case.  You never know.