We’ve written before about how keeping track of our spending is just the first step in winning the battle of our personal finances. We’ve talked about how living on a budget and controlling our spending is the next important step. Then we’ve also mentioned how our income isn’t what determines our wealth, but rather our net worth. But the excuse question many raise is that it’s so much work to keep track of all these things! Well today, I’d like to share two services that I’ve used that can take away all the headache and excuses for tracking your financial picture. The best part is that they’re both F-R-E-E.

Introducing Mint & Personal Capital

Both Mint and Personal Capital are free online account aggregators that connect to your financial institutions, gather all your data, and present them to you in a very useful interface. They give you a birds-eye view of your financial situation with very little effort on your part. It’s all automatic. You just need to “link” all your accounts together by entering a few pieces of information. The process is no different than logging into your existing financial accounts.

Mint is owned by Intuit, the company that makes Quicken, Quickbooks, and TurboTax. So they know a thing or two about personal finance. Personal Capital is a company started by former employees of Intuit. So I suppose they know a thing or two about personal finance too.  Most of all (since I know you’re wondering), they both have vast experience with online security.  Their level of security is as great, if not greater than your existing banks.

I’ve been on Mint for a few years now and I’ve been trying out Personal Capital for the past few months. So what’s the verdict? Which one is better? Let’s break it down.

Similarities Between the Two

  • Both services are FREE. Have I said that yet?
  • Both services act as account aggregators, automatically updating the info from all your financial accounts. You can login once and see everything.
  • Both have elegant user interfaces and robust features. If you like colorful graphs and charts, you’ll be drooling.
  • Both will track your net worth—including your investments like stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and even real estate.
  • Both will automatically track your real estate value using the Zillow Zestimate database. Or you can manually adjust the value of your properties yourself.
  • Both can send you weekly financial updates to make sure you don’t forget that unfortunate purchase you shouldn’t have made on Tuesday.
  • Both have robust mobile apps across all the major platforms. So you can check your credit card balance without getting out of bed.
  • Both can act as a digital check register to track your spending. Great to use on your smartphone while you’re out.
  • Both can help with keeping track of business and/or tax-related items.
  • This is just the beginning, there’s so much more. Both of these services are absolutely packed with useful features.

Where Mint Wins

Budget Summary

Budget summary view on the landing screen in Mint.

  • Budgeting. Mint has a built-in interface where you can set up budgetary categories to manage your monthly spending. We don’t really use it much because we manage our budget other ways, but it can be a nice way to keep track of your spending.
  • Goals. You can create targets for savings so it keeps track of your progress over time. It can be for short-term savings like saving for a specific purchase, or a long-term goal like for retirement.
  • Advice. Mint tries to provide custom advice that it thinks might be helpful to you. Some are advertising attempts, but some are just helpful advice.
  • Free Credit Score. Mint will even provide you your credit score for free from Equifax. You might have this feature from your credit card already, but if not, this can useful. Just be aware that this is not the official “FICO” score from Fair-Isaacs Corporation.
  • Vehicle Value. Mint now also tracks your vehicle value. Just enter your make, model, and year and it will automatically give you the blue book value. I think it worthy to note that philosophically, Personal Capital doesn’t consider your vehicle an asset worth tracking so it doesn’t have that feature (at least for now).
Landing Page

This is what you would see upon signing into Mint. (Demo account)

Where Personal Capital Wins

  • No ads! More on this below.
  • Investment Focus. Personal Capital’s niche is primarily in helping people with their investing. As such, they don’t have as many budgeting and savings features as Mint, but their free investing tools are very good. While there are investment tools in Mint, they are so bad that I just stay away.
  • “You” Index. One of my favorite features of in Personal Capital is their “You Index” feature. It aggregates all of your investments and calculates its movement from day-to-day, showing your customized performance compared to the standard market indexes. I’ve wished for a way to do this easily for a while now, and now I do.
  • Asset Allocation. Similarly, Personal Capital will map out the allocation of your investment assets in a slick user-interface that gives you a very useful birds-eye view of your investments. I used to try to do this in Excel myself, but now this software does all the hard work for me.
Asset Allocation

Sample asset allocation view in Personal Capital on an iPad

  • Advice. Personal Capital is also full of advice, but unlike Mint the advice is much more geared towards investing and they’re not just ads masquerading as advice. They have robust projections to show how your current investment portfolio will sustain you in your future, they have recommendations of how you should adjust your asset allocations, and all in real-time using your real numbers—all for FREE!
  • Summary Page. This might seem like a small thing, but in my opinion, Personal Capital has a much more useful default page. By this I mean the first page after login. While Mint shows ads, alerts, advice front and center with your accounts organized in the left column, Personal Capital brings up your accounts plus all of the summary graphs of your cash flow, net worth, and investment performance. The most important information shows up first, which is how I think it should be.
Landing Page

Landing page of a very healthy demo account in Personal Capital

What’s the Catch? (How do they make money?)

  • Mint makes money by flashing you ads. They are usually tasteful and relevant, but I’ve noticed the ads have become more frequent and more obvious lately. It’s also obvious that some of the advice that Mint tries to give you are actually thinly veiled attempts to get you to buy something they’re advertising. This makes me question the quality of the advice I’m getting.
  • Personal Capital doesn’t have any ads. It makes money by upselling users to use them as their investment advisor. I think their service is legit and their costs are reasonable, but personally I wouldn’t go with them as my personal investment manager. But the good thing is that their business model does seem to align their interests with the customers a bit more than Mint.

The Crumb-saver Recommendation

So which one is better? Mint or Personal Capital? Tell you the truth, I plan to continue using both of them. I like them both for different reasons, and since both of them are free, there’s no reason not to use both.

If you are interested, I suggest you give them both a try to see which one you like best. Or you can always use both. The sign-up process and account linking is as easy as logging into your accounts at the various institutions. Very easy.

If you haven’t already, it’s time to track your spending, live on a budget, and start paying attention to your net worth! With powerful free services like Mint and Personal Capital, you’ve got no more excuses!

So have you used Mint or Personal Capital? Maybe another solution? Which one do you like the best and why?