Comparing Online Personal Finance Analysis Tools

Some Thoughts on Quicken Online, Mint, and Wesabe

There’s been a lot of discussion lately about web-based personal finance tracking tools, especially since Intuit launched Quicken Online and Mint won the TechCrunch 40 award. These conversations have led in many directions – clearly these tools are useful, but are they worth the security concerns? Let’s take a look at what these tools have to offer and what the security implications are, and I’ll offer up my own take at the end.

What Do These Tools Do?

In a nutshell, Quicken Online, Mint, and Wesabe seek to provide centralized perspectives on your personal financial situation. They do things like categorize your credit card and checking spending into groups like “hobbies” and “food,” keep track of your net worth over a long period, and can even help you define and work towards goals. They aggregate your information automatically, helping you to see your spending and saving across all accounts at once. In other words, they’re all pretty nifty and offer some serious benefits.

Quicken Online

Having tried all three, I found Quicken Online to be the most usable and useful – but that may be because I am familiar with the desktop version of Quicken. Basically, Quicken Online is a web-based version of the classic Quicken software package. It collects information from all of your accounts and lets you review it in countless ways. You can set up goals, view the changes in your spending and saving over time (as you build up the data), and even helps you manage the lag between issuing a check and having it received by the people you’re sending it to. It’s easily the most feature-rich of the three and it’s ad-free, but it’s also the only one with a fee – $2.99 a month. Out of the three packages, I’m partial to this one – if I were to commit to using one of the three wholeheartedly, it’d be this one.

Mint

Mint is probably the most visually stunning and intuitive to use, but it’s also the one that makes me the most nervous about security. Mint offers many of the same services as Quicken Online, but without a fee – instead, they target you with very specific ad offers based on analysis of how you actually spend your money. If I was having trouble getting my finances in order, this would make me somewhat nervous, as it seems to be tempting fate. Still, their interface is stunning and, minus the offers, is probably the most useable of the three.

Wesabe

Wesabe is the most established of the three, is also free, and is likely the most secure. They never take any of your account information – instead, you use a tool on your own computer to build a report without account data in it, and this report is shipped off to Wesabe. They never see your specific account data. Also, they don’t mine their data to place targeted ads – instead, their business model revolves around selling “Pro” accounts with more features. It also has a lot of social networking aspects – you can quickly find people with similar financial goals and find out, in a broad sense, how your spending compares to the Wesabe community. It’s actually quite fun.

The Big Drawback

First of all, I don’t question that each of these sites have integrity when it comes to security. In fact, Wesabe was the first of these three tools to launch and I strongly criticized their security initially – and was pleasantly surprised by the openness of the company to discuss and resolve these issues. I believe that Mint, Wesabe, and Quicken Online all intend to keep your data safe.

But that doesn’t solve the problem.

The problem is something I like to call “information creep.” When you use these tools, you expose your personal information to them. With Mint, for example, you transmit your account information through mint.com and then through Yodlee to aggregate your info. Intuit (the Quicken Online folks) communicates directly with your account providers to scoop in information. Wesabe is perhaps the least onerous – you don’t directly submit account information to them, ever – but their tool isn’t as robust because of this limitation and they still do create a history of your spending.

In all three cases, you’re building up a substantial data set about yourself. With Quicken Online, they don’t milk the data (at least not on the surface) but you are charged a fee for their service. With Mint, it’s free – but they make their cash by showing you targeted ads based on that data. Again, Wesabe has the best method at the moment – they’re currently handling everything via venture capital money and plan a “Wesabe Pro” to generate revenue.

If that doesn’t concern you, consider this: the more information you have out there about yourself, the more likely it is that some sort of identity theft will happen no matter how secure individual sites are. It only takes one little accident for your data to get into the wrong hands – and even the most secure of places can have a little flaw. The more places you put your data, the more “little flaws” you’re exposed to.

What Do I Do?

I think tools like Quicken Online are great if you have a plethora of accounts to manage and have a hard time seeing the big picture. In that case, the benefits exceed the drawbacks – tools like these can really help you get a grip on things.

In my opinion, though, it’s not the best solution. The best solution is minimizing your accounts so that you’re not bogged down in account management. Do you need eight credit card accounts? Kill the ones you don’t use, save for perhaps your oldest one, and try to get down to two or (at most) three. How about five different retirement plans? Roll them together if you can – spend the time to see what your best option is and you’ll find yourself with a lot less effort to manage accounts.

Right now, I have one checking account, one savings account, two credit card accounts, one investment account, and one retirement account. It’s simple enough that I don’t need to use a tool like Quicken Online to see all of this information, and I don’t spend much time with account management either. I keep my net worth calculations in a spreadsheet – and it’s pretty clear from that data whether I’m doing well or doing poorly.

If you keep things simple to begin with, you don’t need complex tools to manage it. Quicken Online, Mint, and Wesabe are nifty tools, but you can often get just as much benefit by just simplifying your money – and then not expose yourself to even a tiny security risk, monthly fees, or highly targeted ads.

Other Perspectives

I felt it appropriate to include some additional viewpoints on these products from other blogs that I trust.

J.D. at Get Rich Slowly thinks Quicken Online looks promising, likes Mint with some caveats, and thinks Wesabe is a stellar Quicken supplement.

Lifehacker offers screenshot tours of Quicken Online, Wesabe, and Mint.

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  1. I like Mint because it updates itself with no work from me. It’s not surprising that I’d like that since I’m Lazy.

    I’ve tried to use desktop Quicken and it’s too complex for my tastes. It never seems to deal well with automated paychecks and the direct deposit into my bank account. I can’t seem to figure out how to tell Quicken that they are the same thing.

    If I forget to update desktop Quicken from the my bank account every so often the data is lost. That might be more of a factor of my bank account than desktop Quicken. And this might not happen with online Quicken. I might have to give that a shot.

  2. Fred says:

    I used Mint until I heard about Yodlee. In addition to your basic savings, checking, and credit card accounts, Yodlee allows you to track the likes of brokerage accounts, 401K accounts, mortgages, and even credit card and airline rewards programs.

    Yodlee is used by many major financial institutions as well, so I’m not as skeptical about security as I was with Mint. If it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me.

    Like Mint, though there is no facility to input transactions, as they are simply downloaded from the financial institutions. In this respect, I still appreciate my spreadsheets, so I know whether or not I have enough money to cover a purchase/transfer after all of the recent transactions post.

  3. Scott says:

    Great reviews! Thanks a lot. One relatively new online product missing from your reviews is Mvelopes (www.mvelopes.com). It’s the only online tool (and one of few software packages) that allows you to use the trusted envelope system in an electronic environment. I’m in my 30-day trial of it and it has much promise. You may want to take a look at it sometime. Thanks again. Love your blog!

  4. Mike says:

    The idea of information becoming more vulnerable is becoming more insidious. My personal information (a lot of it)was lost by my employer when a laptop was stolen from a company vehicle. Just what my PII was doing on a laptop out of the office was never really disclosed. This is a Fortune 10 company not some Mom and Pop operation so they certainly know better.

    Whether these folks (Mint, Quicken etc) have the best of intentions or not- putting this much information into the public ALWAYS has risks.

  5. Tim says:

    I have some real reservations about these websites too. While data security is my primary concern, I think that you also miss out on many of the benefits of using finance software by using an online system that automatically imports your data. The seduction of automatically importing your transactions comes with a cost, oftentimes in real money.
    First, hand keying your receipts allows you to accurately categorize your purchases. Most receipts are pretty straightforward, but I find that I may spend in three or four budget categories on a visit to Target or Costco. Part of the benefits of tracking your finances derive from managing to a budget. When I tried out Yodlee a few years ago through my credit union, I found it all too easy to import data without bothering to override the default categories. Even if you massage the data, it’s impossible to breakdown a transaction without using your original receipt, so why not just key it upfront?
    Second, reconciling your various statements is a valuable exercise and one that takes literally just minutes if you have already keyed in your receipts. Several times a year, I find a waiter who increased his tip or an unexpected fee tacked on a purchase. By comparing my statements to the receipts that I have already entered, these discrepancies jump out at me. In fact, the biggest time sink of using Quicken comes from identifying issues for follow up.
    Keying in your receipts and reconciling your statements needn’t take a lot of time with a tool like Quicken. In just a minute or two a day, I can enter my day’s receipts and once a week I spend less than a half an hour reconciling the week’s receipts and paying my bills electronically.
    I realize that neither of these concerns are necessarily a function of having your finance software online, but the temptation to just import and go makes an online tool less attractive to me even if there weren’t data security issues. Maybe I am just acknowledging my own tendency to take the easy way out, but for me the benefits of using an offline system far outweigh having online access with automatic importing.

  6. Nick says:

    Thanks for your thoughts on these three. I’ve been using Geezeo, which is very similar to Mint. I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on Geezeo.

  7. N says:

    Initially I had the same reservations about Mint. But then I realized that they don’t have my name, social security number or address – everything needed for someone to commit account fraud.

    All Mint has are my account numbers and passwords. Even if someone were to obtain this information, they still wouldn’t have access to my SSN or name because neither is displayed on the bank’s web site. So in reality, that information is useless. You can’t open a credit card or transfer money out of my account with just this data.

    Now I use Mint and it’s by far my favorite tool for keeping track of my spending.

  8. junger says:

    Have you tried using Yodlee’s MoneyCenter app?
    (moneycenter.yodlee.com).

    It’s completely free, has no ads, and is as secure as your online bank (since Yodlee probably powers it).

    The look isn’t as Web 2.0 as Mint, but it works.

    I don’t have a lot of accounts — two checking, two savings, a 401k, and two Roths — but I couldn’t imagine online banking without aggregating them. I’ve also got my student loans there to track.

    Even with very simple money management, it’s easy to have at least 5 accounts worth tracking.

  9. Austin says:

    What about Geezeo? It has the same auto-aggregation and social features as Mint plus pulls in brokerage accounts which Mint can’t do. Mint uses Yodlee while Geezeo uses CashEdge.

  10. Eden says:

    I don’t really see the appeal of taking your personal finances online. I am still using a version of Quicken from 2004 on my laptop. I was tempted to upgrade this year until I realized that this copy does everything I need so why waste the money.

    Using Quicken online would be cheaper initially, but in a couple of years you will have paid more than you would if you purchased the desktop version.

    I would absolutely never use any service like this that required any of my account usernames or passwords, though admittedly I don’t see the appeal of these services anyway so I guess I’m not the target audience.

  11. David says:

    I’ve tried both Mint and Quicken Online and definitely prefer Mint. The analysis tools are much better (their cool little pie chart that you can drill down with is very nice). Plus, it’s always nice to pull up Mint’s aggregate comparison tool and be able to see that I’m spending less on gasoline than the average citizen of Los Angeles.

    Quicken also drastically overestimates what I’m spending, as it seems to count credit card payments as a purchase transaction, when in reality it’s just a transfer of money from my checking account to pay for all the other purchases that it knows about. Mint is smart enough to not give me double jeopardy for my credit card purchases.

    I still use desktop Quicken for tracking my day to day spending, as it’s nice to be able to have it schedule bills and show me my future balance. I wish they’d get around to upgrading Quicken for Mac, though…..the thing looks like it hasn’t had a face-lift since 1994.

  12. Mrs. Micah says:

    I like Mint, though I wish I could do more with the categories and such. Bleh.

  13. cybergal says:

    I second the Yodle Money Center! I’ve been using it for months and I absolutely LOVE it! Also, most of the other data consolidation apps use Yodlee as their backend. It give much more functionality than mint and allows tracking of everything: rewards points, frequent flyer miles, investments, bills, etc. Mint was WAY too basic for me … might be fine for a 20 year old with 1 bank account and 1 credit card account.

  14. Susan says:

    All great points, but I think you can make the case that information is out there online all the time via your bank, credit cards, credit report, mortgage lenders, etc. etc. Isn’t all their information about us hooked up online as well?

    I use a virtual bookkeeper to keep personal and business expenses and profits in check since my husband and I are incorporated for our freelance endeavors. On one hand, we could probably do it ourselves cheaper, but, we dont’ have the insight or knowledge on how to prepare our profit and loss sheets, write-offs, and a slew of other such details to our accountant. We realized we wouldn’t be spending that much more annually to have our accountant review it once year and clean up our attempt at it… and at a costly rate. It’s cheaper to have someone do it once a month and causes much less stress for us come tax time.

    I think at the end of the day it’s about utilizing what’s available to you, online and off and taking precautions when possible. I mean, who’s to say you won’t get ripped off or your identity stolen for throwing out a bill?

    http://www.familytravelforum.com

  15. Trent Trent says:

    That’s kind of the point, Susan. Your data is already out there – you should have a *compelling* reason to spread it even further. I think for some people, these sites offer enough compelling features to make it worthwhile – for others, it’s not.

  16. Mike Maven says:

    I like the way that Mint can give me a quick overview of my situation. I tried wesabe, but quickly gave up because I found the social networking feature to be mostly noise–mostly dingbats posting naive tips like “Get DVDs from the library instead of renting them ” or “Don’t go shopping when you’re hungry”.

  17. SRV says:

    I have used Mint for couple of months or so … I liked most (if not all) of the features offerred. But I too was concerned about the security aspect, and hence deleted my accounts (I had only added my credit card accounts). Trent: do you know if my credit card details are still on their servers even after I deleted my accounts? Thanks in advance!

    @ N:
    I believe if someone got a hold of your credit card details (number and expiry dates), they can use just these details to make online purchases, without needing your name and SSN. Correct me if I am wrong.

    Regards,

    SRV

  18. Steven says:

    I’ve used Mvelopes (www.mvelopes.com) for well over a year. While the functionality is great and it helps me keep track of where my money should go (and where it went), the monthly fee is a turn off. If you don’t sign up for the long term, it’s $13.20/ month. Even with the 1 year plan, $129.60/year is a little steep for software. I think I’m going to give Mint a try – just to see how ‘good’ I have it with Mvelopes (if i have it good at all…)

  19. Sunbee says:

    My husband works in networking and computer security. He will not have us doing any banking on line. When we did stuff on ebay for a while, we opened a seperate bank account that we used only for PayPal. The more places your data is, the more likely it is to be compromised, and in a lot of situations, it isn’t the security protocals on the network that are the problem, it’s the people using it, and even if you know what you ought and ought not do, it’s easy to mess up.
    For example, our state has an immunization database. We refuse to participate, and this is why: when you go into the health department to get your vaccines, here (very rural area), you can see the monitor of the gal at the front desk as she calls up people’s information. So I’m sitting there reading a magazine and waiting for us to be called, and I could be writing down names, SSNs, birthdates, off her screen. Anyone in that waiting area could.
    Ever check your bank information while in the coffee shop? (Unsecured network and who knows who might glance over your shoulder.) Worse yet, how about on your work computer? Your employers and their computer technicians have access and do and will, and you probably have a statement to that effect somewhere in your employee manual. There’s even a device that can be used to read data from your screen off your monitor’s radiation from outside your building, although now we’re talking significant cost and effort, and not particularly likely for use by data thieves. Very useful for law enforcement, though.

  20. web design says:

    I use Quicken Desktop and love it’s ease of use. Feature rich and ad free… it blows mint and wesabe away!

  21. K12Linux says:

    My biggest security worry with these is the fact that they have aggregate stores of information. I use Linux on my home PC and that’s where I do my book keeping. For a hacker it has a low effort/reward ratio. The effort required to hack into my system vs the reward (a single household’s financial and personal info) makes me a poor target.

    Even if they have really great security and hacking them is hard they are still better targets. The reward of hacking a service with tens or hundreds of thousands of households worth of information makes it worth the effort.

    Sure they are trusted by banks and other institutions and they obviously know how big of a target they are. So it’s easy to assume that means they have bullet-proof security. That logic will fail you more often than you might believe. There have been some HUGE data losses from companies. Including a recent one just a couple of weeks ago where personal information of 650,000 people was lost including over 150,000 social security numbers.

    We see web 2.0 security flaws almost constantly in security news making Mint even more frightening to me.

  22. Shannon says:

    I had security concerns about these websites but thought I’d give Mint a try by entering information from a seldom used credit card. Lo and behold, two weeks later I had an unauthorized charge on that account. No sooner had I gotten that taken care of with my credit card company did I receive a call from them saying that I had four unusual transactions (posting to a foreign country) within two days! Needless to say, that card has been cancelled and I will not be using any online financial analysis tools again. It’s more laborious, but I will only be using You Need a Budget and desktop Quicken from now on.

  23. mala says:

    I use BudgetPulse.com. The website is simple to use and no need to provide your banking details.Apart from tracking expenses, assets and bills against income, it helps to build an ideal budget by laying down millstones in expenses above regular intervals of time.

  24. Marynell says:

    Quickenonline does not support their customers at all. My bank account was updated and kept current, within Quickenonline, up to a point. Then there was some hiccup with the update process, which they have refused to address. My bank account now is not updated at all, making their service totally un-usable. I have requested help four times and left numerous feedback, and they have ignored them all.
    I was running Mvelopes at the same time, for comparison. Mvelopes had the same hiccup with updating, and at the same time; but they cleared it up right away, and my accounts are all current with them.
    Quickenonline’s lack of service is very disappointing.

  25. Harei says:

    About two month ago I decided that I need to start using my own personal budgeting in order to gain the kind of control I want to have over my cash. With recent stories about cool new web2 free utilities like Remember The Milk I started searching for a good online personal budgeting utility and I was surprised to not find what I wanted after a good week of searching. Truth is the web is full of personal financing and personal budgeting and personal money management services and solutions, like Mint (reviewed here), but they are all offering extras that I am not looking for.

    I am not looking for online transaction services or hookups to my online bank accounts, or stock trading, and you name it, I am looking for a simple personal budgeting online utility that does only budgeting and does it well, fast and easy. I just about gave up when I mention my quest to a friend, and the next day he got back to me and said that he was mentioning my comment to another friend who then told him about this cool new little online free personal budgeting utility.

    So I went and checked it out and could not believe my eyes, exactly what I was looking for. No frills, no gimmicks, no “kitchen sink” endless features that I don’t want, and no requirements to hookup to my online bank accounts, just simple, fast and easy personal financing and it’s free and it’s totally anonymous. I have used it for over a month now and it works like a charm for me. It’s called “Out Of The Dark” and is available at:

    http://www.myexp.org/OOTD_gate.php

    If all you want is a functional, simple and safe online personal budgeting, you may want to check this one out.

    Enjoy,
    Harei

  26. Matt says:

    I just wanted to say that I use Quicken Online and I do not pay a thing for it. I also find it very useful!

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