Budgets and Goals on Mint.com

My wife and I have used Mint.com for personal finance management for over three years now. While it is not perfect, it is low-maintenance, fairly intuitive, and completely free. After signing up, Mint accesses the transactions from your financial accounts and helps you categorize income and expenses, establish budgets, set goals, and generally stay on top of your personal finances.

Many Mint users have expressed frustration at understanding the relationship between Mint's Budgets, fund transfers reporting, and Goals; this is one of the areas of Mint that is not always intuitive. Hopefully, the following explanation helps.

The first thing to understand is how income, expense, and transfers are handled in Mint. When you deposit your paycheck or pay for movie tickets with a debit card, you have income and expense respectively; Mint's treatment of cash coming in from or going out to an outside source is straightforward.

If you pay for a movie with a credit card, and pay off the credit card at the end of the month, Mint records three transactions: the charge to the credit card, the debit to the checking account when the payment is made, and the credit to the credit card account when the payment is received. The net result is the movie expense; the two payment transactions, if properly classified as a Transfer, net to zero. Everyday income, expense, and credit card transactions are grouped in the Cash and Credit section of the Transactions menu and appear on Mint's Budgets.

All payments or transfers from one account to another, where both accounts are Cash and Credit accounts, should be categorized as a Transfer and net to zero. If you have a loan such as a mortgage, activity on the mortgage account will appear on the Loans section of the Transactions menu, as opposed to Cash and Credit. Payments from your checking account to your mortgage account should be categorized as an expense, as opposed to a Transfer, and will appear as a cash outlay in Budgets.

In contrast to Mint's treatment of a traditional loan, suppose a large emergency expense occurs in one month, such as a medical bill, and you charge it to a credit card and plan on carrying a balance. In this situation, the "loan" will appear as a large expense in one month and the payments will be categorized as a Transfer in subsequent months. In other words, there will be no budgeted cash outlay in Budgets in subsequent months; each time a payment is made on the credit card, there will still be a debit to the checking account when the payment is made and a credit to the credit card account when the payment is received.

If you classify the debit to the checking account as an expense so that it shows up on Budgets as a cash outlay, the credit to the credit card account will still be listed as a Transfer and ignored on the Budgets, and your budget over time will ultimately count the large expense twice. The initial credit card charge will be an expense in month one, and each subsequent credit card payment will also be an expense. You are faced with either double counting your expense over time or not being able to effectively budget for the cash outlay each month a payment is made. The solution to this problem may be Goals, which I will discuss in my next post.


Your series on Mint & Budget and goals were extremely Helpful.
Thanks much.
Do you have anything w.r.to 529 plans or Kids Education plans ?