Mint.com is a service that consolidates financial information from many accounts at different institutions. Imagine that you have a chequing account with TD Canada Trust and a savings account at ING Direct. Well, you could log into Mint.com, provide your login information for TD Canada Trust and ING Direct and presto! You can see both accounts by logging into Mint.com.
The example of a person having merely two accounts is trite compared to the reality of the modern Homo Economicus. I have a chequing account, credit cards (Canadian and US), savings account (ditto), Questrade, RRSPs, TFSAs – the mind boggles – let’s just say there’s a cornucopia of accounts to track.
I’d heard of Mint.com before, but I’ve only recently taken note. Why? (1) It now offers its service in Canada and (2) it’s advertised a lot on the TurboTax website. Both Mint.com and TurboTax are owned by Intuit. I really like TurboTax. I think it’s the best tax software on the market.
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At face value, Mint.com is fantastic – it’s an extremely convenient way to keep track of your disparate financial information. You can track your cash flows in meticulous detail, without the meticulousness. You could optimize your spending with pretty pie charts, calculate your net worth across time with a line graph, and track all of your gorgeous charts with yet another chart. The core idea of Mint.com also lends itself to an “App”, which you can access from a smart phone (or, if you’re a hipster, your iPad).
Upon deeper inspection, however, I am concerned about using the Mint.com service to aggregate real time account information. To do so, you’ll need to provide Mint.com with your login information for each of your banks. I’ve not heard of any Canadian institution explicitly approving Mint.com. If you have, please comment.
I’ve reviewed my agreement with my credit union – this agreement forbids me from giving away my online login information to anybody. Intuit is very trustworthy, but if I wouldn’t give my login information to my partner or my Mom, why would I give it to Intuit?
I called TD Canada Trust’s EasyLine to ask them if I could safely give Mint.com my login information. I did this on a Saturday night. Sigh, I know. Anyway, I talked to a nice lady named Shayna (sp? Sorry Shayna). She gave me a very definitive answer: if a TD Canada Trust customer provides his or her login information to a third party (including Mint.com) then this action would violate the customer’s Financial Services Agreement with the bank.
Violating your bank’s terms of service is bad news. It could be disastrous in the event of malicious activity on one or more of your accounts. Even if the activity is unrelated to your violation, the bank could try to claim that you voided your agreement by wilfully compromising your own account. If the bank won this argument, you could be on the hook for your losses or, worse, the losses resulting from the fraudulent activity. Would this position be defensible at law? I’m a layperson and have no idea. I’ll cheer for you while you’re in court. Good luck!
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Meanwhile, Mint.com says on their website, “Mint supports most Canadian banks, including RBC, TD, Scotiabank, Bank of Montreal, HSBC, Canadian Tire, ING Direct Canada, American Express Canada, National Bank of Canada, Desjardins, Capital One, and many more.” But I know that at least two of these listed banks don’t support Mint.com. (Also, not to get picky, but Desjardins is a caisse populaire).
To its credit, Mint.com has a fantastic Privacy and Security Policy. The policy states clearly and concisely what Intuit will do with your information. It also describes the extraordinary safe guards by which your information is protected. I trust Intuit dearly. Millions of Canadians, myself included, file their taxes with TurboTax.
Nevertheless, you shouldn’t give your banking information to Mint.com unless your financial institution tells you that you are allowed to do so. I give TurboTax my bank account number and other vital statistics, but providing this information does not violate any of my banking agreements. You can see how this is entirely different from giving my bank usernames and passwords to Mint.com. I am expressly forbidden from doing so by my financial service providers. The security and safety measures taken by Intuit are extraordinary in both cases. The information that you’re inputting is the difference.
To Mint.com’s credit, the Big Banks in Canada may be unfairly and anti-competitively refusing to approve Mint.com to promote their own pet systems for spending management (I’ve heard that RBC and BMO each have such a system). It’d be easy for the banks to provide a separate account access username/password that is “read-only”. This would guarantee the safety of services like Mint.com. Feel free to complain to your banks about their lazy obstinence. I told TD that I thought it’s unreasonable for them to deny customers choice in PerFi management.
At this point, however, Mint.com is not broadly bank-approved. Therefore giving your bank accounts’ logins and passwords to Mint.com (or any third party) isn’t safe. Your information is safe with Intuit, but by giving Intuit that information you’ve broken your agreements with your financial institutions. In turn, if any completely unrelated malicious activity took place on one of your accounts, your bank could attempt to deny liability on the basis that you comprised its security.
I can hear you cry, “But Mint.com pie charts are so pretty!” You can still use Mint.com. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. How? Manually enter your revenues, expenses, assets, and liabilities. Yes, it’s a bit more effort. I think there are potential benefits, however, to manual entry. The manual entry process makes you think about each purchase individually. This type of conscious spending is a key component of building wealth.
Mint.com is a great, free tool that has the power to help you rationalize your finances. Use it safely.