We’ve used Mint, Intuit’s free online budgeting software, for over seven years. I used it before Mr. Steward and I got married, and it has been our go-to app since. I’ve sung its praises to friends and family, encouraging them to sign up and even tutoring them on how to best use the tool. We never had any overt software problems.
Until December 1, at roughly 3:00 a.m. Thanks to pregnancy insomnia, I logged on to Mint in hopes of updating our budget back to its usual amounts after the wackiness of last month’s windfall. I was not sure the December budget would be available yet because of the Pacific/Eastern time zone difference. Thankfully (I thought!) it was, blank and fresh, with just a few dollars of rollover spending in a couple of categories.
I altered the budgeted amounts on the December budget, then visited a different tab. When I came back to the budget, it looked all wrong. The budget line for the van that we paid off the month before now showed a lot of unbudgeted spending. For categories I altered that had rollover amounts, the balances were all wrong.
In short, although I visually altered December’s budget, the changes were made to November’s budget. And, since earlier months’ budgets are not alterable in Mint, it was permanent. All I can figure is that I managed to change our budgets at the exact moment the Intuit system was rolling the months over, encountering some mid-process glitch whereby I saw December but the system was still processing changes as November. It was now impossible to tell how much we budgeted from our zero-based budget in November for certain categories, versus what was rollover spending.
I immediately opened a customer service chat window, figuring this was a known problem. I was hoping they would be able to roll our budget back to a day or two before, simply undoing all the changes. If not, I’d be annoyed, but I expected them to just tell me it was not possible. What ensued, however, was one of the worst customer service experiences I have ever had.
A Timeline of My Mint Customer Service Experience
- 3:00 a.m. on Dec. 1: Logged into Mint customer service to report the problem. For over an hour, I struggled to get the support representative to understand that I knew how rollover budgets worked, but met a glitch. The conversation ended with him telling me that I should not edit my budgets on the first day of the month. (Note, dear reader, that is the exact day most people need to alter their budgets.) He also told me that nothing could be done about the problem until 24 hours had elapsed, so contact them then if the problem persisted.
- 6:00 p.m. on Dec. 1: Try to report the problem again. I have almost the same conversation, obviously running from a script. I am finally asked to give six screenshots, which I do, opening an e-mail ticket with my problem. After I provide the screenshots, I am again informed that they can’t help me until the problem is over 24 hours old.
- 3:50 a.m. on Dec. 2: E-mail Mint, explaining that the problem is still ongoing.
- 4:36 p.m. on Dec. 2: Receive an e-mail again explaining how rollover budgets work. I reply stating that I know how they work after 7 years, and reiterate the nature of my problem.
- 5:12 p.m. on Dec. 2: Receive an e-mail telling me to disregard the previous e-mail, and that they do believe there is a bug in the system. They ask me to provide some information, such as the Mint and browser versions that I was using, all of which I give (and had already provided to the two previous representatives).
- 1:08 p.m. on Dec. 3: Receive a reply to the ticket from a new representative, saying they would be happy to help, but they need screenshots. I reply that I already sent six earlier in the e-mail thread.
- 11:52 a.m. on Dec. 4: Receive a reply to the ticket, again from a new customer service representative, telling me that I haven’t logged into my account for more than 30 days, and I’ll have to log into my account to receive assistance. I point out that I obviously had logged in, since I check it nearly daily and provided screenshots featuring a December budget.
- 4:45 a.m. on Dec. 5: Receive another reply to the ticket, from another new representative, again informing me I haven’t logged in within the last 30 days. I reply with a more strongly-worded version of rhe reply to the previous e-mail. (“Patently false” may have been used.)
- 2:45 p.m. on Dec. 5: Receive a reply to my ticket informing me that they cannot resolve the ticket, but it was forwarded to the engineering team to look into the problem, and they will let me know if they find a solution. I have heard nothing since.
- Throughout the process, I also contacted the Mint Customer Service Twitter account. They ask me to provide the ticket number in a private message, to which I never receive a response. The next time I contact them, they ask for the same information. When I reply that I already provided it, I again receive no response.
Other Problems and What We’re Doing Instead
Our experience with Mint breaking down was the wake-up call that we needed regarding our budget. There were many little problems with Mint from a software perspective. It’s hard to complain about free software that works good enough. Nonetheless, there were many things about Mint, like chronic transaction miscategorizations, that were frustrating.
Now that we’re turning a critical eye, it is apparent that there were many elements of Mint that we were making do with, but were not truly made for how we budget or designed for best money practices. While it’s entirely possible to have a zero-based budget in Mint (we did it for seven years, after all), the service is not explicitly designed for it, particularly since the income versus amount budgeted balance sheet goes away at the end of each month.
We also came to over-rely on rollover budgets. We knew we had a checking account buffer, so rolling a few hundred dollars over each month across different categories was never a problem from an overdraft perspective. It did allow us to default to slightly overspending, not reconsidering our choices, though.
Finally, allocating the whole budget at the start of the month, regardless of whether or not any income had come in, led to us spending ahead of our money, not behind it. Because of our buffer, this was never a problem from an overdraft standpoint, but it was not a best practice from a well-considered budgeting standpoint. The fact that changes cannot be rolled back or undone is simply the last straw in a chain of smaller problems.
For the last few weeks, I have used a free trial of You Need a Budget, which seems perfectly set up for how we budget. There are downsides to this program, too, the biggest of which is that it is not free. It is causing us to reconsider budgeting practices that had become thoughtless and ineffective, though. Moreover, they have excellent customer service and the ability to undo and restore changes. I’ll report back once I’ve tried the service longer.
In the meantime, I’m sad to say that Mint and the Steward family are getting divorced.
Have you used Mint? Did you encounter any problems? What is your favorite budgeting software?