Full disclosure: I was a Mint.com user long before I entered the realm of personal finance reporting.
For the most part, I rely on the site to tip me off about any unusual spending—I’ve already proven I’m a magnet for fraud—and when my bank account balance gets dangerously low.
Minimum balance requirements are no joke, especially as banks have revved up their fee structures in the past couple of years. Personally, I managed to sneak away with a Bank of America checking account that had no minimum balance requirement, but that doesn’t exempt me from their killer $35 overdraft fees.
In keeping with my recent financial makeover, I decided last month to start shifting whatever cash I have left in my checking account over to savings right before pay day. Obviously, that would mean putting my account in “Dangerously Low” territory, but I figured I’d just ignore whatever alerts Mint sent.
In just three hours, Bank of America pinged me with a courtesy note that my account was low.
A full 24 hours went by and no word from Mint. Then two days passed. Nothing. Finally, an alert popped up a full three days after I’d made the transfer.
I was concerned. If I hadn’t been monitoring my account during that time or signed up for my bank’s alert system, I could have easily overdrafted my account without knowing it.
“It’s after you don’t log in for 90 days that we really start to ratchet back the service.”
To figure out what the deal was, I got in touch with Mint’s own Barb Chang. Chang oversees products for Mint’s parent company, Intuit Personal Finance Group.
After speaking with Chang, I found out the site actually starts pulling back certain services for users who don’t log in frequently enough.
“As long as you’re an active user, meaning you have used the site in the past 30 to 90 days, we’ll go out to all the banks (linked to your account) and get the information from scraping,” she said. Typically, that happens at least once per day for active users.
The problem with Mint is that its basic services are good enough that I rarely have reason to log in to the site itself.
When I exceed a certain budget, I get an email. When there’s something fishy going on with my account, I get an email. You see the pattern. Unless something’s really wrong or an account’s messed up, I usually won’t go further than that point.
Turns out I might be shooting myself in the foot.
“That’s how we dictate if someone’s an active user or not. It’s after you don’t log in for 90 days that we really start to ratchet back the service,” Chang said. Users are considered truly active if they sign in once every 30 days. “We want to be sure we have the best service for the customers who use it the most.”
If you’ve been annoyed by emails from Mint urging you to log-in to your account, that’s just the site’s way of keeping you active – and figuring out which users could stand a reduction in services (it’s probably a nice way to guarantee more eyeballs on the credit products they advertise on the site, too).
In some cases, Mint will slow down account scraping from every two days all the way up to once a week, which means you could be missing out on alerts for things like suspiciously large purchases, bank fees and large deposits.
Before it was purchased by Intuit, Mint would also put the brakes on aggregating information from inactive accounts like student loans, which tend to change less frequently than checking and credit accounts. Chang wasn’t sure whether the site still does.
To be fair, banks have a lot to do with how often Mint is able to scrape user accounts for data, Chang added. Bank of America in particular has been limiting the frequency with which it lets Mint dig around its customers’ accounts over the last few months.
After what I’ve learned from my chat with Chang, I’m definitely going go to try to log in every 30 days. But I can’t promise I’ll manage that all the time, which has reaffirmed any doubts I had about maintaining separate alerts with my banking and credit card companies.