Mint adds investment tracking, burger buying trends

The personal finance Web site is become more useful, thanks to new investment tracking features.

The personal finance Web application Mint is adding investment tracking, making it a more well rounded service for people with moderately complex financial situations, as opposed to people who care solely about cash flow.

(See initial review: Mint: Solid but incomplete online personal finance .)

As it does with cash and credit accounts, the investment feature connects to your online accounts and reads in the data from them. You can get historical data only as far back as your brokerage site will provide it. However, there's no capability to enter in your historical data (like purchase date and cost) for stocks you've owned for years.

As soon as you point Mint at your accounts, you'll be able to use it to visualize what's happening in your investments, and in this area, Mint really shines. The Flash-based charting interface shows you either account value or comparative gains and losses by default, instead of stock price charts. It's a more holistic way to look at investments, and appropriate for Mint's mission.

Mint shows you how well (or not) your investments are doing. Mint - demo data

The service also collects data on fees that show up in your stock accounts--important data that most online trading and retirement fund sites don't go out of their way to highlight.

Silicon Valley denizens waiting to get rich off their prepublic company stocks will find, though, that Mint doesn't track vesting schedules on stock options. It also doesn't yet track loans, although CEO Aaron Patzer says tracking for student loans, car loans, and mortgages will be added around June, when the service official ends its beta period.

My grocery expenses compared with other Mint users in San Francisco, who must not have families or houseguests, ever.

Other new features in Mint include deeper comparative data. You can now see how much other people are spending each month in each spending category (such as "groceries"), compared with you. Patzer says Mint's smart auto-categorizing is a piece of making this work. It doesn't hurt that most of Americans' personal spending is debit- or credit-card-based; cash is not automatically categorizable.

In some cases, Mint can get even more specific than categories, and analyze comparative spending per vendor. Mint has over 225,000 users, Patzer says, which yields enough data that it can tell you, for example, how much people like you spend each month at your favorite fast food restaurant.

Quicken users should take note that Mint does not let you actually transact. You can't pay bills, trade stocks, or do anything else to spend your money. It's just a tracking service. You have to go elsewhere (banks, brokers) to move your money around. However, as a tool for insight it's quite good and getting better.

Mint is, and will remain, free. The new features will be rolled out to public beta on May 6, but Webware readers who use Mint can get priority access by visiting after 9:00 a.m. PDT today.

See also: Wesabe, Expensr (just acquired by Strands).

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