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Your financial life is complicated. If you're like the average adult in the United States, you make over 70 financial transactions every single month.1 You definitely need a way to organize your financial data, otherwise it's too easy to lose control. There's no better way to gain control of your money than using a dedicated budgeting tool, and there's no better budgeting app than YNAB. In this article I explain why I prefer YNAB vs Mint and why I think YNAB is the best budgeting app for most individuals and families.
Before we dive in, I need to address an issue I have with many of the other Mint vs YNAB comparisons I have read online. Most reviews I read comparing the popular budgeting apps Mint and YNAB tend to give a cursory overview of the basic features and pricing of each app (spoiler alert: there is a good amount of overlap) and draw ambiguous or oversimplified conclusions. For example, "Mint is simpler and better for beginning budgeters; YNAB is more complex and is better for advanced budgeters." I disagree with this conclusion. Budgeting your money requires attention to detail no matter what apps or budgeting methods you use, and YNAB is much more straightforward and user friendly in my experience. It's also more flexible than Mint, making it perfect for beginners and budgeting pros alike.
Considering the EveryDollar budgeting app? See my article on YNAB VS EveryDollar.
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Both Mint and YNAB allow you to connect all your financial accounts and see an overview of your entire financial picture, but three key differences make it a no-brainer to recommend YNAB over Mint for budgeting. In short, YNAB is a better budgeting app than Mint because:
YNAB stands for You Need A Budget. Budgeting is and has always been the company's single focus. Before YNAB was an app, it was a set of 4 simple budgeting rules to help you gain control of your money. YNAB's budgeting strategy focuses on zero sum budgeting--the act of assigning every dollar a job, embracing your true expenses, being flexible when your plans change, and gradually aging your money, thus enabling you to save money, break the paycheck to paycheck cycle, and achieve your financial goals.
The YNAB app is a purpose-built budgeting platform designed to help you apply YNAB's 4 rules. As you do, you'll gain money management skills such as identifying your priorities, setting and achieving goals, reconciling your bank accounts, paying off credit card debt, and managing your credit card accounts (something precious few can claim to do well).
People find success with the YNAB method because it addresses the parts of human nature that make it difficult for us to succeed with personal finances. For example, YNAB knows that we can't stick to strict budgets, so it builds in flexibility for when your plans or priorities change. It knows that we are terrible at knowing how much we can spend just by looking at our bank account so it focuses on assigning the money to spending categories instead. It also knows that we can't predict the future, so it helps us focus on what we can control right now...our choices about what to do with the money we have.
When it comes to budgeting philosophy and leveraging our natural human tendencies, Mint offers none of these benefits. It's good at providing graphs and charts of your consumer spending and net worth, which it can do by connecting with all your financial accounts, but there is no underlying philosophy guiding you toward mastery of personal finance skills or learning to budget effectively. You might feel like a personal finance expert because you stare at your net worth and credit score every day, but you won't get much actionable information and you won't be asked to make a plan for your money by giving every dollar a job.
So if Mint isn't a purpose-built budgeting app, then what is it? Think of it like Credit Karma, but with budgeting features tacked on. It provides you with a financial dashboard not only of your personal spending and account balances (like YNAB does), but it can also monitor your credit score, do bill payments, show you trends like cash flow and average credit card balance, and recommend financial services to purchase. At the end of the day, Mint is designed to sell you things, especially various financial services.
The cost of each app reflects these differences. YNAB offers a 34-day free trial. After the free trial period it costs $14.99/month or $99/year paid annually. Mint costs $0. It is a free personal finance app. The free price point comes with its own cost, though. Advertisements. A lot of them. I sometimes land on a full-screen ad when I open Mint. And I dislike seeing life insurance ads next to my purchase of a giant 44 oz. soda. I feel judged!
How much you mind Mint's gratuitous advertising will depend on how comfortable you are with the idea that "if the product is free, you are the product." If you're desperate to start using some kind of budget app, you want quick insights into how you've been spending money, and you absolutely can't afford YNAB's monthly subscription fee, Mint offers a bird's eye view of your financial situation with minimal effort.
Both Mint and YNAB are both very popular online budgeting apps. By the numbers, Mint is the more popular personal finance app, boasting tens of millions of users. You don't get that many users by being a garbage app. But popularity does not always equal the best experience. In this section I will point out a few differences between these budgeting tools that impact user experience.
The Mint app requires you to connect your bank accounts before you can use it. It just won't function without the connection. YNAB allows you to dive right in to budgeting without granting it access to your bank account. YNAB does allow connecting to your financial institutions and both YNAB and Mint allow you to import transactions automatically.
YNAB loads faster than Mint on my phone and slower than Mint on desktop. However, the Mint mobile app is unusable without an internet connection, while YNAB still allows you view and use your budget offline, at least on the mobile app.
Both YNAB and Mint connect to your savings accounts, checking accounts, loan accounts, and credit card accounts to import transactions. It's a bit easier and quicker to manually add transactions in YNAB. For starters, you can add account transactions to YNAB by simply long pressing on the app icon on your home screen. Mint does not offer this convenient feature.
There can only be one user per Mint account. YNAB offers a feature called YNAB Together, which allows you to share your YNAB account with up to 5 other people. This makes YNAB the best budgeting app for partners and families. It also supports multiple budgets with different sharing permissions, so you can allow your kids or partner to have their own monthly budget without having full access to yours.
This one is a bit of a toss up for two reasons. Mint wins in terms of automation and YNAB wins in terms of ease and speed of editing. Mint requires a connection to all your accounts, so it can predict your most common budget categories and how much money you'll need for them. This is a very nice feature for a budgeting software. On the other hand, manually adding and renaming categories is slower and more cumbersome than in YNAB, I think mostly due to the need for the app to continuously communicate with the server. It's very quick and easy to add, delete, edit, drag, and drop budget categories in YNAB. Keep in mind that if you're really trying to progress toward a better financial future, you don't necessarily want your budgeting app to tell you how much to spend on each category, especially if it's based on your historical spending, which may not be aligned with your financial goals.
It is fair to say that YNAB has a steeper learning curve than Mint. This is largely because Mint doesn't require any user input at all once you connect your accounts. YNAB encourages a proactive approach to managing your money and requires you to assign every dollar a job. If you're looking to take control of your finances, this approach makes YNAB the stronger app. Both apps have features for setting budgeting goals, but YNAB's features help you change your behavior, not just observe it after the fact. Mint looks backward in time and tells you how much your monthly bills were. YNAB helps you look forward in time and make sure that you have money ready for your monthly bills every time they are due.
For help with the learning curve, check out these YNAB tutorials or book time with me to get private, friendly help.
YNAB does not offer credit score monitoring. Mint offers credit score tracking and shows you trends over time.
Mint is known for providing your full financial picture. It's not amazing as a free budgeting app, but it does serve as a great financial dashboard. Both Mint and YNAB allow investment tracking.
YNAB and mint both track your net worth. You can add non-budget accounts like brokerage accounts to get investment tracking in both apps. YNAB allows you to add custom tracking accounts, so you can add assets like your car or home, if you want to include them in your net worth report.
Disclosure: I am a YNAB Certified Budgeting Coach. I offer coaching services for those wanting to accelerate their financial progress. This article contains referral links to begin a free trial of YNAB. If you use one of these links to sign up for YNAB and choose to subscribe, we will both get an extra free month added to our subscriptions.