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When it comes to online budgeting and expense tracking, there are plenty of solutions, but two of the biggest names in the business are Mint and You Need a Budget (YNAB). Which is better? How are they different? Is YNAB worth paying for? Which should you choose for your budgeting?

We’ll take a walk through both of them to find out.

One Thing to Note

Before we get started, there’s one important thing you need to understand: Mint is a budgeting and expense tracking app, and You Need a Budget (YNAB) does those things too, but it’s also a budgeting system. To best use the YNAB online app, you’ll want to use the system that it’s built for. You can use for it for any kind of budgeting that you want, but the app was designed to use the YNAB philosophy, and that’s what it works best for.

ynab-three-rules

Fully understanding that system takes a while, but you can read about the three main rules on the YNAB website. I’ll try to give you an idea of how it works throughout this article, too. For now, though, we’ll just start comparing features of the two apps.

Dashboards

You can start to get an idea of how these two apps are different just by looking at the dashboards you see after signing in.

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Here’s what you see when you log into Mint:

mint-dashboard

Down the left, you’ll find a list of your accounts, including checking, saving, credit cards, loans, and investment accounts. If you scroll down to the bottom, you’ll also see your net worth and a comparison between your cash and credit card debt. The larger pane of the dashboard shows you your credit score How to Improve and Monitor Your Credit Score by Using Technology How to Improve and Monitor Your Credit Score by Using Technology Your credit score can have a huge influence on your financial life. We explain how it's calculated and and how you can improve it. Read More , upcoming bills, your current progress on your monthly budgets, and how you’re doing on your financial goals (like saving for retirement Are You Saving Enough for Retirement? Find Out With These 9 Tools Are You Saving Enough for Retirement? Find Out With These 9 Tools Saving for retirement is one of the most important things you can do - but how do you know if you've saved enough? Here's 9 tools to help you find out. Read More  or a down payment on a car). You’ll also see some ads for financial services from Mint’s partners.

The YNAB dashboard, on the other hand, gets you directly to your budget and includes the information you need to use their three-rule system:

ynab-dashboard

Your accounts with balances are displayed on the left, and the rest of the screen is taken up with your budget. You can see the amount you’ve budgeted, the amount you’ve spent, money you have available, the amount you still need to budget, and how you’re doing on all of your monthly budgets. Compared to Mint, it gets you to the information that you want faster and it’s less cluttered.

Winner: YNAB.

Importing Accounts

Getting Mint set up A Beginner's Guide to Managing Your Money with Mint A Beginner's Guide to Managing Your Money with Mint When it comes to free online budget tracking, Mint is king. Read More is as simple as selecting your bank and entering your credentials. Mint will go out to the bank website and import all of your accounts from that website.

mint-multi-accounts

Repeat for all of the different checking, savings, credit card, investment, and loan accounts that you have. You can then rename any of the accounts if it’s easier to keep track of them (as you can see I did with “Rachelle BA Card” above).

While this is an easy process, Mint does have occasional connection problems with various accounts. For example, my Target card couldn’t sync for about 6 weeks, and every once in a while I get notifications asking if my PayPal account has closed, because Mint can’t find it. The Target card issue was irritating, but the other issues seem to resolve within a day or two.

YNAB uses a similar method: search for your bank, enter your credentials, and it’ll bring in the accounts. However, you can only import one account at a time, so if you have multiple accounts with the same bank, you’ll need to enter your credentials multiple times to get them all in.

ynab-add-account

It takes about 24 hours for YNAB to pull in your transactions, but you’ll have a total account balance available right after importing your account. I found it a little counterintuitive to get accounts reconciled to their correct amounts once the transactions were imported, but it should get easier after a month or so has gone by and things balance out.

Despite that, You Need a Budget seems to establish more stable, consistent connections to accounts.

Winner: tie.

Monitoring Transactions

One of the main reasons people use an online budgeting and expense tracking app like Mint or YNAB is to see all of their transactions in a single place. Both apps make it easy. Here’s what Mint’s Transactions page looks like:

mint-transactions

You see a register-like list of all your transactions with dates, merchants, categories, and amounts. When you click on a transaction, you get more details, like the exact name of the merchant on your bank statement and the account that it registered on.

mint-transaction-details

To see the transactions from just one account, you click on an account in the left sidebar. You can also easily search for a transaction, view only specific categories or tags, and reorder the list. Adding tags to transactions lets you track cross-category spending, too, which is really nice, especially if you’re using something like the 50/30/20 system of budgeting. (Adding tags and other useful tips are covered in 7 Advanced Tips and Tricks to Make You a Mint Expert 7 Advanced Tips and Tricks to Make You a Mint Expert 7 Advanced Tips and Tricks to Make You a Mint Expert If you master these tips and tricks, you'll be a real Mint expert! Read More .)

YNAB’s transactions list shows most of the same information:

ynab-transactions

The account that the transaction took place from is more prominent, and you can add and view memos to each transaction if you need to. The added number of fields makes each field a little harder to read, but you don’t need to click around as much to get the details. There’s no search function, but you can click an account to see only the transactions from that account or filter to a specific date range.

The account-specific transaction list is similar, though it includes the Reconcile Account button, which lets you change the amount displayed for an account.

ynab-account-transactions

Winner: Mint (the search function is extremely helpful).

Budgeting

These are budgeting apps, so this is a really important category. It’s difficult to compare, because the ways in which both apps help you budget are very different, and work on different principles. But we’ll take a look anyway.

Here’s Mint’s Budgets page:

mint-budgets

To set a budget, just enter the amount that you want to set aside for spending in a month, and the graphs will adjust to track your progress throughout the month (you’ll need to make sure that categories are tagged correctly in the transactions list for this to work).

Budgets can be set to roll over, so that the balance from the previous month is added or subtracted from the next month’s budget. Clicking on the name of a budget brings you to all of the transactions in that category.

YNAB is fundamentally different. It’s built to be more flexible, and it’s easy to change the amount in any specific budget from month to month to accommodate changes in your priorities and situation.

ynab-budgets

This is where you need to understand a bit about the YNAB system. The first rule of YNAB is that every dollar you have needs a purpose. It can go into a fixed budget, like “Rent/Mortgage,” a more flexible one like “Groceries,” or something totally different like “Stuff I Forgot to Budget For.” You’re also encouraged to budget for unexpected things, like medical expenses and home maintenance.

To set a budget, you just type the amount into the Budget column. The next month, you can budget the same amount with a single click, or you can set the budget to the amount you paid, the amount you underfunded the budget last month, or your average spending. Whenever you budget an amount, it’s subtracted from the “To Be Budgeted” amount at the top of the screen, which represents all of the money you have, minus what you’ve given a purpose (assigned to a category).

ynab-to-be-budgeted

This is a bit weird at first, as when you import your accounts, you’ll need to assign all of the money from your savings accounts, which threw me off for a moment. Once you get used to the YNAB system, however, and use the app for a month or two to get everything reconciled, it starts to make a lot more sense.

When you click on the number under “Activity” for any budget, you’ll get a little popup that shows you the transactions that contributed to it. This is a really slick way to display this information without leaving the page.

ynab-activity-popup

Winner: tie (depends on the budgeting system you prefer to use).

Trend Tracking & Visualization

It’s almost unfair to include this category in the comparison, as YNAB doesn’t have any equivalent of the capabilities that Mint has in this area.

The Trends page in Mint gives you a wide variety of options for looking at patterns in your financial data, like this pie graph of spending by category over three months:

mint-spending-category

You can look at your spending, your income, your net worth, and other types of information over time, by category, by tag, and in other formats. It doesn’t necessarily make Mint a more useful budgeting tool than YNAB, but some people like to be able to see this sort of information visually, and Mint is much better at this than YNAB.

Winner: Mint.

Price

Mint is free. YNAB is currently in the process of going to a subscription model that will run you $5 per month or $50 for a year after a free 34-day trial. It’s not a huge expense, but it feels like a lot when the alternative is free. Then again, you’ll have to deal with some ads on Mint; you’ll get a lot of recommendations for accounts and credit cards that Mint says will save you money. And that can be annoying sometimes.

mint-atm-fee-ad

Winner: tie (depends on whether you prefer a subscription fee or ads).

Should You Use Mint or YNAB?

Based on Mint’s slight advantage in the categories listed above, I recommend Mint for the majority of people. It makes more intuitive sense, it’s a bit more automated, and can show you more information. However, there are important cases in which you should use You Need a Budget.

If you think you need to be more hands-on with your budget to make sure it’s effective, YNAB is good. You need to budget your money every month, and you can make changes depending on your financial situation, which makes it good for people whose spending or income varies from month to month.

mint-varied-income

Many people think that using a simpler solution like an Excel spreadsheet 10 Helpful Spreadsheet Templates To Help Manage Your Finances 10 Helpful Spreadsheet Templates To Help Manage Your Finances Wouldn't it be great if you knew where your money was, at all times? Read More is a good idea because it makes you engage more actively with your budget, and YNAB’s more hands-on approach could do the same.

Also, You Need a Budget’s “job for every dollar” budgeting system is a unique one, and it works best with the YNAB app. There are a lot of people who believe very strongly in the YNAB system, and they say that if you stick with it, it can save you a lot of money — their website states that first-month savings average $200 and nine-month savings average over $3,000, which is a pretty big deal.

ynab-savings

Mint requires a bit more analysis of your current spending to get a solid budget for the future, and you don’t get the same level of coaching as you do with YNAB (they have a lot of resources and even online classes to help you). But you’ll also get a bit more functionality for free.

Do you use Mint or YNAB? Or do you use another solution? Which factors are the most important to you in choosing a budgeting app? Share your thoughts below so we can continue the discussion on which option is better!

  1. Russell
    September 20, 2016 at 6:31 am

    I have used YNAB for years. I have always been satisfied. There is significantly more value in the YNAB methodology and discipline (which is free to learn on their website) than the software. YNAB's move to a SaaS, subscription based pricing model (rather than a one-time purchase of their software) persuaded me to give Mint a try. I have not looked back...

    They are both fine products, but you can't beat Mint's price-point (as in - FREE).

    • Dann Albright
      October 19, 2016 at 10:29 pm

      Yeah, that was the main reason I stuck with Mint for a long time. The YNAB methodology is great, and I highly recommend it . . . but when it comes down to saving money, you just can't beat a free app.

  2. Bakari Chavanu
    June 24, 2016 at 9:08 pm

    I was a an avid user of Mint for several years, but after a while it became unreliable for downloading in Safari. There's no direct support either for troubleshooting issues. Once I discovered YNAB and figured out how to properly use it (it took some trial and error), I really like the system for helping me manage my money. With YNAB I know exactly where I'm spending my money, and I'm now actually budgeting for the next month before this month ends. My goal is to get get at least two months ahead. The key to using YNAB is to look more art your budget, instead focusing on your bank balance. Know where your money is going, and use previous months spending to establish a your budget for each new month.

    • Dann Albright
      June 27, 2016 at 3:28 pm

      Yeah, I've heard a number of people who aren't super happy with the support provided by Mint. I've never had any problems that last more than a couple days, so I haven't worried about it too much. I can definitely see why it would be an issue, though! You're right about using YNAB, too; it makes you look more at your budget than at your bank balance; and that's a really interesting change from Mint. I think it depends on your personal preference more than anything else, but I'm always glad to hear that people found one or the other to be a good choice!

  3. Archdiva
    May 26, 2016 at 5:07 am

    I've been a committed YNAB user for at least 4 years now. I haven't made the jump from the YNAB4 desktop application to the nYNAB on the web from 2 reasons - they're still supporting 4 with updates and nYNAB doesnt yet have the full functionality I'm accustomed to. Once these two things are no longer true, I'll likely jump on board nYNAB.

    I like to be in the nitty gritty detail of my budget so it's a good fit. I'm far more planning oriented with it and have saved thousands plus paid off huge amounts of debt. Even started grad school (long held dream) because I could finally see it was financially feasible.

    I will also share that my admin assistant also uses YNAB and we adapted some of their philosophy to maintaining my department's budget (though in Excel, not in the product itself) especially since our financial system doesn't give us as granular of information as I would like for decision-making. Long story short, our budget is far better maintained than most departments in our organization. I never ever would have gotten that from Mint.

    • Dann Albright
      May 30, 2016 at 1:14 pm

      Sounds like you've had great success with YNAB! That's fantastic. The fact that it includes a built-in philosophy is what really sets it apart from Mint, and I know that's appealing to a lot of people. A lot of other people, on the other hand, already have a philosophy that works well for them and just need a tool to keep track of everything. Or they haven't even made it to that stage and just want to see where their money's going. It's really great that both tools are available, because they meet very different, though closely related, needs. Thanks for sharing your success!

  4. Test
    May 17, 2016 at 5:05 am

    I use Mint. YNAB confuses me.

    • Dann Albright
      May 25, 2016 at 12:47 pm

      Yeah, I definitely understand that. YNAB's approach to budgeting is a little different from most of the systems out there (at least the ones that I'm familiar with), so it takes a while to get used to. For some people, it works really well!

  5. J.R. Duren
    March 28, 2016 at 3:13 pm

    This is a great review. We like the objectivity here, and the fact that you recommended YNAB for certain types of people, but Mint in general. It's a good observation of purpose, usability and functionality of each site.

    • Dann Albright
      May 25, 2016 at 12:48 pm

      Thanks! I'm really glad you found the review useful. :-)

  6. Alahu
    February 20, 2016 at 4:12 am

    Just FYI for anyone still attending school, the desktop version of YNAB is free for college students:

    http://www.youneedabudget.com/blog/post/ynab-is-now-free-for-college-students

    • Dann Albright
      May 25, 2016 at 12:48 pm

      Thanks for pointing that out; that's great! I'm always a fan of software being free for students.

  7. John
    February 17, 2016 at 6:37 pm

    I didn't realize you meant the online version of YNAB as I only have used the desktop version, and it DOES have reports and lots of ways to break things down.

    • Dann Albright
      February 22, 2016 at 12:13 am

      Ah yes, I used the online version because that's what they're trying to transition everyone to, and it seemed like an equivalent thing to compare to Mint. I've heard good things about the desktop app, and I hope that they bring all of the functionality over!

  8. Hildegerd Haugen
    February 17, 2016 at 9:54 am

    No, I have not. But YNAB sounds right up my alley.

  9. Hildegerd
    February 16, 2016 at 9:38 pm

    I use Toshl. Like it.

    • Dann Albright
      February 17, 2016 at 4:07 am

      Have you tried Mint or YNAB? Has Toshl proved to be more useful than either service?

  10. sue
    February 16, 2016 at 9:00 pm

    to the best of my knowledge, Mint does keep and store your user credentials for your accounts/credit cards. that is now they sync up your transactions all the time.

  11. Megan Tilley
    February 16, 2016 at 12:08 am

    There is no indication as to whether either of these two programs are restricted to US Banks, or are truly international.

    I am a US citizen living permanently in a foreign country and while I tried Mint (and liked it), it only worked with my US accounts. Absolutely useless in combining all my expenses and income so I could NOT get a handle on ALL my finances.

    It would be nice if 'online programs' recognised the 'internationality' of the Internet!

    • Gillian
      February 16, 2016 at 2:04 am

      I use it in Canada and have no US accounts. I can see it might be difficult to use more than one currency. The shortcoming that I find is in setting up Categories the way I want them. I have had to adapt, but I will read further and see if someone else is giving me any ideas.

    • Dann Albright
      February 17, 2016 at 4:06 am

      My experience with using Mint internationally is limited, but it is able to connect to my UK accounts. Unfortunately, it pulls those numbers in as dollars instead of pounds, so it's not totally accurate, but it does give me an idea of where my money is. If I was more actively using those accounts, I'd probably be using some sort of custom solution or more expensive software. My guess is that there probably isn't as high of a demand for this feature as there is for ones that appeal to people who only have accounts in one country, so I wouldn't expect it to be coming any time soon. That would be great if it did, though!

  12. Read and Share
    February 13, 2016 at 6:16 pm

    Does either keep my various logon credentials on their servers?

    • Dann Albright
      February 17, 2016 at 4:04 am

      As far as I know, they both do. I don't think either of them use systems like OAuth to keep that information from being stored on their servers, so I assume that your credentials will be stored on an encrypted server controlled by the service.

  13. chris
    February 13, 2016 at 3:01 am

    No problem, I hope it helps!

    You did a great job, there's just so much out there that it's tough to go over everything with a fine toothed comb. I've never used the desktop app either, my only experience is with nYNAB but it's definitely changed the way my wife and I manage our finances for the better, which is something that years of Mint wasn't able to do for us. Different strokes for different folks though, as they say.

    Definitely check out the toolkit, it's a great addition to the web interface -

    https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/toolkit-for-ynab/lmhdkkhepllpnondndgpgclfjnlofgjl?hl=en

    And you can follow the development on trello as well -

    https://trello.com/b/EzOvXlil/toolkit-for-ynab-roadmap

    As far as the lack of search, I'm with you, it's definitely something that needs to get here rather quick in my opinion. Reporting as well. My only qualm with YNAB is that they only give a general idea of what to expect, and there's not much as far as a documented timeline available to the public Blog posts are telling on occasion -

    http://www.youneedabudget.com/blog/post/shiny-new-things

    It's a development choice, which I get it but I'd still like a clear picture of when to expect what. It's thanks to the community (the YNAB reddit is fantastic btw) that we've got a better idea of what's on the horizon, since users typically update the rest of us with info from conversations with support if it's development related.

    The two services are fundamentally different for sure, there's no wrong way to handle your finances if one works better than the other. YNAB does require more time logistically, and a shift in mindset like you mention. In my experience, YNAB did for us in 30 days what Mint wasn't able to do in 5 years. I felt like with Mint I was watching what was going on, as opposed to YNAB which let me take the reins.

    Either way, I say "Huzzah!" to anyone willing to give something new a shot that may improve their quality of life long term. You can be financially stable and manage things just fine like my wife and I always have, but there's always room to do better which we recently discovered.

    • Dann Albright
      February 17, 2016 at 4:03 am

      "YNAB did for us in 30 days what Mint wasn't able to do in 5 years"—that's a pretty solid endorsement if I've ever heard one! As we discussed earlier, I think it has a lot to do with what you need. Some people are intrinsically better at managing their money, and have a sort of mental system that will benefit from being put down on "paper," while other people need to be introduced to a system that will help them get to where they want to be. Both apps appeal to different groups, and it's great that there are multiple options.

      Thanks for reading!

  14. Arno
    February 13, 2016 at 1:19 am

    Except that mint hasn't been working with RBC Royal Bank of Canada for almost a month. It might not affect a lot of people but it's a shame they're taking so long to fix the problem.
    I may need to switch to YNAB despite the fact that before the problem with my bank I had no complaints about Mint.

    • Dann Albright
      February 17, 2016 at 4:01 am

      Yes, Mint does have more connection problems than YNAB (at least in my experience), and that can be really frustrating. I don't know if non-US accounts have more connection problems, but that wouldn't surprise me either. There's nothing keeping you from using both Mint and YNAB for a month, so maybe you should try it out before you bail on Mint and see which one you like better.

      • Arno
        February 17, 2016 at 12:53 pm

        As a matter of fact I did try YNAB a couple of days ago and it seems to have the exact same problem as Mint with RBC. Rbc may have done something to block them...

        • Dann Albright
          February 22, 2016 at 12:15 am

          That could be. When some providers update their security settings, it can cause problems with other software. Thanks for weighing in!

  15. Karen McGowan
    February 13, 2016 at 12:28 am

    I've been a long time Mint user, but was extremely disappointed when they discontinued their Quickview app. It was so handy to have my latest transactions available on my menu'bar. I could see where money was going and through which accounts and could keep an eye out for suspect transactions - a necessity in this age of data breaches. Sure, I can still see this information whenever I want, but it requires more thought and effort than a pop-up notification on my mac desktop. And having used Quicken for ages before Mint, I appreciate the automatic transaction downloads and auto categorizing, but I do miss some of the finer customization I could do in Quicken. Can't complain though - it's a powerful platform that lets me see all of my accounts at a glance, has good search and report/"trends" features and is free.

    • Dann Albright
      February 17, 2016 at 4:00 am

      I've never used Quicken, but I believe that it had some functionality that Mint doesn't provide. It sounds like it was a good full-featured financial app, and I can see how you'd miss it! As for the Quickview app, I must have started using Mint after that was discontinued, 'cause I've never heard of it. But yes, getting information fast is always a good thing, especially when there are so many data breaches all the time, as you say.

      Thanks for reading!

  16. Chris
    February 12, 2016 at 11:20 pm

    Hello makeuseof and fellow readers,

    First time commenter, long time reader. I've got to throw in my two cents here, for a few reasons.

    I feel like there's a large gap that's been left out regarding the analysis of YNAB. nYNAB, as the new web version is called, is a completely new product than YNAB4 which was their old desktop app. nYNAB has been on the market for about a month and a half now, so it's hard to compare the two in the current state, without mentioning what's on the horizon or better detailing the YNAB strengths.

    nYNAB has many of the features Mint has such as visualization, search functionality and reporting in development and on the way just like the old desktop YNAB4 had. I don't feel like it's an accurate analysis to compare the two without mentioning this, or delving into the rich community surrounding the YNAB philosophy. They offer free web classes on their system and general financial advice, release weekly videos and blogs, and really take the time to engage their user base. The user community is extremely helpful, so if you're looking for a support structure and friendly guidance, you've also got that. There's also the independently developed YNAB toolkit extension for Chrome that's fantastic and fills in a lot of gaps that users may be interested in, and is constantly being worked on and is driven by user requests.

    I've used Mint for many years, and it's fantastic for getting a snapshot of your transactions and how you spend. If you're looking for a way to better prioritize and change the way you think about money, I feel YNAB is the better choice.

    OP, if you mentioned this in the original article I feel like you'd be doing the readers a solid, since these factors really are of critical importance to the experience. Other than that, great job and thanks for taking the time to put this together for those interested.

    • Dann Albright
      February 13, 2016 at 12:22 am

      Thanks for your extremely useful comment, Chris! Yes, there is a big difference between the new YNAB and the previous desktop app. I don't have any experience with the desktop app, and my intention was to just compare two online budgeting systems. The previous app is a big part of YNAB though, you're certainly right about that. I didn't realize that the web app had only been out for a month and a half. It looks much more polished than most sites do after that long!

      And now that you mention it, you're also right about my not doing justice to the community and resources that are available around YNAB. With forums, classes, videos, and everything else that's constantly being released and updated, YNAB is more than just a budgeting tool. I tried to emphasize that, but it's possible that I didn't do it enough justice. (Also, I was not aware of the Chrome extension; that sounds really useful).

      I wasn't aware that those other features were in development; when I tried to find the ability to search, for example, I didn't come across anything saying that it was coming. I thought that was probably the case, as that's a pretty standard feature for . . . well, everything . . . and it's strange that it's not there yet. Even without those, I do feel that YNAB is still a better choice for some people, which says a lot for how highly I think of it. Even when those things are eventually released, I still think that Mint will be better for some people, too, though. YNAB requires more effort to get setup, not only logistically, but mentally as well.

      So basically, yes, there were some important things that didn't get mentioned. But even so, I still stand by my analysis of the two. If there are big features that are forthcoming, that could eventually change, but I think the essence of the two apps is fundamentally different, and always will be. Which is why they make sense as separate products, I suppose!

      "better prioritize and change the way you think about money" is a perfect way to describe what YNAB aims to do. Couldn't have said it better myself!

      Thanks again for your very helpful comment, and please do keep throwing your two cents in. It's comments like these that make MUO a community and a great place to have discussions, and not just a tutorial site.

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