Looking For Improved Mints

Mon 03 January 2022

I started using Mint in a much simpler time [1] - it did everything I needed, which wasn't much. Then they were acquired by Intuit and things began changing, the most obvious being the introduction of ads - it didn't make sense to me that an app run by a publicly-traded company needed ad revenue, but bigcorp gonna bigcorp I suppose. From there the ads became more pervasive, then impossible to dismiss, then there was a godawful redesign that made everything that wasn't viewing ads worse. I was starting to sour on Mint, but where could I go? A final round of shenanigans with the terms of service pushed me over the edge and I began searching for a replacement. There were slim pickings at the start of my search, but over time enough people were fed up with Mint that multiple services came out of stealth mode with the goal of replacing it; I chose three that looked the most promising and decided to check them all out at the same time.

A quick overview of the commonalities between services:

  • All three use Plaid as their financial aggregator; if Plaid support for your financial institution is wonky (as it is with a couple of mine) you won't be able to use that data
  • All three send no notification when accounts stop updating - whether a connection refresh is required or the integration has gone wonky, you must occasionally check your accounts and verify they're all still happy
  • None of these services support importing data on bills like Mint does
  • The services with webapps offer 2FA to guard your account, but don't support the use of a U2F dongle
  • None of the services have a method to group accounts with a singular purpose, which sucks as I have my emergency fund spread across multiple accounts and care more about the combined value than the value in each account

This isn't meant to be an exhaustive review of each service - I've never really needed budgeting tools - but instead a long-term reflection on interacting with each service in general.


I'll begin with the service I use the least, Copilot (affiliate link). As of time of writing, Copilot is only available as an iPhone app [2] and costs $9 per month or $70 per year. One personal annoyance is the inability to pay for the service outside of the standard Apple IAP workflow - I prefer giving each service its own card information with Privacy (affiliate link), but here I can only use the same card I use to pay for everything with Apple. Skimming through the terms of service and privacy policy, one particular section stands out:

Aggregate/De-Identified Information. We may aggregate and/or de-identify any information collected through the Services so that such information can no longer be linked to you or your device ("Aggregate/De-Identified Information"). We may use Aggregate/De-Identified Information for any purpose, including without limitation for research and marketing purposes, and may also share such data with any third parties in our discretion.

Given the track record of "anonymized" data in the past, this seems incongrous with the company's ostensible pro-consumer, your-data-is-yours stance.

Moving on to the app itself, I think the user experience here is the best of the services: the investments section provides the most information while being the most intuitive; the standalone section for recurring transactions is a great idea for finding subscriptions that are no longer beneficial; the blurring effect for privacy in the recent app list is a nice touch that I appreciate; and swiping to change focus is surprisingly much more pleasant than the tapping/clicking of the other services.

So why is this the service I use the least, if I like it so much? While I prefer Copilot's day-to-day experience to the other two apps, the onboarding experience is far worse:

  • This is the only service I reviewed without a webapp, so I have to enter my ridiculous passwords by hand using the iPhone keyboard instead of copying and pasting from my password manager
  • The service also lacks some way to import Mint data and avoid renaming and recategorizing potentially years of transactions [3]
  • There's no way to update the balance of an account with a broken integration without recreating it as a manual account, losing transaction history
  • The keyboard doesn't automatically switch to a digit entry mode when I need to enter a 2FA code, a minimal annoyance compared to the other issues but you still notice it when you're setting up eight accounts at the same time

I started onboarding this service after Monarch, and the thought of having to repeat the process of renaming and recategorizing all my transactions on an iPhone keyboard was too much for me.


Next up is Monarch (affiliate link), which is available as a webapp and iOS/Android app and costs $10 per month or $90 per year at time of writing. Skimming the terms of service and privacy policy yields a similar passage about "anonymized" data:

We may create aggregated, de-identified or anonymized data from the Personal Data we collect, including by removing information that makes the data personally identifiable to a particular user. We may use such aggregated, de-identified or anonymized data and share it with third parties for our lawful business purposes, including to analyze, build and improve the Services and promote our business, provided that we will not share such data in a manner that could identify you.

as well as the usage of advertising cookies:

Retargeting/Advertising Cookies. Retargeting/Advertising Cookies collect data about your online activity and identify your interests. We may utilize retargeting/advertising cookies to advertise our Services to you on third party websites. We will not show you third party advertisements on our website(s).

which is strange to me - there is only one product so if I am using the service (after the free trial has ended) they have nothing to advertise to me; if I decided to cancel my subscription it's likely for a reason advertising won't help. The most important features are available on both the webapp and iOS app, but you only get access to the investments and (beta) advice sections on the webapp. The advice section currently isn't that valuable, but the investments section does have a lot of useful information - I prefer Copilot's presentation but Monarch does a decent job. The iOS app doesn't seem to cache data, so you can't view or update your data without a solid Internet connection. Monarch shares Copilot's inability to update the balance of an account with a broken integration.

Monarch has a bunch of small annoyances as opposed to Copilot's major issues:

  • When 2FA is enabled, neither the webapp nor the iOS app will automatically focus on the box to enter the code
  • Only transactions with a category marked as income count as income as opposed to any positive transaction (so you must use different categories for taking out $40 from the ATM and depositing a $100 Christmas gift)
  • The service thinks most transactions are transfers before you start setting up your rules
  • When you add a new account, the service doesn't allow the option to backfill your net worth data with information from the new account
  • Monarch has a feature for saving money towards a particular goal but you have to update each goal's contributions manually and can't set the goal to track a particular account's balance
  • Merchant names must be completely rewritten when updated, so if you want to trim the start or end of a merchant on your phone you have to rewrite the whole name
  • Despite the announcement, I only got the option to bulk-edit transactions from the webapp literal minutes before I published this [4]
  • Share prices for investments update at random, and the prices don't seem to be end-of-day or end-of-afterhours prices
  • If you update the merchant for a transaction and use the tooltip that pops up to create a rule to update the merchant and category for similar transactions, the original transaction's category won't be updated
  • The header separating each day's transactions looks like garbage

A single transaction covers the header for the day's transactions and the option for sorting transactions.

Monarch was the first service I started onboarding in April of 2021, before the option to import Mint data was available [5]. Thus, the first experience I had for this review is the three hours I spent manually renaming and recategorizing two years' worth of transactions - it really set the tone for moving from an entrenched incumbent to a "hungry", "nimble" startup. As I slogged through this I noticed the webapp getting progressively slower as I updated older transactions, to the point where Chromium would give me unresponsive page warnings when I would commit my updates. [6]

Monarch's support process is the nicest of the ones I've used: when I opened a ticket over one of my account integrations going wonky, I got a reply from an actual human that followed up and gave me more info about what was happening behind the scenes - the problem was with Plaid and the underlying issue still hasn't been fixed, but it's the thought that counts here.

Lunch Money

Last but not least is Lunch Money (affiliate link), which is only available as a webapp and costs $10 per month or $100 per year as I write this. Skimming the privacy policy reveals this service also uses advertising cookies:

Facebook Tracking Pixel: On our Marketing Site, we are running a Facebook Tracking Pixel in order to run re-targeting ads. This means if you have visited our website in the past, we may show you ads on Facebook. We do NOT participate in the Advanced Matching feature that uses your personal information on Facebook to match with your activity on our site.

My feelings are the same as Monarch's use of advertising cookies; at least I didn't find anything about sharing "anonymized" data. Lunch Money shares a number of drawbacks with Monarch:

  • The service thinks all your transactions are transfers before you set up your rules
  • Transactions have to be in an income category to count as income
  • New accounts don't automatically backfill net worth calculations when added

But there are a couple it doesn't share with anyone else:

  • The default categories suck the most
  • Transaction importing is notably slower than the others

The service feels overall less polished than the others (but not less functional), which I attribute to the fact that the entire webapp is the work of a single person, with the occasional contractor. I like the spending breakdown and prefer Lunch Money's transaction review section to Monarch's, though having to manually mark transactions as reviewed can get tedious. Multi-transaction editing here is better than Monarch, especially with the feature of converting multiple related transactions into a single group transaction. The service doesn't have an investments section, so while you can connect investment accounts to include them in your net worth you won't get detailed information on how specific investments are doing or how your portfolio's returns compare to the market overall. One nice touch is the page that lists all the similar merchant names together so you can fix those transactions that have the dash in the wrong place or are missing an apostrophe; I also like the ability to edit account balances so your net worth can be accurate even if an integration breaks.

One quirk is sessions seem to stick around forever, there's no logout for inactivity. The login link is hidden inside a hamburger menu on smaller screens, so trying to use the service on a phone can be confusing at first. Early on I discovered the website didn't automatically redirect insecure requests over TLS [7], but once I brought it up in the service's Slack the developer fixed it quickly. I also filed a support ticket about the same broken integration that gave me issues with Monarch, but I never heard back.

This service's killer feature is its API you can use to create your desired features: after spending three hours renaming and recategorizing two years of transactions for Monarch the thought of repeating the task for this service almost killed this comparison then and there - until I realized I could update Lunch Money's transactions with my Mint data myself, so that's what I did [8]. Did it make sense to spend six hours automating a one-time, three-hour task? If it saves one other person at least three hours, then yes. Does it make sense to pay $10 per month to create features for someone else's service? If they're features I need, it beats putting something on a pile of feature requests and hoping to hear back in 8-12 months [9].

Wrapping up

So after using these services for most of a year, I've been trying to determine which one I would keep as my official Mint replacement. To be honest, I was totally in the tank for Lunch Money at the start - I'm a sucker for a scrappy solopreneur story - but I can't deny the other services make compelling cases. People who've read this far are probably looking for a recommendation, but I think it depends on your priorities:

  • If you don't have any Mint transaction data to migrate and you only want to check your finances from your iPhone, Copilot has the best user experience of the three
  • If you want official support for importing Mint data, or you want an app for your Android device, Monarch is your only choice
  • If you like the idea of getting your hands dirty to optimize your setup [10] or a scrappy underdog story and don't care that much about the stock market, Lunch Money is best for you

I think Monarch is the best all-rounder right now - Lunch Money might have a shot if it had an official mobile app - but I'm going to give it a bit more time before I make my final decision.

[1]This post made me find when I opened my Mint account; I can't believe it was back in 2008
[2]You can use it on an iPad but there is no iPad-specific layout or functionality; you could use it on an ARM Mac but there are no concessions to desktop affordances; the creation of an accompanying webapp is the most requested feature by users, but has been "under review" for a bit over two years
[3]Another longstanding feature request I can't believe a Mint replacement could launch without
[4]I use Firefox on Linux; it seems to work fine in the iOS app
[5]Like bulk-editing, I only got this feature minutes before I published this review, and am again dumbfounded it was not available at launch; plus it doesn't work that great - it only adds transactions Monarch couldn't pull, it doesn't update enhance transactions it could pull with Mint data
[6]I don't have access to the codebase so I can't say for sure, but as a seasoned computer-yeller myself this feels like either a bad database schema or some godawful function that scrolls through transactions until it finds the one to update.
[7]But not soon enough to avoid entering my password
[8]Lunch Money also supports importing CSVs as a feature, but I think that's more about ingesting new transactions as opposed to updating extant ones
[9]Monarch acknowledged the request to import Mint data back in June 2020 and announced support for Mint CSVs mid-December 2021; I went from not knowing what a valid Lunch Money API request looked like to a working proof of concept in six hours - do better
[10]I was going to say "or you use Arch Linux" here, but that's more of an insult to Lunch Money than I wanted