MONEY

Intuit spends a mint on Mint

Will success spoil Mint.com? That’s the $170 million question following Monday’s news that tax software giant Intuit is spending that whopping sum to buy the startup, which operates a popular, free online service for tracking and managing people’s financial lives. (MONEY gave Mint top honors last year when we reviewed four online money trackers, including Intuit’s.)

Even though the Internet is all about change, users of both Mint.com and Intuit’s free QuickenOnline.com are suddenly anxious about changes that might result from the deal (which is expected to close by year’s end). Maybe it’s because personal finances are so…you know, personal.

Felix Salmon at Reuters is worried that the two-year-old Mint will lose some of its tang once it’s part of Intuit’s corporate beast. Jordan Golson at GigaOm predicts that Intuit will designate Mint the company’s free, entry-level consumer offering and start upgrading — and charging for — Quicken Online. And a friend even emailed me with the question, “Should I be worried and/or delete my account?”

Maybe this will calm you down:

You’ll still get a free ride.

Both Intuit and Mint seem committed to offering a free management tool, and charging money for it would only lose customers they could otherwise engage. “They’re looking to get more people involved,” says Ron Shevlin, a senior analyst at Aite Group. “When you do that, there’s an opportunity to develop the relationship and expand.” But Mint users will become “prospects for cross-selling other Intuit products.” Translation: Expect a lot more marketing aimed at Mint users.

Mint founder and CEO Aaron Patzer says, “The product you see now from Mint will always be free.” Mint may, however, charge a fee for optional new features, such as credit-score access and expense reporting tools.

Neither site is going away, but expect some integration.

“Mint will serve as the primary online service — the way we get new customers to Intuit. And Quicken Online will become something that helps connect our 11 million desktop customers to mobile and web,” says Intuit spokesman Scott Gulbransen.

Patzer, who will head Intuit’s personal finance group, is more frank: “There’s no point in two engineering teams developing two different products. We’ll try to keep it looking a bit like Quicken, but the data, history and categorizations of Quicken Online users will be imported into Mint.” So Quicken Online users may experience more changes than Mint users, but they’re in good hands. Mint is routinely praised for its strong interface and user experience.

Mint users will probably soon have the ability to enter transactions manually, a feature Quicken Online currently offers. Quicken Online users will gain access to Mint features, as well. To some users who have expressed frustration with Quicken products, Patzer says candidly, “Instead of Mint becoming bad like Quicken, expect Quicken to become good like Mint.”

Intuit should make Mint more stable and robust.

Intuit’s wealth and resources will allow Mint to add features it couldn’t develop in the past. For example, Mint currently sends readers reminders when credit card bills are due. Patzer wants to incorporate Intuit’s bill-pay technology into Mint so that users will also be able to easily make payments on those cards. There are also plans to offer tools that will make tax prep easier, like importability of transactions tagged with labels such as “business expense” directly into TurboTax. Finally, adds Patzer, “Intuit has the resources to go global.” So maybe Intuit will be exporting Mint as well.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser