Mint: The easiest way to manage your personal finances

[Update: Mint has won the TechCrunch 40 conference’s competition, which goes to the most impressive presenting company from among the 40 participants. Mint will receive a $50,000 cash award and other services and awards from corporate sponsors.]

mint-transparent-glossy.jpgMint, a long-awaited online tool for managing your personal finances, has launched today.

For those who have used Quicken or other traditional personal accounting software to manage your checking, savings and credit card accounts, Mint will be a relief.

Once you sign up, you provide Mint with access to all of your accounts. Mint automatically categorizes each paycheck and each expenditure, then provides visual graphs and pie charts showing exactly how you’re spending your money. The entire process takes a matter of minutes.

Other software typically requires you to manually enter line items — a process that can take hours. Even Wesabe (past coverage), another online personal finance tool, requires you to download software to help it sync your bank account information with its online service.

For first-time Mint users, the user experience is as if a veil is being lifted from your eyes, exposing how you’re wasting money on food, gas, clothes, movies, and any number of other items.

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Mint continues updating while its users are offline, connecting to their bank accounts every night, securely downloading transaction data, updating accounts and making note of unusual activity or low balances. It also searches out better deals to help save money — for example, credit cards offering lower fees than your current ones.

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You can choose to let Mint send you email and text message reminders about bills, and updates about your own spending activity; the site also works from your mobile phone.

I caught up Aaron Patzer, the founder and chief executive, at an event last week. He spent the first six months working on Mint by himself in his bedroom, he told me, building the technology that searches and categorizes your financial data from across institutions.

During Mint’s beta period, the company says users have found ways to save an average of $1,000.

Upon testing the software last week, I immediately changed a number of personal spending habits, and feel even guiltier about some others. It also gave me even clearer proof that Bank of America has done a great job of nickle-and-diming me at every turn.

This tool should have mass appeal, especially considering the large amounts of money Americans have been borrowing in recent years — provided people are willing to entrust Mint with their personal data.