The most popular of these services, bar none, is Mint. And sure enough, comments showed up extolling the virtues of that service. And that’s totally fine. Like I’ve said, with an eyes-on-the-prize mentality, the goal is to induce the behavior that can help you thrive. If an online service helps you do things you wouldn’t otherwise, and if you’re aware and accepting of the potential downsides, then go for it.
However, astute readers will notice what appears to be a contradiction. While I don’t use services like Mint and think they aren’t necessary for our purposes of giving yourself a raise and uncovering the secret life of your money, there’s another service that I use and talk about in much the same glowing terms. And also retains a certain amount of personal information.
It’s called AwardWallet.
So why would I use and support one and not the other?
First, let’s talk about what AwardWallet is.
AwardWallet is a web service that tracks points and miles balances. If you’re someone like me who has balances in over two dozen programs (and who has managed programs for others), this puts all of your account numbers and balances in one place.
It has lots of other features, many of which I don’t even use. It can automatically connect to the website of the program, using passwords that you can optionally store with AwardWallet. If you choose to do this, it can keep your balances in each program automatically updated (otherwise you’ll have to do it yourself).
The service is free for basic usage, but for a moderate fee, you can unlock some extra features, such as unlimited expiration warnings.
If there was any service that I would consider having an affiliate relationship with, this would be my first choice. This service is like product perfection. It does exactly what it claims to do, and does it well.
Probably the craziest thing about AwardWallet is not only how good of a deal it is, but that you get to choose how good of a deal it is. When you upgrade to Award Wallet Plus, you enter how much you want to pay for it!
The features I use the most often is having all of my account numbers in one place, and the ability to view all my expiration dates (as I know how important it is to not let points expire), and seeing my balances updated automatically.
Which means, by implication, that I have chosen to save my passwords with AwardWallet.
Have I lost my mind?
Passwords are a hot button issue. We are annoyed by having them, annoyed at having to remember them, annoyed at having to change them, and then annoyed at having it not matter at all as crackers can break into our accounts anyway.
Then, since everyone has a zillion different passwords, there are services called “single sign-on” that will aggregate your passwords so that you only have to remember a single password, and the service will fill in the rest.
So we’re in a bizarre situation these days where the idea of storing your passwords with an online service is both unthinkable and dogmatic, all at the same time.
And I’ve already said that I think that doing this with an online service to track your spending is not a good idea. So why am I gladly doing so with AwardWallet, which is effectively the same thing, but for miles/points?
The most important difference for me between a service like Mint and AwardWallet is what the password is protecting.
So let’s assume that the service is about to get hacked. What information could possibly be compromised?
With Mint, someone could presumably get access to all of your financial and personal information, up to and including address and social security numbers. And while identity theft protection means that you’re probably not going to be out of pocket permanently if someone decides to fund a trip to Bali, you’ll still have to clean up the mess.
With AwardWallet, the only really personally identifying information stored in any of those accounts is my address (and unsurprisingly, I use a PO Box) and email. One could get access to my points balances, but someone booking a flight to Bali using my frequent flyer miles would be a bit obvious. And it’s not nearly as easy to transfer points balances out of accounts; in fact, it’s usually impossible unless you pay some hefty fees.
So another risk/reward analysis:
- Reward: The ability to track credit and bank account balances
- Risk: Identity theft beyond your wildest dreams
- Chance of risk: Low but non-zero
- Reward: The ability to track your miles and points balances
- Risk: Someone can find out my PO Box. And also where I’ve traveled to.
- Chance of risk: Low but non-zero
Other points to consider
And another point to make is that for me, the number of accounts we’re talking about tracking is very different. I have really only a handful of accounts that I would even have to track using a financial service, whereas I have over two dozen accounts to keep track of in the points-and-miles scheme. If I had over two dozen financial accounts, that might be a different story.
Now, I realize I’m picking on Mint, and that’s totally unfair, as I don’t have enough info about Mint to really assess the specifics of the service. But I’m using it in the same genericized way that people talk about a Xerox machine (made by Ricoh), or a box of Kleenex (made by Puffs), as in, referring to any service that aggregates your financial information.
Know the risks and rewards, and then decide for yourself. I could use a spreadsheet for my points like I do with my expenses. But I’ve chosen to do it a different way. What about you?
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