In which we try mint.com, and I discover my wife’s terrible secret

Mint.com is a whiz-bang personal finance management website. You create an account, turn over every bit of sensitive financial information you’ve been both protecting and hoarding since birth, and in exchange, mint cross-sells you financial products. Well, that’s not quite fair. It also gives you a wealth of insight into your financial picture, helps you create budgets, calculates your net worth, and puts a pretty bow on everything, while cross-selling you financial products. (They gotta make money somehow, right?)

I’ve known about mint.com for a while and finally got up the gumption to give it a whirl. My wife and I gathered all our account details for our various institutions, and I plugged it all in. What I found chilled me to the very bone.

I found … Earthlink.

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When I met my wife in 2005, she had an Earthlink account. Earthlink was/is a provider of dialup internet and email services. They competed with AOL back in the day to see who could mail you more shiny coasters with the words “Free Hours” stamped on them.

By 2005, my future-wife had already abandoned dialup in favor of DSL service from AT&T. But she couldn’t part with her old Earthlink email address.  So she struck a Faustian bargain in which she would continue to pay Earthlink a nominal monthly sum (then around $3) in exchange for continued use of her old email address. This wasn’t unheard of. We’ve all been there.

Not long after we began dating, I introduced my wife to the wonders of Gmail, freeing her from the bonds of Earthlink and allowing her to save a few bucks a month in the process.

Fast forward to 2012, in which mint.com is presenting me with a unified list of every financial transaction committed in the past month across all our various bank and credit card accounts, including a charge from Earthlink for $5.95.

“Honey?” I asked sweetly, calling into the next room.

“Yes?” she replied.

“Do you still have an Earthlink account?”

“Oh, yeah. I need to cancel that…”

Resisting the urge to multiply $5.95 per month out over several years, I instead steeled myself and set about canceling the account.

I did a quick google on “earthlink” to get me to their home page. The page wouldn’t load! I thought, holy cow, is Earthlink completely defunct and yet still charging us $5.95 a month? Where’s the money going? Ironically, it turned out our Comcast cable modem was on the fritz. A quick modem reboot later, and I was (with her permission) logging into my wife’s Earthlink account and hunting for a cancelation option. Of course, there wasn’t one.

I instead tried for the Live Chat agent. Of the gauntlet of prompts required to reach a bona-fide Live Chat agent (do they have business cards?), one was “Cancel Account”. Choosing that option returned a message that, sadly, no chat agents were available to help me with that particular problem. So I changed my response to “Billing and Account Issues”, and was shortly chatting with an agent.

In short order, the agent informed me that to cancel the service, I would have to either call a phone number, send a fax or commission a carrier pigeon.

I knew calling was going to result in an amazingly long hold time, so as I dialed, I started working on a fax document. I figured while I waited on hold, I could build a fax machine from spare parts around the office.

Surprisingly, after just a minute or so of hold music, I reached a human being.  He tried valiantly to retain my wife as a customer by cutting the monthly charge down to just $3! As I dodged the agent’s various attempts at retention, I couldn’t help but imagine I had somehow called back in time to some bygone era, talking to a long-departed soul who didn’t know he was dead.

Sensing defeat, the agent played his last card and put me on hold while he spoke to his supervisor. Here goes, I thought.  It’s the let’s put him on hold for 10 minutes and hope he gets frustrated and hangs up ploy.

I hung in there. 11 minutes later, the agent came back with a confirmation number and the deal was done. I hope. We’ll see if mint.com agrees next month.

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Larry Silverman

Larry Silverman is a father and husband, software developer, small-business owner, DIY tinkerer, occasional musician, continuous learner, free thinker, despiser of yard work and comma abuser.

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