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Tell Your Financial Horror Story, Win $5,000

The newest advancement in the personal finance world is offering anyone willing to share their holiday spending story the chance to have their credit cards paid off.

Web-based company Mint allows members to enter all of their credit card and banking information and then automatically tracks spending, finds savings and helps with budgeting.

In the wake of the holiday season and the spending that goes along with it, the personal-finance company is holding Holiday Spending Hangover Cure, a contest for anyone with a spending horror story to share. Those looking to participate can enter their unique stories through video or text directly to Mint.com. The winning video entrant and the winning writer will each have the balance, up to $5,000, on their credit cards paid off, and will receive financial counseling so they do not make the same money mistakes again.

"Personal finance is not something that people talk about often. People have financial blunders, and the idea behind the contest is that you can learn from other people's mistakes," said Mint founder and CEO Aaron Patzer.

The contest will run through March 31. Membership at Mint is not a requirement to enter the contest, and membership doesn't increase the chances of winning. Users will pick their favorite entries, and then a panel of judges will pick winners from the top contenders.

The Mint Web site itself keeps track of accounts and credit cards for its users, and will soon add the ability to keep track of loans. It also finds savings and offers many different ways to track and categorize spending.

The San Francisco-based company, which launched in mid-September, works to help its customers keep track of their spending, find ways to save money and improve their spending habits.

Mint consolidates money tracking for its users and cuts out having to wait for paper statements or check several different accounts.

Mint member Luke Livingston says, "I definitely see a change in my spending habits. ... I see the change in my wallet, too," he said. Mint is "a very useful tool which is quick and painless and fully automated and best of all, it's 100% free."

Mint does indeed offer its services free to customers. The company makes its money by receiving referral fees when its users select sponsor financial institutions for needed services.

To date, about 85% of Mint's 125,000 members have claimed to have changed their behavior because of Mint.

"They say that they dine in more and dine out less and are saving because of it," Patzer said.

With the use of patent-pending technology, Mint is able to categorize and classify where individuals are spending money and, based on those results, offer suggestions on how to save. Unlike many other personal finance programs, Mint does users' accounting work for them. It also alerts members to unusual spending behavior or spending beyond any set budgets.

In its savings, Mint looks to maximize the rewards that members are receiving from their credit cards and savings accounts. It also provides its members the ability to compare their spending habits to the averages in their area or other places across the country.

While Mint offers its customers a variety of ways to keep up with their spending, it still can't track loans like mortgages or student loans. Patzer said that Mint hopes to add brokerages by the end of the month and could track student loans by the end of March.

The site also isn't perfect with its advice.

Mint is "currently telling me that I can save a bunch of money by switching to a credit card mint has on file which has rewards for money spent at grocery stores," said Livingston. "While it's true that I could earn a little money by signing up for that card and getting points, I wouldn't be saving any money because the card's APR is twice that of the current credit card I have."

As with any Internet service, safety and security are inevitable concerns. However, the company uses bank-level security to minimize the risk of identity theft. Mint works anonymously, never asking for the names, addresses or Social Security numbers of its members, which can also help reduce the risk.

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