Leave it to Intuit (Nasdaq: INTU ) to make the most of a good situation.
Just months after rival Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) agreed to kill its Microsoft Money Plus personal finance program, Intuit's Quicken brand is getting another major boost with a timely acquisition.
TechCrunch is reporting that the accounting software giant is snapping up Mint in a $170 million deal. The deal will presumably be made official this week.
You probably know Mint.com. We've partnered with the site at the Fool, giving our readers a free and seamless way to track all of their financial accounts. Mint's intuitive interface and its ability to dispense timely budget tracking and advice are great.
Don't blow it, Intuit. We all know that you have the premium Quicken platform to market. Gun-shy worrywarts are probably ducking for cover at the first signs of Intuit installing tollbooths and skimping on the free features that make Mint so magnetic.
Let's give Intuit a little credit, though. It knows the importance of reaching out to the larger freeloading masses. It already has its free Quicken Online offering, but there is a great wall of cynicism to scale there.
"100% Free, 100% of the Time," goes Intuit's online pitch, as if it knows that every jaded visitor is just waiting to be asked for a credit card number.
The acquisition of Mint -- if true -- is brilliant. Intuit can sweep its Quicken Online users into Mint, and not worry about the vetoes or phobias behind a brand that most of the public associates with premium tax filing and accounting software.
Mint users may be skeptical at this point. "Remember the Homestead," may be a chant from cynics with a sense of history.
Homestead was one of the popular free webhosts during the dot-com bubble days. It was eventually handed over to United Online (Nasdaq: UNTD ) and is now owned by Intuit, where folks pay $4.99 a month for rudimentary hosting.
Will Mint be Homesteadized?
I doubt it. Intuit knows that any material changes to the fast-growing Mint model will send folks scrambling to rival sites such as Wesabe and Yodlee MoneyCenter. If it paid $170 million just to squash a pesky competitor, it will never be able to close that checkbook.
This is a golden opportunity for Intuit to cash in on a huge base of users and tactfully reach out to them -- occasionally -- with offers for its other products. If it has more aggressive makeover or conversion plans, I think Mint.com could suggest better uses for that money than throwing $170 million down a hole.
Do you manage your money online through Mint.com or any of its Web-based rivals? Share your experiences in the comment box below.