Software that makes money management a snap

November 8, 1999

We'll discuss features, ease of use, and pros and cons of leading money management software programs, including the two biggies from Quicken and Microsoft.

Software that makes money management a snap

Jump to:Choose article section...How financial software can cut to the chaseBoth programs will hold your hand—up to a point

Dump your pocket calculator and scratch pad. The latestversions of these brainy programs are loaded with answers to your financialquestions.

By Doreen Mangan, Senior Editor

Oops! You missed an estimated-tax deadline. Your high-tech stock hityour target sell price last week, but you were too busy to notice; now it'sin the basement. And when your spouse recently wondered out loud whetheryour retirement stash could fund that seaside villa you dream about, youhad no clue.

Sound familiar? If not, maybe you're already using personal finance software.Even if you are, just-released versions of these programs are worth theupgrade. And if you've yet to get your feet wet, those new versions makeit nearly irresistible to put your finances online.

One thing the programs won't do is save you much time. You'll have tospend a few hours or more learning the program you choose, and then inputyour data. But you'll be rewarded with untangled accounts and a clear ideaof where you stand financially and how to get where you want to go. You'llknow your income and expenses by category over any period you choose, thereturn on your investments, the amount in each of your accounts, and muchmore.

In fact, money management software has so many applications that it canbe overwhelming for the new user. But fear not: There's no need to learnit all at once—or even to learn it all. Just select the parts of the programthat address your needs, and customize the software to your liking. Forexample, you might want to see your investment data as soon as you openthe program. Or new transactions and expenses. Or, if all you ever wantto look at is your checking account, you can banish other data from youropening screen.

Charles W. Breaux Jr., a Grand Junction, CO, surgeon, uses Intuit's Quickento follow his checking and savings accounts, manage his investments, andprepare his tax returns. But he skips the budgeting feature. "The informationyou get from using the other features helps you to budget intuitively,"says Breaux.

How financial software can cut to the chase

The most popular programs by far are Quicken, the market leader, andMicrosoft Money. The deluxe editions of each cost less than $65; rebatesfor current users run about $20. Here's some of what they can do for you.

Budgeting. This is no one's favorite chore, but Money and Quickenmake it easy, once you enter your sources of income, short- and long-termgoals, and expenses.

Both programs are whizzes at slicing and dicing your income and expensesand categorizing them. The advantage: You'll find out in a hurry how muchyou spend monthly and annually in various categories. And you can automaticallyexport totals for the tax-related categories, such as CME, to a tax-preparationprogram.

Money, for instance, recognizes a million business names, which helpsit to automatically record expenses in the correct categories. Type in acharge at Exxon, and it will be classified under car-related expenses. Andif your restaurant costs are getting out of hand, Quicken's alert featurewill nag you. Yes, really. But don't worry: There's no need to let a boxof microchips run your life. Since you set the alerts, it's easy to getrid of any you don't want.

Even if you're reduced to tears when you see how much you're spending,you'll like these programs' occasional sense of humor. "Does your creditcard balance exceed the national debt of Bolivia?" Money quips, asit helps you figure out how to pay off your loans.

Long-term planning. Each program has a powerful planner that takesinto account variables such as inflation, taxes, and investment return.It relates your day-to-day finances to your long-term goals and alerts youif you're off the mark.

You can play with a host of "what if" scenarios. What if youwant to retire at 55 instead of 65? How much more would you have to save?Where could you find that money? The software will tell you. And, so youknow how long to plan for, both programs help you figure out your life expectancy.

Quicken and Money contain college-savings calculators that project howmuch the school of your choice will cost w