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Quicken, Money battle means payoff for users

By DAVE GUSSOW

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 4, 2000


Personal finance software has come a long way from simple programs to help balance a checkbook. And consumers are enjoying the benefit of real competition, as market leader Quicken and software giant Microsoft battle it out.

Choosing between them can be difficult, and either will suit most users' needs. However, there are differences, particularly for Quicken users considering a switch.

Both programs offer a wealth of services to organize finances, from debt, loan and retirement planners to Web-based services for tracking portfolios to paying bills to, yes, balancing the family checkbook. Both also offer updates and advisories on portfolios, budgets and bill payments. (But some of those additional services, such as online bill paying, have fees attached.)

Want to know if you can retire early? Plug in the numbers, make some assumptions on factors such as expected pay increases, inflation and investment returns and each program will tell you how you're doing. In both programs, my results were similar (darn).

Car loan and mortgage planners allow users to figure out payments, as well as get current rates off the Web, which has become a dominant element of these programs. Both also allow users to put financial information on a Web site so they can access it anywhere, any time.

Quicken made a few changes this year, such as improving how it organizes and presents information. Portfolios can be viewed on one screen, for example, instead of by separate accounts. And users can customize the toolbar for faster access to accounts or the calculator.

Money added a Cash Flow Viewer and other features to keep tabs on the family budget, but it had a few things that irritated. Most serious: It again failed to cleanly transfer my Quicken data. The first attempt ended with data through part of 1999; the second try came within a few months of the right date in 2000. That's better than the past couple of years, but still not good enough.

In testing one of Money's financial planners, I couldn't use the first names of my wife, son and daughter because some accounts had the same designations. It's minor but annoying.

Both programs allow users to customize what data is included on the opening page. Quicken's has more flexibility, though turning off the Bill Reminder was a pain. Money takes up some of that opening screen by plugging its partners, such as American Express and First USA, in one section I couldn't delete. Making matters worse, ads also appeared on other screens. Let's leave the ads on the Web sites and let the user own his desktop, please.

Neither program has enough new features to make it a must for people to upgrade from last year. Despite getting slammed for lousy customer service and glitches this year in the Wall Street Journal and Washington Post, Quicken still is my personal choice. But you won't go wrong by choosing Money, particularly if you're starting fresh.

Quicken 2001 Deluxe

PLATFORM: Windows (reviewed), Macintosh

MAKER: Intuit

PRICE: $59.95

Money 2001 Deluxe

MAKER: Microsof

PRICE: $64.95

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