In Personal Finance Software, Style Rules

In the world of personal finance software: two rivals, Microsoft Money and Intuit's Quicken, dominate.

Both can help organize tax information and all personal accounts, pay bills online, create budgets, handle investments and make financial forecasts. Both are connected to their websites. Features are similar in both programs, so style and personal preferences could be the determining factor as to which one to use. Reviewers rarely suggest switching programs because if even one piece of data is lost during the switch, it can create problems.

One of the most attractive features for most users is that it cuts down on the dull drudgery of preparing tax information. In the early years of these money management software programs, users had to enter the data by hand. Now, most banks allow users to download it and then it can be flowed into TurboTax, the popular tax-prep software program.


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PC World's so-called Digital Duo, Stephen Manes and Angela Gunn, who review digital products, looked at Quicken and Microsoft Money, but first had to admit that they don't use either product, relying instead on their accountants and spreadsheets.

They found a few annoyances: setting up the accounts was awkward and time-consuming. They didn't like how quickly the programs expire–a couple of years after installation requiring you to pay to upgrade again. They pointed out that Microsoft required sign-up for its Passport service program and that personal financial information is stored on servers of Microsoft, which has a spotty security record.

Manes was leery about putting too much financial information online. “Be very careful about any Web site that aggregates all your information in one place, no matter how serious the service is about maintaining confidentiality. Lots of information gets compromised inadvertently-as we saw with credit card processors just a few months ago. By putting your whole financial life out there in one place, you run the risk of having your whole financial life compromised in one fell swoop. If you're going to consolidate this info, the place to do it is on your own PC.”

They wrote that they know lots of people who love the programs, but they've also heard “horror stories” of corrupted data and other bugs.

Tribune Media Services Columnist Humberto Cruz wrote that he likes the programs for budgeting purposes: They make it easy to track expenses and see the effect of inflation over the years. Electricity that cost his family $1,211 in 20004 cost $1,389 in 2005, for example.

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