Quicken or Money? Money or Quicken?
It's become one of those defining computer choices -- like Mac vs. PC, or Internet Explorer vs. Netscape.
And just when you think you've finally settled the question, both Intuit and Microsoft release new and enhanced versions of their personal finance software.
So, as it does every fall, the issue arises once again: Quicken or Money? Money or Quicken?
For starters, keep in mind that these programs are a lot more alike than they are different. Either will do a fine job in helping you manage your money. It's literally impossible to go wrong.
Although Intuit's Quicken and Microsoft Money are available in stripped-down "basic" or "standard" versions, most consumers opt for the "deluxe" versions, which cost a few dollars more but are well worth the additional expense.
In these deluxe editions, Quicken and Money have evolved well beyond mere electronic checkbooks into full-featured financial-management software. Consumers can use the software to track their investments, monitor their spending, compute their taxes, shop for insurance and brokerage services, and plan for major purchases like houses and cars.
It is this last feature, the planning function, that software writers have emphasized most in recent editions. Quicken and Money provide invaluable tools for helping consumers to look ahead in saving and investing for retirement, college tuition and more.
But software writers also know that consumers are pressed for time. So they've also been emphasizing ease of use. Both programs are tightly integrated with companion Web sites -- Quicken.com and Microsoft Money Central, respectively.
This increasing use of Internet connectivity means users can easily keep pace with changes in the financial world without having to update their software. Online bill payment is increasingly available, as are tools that let you import transaction data from banks, brokerages, credit card companies and other financial institutions.
Internet connectivity also allows users to easily create online investment portfolios and shift other data back and forth between their PC and a password-protected account on the Net.
For 2001, Quicken's interface has been substantially redesigned, but in some ways the improvements are throwbacks to earlier versions. For example, a row of easy-to-reach icons once again adorns the top of the screen, giving users one-click access to many common tasks. At the same time, Quicken has maintained a hideaway tool bar on the right side of the screen for easy navigation.
Another feature in this year's Quicken is a major -- and badly needed -- overhaul of its investment portfolio function. A slew of new calculations, reports, graphs and displays are available in Quicken Deluxe 2001, making it easy to follow performance on stocks, mutual funds, 401k accounts and the like.
Microsoft Money maintains two important advantages over its more-popular rival: its interface and the easy way that newcomers can get started with the program.
And despite the improvements in Quicken, Microsoft Money remains far more elegant in appearance. The difference is not merely cosmetic; a more attractive program is more likely to be understood and properly used, especially by novices. Money's Web-like look and feel make it incredibly simple to navigate and use.
Microsoft Money also excels in getting newcomers started. Working like a software "wizard," the program prompts the new user for information in a variety of finance-related categories, thereby building a kind of user profile that helps configure the software to meet user goals.
Few consumers will use all of the features offered by either Money or Quicken. Nevertheless, every year seems to bring a raft of enhancements aimed at one audience or another. For example, Quicken this year incorporates a way for users to connect with Stamps.com in order to buy postage for mailing out printed invoices, estimates, checks and other documents. So, finally, which is better?
Alas, there's no single answer for everyone.
Given the similarities between the two programs, current users of one or the other might be best served by staying with whichever program they're already using. If nothing else, they'll save themselves the hassle of learning their way around an unfamiliar program.
Newcomers have a harder choice. Microsoft Money, by virtue of its comprehensive quick-start system, gets the edge for people who have never used personal finance software. Those with more financial experience should probably lean toward Quicken because of its investment analysis and reporting features.
There's never been a better time to get started with financial software, as the new versions of Quicken and Money are more powerful than ever. If you bought Quicken or Money within the last year or two, you may want to stand pat for this year. Neither 2001 version of Money or Quicken is a must-have upgrade.
On the other hand, Microsoft and Intuit make it extremely affordable to get their new versions.
Quicken 2001 Deluxe retails for $60, but you get $20 off if you're upgrading from previous versions. A version for Macintosh computers is also available. Microsoft Money 2001 Deluxe sells for $65, but a $20 rebate is also available.
In short, for about $40, you can get the latest version of a powerful financial program that will help you track your money and plan your future. And that's the best deal you're likely to see until about this time next year.
Distributed by the Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service
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