Quicken Update: Time Is Money

When Intuit surveyed Quicken users to find out what features would make them upgrade to new versions of the personal finance software, two requests kept coming up. First and foremost, Quicken users wanted the application to run natively in Mac OS X. Secondly, users asked for improvements and enhancements to the Quicken tools they're already using instead of revolutionary additions to the 17-year-old program.

Intuit integrated both requests into the newly released Quicken 2002 Deluxe for Macintosh. And while the Carbonization of Quicken is sure to be appreciated by Mac users who are switching to OS X, it's the timesaving additions such as one-step updates and downloadable brokerage transactions that are likely to have the biggest impact on how they use the finance software.

Intuit officially announced the release of Quicken 2002 last week. The new version sells for $60. Existing Quicken users get a $20 mail-in rebate if they upgrade.

Many of the new features in Quicken won't be a surprise to anyone who's followed news of the software's development. Intuit indicated at the January 2001 Macworld Expo in San Francisco that an OS X-native version of Quicken would be available by year's end -- something officially confirmed by the company at the most-recent Macworld Expo in July. At that trade show, Intuit also previewed some of the features that it planned to add to Quicken 2002, such as a capital gains tax estimator. As for streamlining and improving online features, Intuit has made that a priority with the last couple of Quicken updates.

Carbonized Quicken

Still, it's Quicken's OS X compatibility that will grab most of the initial attention. The application has adopted OS X's Aqua look-and-feel, although product manager Adam Samuels points out, "if you were to see this from across the room, you'd still know it was Quicken." Under the hood, Intuit says Quicken 2002 users will notice improvements in performance and stability when running the program in the new OS.

Mac users who haven't switched to OS X yet needn't despair. Quicken 2002 also runs on Mac OS 9.0.4 and later. A single CD contains both the classic and OS X-native versions of the update.

No matter what version of Quicken 2002 users install -- Carbonized or otherwise -- they'll still be able to take advantage of the other new features added this year. And many of those changes and additions are geared toward making Quicken easier and faster to use.

Intuit has ample motivation to add more timesaving features. In recent years, the company has integrated online banking and investment tools into its software. While that approach has met the needs of some users, others may be reluctant to use the Internet as a personal-finance resource, especially if they find the tools cumbersome or time-consuming. So, even though Quicken may enjoy its role as the preeminent personal-finance application on the Mac platform, it's in Intuit's best interest to continually enhance its online tools.

To that end, Quicken now lets users download purchases, dividends, stock sales, and other transactions from participating brokerages and financial institutions. Right now, that means Fidelity Investments and TD Waterhouse, but Intuit promises that more financial institutions will add support for the feature in the coming months. When users select Download Investment Transactions from Quicken's Online menu, Quicken downloads the transactions into a display window. Users can either accept all of them individually or at once to control what data is entered into their account register. Besides saving time, downloading that data should ensure greater accuracy, Intuit figures, since it reduces the chances that users will type in the wrong numbers should they enter their transactions manually.

One-Stop Shop

Intuit also hopes to save Quicken users time with its one-step update tool. Previously, users who wanted to access their online banking and investment accounts had to log on to each account separately. The one-step feature lets users update banking, investment, and credit card accounts with a single click. If you want to know if your bank is among the 1,000-plus financial institutions supporting this feature, Intuit provides a searchable database at Quicken.com.

The tool that makes the one-step update capability possible is Quicken 2002's PIN Vault, which is similar to the Keychain feature in Mac OS. Activated by a single password, the PIN Vault stores personal information numbers from multiple accounts. By doing so, Quicken is able to access multiple online accounts with just one click.

Saving users time is a goal for the latest Quicken release even when it comes to setting up the software. The company promises easier setup for investment and bank account tracking. Take investment setup, where an assistant now allows customers to enter securities data based on a recent statement instead of requiring them to use the specific brokerage statement that lists the purchase, date, cost, and other information. Similar assistants provide step-by-step support for setting up bank accounts and connecting to online banking services.

"We've implemented the assistant model used by Apple in the Mac OS for setup and Internet setup," Samuels says. "This provides customers with a familiar, consistent way of entering information within the assistant pane rather than in separate areas within the product."

Once up and running, Quicken 2002 offers Auto-Reconcile, a new tool aimed at making it easier for users to organize their finances. Quicken has allowed users to reconcile transactions from its beginning. In recent years, online downloading of transactions has reduced the amount of time users spend checking off cleared transactions. "Now, with Auto-Reconcile, [the time it takes] essentially goes down to zero," Samuels says.

When the user downloads any transactions, Quicken will check to see if the online balance matches the figure in their Quicken register. If they match, the application automatically reconciles the account. If not, Quicken lets the user know.

Another new productivity feature in Quicken is Capital Gains Estimator. This tax-preparation tool estimates capital gains or losses for potential stock and mutual fund sales. Part of the Planning Calculators in Quicken's Activities menu, Capital Gains Estimator lets users enter in the number of shares they plan to sell and their selling price. Using a tax rate, which is adjustable, the tool projects the tax impact of the transaction, providing users with information they can use to minimize the capital gains tax bite.

Quicken in Carbon: Quicken 2002 Deluxe runs natively in OS X, taking full advantage of the Aqua interface.PIN Pal: To simplify online access, the program's PIN Vault stores personal identification numbers from multiple accounts.Tax Time: By using Quicken's new Capital Gains Estimator, you can project the capital gains or losses from your stock transactions.
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