capsule review

Personal Finance Software

A financial program needs to make bookkeeping tasks easier than using pencil and paper, and it has to offer rock-solid reliability. In Quicken 2002 Deluxe, market leader Intuit adds some great new features that improve the program's already excellent utility and ease of use, particularly for online banking and investment purposes. Compared with the mature Quicken, Appgen's Moneydance 3.2 is a callow youth that just can't keep up; with its many user-interface deficiencies and crippling bugs, it isn't worth your money.

Still Quick on Its Feet

Surely the most important change in Quicken 2002 Deluxe is that it runs natively in Mac OS X, although it still runs in OS 9.0.4 or later. As a Carbon application, it sports the Aqua look-and-feel throughout and gives snappy performance in OS X 10.1.

This version still isn't as feature-rich as its Windows kin, but the gap is closing. Mac-based businesses would appreciate a Home and Business version like the one Intuit offers for Windows; with its project-track-

ing, invoicing, and accounts-receivable features, it has just enough accounting oomph for small businesses. Such a version for the Mac would bridge the gap between Quicken, a personal-finance manager, and MYOB AccountEdge (Reviews, March 2001), a full-featured accounting package.

One Step Update, a feature long enjoyed by Windows users but new to the Mac, lets you perform all your online transactions with one click. You can download banking data and

credit card transactions, send bill payments, and get stock quotes in a single session rather than connecting to each financial institution separately. PIN Vault, another new feature, stores all the passwords or PIN numbers for your different online accounts. Like the Mac OS's Keychain, this feature lets you access everything with one master password.

Another terrific new feature for online banking users is automatic checkbook reconciliation. After downloading your transactions, the program checks the online balance against your Quicken register. If they match, Quicken reconciles the account; if there's a problem, you're given the opportunity to reconcile them manually.

Quicken 2002 adds transaction downloading from brokerages--a great convenience, especially if you do a lot of trading. You can download information on purchases, sales, and dividend payments for stock and mutual funds. You can't initiate a new transaction, such as a stock purchase, within Quicken; you'll have to do that at your broker's Web site.

At the moment, Quicken supports only two online brokers--TD Waterhouse and Fidelity Investments. If you have accounts with E-Trade, Charles Schwab, Datek, or other brokers, you will have to wait; Intuit is working with these firms to enable the service. You can update the list of participating companies using the Financial Institutions window. Another investment aid is the new Capital Gains Estimator: enter your tax rate, and it shows you the tax consequences of selling one or more lots of securities. If you are new to Quicken, two new assistants can walk you through the process of creating investment accounts and bank accounts, respectively.

Moneydance Stumbles

Moneydance is written in Java, which means it works in many operating systems--Mac OS 8, 9, and X; Linux; and most flavors of Windows. Some features, though, depend on the robustness of a platform's Java implementation. The most important example is that you can't use online banking on the Mac unless you're running OS X.

If you've been thinking of switching to Moneydance from Quicken or another financial program, think again. You can't import Quicken data into Moneydance, and although the hype on the program's box boasts of its ability to import files in Quicken Interchange Format (QIF), doing so yields unintentionally hilarious results. After importing my Quicken data from a QIF file, Moneydance thought I owned stocks worth $4.8 billion; if that were true, I assure you that someone else would have written this review. Out of 28 accounts exported from Quicken 2002, only 3 imported with the correct transactions and balances, and the program created dozens of blank accounts. Moneydance also failed to identify investment accounts correctly; it placed the imported data into bank accounts, which prevented me from using the portfolio-tracking features (once an account is created, you can't convert it from bank to investment).

Until Appgen fixes these importing bugs, Moneydance is usable only if you plan to do all your data entry from scratch. Even then, you're much more limited in Moneydance than in Quicken. Entering data is less convenient, because creating new transactions takes both the keyboard and the mouse. You enter split transactions in a second window that requires many clicks and keystrokes, and another window's poor design makes it difficult to add your own expense and income categories.

Other little annoyances mar the program. For example, there's no way to mark expenses as tax related so you can track your deductions at tax time. And investment handling is nowhere near as convenient as it is in Quicken; you must update all your information, including stock prices, manually rather than downloading it from the Internet.

Besides the interface hurdles, Moneydance has a number of bugs. For example, it showed the correct transaction price in the register for a bond purchase but got it wrong in the portfolio overview window. And more than once, I lost data while switching between windows to edit transactions.

Macworld's Buying Advice

Moneydance 3.2 is less expensive than Quicken 2002 Deluxe, but the latter's $20 rebate for owners of previous versions (including those that shipped with iMacs) means that for many users the two are effectively the same price. But even at the higher price, Quicken provides much more value than Moneydance. In virtually every financial area, Quicken's tools are more complete and easier to use than their Moneydance equivalents. Moneydance is improving rapidly--two updates arrived before this review was completed--but it has a long way to go before it can challenge Quicken as the Mac's personal-finance leader.

Investing at Your Fingertips: Quicken's new ability to download investment transactions frees you from onerous data entry and helps eliminate errors. Too Many Steps: Moneydance makes data entry harder than it should be; you must click on the Record button, and memorization requires several mouse clicks.
1 2 Page 1
Shop Tech Products at Amazon