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iBank 2.1

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Among ways you’d enjoy spending your free time doing, finding the perfect financial management software has probably never been among them. Intuit’s Quicken (   ) has long dominated the Macintosh financial software market, but iBank 2.1.4, a financial management program by IGG Software, may prove to be a solid competitor. Simple, elegant, and with a decidedly Mac-like interface, iBank provides the basics of a personal budgeting tool, as well as some of the advanced features for which Quicken is renowned.

After installation, a setup assistant helps create both business and personal accounts. Once these are in place, you can easily add transactions in dozens of categories such as income, equipment expenses, and social security. You can also create investment portfolios, as well as track stocks and generate charts and forecasts.

iBank plays well with similar products via its import and export functions. Within minutes of installation, I had pulled down several years of account records from my bank’s Web site in QIF (Quicken Interchange Format) file format and had imported that file into iBank. Minutes later, thousands of my transactions were in place in detailed checking and savings accounts, ready to go. In addition to basic financial accounting, you can create accounts for your investments that include stock data—such as original purchase price, numbers of shares, and stock symbols—and have iBank track your gains and losses via Yahoo’s financial network. Users will need to properly categorize their transactions to keep things in order, a habit that takes a few minutes to learn but makes all the difference in the long run.

Other impressive features include the ability to password-protect files, forecasting features that are easier to use than Quicken’s, the ability to easily split a single transaction and divide funds between to two locations, and elegant Internet stock quote features. When I had questions, I received quick replies via e-mail from customer support. An active online user bulletin board and robust help files also helped make the moderate learning curve of a new financial program easier to bear.

The program’s iCal and .Mac integration help iBank, but support for iCal feels a little thin. iBank saves its data in your user Documents folder, and this data can be backed up via a .Mac account. Setting up iCal integration, however, required extra steps for me. The program’s built-in help engine failed to locate iCal as a search criteria, and a trip to IGG Software’s online forums was necessary for me to figure out how to implement iCal integration, which performed well after setup.

iBank may be a Quicken contender, but it has room for improvement. IGG Software frequently updates iBank and replies to user comments and suggestions, but Quicken still beats iBank when it comes to automated features, such as budgeting and intelligently splitting loan payments to cover the principal and the interest. iBank weighs in well with bank, credit card, and international currency access, but Quicken seems to offer wider access to these services, with a setup engine that asks for account numbers to check against.

Macworld’s buying advice

iBank 2.1.4 doesn’t completely take down the Quicken 800-pound gorilla, but it provides a comprehensive set of financial tools with an elegant Mac look and feel. For the beginning or intermediate finance management software user, iBank is worth a look.

[ Chris Barylick is a technology journalist whose work has appeared in MacAddict , the UPI news wire, and the Washington Post . He is owner of Mac Menders, a Washington, D.C.-based technical consulting firm. ]

Checking account transactions show day-to-day expenses as well as the overall financial picture.Powerful forecasting tools show long-term trends for combined accounts.
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