A friend at tax time
Don't rush to upgrade to Quicken 2017
By Harold Glicken
At tax time there’s nothing as helpful Quicken.
If you’ve conscientiously entered and downloaded your financial transactions during the year, the accounting software for non-accountants will neatly categorize them into the taxable and non-taxable categories you’ve set up. It will allow you to print charts and graphs of how much money you earned and how much you spent in the budget categories you’ve created.
If you use TurboTax, taxable categories can be imported from Quicken.
Quicken will help you prepare a budget and scold you when you don’t stick to it. The software is slick and user-friendly and mostly logical.
I’ve used Quicken to manage my finances, both business and personal, since its pre-Windows days. Each year I upgrade to the newest version, and each year I regret spending the money. Each new version will do such things as change the home-screen colors and menu font, but you still have to hunt deep into the Tools menu to find the Reconcile function. Reconciling is one of the most important functions of financial software, since it compares your bank and credit card statements with the balance and transactions in Quicken.
I reconcile my accounts every business day. That way, there are no surprises. I enter expenditures as they occur and download all transactions directly from bank and credit card accounts. I spend about an hour a week keeping my finances in order. It’s time well-spent, especially when the tax man cometh.
The 2017 version has a more robust mobile synchronization, yet I couldn’t get the app to import transactions from my checking account.
A call to Quicken’s free and competent tech support resolved the problem (30-minutes on hold, with obnoxious music). How syncing works is data is sent from your PC to the Quicken servers, then to your phone or tablet. Transactions that are entered in the phone app show up in the PC version, and vice-versa. When an error, such as a wrong password, occurs, the syncing can’t continue, which is what happened to me.
Do I worry about privacy when my most personal financial data is sent to the cloud? Yes, but that’s the way it works.
Quicken excels (pardon the reference to the Microsoft Office spreadsheet program) in tracking investments, planning for college tuition and figuring out how much money you’ll need for retirement. It will remind you of the due dates for bills and you can even pay bills directly through the software for $10 a month. I bypass that fee by paying my bills through my checking account, which is free. Payments show up in my Quicken ledger when I download my other transactions.
You can use your phone or tablet camera to snap photos of receipts, but you’ll still have to enter the transactions into the virtual ledger for the appropriate account. The mobile app will display recent transactions and break them down by the days they are made. I’ve come to rely on the app to keep me up to date on my finances.
But the real strength of Quicken is the accounts page on your Windows PC or Mac. There you’ll set up all your accounts, download transactions for those accounts and you’ll be able to see in living color whether you’re going to make it through the month without breaking the bank. Quicken will alert you that you’re spending more on entertainment, for example, than you did the previous month. You then can set up a more realistic budget, based on spending in prior years and adjusted for changes in income and priorities.
For all that Quicken does, it’s reasonably priced. The Deluxe version, which I bought, costs $75. The Premier version, for folks who have extensive investment portfolios, costs $110. A Starter version, which can’t import data from the previous year, costs $40. There also are versions for businesses and people who have rental income. Quite often Quicken is on sale. My $75 version was half-off when I wrote this column. The Mac version costs $75.
That said, I could have kept using the 2016 version and not missed much in terms of features.
I guess there are many kinds of people who compute; among them are those who are just fine with Windows XP and Microsoft Office 2007, and those who can’t wait to install the next update to Windows 10. Just because I fall into the latter category doesn’t mean I’ve taken the right path.
Some upgrades such as those that don’t work with newer operating systems make sense. That’s not the case here, since Quicken works with versions of Windows all the way back to Vista. If you’re running Quicken 2016, and you don’t need the features in the Premier or Home and Business versions, I can’t think of a compelling reason to buy Quicken 2017.
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