SAN FRANCISCO (08/28/2000) - Are you a financial expert? Probably not, but you don't need to be. New versions of the two most popular personal finance packages--Quicken and Money--are out, and both have quick answers for just about any problem your checkbook or brokerage statement can throw at you.
We looked at beta versions of Intuit Inc.'s $60 Quicken 2001 Deluxe and Microsoft Corp.'s $65 Money 2001 Deluxe, programs that graduated from electronic checkbook elementary school so long ago that there isn't much financial know-how left to add to the latest editions. (Both come in new standard and business versions as well, and rebates are available.) Both Quicken and Money unveil some new tools for exercises like portfolio asset allocation and capital gains tax estimation. These might be scary concepts, but they shouldn't be if you have a Quicken or Money wizard to guide you. The programs provide the right tool at the right time and automatically download needed quotes, tables, and other financial data from their robust Web sites.
Both programs let you keep exact duplicates of your investment portfolios, bank records, and reminders on their Web sites for anytime, anywhere management.
Investors will appreciate the new capital gains tax estimators in both programs, designed to help avoid nasty year-end surprises. And Quicken even steps you through the process of offsetting gains with losses. Both packages have portfolio asset allocators to help you find the right mix of investments to optimize return while minimizing risk. I think Quicken does a better job of helping you rebalance your portfolio.
Most people who use money management software spend the bulk of their time in their checkbook registers, and both programs introduce several prosaic but key usability improvements in core areas like banking and bill paying. Quicken alerts you when you miss a regular bill payment even if you haven't scheduled it; and it's better at pinpointing errors when your bank statement doesn't match your account register.
Money's new cash-flow viewer predicts whether your usual income sources will cover your scheduled bills. It beats Quicken at establishing money management priorities for you and at sprinkling in ad hoc financial advice from the setup interview right down to individual account registers. With new connections to Kiplinger Taxcut, Money achieves the level of tax-planning sophistication that Quicken has had for some time through Intuit's TurboTax program.
Quicken's portfolio layout and investing tools are more robust, but less friendly than they could be. Money is better at holding your hand through everyday tasks--setting up and monitoring the progress of your priorities.
Active investors will probably prefer Quicken; financial novices, Money. But almost everyone needs one or the other. Where else are you going to learn this stuff?
Microsoft Money 2001 Deluxe
PRO: New setup interview clarifies financial priorities; advice and status reports help you meet them.
CON: Experienced users may find handholding obtrusive.
VALUE: Changes yield advanced money management for everyone.
List price: $65 (Deluxe + Business, $85; Standard, $35; rebates are available).
Quicken 2001 Deluxe
PRO: Combines portfolio rebalancer, capital gains tax estimator, 401K manager, and other useful tools.
CON: Daunting array of financial tools may overwhelm the timid.
VALUE: A good set of basic money management tools.
List price: $60 (Home & Business, $80; Basic, $30; rebates available).