Feature: Money 2005 Premium Vs. Quicken 2005 Premier
As the ball drops on 2004 and 2005 dawns, many of us resolve to take control of our finances, whether that means becoming better organized or trying to pare down our holiday shopping debt. Perhaps the biggest hurdle we face is figuring out what tools we need to do the job. This is where personal finance programs come in. These types of programs help users answer three financial questions: What do I have? How am I doing? and How can I do better? The two powerhouses in this area of software are Intuit and Microsoft and this comparison looks at the high-end offerings from both companies—Intuit’s Quicken 2005 Premier and Microsoft’s Money 2005 Premium.
We cover everything from the latest features both programs offer and their primary functionality to their companion Web sites. At the end of the article, we tabulate an overall winner based on a check-box scoring system. Points of functionality are graded with ease-of-use in mind.
For the 2005 versions, Money has undergone some rather significant changes that have been dubbed by Microsoft as the “most significant development” in the program’s 13-year history. Biggest among the revisions is an improved setup procedure in Money 2005. The enhanced setup assistant takes a page from Quicken’s book and now allows users to automatically download account information from financial institutions (previously, financial information had to be manually entered for each account). Microsoft has bolstered the number of financial institutions Money can connect with to over 5,000—an increase of over 350% from the 2004 version (Quicken claims connectivity with over 4,000 financial institutions).
For those wanting a simplified look at their financial data, Money 2005 also offers a new Essential View with an account register that shows basic account information and a “big picture” overview of your spending habits.
Other “enhancements” found in Money 2005 include auto-categorization of transactions, a revised Essential Reports area that provides charts focused on spending and budgeting, a redesigned investing area with an updated portfolio manager that integrates with the MSN Money Web site, and new planning decision centers that address everything from planning for retirement to choosing the right insurance.
Money 2005 Premium
$79.95 ($30 mail-in rebate available)
Quicken 2005 Premier
www.quicken.com (800) 811-8766
$79.95 ($69.95 if ordered/downloaded from Internet)
According to Intuit, Quicken 2005 integrates over 100 customer-recommended improvements, most of which are aimed at upgrading existing features. However, one of the biggest changes in Quicken 2005 is not viewed as an enhancement at all, especially among long-time users. With this latest version, Quicken Interchange Files (QIF) are no longer officially supported. This was in response to the development of the Open Financial Exchange (OFX) standard of offering financial account data for import into financial software. QIF imports can still be used for some accounts in version 2005 if OFX files are not available, which may be the case for some credit card, cash, and asset/liability accounts. However, by 2006 Quicken will support only OFX for credit card accounts. Users who previously relied on QIF files and have no OFX versions to substitute are faced with the task of manually entering financial account data. On the flip-side, QIF file importing, historically, has produced high error rates in personal finance and tax software.
Quicken 2005 offers a revised snapshot of monthly bills and scheduled transactions that allows users to schedule, pay, and track all monthly bills in one place. There is also a new cash flow forecaster that incorporates deposits and projects the next month’s cash balance—a useful feature for developing a budget and monitoring spending.
Users of Quicken 2005 can now assign new payee names for downloaded transactions and create a rule to rename all future downloads. Quicken 2005 also offers improved categorization to more accurately group transactions, new account register options to manage accounts more easily, and new choices for scheduling payments and deposits.
All the enhancements and additions mentioned here carry through to all versions of Quicken and Money, respectively.
For many, any advantages one program holds over another in terms of features and functionality are greatly diminished if the program is difficult to learn or hard to navigate. Some users will no doubt be annoyed to find that Quicken 2005 Premier pollutes your desktop with icons from third parties offering credit cards, tax schedules, home loans, credit checks, bill paying, and brokerage discounts.
Money offers a somewhat cleaner, less cluttered display on entering than Quicken, a definite improvement over earlier versions. The one Money drawback is that you must have an MSN .NET account in order to employ the on-line functionality of Money. The program offers a simplified Web-like layout with menus on the left and top of the page offering access to your accounts, bills, budgeting, reports, investments, planning, and tax resources. The Quicken home page in Quicken 2005 is a hodgepodge of account values, alerts, scheduled transactions, and links to financial planning resources.
Overall, we found that Quicken is more intuitive and user-friendly. While Money 2005 is not at all difficult to manage, Quicken incorporates little things that, after using both programs, leave the user wishing Money did them as well. For example, both programs offer easy importing of financial account data, which could not be said in our review of Quicken and Money 2003 versions. However, Quicken offers on-screen instructions for connecting with financial institutions, something that you must locate yourself with Money. Microsoft prevails over Quicken with a streamlined interface, while Quicken offers a more intuitive operation.
Personal finance software helps you examine your current financial position and provides a framework for achieving your financial goals. For many, the list of personal tasks is long and varied. Quicken and Money can serve as mere recordkeeping diaries that track what you spend and what you earn, or they can function as planning applications that consider only gross savings and focus on generalized long-term goals and objectives.
The nucleus of a personal finance program is its “account register,” or merely register. Data entered here flows into budget accounts, updates net worth values, and helps estimate tax liabilities, among other tasks. The majority of your time will be spent using this register. Therefore, it is important to select a program with an intuitive, easy-to-use interface. Both programs offer clean, graphical interfaces for entering and navigating transactions for each of the accounts you set up.
One of the more significant changes in Money 2005 is that it offers two different modes, depending on the finances and needs of the user—Essential Mode and Advanced Mode. When setting up the program, you specify which mode you wish to enter, and this will dictate the look and feel of the program. Do not worry about locking yourself in, though, as you can flip-flop between modes at any time.
The Essential mode in Money 2005 is for those looking for a simplified way to examine their finances and just want to know their account balances, profile their spending habits, develop and budget, and/or track and pay bills. With Essential Mode, users are not required to categorize transactions. However, this limits what the program can do later on; therefore, it is a good idea to be as thorough as possible when categorizing transactions. The Advanced Mode is designed for those who spend time analyzing investments, planning for the future, and creating customized reports. The Advanced Mode register offers more sophisticated transaction categorization, tracks paychecks, and reconciles statements.
On-line banking and brokerage functions available with both Money and Quicken give users the ability to connect directly with a number of financial institutions—including banks, brokerage firms, and credit card companies—to retrieve posted transactions, download statements, and pay bills electronically. Our test of setting up and retrieving statements from banks and credit card companies went flawlessly with both programs. Money has completely revamped its account setup wizard, putting it on par with Quicken’s.
Both Money and Quicken attempt to automatically categorize transactions in specific spending categories, with varying degrees of success. Quicken’s new category manager allows users to hide or merge any of the program’s 150-plus categories and filter the account register to display only those transactions in a specific category. In addition, you can rename transactions downloaded from your bank, a feature not available in Money. Quicken also now allows you to recategorize multiple transactions at once, a definite time saver.
However, when we attempted to import the transaction history and current holdings from a Scottrade brokerage account, things veered off track. With Quicken, we were able to enter our account and password information and download the entire transaction history of the investment account. With Money, we encountered an initial delay when the account setup wizard informed us that we needed to contact Scottrade for Money-specific log-in and password information. On a whim, we tried the same account number and password data we used with Quicken, and we were able to download the transactions and current holdings. However, in both cases, the resulting balances did not match what was shown at the Scottrade Web site, nor did they match each other. As a result, time had to be spent reconciling the downloaded data. Once you have your accounts set up, you can update transactions and download pertinent information via the Internet (for this reason, it is strongly recommended that you have an Internet connection). With Money, this is done via the background banking feature, which automatically downloads financial account data and stock prices whenever you go on-line. There is no need to schedule times when Money goes on-line to access this information; the only drawback is that it requires you to have a MSN .NET Passport account. Quicken, on the other hand, requires you to schedule data updates and downloads—a restriction they have yet to correct.
For bill management and payment, the Quicken 2005 Cash Flow Center provides a new monthly bills and scheduled transactions snapshot. Here, users can schedule and pay all monthly bills and transactions as well as forecast their cash balance for the month to know if they will have enough money available to cover bills coming due. With Quicken Bill Pay, users can pay bills on-line from within Quicken. You can sign up for a free one-month (up to 20 payments) trial to Quicken Bill Pay, after which it costs $9.95 per month for up to 20 transactions. With Money’s bills wizard, users can pay bills on-line using MSN Bill Pay—which has been improved and offers easier setup—or their own bank. MSN Bill Pay is available for free for three months (up to five transactions per month), after which the cost is $5.95 per month for up to 15 transactions per month. Money’s enhanced bill calendar gives users a view of bills paid and payments due and also tracks paychecks, deposits, and investment purchases.
Another key feature of any personal finance application is its budgeting capabilities. Both Money and Quicken allow you to assign budget categories as you enter transactions into the account register. The programs come with a predefined set of categories, but also allow you to add your own. Both programs also “remember” the category for a payee for future entries.
Money has a new Essential Budget that allows users to track income against expenses, watch problem spending areas, and keep a basic budget. The Advanced Budget tracks more personalized categories and allows for more in-depth analysis of your spending habits. Quicken allows you to manually enter the amounts you pay each month or let the program create a budget based on your past spending patterns. One drawback to this “auto budget” feature is that the budget the program creates may not accurately reflect how much money you actually spend if you have not categorized your transactions. Money faces the same potential pitfalls, but Money’s budget planner tool is more intuitive and offers greater ease-of-use than Quicken.
Budgeting is data intensive—cash activities, credit card histories, etc.—but is made easier by the ability to download transactions relatively simply with both programs. Budgeting also requires dedication to maintaining organized groups of your data—income, expenses, payments, taxes, etc.—a process that is also aided by the programs’ auto-categorization capabilities. However, the computer program cannot do all the work, so it is up to the end-user to maintain accurate records and make it a habit to update and reconcile accounts on a timely basis. If you are willing to go the extra mile, both Money and Quicken do an adequate job of maintaining budgets and producing planning forecasts.
Reports are a key component of any personal finance program and help to pull your financial plan together in an easy-to-understand, graphical format. Along with being two of the most easy-to-use financial programs on the market, Quicken and Money are also the most graphical in nature and visually pleasing. Within both programs, reports are comprehensive, easy-to-read and coherent, and provide a useful breakdown of your financial information into specific categories. Specific financial reports include detailed budgets; income, expense, cash flow, and net worth reports; and income tax estimates. Each program offers roughly 40 reports.
Since taxes impact your finances, they also play an important role in the budgeting and planning process. Personal finance programs can help you review pending tax liabilities and can offer suggestions and adjustments to help you reduce your taxes or perhaps to modify your tax withholdings. Quicken and Money link to tax preparation programs and services; data entered into these programs can be exported for tax analysis and calculation.
To aid investors in making tax-informed trading decisions, Quicken 2005 Premier offers tax-smart investing insights that point out possible opportunities to improve your aftertax returns. Specifically, Quicken Premier can help users offset capital gains or losses, inform mutual fund investors when similar but more tax-efficient funds are available and alert users when taxable events occur—such as mutual fund distributions. Quicken works seamlessly with its tax counterpart at Intuit—TurboTax—as well with the TurboTax Web site. Quicken Premier offers a better array of tax reports than Money, including Schedules A, B, and D.
Money 2005 offers an enhanced “Taxes Home” with answers to frequently asked tax questions, commentary from MSN tax experts, and tools to file income tax forms and prepare tax schedules. Money’s tax estimator provides estimates of expected refunds or payments, while the deduction finder identifies ways to maximize a refund. Through Microsoft’s relationship with GainsKeeper, Money offers a collection of tools and services to calculate capital gains, increase a portfolio’s aftertax return, analyze the potential tax impact of trades before they are placed, and generate a tax Schedule D. In addition, Microsoft continues its long-standing relationship with H&R Block to offer free on-line tax form preparation and e-filing of federal returns.
H&R Block, a trusted name in tax preparation, paired with Money, versus TurboTax, the name in tax software, paired with Quicken results in a wash when comparing the programs’ tax functions.
Besides creating budgets to gauge your spending habits and preparing and filing your taxes, financial planning entails other tasks for which both Quicken and Money can provide direction.
The Quicken 2005 Premier Planning Center remains relatively unchanged from the previous version, offering a collection of planners and tools to help with a variety of life events and financial goals—retirement, college, home purchase, debt reduction, and special purchases.
Money 2005, on the other hand, features a redesigned Planning Home with 27 new planning decision centers covering such areas as retirement, savings and debt, insurance, and family and college. A unique feature with Money is the Lifetime Planner, which helps users plan for retirement, long-term financial goals, and major life events.
Another feature offered by both programs is a home inventory assistant. Home inventory is simply a list of your valuable personal possessions—fine jewelry, rare pieces of art, collections, etc. If your personal possessions are stolen or destroyed, an accurate inventory will help you when filing your insurance claim. This feature allows you to enter specific tangible assets into predefined categories, with the option of entering the purchase price, date of purchase, depreciation, a description of the item, and the insurance policy covering it. Both applications provide similar home collection tracking, although Money has the added feature of linking images to your possessions (only Quicken for Mac offers photo linking using iPhoto). Furthermore, Money’s inventory tracker is integrated within the program, whereas Quicken Home Inventory is a separate module from the Quicken program.
Although Quicken and Money offer tools for managing your investment portfolio, individuals have a larger pool of software from which to choose in the portfolio management arena.
In the broader portfolio management market, programs are divided into two groups—general-purpose applications and advanced programs. The differentiation gives investors more flexibility and more choices. The high-end programs are robust portfolio managers that concentrate on portfolio evaluation and fine-tuned portfolio and asset allocation analysis—such as the Captool software. For more information on portfolio management software, refer to the July/August 2004 Computerized Investing Web-based portfolio management comparison and the May/June 2003 portfolio management software comparison, which are available at AAII.com.
The general-purpose programs are viewed as recordkeepers, or actual portfolio trackers, instead of full-blown portfolio managers. They adequately track a portfolio and may offer some portfolio analysis measures and return calculations. However, they primarily serve as advanced spreadsheets for recording buys and sells of securities. Quicken and Money both fit into the category of a general-purpose portfolio manager.
Quicken and Money both offer multiple versions of their 2005 program. For active investors, Quicken 2005 Premier and Money 2005 Premium offer the highest level of portfolio tracking and analysis in the Quicken and Money stables.
Key to portfolio management programs are the types of securities and transactions handled by the programs. Both Quicken Premier and Money Premium track a standard set of securities: cash, stocks, mutual funds and bonds. Both programs also now handle index options, as well as employee stock option plans. For security identification and categorization, both programs offer similar features, including the ability to specify asset class type.
Recordkeeping is a relatively simple task that, in theory, can be done with paper and pencil or a simple spreadsheet. However, errors inevitably can arise with such methods that can distort your financial picture to the point of causing you to make unsound financial decisions. A portfolio management program, in theory, rises above the potential pitfalls and presents professional reports based upon the data it is given.
Buying and selling a security, receiving cash or stock dividends, and receiving interest income are the transactions the average investor will need to record. Moving beyond these standard transactions, Money and Quicken offer additional recording options such as margin purchases, short sales, and the reinvestment of dividends. Both programs also allow for three different security lot assignment methods—average cost, FIFO (first in, first out) and specific lot. Transactions and security lot cost basis methods are handled in relatively the same manner with both programs.
Quicken Premier’s Investing Center, which was completely redesigned with the 2004 version, offers a variety of portfolio analysis tools, charts, and graphs. With Quicken 2005 Premier, users can see how their investments are doing relative to the market and how they have done over time; what securities are driving your portfolio’s performance; whether or not your portfolio is balanced; whether you are invested in top-rated mutual funds; what your net worth is; and whether your retirement plan is still feasible.
Money 2005 Premium’s redesigned Investing Home provides basic tools for learning about the market or tracking personal investments. Money Premium includes the CNBC on MSN Money portfolio tracker and Advisor FYI alerts for investment-related events. There is a portfolio review that shows your investment allocation, potential tax liability, individual security performance, portfolio risk profile, major holdings, and recent transactions. The asset allocation tool analyzes your current holdings and recommends an “optimal” allocation based on your current cash holdings, desired portfolio outcome, desired investments, and risk tolerances. From an education standpoint, there is an investing Q&A, links to market and investing commentary, and seven investing-specific decision centers.
While both programs have made great strides over the last few years in the area of investment tracking and analysis, Microsoft 2005 Premium edges out Quicken 2005 Premier. The tight integration with the CNBC on MSN Money Web site, which includes the redesigned portfolio tracker, is a definite advantage.
Depending on whether you are able to download your portfolio transaction history, data entry could take up a significant amount of your time when it comes to setting up a program to monitor your finances and, especially, to track an investment portfolio. A complete purchase and dividend history must be entered for each security to produce accurate return calculations. This process is typically more of a burden for long-standing mutual fund positions with frequent reinvestment of dividends. The payoff for this effort is the automatic creation of a range of useful reports with only a couple of mouse clicks. Reports can be as simple as a basic portfolio holdings report that breaks down the composition of your holdings, or as sophisticated as an asset class performance report gauging the strength of, for example, your foreign stock funds.
The basic reports found in most portfolio management software packages include current holdings, holdings by lot, cash portfolio status, and popular tax schedules—e.g., Schedule B for computing interest and dividends received from a portfolio and Schedule D for computing long- and short-term capital gains. All of these basic reports are available in both Quicken Premier and Money Premium (with the exception of Schedule B in Money). For the most part, the two programs are, again, equally matched when it comes to basic reporting and both allow the user to customize existing reports. Both programs also allow users to export reports to Microsoft Excel spreadsheets.
Performance reports summarize how well your investments have fared over a given time period. They can analyze broad categories or concentrate on the smaller fine points of your portfolio.
The first key type of performance report is actually three different reports revealing essentially the same type of information, but for three different portfolio entities: Security, industry, and asset class performance reports gauge the strength of each individual segment, but will also provide asset allocation analysis at the same time. Industry performance reports can analyze just the securities from a certain industry, say, waste management service companies, while asset class performance reports analyze a group such as emerging market equity funds. The 2005 versions of Money and Quicken provide only security and asset class performance reporting.
When it comes to reports and reporting capabilities, three flexibility functions are optimally present: the ability to track multiple portfolios, the option of testing these portfolios over a known holding period as well as a user-defined period, and the ability to adjust returns for taxes. Calculating tax-adjusted returns is the only function not offered by either Quicken or Money.
Most investors track multiple portfolios—perhaps one for themselves and one for their spouse, or taxable versus retirement portfolios, or separate portfolios for each child. Programs with the capability to house multiple portfolios can easily address the diversified aspects of all your holdings for all your portfolios, rather than those of just one portfolio. A portfolio return for the current holding period examines the gain or loss from the time the security is purchased. Analyzing a portfolio over specific periods—between-period returns—allows you to monitor security performance during a known market environment, such as a bull or bear market. To designate timeframes, the program must be able to store snapshots of your holdings at specific points in time, not just the current positions and prices.
To see how these two programs match up as portfolio managers, check Table 1 at the end of the article.
Although both Quicken and Money are software-based applications, they also have a presence on the Internet in the form of their respective flagship Web sites: Quicken.com (www.quicken.com) and CNBC on MSN Money (investor.msn.com). Money 2005 offers practically seamless integration with the CNBC on MSN Money site with an integrated Web browser. (In Quicken, the Web browser opens in a separate window, creating unnecessary clutter.) The MSN site is a comprehensive one-stop investment center on the Web, offering analysis tools, research capabilities, company reports, current and historical data, market news archives, advice, and educational materials. Top offerings at the site include one of the best Web-based portfolio managers and StockScouter ratings, which allow users to evaluate a stock’s potential based on technical and fundamental factors.
Quicken.com has been in limbo since the dissolution of the alliance with Muriel Siebert. Intuit had partnered with the Muriel Siebert brokerage firm in 2002 and positioned all of its stock research tools as being powered by Siebert, the partnership between Intuit and Muriel Siebert & Co. The alliance deteriorated into a legal battle when the brokerage firm filed a $44.4 million lawsuit in September 2003, citing a “lack of commitment” to the alliance by Intuit. The alliance was formally dissolved on January 14, 2004.
What was once one of the top investment sites on the Internet has been reduced to a repackaging of Yahoo! Finance research, data, and news. There have been rumblings that Intuit plans to make Quicken.com accessible only to Quicken subscribers with revamped offerings. Let’s hope that is the case, as the current Web site places Quicken users at a definite disadvantage to Money users.
|TABLE 1. Rating the Programs|
|Quicken 2005 Premier||Money 2005 Premium|
|Account Management Features|
|X||On-line account transaction downloading|
|Automatic Data Updating||X|
|X||Automatic Transaction Categorization|
|Personal Finance Features|
|X||On-Line Bill Payment||X|
|X||Debt Reduction Planner|
|X||Tax Deduction Finder||X|
|X||Tax Withholding Estimator||X|
|X||Capital Gains Estimator||X|
|X||Tax Schedule Preparation|
|Portfolio Management Features|
|X||Capital Gains Tracking/Optimization||X|
|X||Security Lot Assignments||X|
|X||Basic Holdings Reports||X|
|X||On-Line FAQs, Knowledge Base||X|
|Free Phone Support||X|
|Companion Web Site|
|Partnering Investment Web Site||X|
|Guided Tour/Web Site Help||X|
|Software Demo/Free-Trial Download||X|
|Scoring System: 1 point per account management feature; 1 point per personal finance feature; 1 point per tax feature; 1 point per portfolio management feature; 1 point per technical support feature; 0.5 point per Web site feature.|
For all the strengths offered by these two programs, they have yet to come out with free, full-featured trial versions. Instead, Microsoft and Intuit provide Web-based “tours,” offering potential users a virtual demonstration of their programs to see the features and functionality.
The product demo for Quicken 2005 Premier is available at: www.quicken.com/notemplates/demo/qsw/.
Microsoft offers a free 90-day trial, downloadable from the Microsoft Web site (www.microsoft.com/money/freetrial_info.mspx), but it is a demo of the Deluxe version of Money, which is lacking most of the GainsKeeper tools found in Money Premium. It also lacks the audio and multimedia features found in the full program and, perhaps most importantly, the “premium” services such as on-line banking and on-line bill payment.
While being able to see the key features of an application before buying it is useful, nothing beats being able to sit down with the software, risk-free, and test drive all it has to offer.
Reading the various comparison articles that appear in each issue of Computerized Investing, you know that financial software comes in all types with varying levels of functionality; yet you would be hard pressed to find two software packages in the same category that are more evenly matched than Quicken 2005 Premier and Money 2005 Premium. When there is no clear-cut choice between two similar programs, as is the case here, users often opt for the one they are more familiar with. Most will go with the firm with the bigger name, but in this case, both programs have established themselves as the best personal finance offerings on the market. Emotional ties often factor into the equation as well. Just as some are “Chevy people” or “Ford people,” so too are there diehard Mac and Windows fans. At least for Mac users, there is only one choice, since only Quicken offers a Mac-friendly version in the form of Quicken 2005 for Mac. However, Mac users will still feel slighted as the Mac version is not nearly as full-bodied as its Windows-compatible cousins.
No matter what your rationale is for purchasing a software program or service to assist you with selecting and managing your investments, make sure it is the right one for you and your investment needs, and that it closely matches your computer skill level.
Table 1 provides a checklist of our head-to-head comparison of Quicken 2005 Premier and Money 2005 Premium. Each check in the personal finance, portfolio management, and technical support sections rate one point. One-half point was awarded for each checkmark in the companion Web site section. A checkmark is awarded when one program excels over the other in providing an easy-to-use and functional feature. In those cases where neither program held a clear advantage, both were awarded a check.
As mentioned throughout, these two programs are very evenly matched, and the point totals in Table 1 show this. Quicken, with its more intuitive data entry and transaction categorization would probably be a better choice for someone new to the area of personal finance software. That is not to say, however, that Money is difficult to navigate. In the end, it was the wealth of planning tools and its integration with the CNBC on MSN Money Web site that led us to place Money 2005 Premium ahead of Quicken 2005 Premier, especially for serious investors. Until Quicken is able to establish a strong Internet counterpart, Money will probably continue to win the day. That being said, there is no pressing reason for existing users of Quicken to switch to Money (or vice versa). Furthermore, Quicken 2005 does not offer any compelling changes or additions that would necessitate upgrading from 2004 (users of earlier versions may wish consider an upgrade). However, the redesigned account setup in Money 2005 may be useful enough for an upgrade from 2004, and users of earlier versions may wish to consider upgrading as well.