Quicken Essentials for Mac
by Cara Scatizzi
Intuit recently released Quicken Essentials for Mac, a personal finance program created exclusively for the Mac OS that uses an entirely different interface and design. The program was built from scratch and integrates the functionality of the financial management Web site Mint.com (which Intuit acquired in the fall of 2009).
In this article
- Getting Started
- See Where Your Money Goes
- Stay on Top of Your Bills
- Set Goals to Save Money
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The program can be downloaded directly from the Intuit Web site (quicken.intuit.com), or you can order a CD-ROM and install it from the disk. Either way, the cost is $49.99 and the data is stored on your computers hard drive.
After installation, Quicken lays out a three-step process and displays the estimated time to complete each step. The first step is called See Where Your Money Goes and takes about 10 minutes; step two is Stay on Top of Monthly Bills and is projected to take about three minutes; and finally, step three, Set Goals to Save Money, is also completed in about three minutes.
Current Quicken users (Windows and Mac) or Microsoft Money users can convert their data to the new Quicken Essentials by saving the data in Mac form, transferring it to their Mac computer and double-clicking the file to automatically import. You can convert account types that exist in both Quicken for Windows and Quicken for Mac, including most bank investment transactions and the categories, classes, and securities contained within the exported transactions. The Quicken Web site offers detailed instructions on transferring files and data from various versions of Quicken and Money.
Note that there are a handful of transaction types that are classified differently (or do not exist) between the Windows and Mac versions. The transaction types that do not exist in the Mac version include employee stock purchase and stock option plans, margin interest and other miscellaneous (non-essential) transactions. Therefore, you will need to change the transaction types in the Windows version before transferring data to the Mac version. Again, there are instructions on how to do this at the Quicken Web site, and the program can walk you through the process as well.
|Quicken Essentials for Mac|
What We Like|
Built for Mac with a smooth and easy-to-use interface
Detailed tracking of your spending
Download transactions from 12,000-plus financialinstitutions
What We Dislike
See Where Your Money Goes
The first step is to add a primary checking account. Quicken boasts compatability with over 12,000 financial institutions. You simply enter the same username and password you use at your banks Web site.
Quicken found all three accounts I have with my bank (checking, savings and a credit card). The program downloads recent transactions from the accounts and presents them in a table.
This is also where you will enter your investment accounts (Figure 1). I could not import transactions from Vanguard, but it was easy enough for me to download the Quicken compatible file (QFX) directly from Vanguard.com and import it into the program. In fact, I did not have to specify what I was importingthe program identified it as a brokerage account and labeled the transactions as such. I also had no problems downloading portfolio information from online brokers E*Trade and Scottrade.
Once you have entered or imported all the data in this section, Quicken creates a few colorful pie charts using the information. The overview gives you your spending total for the year so far. My downloaded transaction data only went back about three months, so expect to enter older data manually for a deeper financial history.
A number of transactions were not automatically categorized, but that was easy enough to fix. You can choose from a number of predefined categories or create your own. Also, be sure to check the Other category, which tends to be a catch-all for unrecognizable transactions. You can also enter transactions manually.
One useful feature is the ability to sort your transactions by category, account, payee or date. If you are not a new user or have backfilled transactions past those automatically downloaded, you can search your records and see breakdowns over a variety of time periods. New users will eventually make use of this feature as they add transactions to the program in real time.
You can also see your present account balances or view a projected balance that tells you how much you will have left given any stated future inflows and outflows. The projected balance is calculated as todays balance minus future bills plus future income.
The brokerage account data is the least useful function, as it shows just the current value of your holdings. A nice feature is the ability to see which holdings are dominating your portfolio in graphical and numerical form. Finally, you can view your entire net worth (brokerage, checking, savings accounts and more) at once (Figure 2). However, you cannot categorize your assets by sector or industry.
Updating data is simple and requires one click for all accounts. However, Quicken Essentials will not allow you to create an automatic update, so you must do this manually. Overall, as a non-Mac user I found this section fairly easy to navigate once I got used to the layout. This is not a comprehensive portfolio management tool, but gives you the same basic functionality as a free Web-based portfolio tracking tool. As an investor, I would need a better tool to really analyze and understand my portfolios performance.
Stay on Top of Your Bills
This section allows you to see when bills and payments are coming due. You can see upcoming bills for the next seven, 14 and 30 days. To see more details about the payment, you can click the payment title.
Since data is automatically populated from the data downloaded in step one, there isnt anything you need to do to set up this section. The information is shown on the overview page.
Set Goals to Save Money
The final section contains the budgeting tools. Quicken offers quite a bit of flexibility in this area. The first step is to take a look at the automatically generated average spending table provided by Quicken. The table shows the categories in which you have spent money over the last three months. You can see the amount you spent last month as well as your three-month spending average for each category. By hovering your mouse over the i next to an average figure, you get a pop-up box with the individual breakdowns for each of the last three months (Figure 3).
Its easy to add or remove categories as well. Once you have entered your monthly spending goal for each category, you can name the budget and save it.
You can create and save numerous budgets. Each budget gets its own page with a bar chart showing the categories. As you progress through the month, the program will tell you how much you have spent versus your goal.
Adjusting you budgets is easy as well. Just click the Settings button on the top of the final budget page. The overview page will display your budget for quick access to the information.
Quicken offers a few reports to give users a visual representation of their spending habits. The Spending Cloud report shows your budget categories in various type sizes: the larger the size, the larger the percentage of spending on that category (Figure 4). You can hover the mouse over the category name to bring up more detailed information. The Category Summary report provides a table listing the breakdown of spending by category. Finally, reports titled This Month and Last Month show all financial transactions for the specified time period.
Quicken comes with an electronic manual (downloaded to your computer) that is helpful for first-time Quicken users. Also, the program offers an online Live Community. As long as you are connected to the Internet, you can access the discussion forum to ask questions or answer questions from other Quicken users (Figure 5).
Mac users waiting for a comprehensive financial planning and investment tracking software from Quicken will need to look elsewhere. Quicken Essentials is primarily a budgeting program that also tracks the current value of your investment holdings. Unlike Quicken for Windows (and previous Mac versions) you cannot use this as a portfolio management tool. However, for Mac users interested in tracking their spending and creating budgets, this program is easy and intuitive to use.
Cara Scatizzi is associate financial analyst at AAII.