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Mind your money: getting the most out of financial-management software.

Most people don't start a cross-country trip without a map, but they'll do just that with their finances. It's much easier to steer toward a positive financial destiny if you grab control of your finances, watch where you're going, and follow a well-informed, personalized plan. Personal financial software like Intuit's Quicken Premier 2004 ($79.95) and Microsoft Money 2004 Premium ($59.95) can help turn even a bumpy beginning into a succesful adventure. But if we had to, we'd put our money on Money.

PREMIUM ON MONEY

We tested the Premier and Premium packages in both brands this year: Both help optimize investments and maximize tax savings year round--right in the place that will become the center of your personal financial world--for just $20 more than the Deluxe editions. If you're not at the investment or tax strategy stage of your personal wealth initiative, consider sticking with either company's Deluxe package or Money's Standard. All three will download bank account data, help balance accounts, budget, track spending, and perform other basic tasks. But aside from both Premier and Premium packages adding investment and tax optimization features, Microsoft's Premium package also buys you what the company touts as $365 worth of financial services.

The true worth of those services depends on whether you use them. Money Premium users who meet with an American Express financial adviser for a free, in-person consultation get a $100 U.S. savings bond that should mature in about 17 years, a free credit report from Experian, and two years of free MSN online bill pay service (up to 15 transactions per month), instead of the one year that Money Deluxe users get. Quicken offers one month of free Quicken Bill Pay in its Premier box. Money Premium users also get a year of the online GainsKeeper trade decision tool, but both Quicken and Money have built-in calculators for capital gains.

THE SOFTWARE/ WEB EXPERIENCE

Both products cover the same basic financial territory, but Money adds features such as home inventory of your belongings, and MSN lets you create a My Car page to manage car maintenance, get local gas prices, see live traffic reports, and receive recall alerts. Quicken matches Microsoft in the qualifying rounds by automating setup of financial accounts, but when the checkered flag drops, Money speeds off the line with audio guidance and videos on topics such as budgeting and lifelong planning. Both Quicken and Money pull in content from online sources: Quicken had current articles from The Wall Street Journal Online, Barron's Online, and CBS MarketWatch. Money integrated some Reuters headlines into its top page, but has a separate icon with a browser dedicated to MSN Money and CNBC. The latter features "Decision Center" resources that everyone can use--for whatever stage of life they are in--such as "10 warning signs that your 401(k) is in trouble" and "make-a-will quiz."

We found Money more organized, easier to navigate, and much more customizable than Quicken. Money even has an option to turn off sponsorship and shopping links. At one point, we decided to have Money send stock alerts to our mail box and Microsoft required us to sign up for a .Net Passport. We were not happy with this, because signing up for a Microsoft .Net Passport requires you to lower security during the sign-up process, and, on principle, we object to a common login and password for multiple Websites. Both packages give you the option of getting your bank and stock data from anywhere you have Web access: Just be careful about what you leave behind. In a spot check, two of Quicken's online stock analysts' facts were six months out of date--Money's were not. The bottom line? Quicken has been an industry standard for 20 years, and has a lot of customer loyalty, but it, has a lot of catching tap to do to retake Money's gains in features, user experience, and free services. Money even has a Quicken Converter Wizard for those Quicken users who are not so loyal.
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Title Annotation:Intuit's Quicken Premier 2004, Microsoft Money 2004 Premium
Author:Rohan, Rebecca
Publication:Black Enterprise
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2004
Words:669
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