Ten Things I Think I Think About Quicken 2008

After my recent discussion about why I’d rather use a spreadsheet rather than Quicken or Microsoft Money, several readers challenged me to actually fire up both packages and see if they’re really as cumbersome as I thought.

So I installed and fired up Quicken Premier 2008 and started making a list of my thoughts as I used it. I thought that this would provide a more interesting review than many of the standard software reviews of Quicken 2008 that you can easily find via Google.

So, without further ado, here are ten things I think I think about Quicken Premier 2008.

1. The install puts a lot of icons on my desktop. Generally, the only things I have on my computer desktop are documents I’m currently working on. The install dumped four icons on my desk (Quicken itself, a Quicken-branded credit card offer, a credit report offer, and a one month trial of Quicken Bill Pay). It’s easy enough to dump these in the trash, though – just kind of surprising.

2. Setting up a single account is easy. I started off setting up my primary checking account, and it was done very quickly, automatically downloading all of my transactions from it.

3. Setting up a lot of accounts took some time. I set up an investment account, two retirement accounts, several savings accounts, two credit cards, and so on… that took some time. I ended up clicking around for a good hour just setting up accounts. Once they were set up, though, things were largely smooth…

4. A few accounts had some very odd issues during setup. I regularly saw things like double balances (Quicken reported my balance as being double what was in the account) and other little issues. I got all of them straightened out, but it was rather confusing, and at least once I had to turn to some message boards for help.

5. It does not handle multiple ING Direct savings accounts very well. I use the multiple savings account feature at ING Direct to “compartmentalize” my savings accounts. While Quicken 2008 handles these, it’s not particularly smooth. You have to actually log on via the web interface to ING and click on the Download link each time you want to get the information for all of your accounts.

6. The net worth displays are incredible. Once you get all of your data in the program, however, the data displays really begin to shine. One view that I particularly enjoy is the net worth display, which shows your current net worth as a bar graph and allows you to mess with the time range over which this is shown. It’s very similar to what I have set up for myself in Excel, which means that I quite like it.

7. The long term trend data displays are also amazing. In fact, I spent a whole ton of time playing with the features under the “Financial Overview” tab once I got my data in there. I can see how incredible this would be if you had many years worth of financial data in it.

8. One tool that really intrigued me was the “debt reduction planner.” I played around with it using my current debts and it basically spelled out the appropriate order for repaying them and correctly forecasted when I would pay it off. I had built a similar calculator in Excel, but this one was far easier to set up and also to alter and play around with.

9. Many of the other tools available can be quite useful, but many of them do not apply to everyone. For example, I found that the “My Savings Plan” tool was a very nice budgeting tool, but I personally don’t find a traditional budget to be useful.

10. Here’s the bottom line. If you’re willing to jump through all of the hoops to get all of your accounts in place, know the variations on how to get data in there, and know how Quicken wants you to do things, the reporting functions of Quicken are very useful. In other words, if you don’t know how to create the data views you want elsewhere – or don’t really know what you want – and just want a system that you can learn that tells you where to put your data, Quicken is a great choice.

I actually spent about five hours just playing around with my data inside of the program. I did discover a few useful bits about my spending and other things, but I’m not entirely convinced it was worth the time that I invested in it. I can easily see how, if someone was trying hard to budget and plan for a specific goal, that Quicken could be a home run, but I don’t use a budget as formalized as the one that Quicken sets up for you.

For me, I’ll stick with Excel – I have everything set up exactly like I want there. I knew what data views I wanted and I created worksheets in Excel to allow me to easily create those data views. If you’re able to clearly specify exactly the data views you want, then a spreadsheet is the way to go. However, there are a lot of people out there that could get a lot out of a program like Quicken – if you have a hard time seeing the big picture of your finances, Quicken can really open your eyes.

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  1. Brian says:

    While it’s true that jumping through hoops can be annoying, bear in mind that you only jump through the hoops of setting up all your accounts once — day to day use is less hoop-jumpy.

  2. FIRE Finance says:

    Nice honest review of Quicken. We do acquiesce with Trent that a lot of time is spent in setting up these software and updating it regularly. We use MS Money. In some cases, when it does not pull the data automatically (say our brokerage is not on its list) then we have to enter the data manually which is a pain.
    But once the data entry is done, the reports and views are worth it. We have also developed a custom xls for tracking our daily expenses and budgeting. MS Money is used for keeping track of our portfolio. So far this has worked out for us.

  3. Steve says:

    I just started to use Quicken a week ago after reading about it here. The automatic statement download especially intrigued me as this means I don’t have to enter everything manually. The Mac version of Quicken did not dump any icons on the desktop – just the usual one application icon in the Applications folder. However, I downloaded my bank statements and they’re all out of whack; the balances are showing up as negative (this is on a checking account with no debt involved)! I’m wondering what to do about it. I didn’t have time to mess around wading through help documentations and such, so I decided to wait for the next month’s statement to see if that would set things right. Anyone here seen this or knows how to fix it?

  4. vh says:

    I’ve used Quicken for years & have a love-hate relationship with it that verges toward rabid hatred any time I have to grind away at it for more than three hours. Because I recently changed platforms to Apple, the new Quicken for PC doesn’t apply–and Quicken for Mac is just barely adequate.

    Here are six reasons I’d like to switch everything to Excel, if only I could figure out how to reconcile a bank account in that program:

    1. “The install puts a lot of icons on my desktop.” They want to sell you stuff. This extraneous advertising is as annoying as the dickens. It’s right up there with being subjected to 15 minutes of ads before the movie that you paid to see.

    2. “The net worth displays are incredible. . . . It’s very similar to what I have set up for myself in Excel. . . .” Yup. Why pay for Quicken when you can do it in Excel?

    3. “One tool that really intrigued me was the ‘debt reduction planner.’” Sounds interesting…but in the absence of such a thing in earlier versions, I figured that one out all by my little self. The loan planner in existing versions of Quicken will show you how much $XX applied to principal per month will accelerate pay-off…but so will tools available on the Web.

    4. “The long term trend data displays are also amazing. . . . I can see how incredible this would be if you had many years worth of financial data in it.” Good luck GETTING all those years’ worth of data in there. Using a particularly invidious form of planned obsolescence, Quicken forces you to buy new versions once every couple of years – delay longer than three years, and the new version won’t read any of your data. But even if you dutifully trot out every two years and drop another bundle on a new version, you may find – as I did – that it dorks up your investment accounts; will not read them, and will not allow transfers into them. Customer service at Intuit is a sadistic joke, so unless you are a programmer you can’t fix it.

    5. If you have all your accounts, including credit-card accounts, in a single file in Quicken, it will show your net worth. But when you have more than your checking account and your credit card account in one file, the bottom line can’t easily be made show whether you have charged more than you have in checking. If you commit certain Quicken hacks – such as one that allows you to compare what you have charged against what’s in your checking account when a bunch of other assets & liabilities are in the same file with those accounts, then you dork up the net worth figures.

    6. New versions of Quicken grow ever more baroque and occupy ever more space on your hard drive. I don’t need or want all those icons and buttons, nor do I feel a lot of enthusiasm about Intuit communicating with my banks and mutual fund vendors. My needs are pretty simple. It would help if Intuit would offer a lower-cost, dumbed-down version for those of us who just want to enter checking, savings, and credit card accounts, reconcile them easily, and print out a category report or use TurboTax once a year.

    That said, it does do a nice category report that my tax lawyer can use to prepare my federal & state returns.

    As for net worth, budgeting, and tracking credit card charges against amount available in checking, I find Excel a lot easier and less glitchy.

  5. lorax says:

    Here’s the problem with spreadsheets: It’s a time-loss by a thousand cuts. Quicken/MoneyDance has a learning curve, but it’s a more precise tool.

    For instance:

    Say I’m looking at a year-to-date pie graph of expenditures in a spreadsheet program. I’m wondering exactly why “food” is 30%. In Quicken, I double click on the “food” slice and it shows me a breakdown of food expenditures per-month. One month looks high, so I double click on it. I can now see all the transactions for that month… and that I ate out 10 times that month!

    As you say, I can also get a nice net worth graph. AND many other graphs. And many other reports. And I don’t need to fiddle around with spreadsheets for a few hours to get them working well and looking good.

    Downloading is a major timesaver. if you have a pile of finances to track, you don’t want to spend your time transcribing numbers… or downloading csv files, and writing perl scripts to convert them so they work with your spreadsheets.

    The calendar and reminder Quicken features are not bad either. It’s simple to project what finances will be like in a few months, and get reminders to look for that property tax bill.

    MoneyDance (moneydance.com) has many of the same features, and they’re working on coming up to par with Quicken for graphs.

    The biggest problem with Quicken is that it is crashy (both the Windows and Mac versions crash too often). This is the primary reason I’m switching to MoneyDance once it comes up to par.

  6. shadox says:

    The true power of Quicken is in its ability to quickly update all your accounts and transactions on a daily basis. I use Quicken every day and it takes me approximately 3 minutes to update the information all of our accounts (about 9 of them), and get a complete picture of how our investment portfolio did that day.

    True, Quicken has some quirks. For example, I really wish the charting functionality was a bit more flexible; every once in a while some transaction downloads into the system incorrectly; and yes, the help and support documentation is about as crappy as it is in any software I have ever seen, but over all Quicken is a huge time saver for me.

  7. Yvette says:

    Trent
    Can you post a template of your Excel Spreadsheet? I would love to the data views.

  8. Klaus says:

    Still using Quicken 2002 here.

    Did come across a comparison of free tools, so maybe something to check out: http://zenhabits.net/2007/05/6-great-free-alternatives-to-quicken-ms-money/

  9. Mrs. Micah says:

    I like Excel, but Quicken is really rocking my socks. I’m definitely going to give it a try for the next few months and see what happens with it.

    Re: 1. I was also surprised by the icons. But dumping them took 10 seconds, so it was ok.

    Re: 5. Again, I had some trouble with the ING. Unlike others, I had to go directly online, log in, and then tell it to download to Quicken. But after that it seems to be working ok.

  10. Aric says:

    I too chose Excel after trying Quicken, Money, and some freeware alternatives. I found that after spending about an hour setting a dashboard as a front end to my register table, I had everything I needed to know about my finances. I have charts for credit card balances, loan balances, net worth, projected debt payoff in months, and a table of current balances. The best thing is that it is far more customizable than any other alternative. Cheers!

  11. Jean says:

    I bought Quicken with a gift card, so I tried it as experiment. I use Quicken for my investments alone… the other stuff made me perfectly insane. My biggest gripe — decimal points. I use Quickbooks for my business and I don’t have to use a decimal point. It just KNOWS that I mean 24 dollars and 95 cents. Quicken always assumes I mean 2495 dollars. Since I spend a great deal of time in Quickbooks, it was a far bigger pain than I wanted.

    After I downloaded transactions from my checking account, I had to go back and tell the stupid thing what they were. After last years experiment, where I kept meticulous paper records and used Quicken, I discovered that my paper records were far easier to use. I write down in a little book medical and dental spending and charitable contributions, and keep my checkbook register in line. It may seem like double the work, but I can add this stuff as I go and when tax time comes instead of trying to remember how to get this stuff out of Quicken and then verifiying that I actually made sure the checks were allotted to the doctor or dentist, I wrote a figure in the accountants worksheets and I was done with it.

    I also just got a disc in the mail with a Quicken 2008 upgrade. If I hadn’t read the package, I would have assumed that I got it free…. no… not free…not asked for either.

    I dunno — sometimes, in the middle of the grand Quicken experiment, I felt like everyone drank the KoolAid but me…. I totally don’t get what’s so great about tracking stuff on the computer.

  12. Kevin says:

    Nice review. Now I’m looking forward to your review of GNUCash…

  13. I’ve been using Quicken for almost a decade now and have had few-to-almost-none of the problems or complaints others have made here.

    I cannot recall ever having troubles upgrading old Quicken files to new Quicken releases. It’s always been a smooth transition, even across multiple crappy Microsoft operating systems over the years (my data go back to 1998). Yes, you have to upgrade every two or three years, but big deal – it’s only like $40 to $60 for Quicken Basic or Deluxe and you only spend that every two to three years. I happily pay those amounts just to avoid having to spend the time doinking with my own spreadsheet which would only lead to “analysis paralysis” anyway probably. The opportunity cost of one hour of my time makes the $20 to $30 per year a screaming bargain.

    Simply put, Quicken works. I track pretty much everything in it EXCEPT for portfolio details since it doesn’t handle more complex transactions like stock shorts, options, or futures in a straightforward way. Instead, I just manually enter in balances posted to my portfolio accounts on the last day of each month. I do this so that I can track my net worth, which Quicken does just fine. I don’t need to know my net worth any more frequently than that. Since I am mostly a buy-and-hold investor (with hedging, thus the options, etc.), I don’t really need to know my portfolio balances any more frequently than monthly either.

    What I like best about a tool like Quicken or Money is the ability to FORECAST my “check book” by entering in major transactions before they occur; that way, I can foresee when I’ll be short on cash and will need to move cash around to cover any shortfalls. This also helps me forecast my net worth for future periods when I know big transactions are coming up, like paying lump-sum property taxes and homeowners dues or anticipating an annual bonus.

    Quicken is just a way of life for me. So is its sister product, TurboTax. I’m a fairly advanced financial guy with some fairly complex issues to deal with, but I’ve always found a way to use Quicken in a manner that works for me. I could not imagine ever using a spreadsheet to do my financial management — financial modeling of investment or financing alternatives, yes, but not my day-to-day financial management.

    To each his or her own. The important thing is that it works for the person and the person uses it to effectively manage his or her finances in a way that smart financial decisions are made and dumb financial decisions are avoided.

    Logan Flatt
    PowerWealth.com

  14. guinness416 says:

    I’m an excel booster too, but even that I only use for high level stuff. The file cabinet has all the statements for the rare occasions I need them. I’ve used both Quicken and Money, and abandoned them both. To some degree this is because we have accounts in other countries which the software doesn’t like, but also because we’re just an ordinary couple (savings, RRSPs, index funds, very few individual stocks, no non-mortgage debt) without much need to analyze anything to the nth degree.

    Being able to track items in depth like the “food” example above just sounds like it might pull me into being more OCD about my money, which is something I decidedly do not want. Even net worth calculations are to me just a motivational and comparison tool, and don’t need to be exact to the dollar or timeframe. I’m a great believer in keeping checking my finances simple.

  15. rhbee says:

    Keep it simple. Use Quicken as a file cabinet. Don’t call Intuit for help. Use a sheet of paper and pencil occasionally. Don’t be obsessive about each aspect of your financial life. KISS. Oh yeah, this goes double for Quickbooks. I am still using QB Pro 2003 and ignoring their constant stream of upgrades primarily because what I have already works. In my college economics class, the prof took great glee in explaining the concept of planned obsolecence. The people at Intuit and indeed most computer software/hardware companies must have majored in the concept.

  16. Matt G. says:

    Trent,

    I love the site and have been faithfully following for some time now. I was wondering, would you mind making available a simple sample version of what you use in excel? I am an excel lover/junkie when it comes to personal finances and prefer it over the other software, but I’m always looking for ways of improving the system I have created. I’m just curious to see what you do. Thanks!

  17. SavingWithMe says:

    I am nervous about upgrading from Quicken 2006 to Quicken 2008. Has anyone went through that process yet and if so how was the upgrade?

  18. Moreyb says:

    5 Hours to set up all that Quicken has to offer for your accounts? How long have you invested in Excel spreadsheet design/modification/updates, etc?

    Far, far more than 5 hours, I’ll bet. Good review of the features though.

  19. AT says:

    I too would like to see a related Excel template. A debt reduction planner spreadsheet would be especially helpful.

    Thanks.

  20. Tyler Corlen says:

    Would you be willing to share you financial spreadsheet template (not the data) with the public (i.e., sent to people via email if they request it)?

    -T

  21. Celeste says:

    I too would love to see examples of ANYONE who is using a spreadsheet or series of spreadsheets to manage their finances. Know of any online resources? Quicken is a time-suck for me, I’d like to input my own data.

  22. Babette says:

    I’ve used Quicken since its DOS versions, and teach it. A few of the comments so far are not entirely true.

    1. The ad icons placed on your desktop are annoyingly commercial, but all you have to do is drag them to the trash can and they’re gone forever.

    2. Quicken, Intuit, that is, does NOT communicate with your financial institutions when you download transactions. You are logged directly into your bank or investment firm, and IT downloads to your computer.

    3. When you upgrade to a new version, your data is converted and is entirely accessible in the new version. It most certainly can read your data after the conversion.

    4. Although Intuit only supports a version for three years (and this partly because the banks themselves are constantly changing download protocols for security reasons, not just Intuit,) you can continue using an older version of Quicken…you just may not be able to download transactions and would have to enter them manually.

    5. I would imagine that a spread sheet would take almost as long as Quicken to set up the first time, work out all the formulas and enter back data. Many people dive into Quicken for the first time one account at a time – that is, they set up their cash, credit, and savings accounts first, get them under control and then move on to the more complex investment accounts.

    6. It can be hard to reconcile your Quicken checking and savings accounts the first time, if you try to do so from the date on which you start using Quicken. Your bank statement will contain older transactions that have to be entered before you can balance the account. Also, the daily balance shown when you download will NEVER be the same as your paper statement. You can reconcile to either one, but NOT go back and forth between the two balances. i.e., if you start reconciling to the daily balance with downloads, you can’t go back to the paper statement and get it to balance later.

  23. FYI – I have not tried it yet, but Mint at http://www.mint.com is now live.

    Logan Flatt
    PowerWealth.com

  24. dave says:

    To ‘saving with me’, I recently attempted to ‘upgrade’ from Q06 (which worked fine) to Q08 Rev. 1 & have been out of business since. 08 refused to print from the address book, refused to print invoices & checks. It also could not download bank data (TCF) via one-step and could not import manually downloaded bank data (to a .qfx file). It would not upgrad to Rev 3, until I first obtained Rev 2 & still wont print everything. Don’t know what to do & neither does Quicken help staff.
    dsl.

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