Ten Thoughts on Quicken Premier

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.

Ten Things 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. 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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