I'm often asked which personal finance software is the best. I strongly recommend YNAB 4, the system I personally use. It is by far the best budgeting system on the market. The software is fantastic and the methodology is extremely effective. You can read the review or Try YNAB 4 with a FREE 34-Day Trial!
Moneydance has been around for over a decade. Originally open source, it’s now closed source and is marketed as “The Most Intuitive Financial Application.” While it’s true that Moneydance doesn’t do anything that surprises you, it also doesn’t do anything that wows you. I was left with a lot to be desired.
Note: This is a review of Moneydance 2008 and there have surely been improvements since then. I’ll update this review to reflect the latest version of Moneydance 2011 once the review is complete.
Getting Started with Moneydance
When you first get started, you’re presented with a not so welcoming welcome screen. You’ll notice as I move through the application that the Java-ness of it, while masked some of the time (the Mac OS does a better job of this than Windows), starts to wear on you. It’s started with this welcome screen.
I got started with a new file.
The next section of the startup wizard, if you want to call it that, was this:
And then the “Home Page” of Moneydance:
By default, you start with a checking and savings account. I first tried to enter a transaction to get my starting balances in there, but I was forced to categorize it (Income? Expense? It was the starting balance, so neither!). I finally figured out that if I go to Accounts -> Edit then I could manipulate these default accounts’ starting balances.
The account setup dialog is fairly straightforward:
That’s where I finally saw where you enter the starting balance and it became much clearer to me.
Does Moneydance Sync with My Bank Online?
Well, it does. I grew kind of leary of it when I was trying to connect to my friends at Wells Fargo. I’ve been able to sync with Quicken, Mint, etc. but when I tried with Moneydance I got a screen telling me:
Your financial institution requires that you change your password before accessing your accounts.
To change your password, enter your current password/PIN below then enter your new password twice.
Tick this box and click the ‘Next’ button if you have already changed your password from the temporary one that was assigned by your financial institution and do not wish to change it again.
Here’s a screenshot if you think that would be any clearer.
Needless to say, I got kind of leery of the whole thing. I’m not saying it’s fishy, I’m just saying that entering my User ID and password into that form made me think twice about it. There aren’t any reassurances anywhere telling me my data is secure, protected, etc. I’ll pass!
Looking More at Moneydance
In trying to figure out how to categorize the starting balance transaction, I noticed my first oddity. There was a “blank” category that you could highlight in the category dropdown, but then you couldn’t actually select it. It confused me for a second, but I finally just moved on.
As you can see, you can change a whole truckload of items through the Moneydance setting dialog. Each of these tabs is chock full of options that you could tweak. I personally like to see fewer options, and have the software be more assumptive (in a smart way), but having options is never really seen as a bad thing.
Importing Bank Transactions
At first I was a bit disenchanted when I saw the Import options available:
- QIF (Quicken Interchange Format)
- OFX (Open Financial Exchange)
- OFC (Open Financial Connectivity)
Because they didn’t list QFX (Quicken Financial Exchange) as an option and a lot of banks are moving away from the older QIF format (at Quicken’s strong-arm request). However, I chose the OFX option and it imported a QFX file just fine (as far as I could tell) so that worked out.
I selected my checking account and you can see from the third picture above that an imported transactions area appears at the bottom of the transaction entry screen.
Moneydance has the standard functionality here. It will find transactions for you that are matching candidates and let you unmatch, accept, etc. The workflow is fairly quick as all you need to do is hit enter to record the transaction. The only big downside with importing transactions–and this did get annoying very fast–is that the active you’re on when you hit Enter (record the transaction) is the same one you’re on for the next transaction.
If you’re tabbing to categorize or type a more meaningful memo and record the transaction, you’re then forced to shift+Tab back a few times to get back where you need to be to do the next transaction. It’d be much easier to use if it just reset back at the Payee each time (though maybe I missed a setting in there somewhere to do just that…)
Overall bank transaction importation into Moneydance is standard, with a bit of a data entry annoyance.
Working with Categories
The default list of categories you start with is massively long! It took me a long time to pare it down to something even remotely useful. (Why is Rent in the Bills section instead of under Housing? That was strange to me).
The main problem with having a massive list of categories to start is that you have to navigate through a very clunky window when working with your categories:
While I’m not a die-hard drag and drop fan or anything like that (I think it’s overrated a lot of the time and used to make things flashy when there could be a more useful/intuitive way of doing something, drag and drop does not always mean intuitive by default) I did want it here. Or at least the option to double-click a category to bring it into edit mode. Moneydance starts you out with probably 100 categories and then expects you to wade through quite a bit to get the list down where you want/need it.
An unexpected behavior I ran into was that double-clicking on a category actually filtered the transaction in the window behind you to show only that category’s transactions. It was hardly the behavior I was expecting when manipulating things in the Edit Categories window.
I did later discover that you can right-click to edit categories instead of moving the mouse clear down to the bottom of the screen, so that saved some time. Though a Move option would have been great. Needing to go into the Edit screen to move a category to a different parent category seemed like a lot of unnecessary work.
Entering Split Transactions
Entering Split Transactions in Moneydance is, as with most things in the application, completely functional but just not at all polished.
My only real gripe was the fact that tabbing through the last field didn’t automatically begin a new split transaction. Instead, again, Moneydance requires that you click the New Split button. I just got the feeling that a lot of these clicks could have been avoided with a little more polish in the app overall.
Reconciling Bank Accounts
The reconciliation tool in Moneydance does just what you’d expect. You can see a quick walkthrough of my own reconciliation process:
In the reconciliation window, clicking on the transaction marks it with a diamond. It wouldn’t have been my choice for representing that a transaction is cleared, but it serves the purpose. Moneydance functionality here is very much like you see on standard financial applications.
Tools (Are These Really Necessary?)
Moneydance also has some tools built in that I wanted to just briefly mention.
It seemed very strange to have this tool in there as it just kind of stands alone. The same calculator can be found on any number of websites. If Moneydance wanted this tool in here so badly, I would have thought they would integrate the information you get out of it into the rest of the application.
This is the strangest calculator I have ever seen. Why not just use a normal looking calculator? My guess is that Java didn’t have a standard one, and this type of form dialog was much, much easier.
The reminders in Moneydance are nice. An extra step would have been to color transaction (pay $50 to Comcast on 8/11) reminders different from other reminders (don’t forget to walk the dog). I didn’t see anything here that excited me too much — functionality like that can be found in any number of apps and Moneydance didn’t do anything different to set itself apart here.
The search feature in Moneydance is quite extensive. You can search for your transaction basically under any type of dataview possible (memo, category, before the 9th of September but not after the 1st, etc.
Building a Budget with Moneydance
The budgeting functionality in Moneydance is like that of most every other financial application — lame. (The top two I’ve found are YNAB and Mvelopes - though you may now find Mvelopes under Finicity as they’re trying to re-brand at the moment).
What I didn’t like about it (and every other app) is that you are forced to set up some static budget that is extremely hard to adjust later on. It doesn’t deal with variances in any meaningful way for the user. “Oh, I overpsent by $300 in BLAH. Oh well.” It’s a slap on the wrist type of approach.
Also, Moneydance’s setup is just plain confusing here. It’s horribly difficult to use without really enjoying a lot of clicking. The extra ‘to’ field is a tab stop, which is annoying. It automatically sorts by what is apparently the category field (what?!). If you choose “Don’t Repeat” as your interval option then it’s not included in the Budget, even though it has a start date. Don’t repeat sounds a lot like “one time” but apparently it’s not.
And the biggest question mark of all: Now that I’ve created my budget, what happens?
I have no idea. It just sits there. You can generate reports against it, but that’s it. Bleh.
The start window for reporting lists a bunch of different reports (a la Quicken) that you can use. That parts nice. The bad part comes when you actually see the reports. They’re very java-esque and just don’t have the polish you’ve come to expect for financial applications these days. Again, Moneydance is functional, but just doesn’t have the extra Umph that gets me excited at all.
The Moneydance blog has a fairly sporadic schedule, though recently (August) they’ve been updating every five days or so. Before that the most recent entry was April (to clear up a misconception that they’d been sending spam–they hadn’t, someone had used their support email as the apparent “From:” address. One post that received quite a bit of commenting was on their release of Moneydance 2008 (which this review covers). Most of the comments were bug reports (these people should send it to support — not leave a blog comment!) or questions about upcoming features.
The Moneydance forums (as they existed originally) appeared to be fairly active, with over 3,000 registered users and plenty of chatter. Most of the forums were broken down into support areas, “How do I…” or “Working with..” but there was also a large forum for just “Moneydance Talk”.
Moneydance has since moved to using GetSatisifaction as their forum/support platform. It’s a bit confusing because the forum is called “The Infinite Kind” and only in a subheader to read:
Start a topic about the product “Moneydance” in the The Infinite Kind community
I’m still not sure exactly what The Infinite Kind is.
At any rate, from the looks of it, GetSatisfaction’s forum (though calling it a forum with the traditional interpretation is probably a stretch) is cluttered and harder to navigate and questions can’t be narrowed down to meaningful buckets beyond what the users have tagged. This change of Moneydance forums is very new. So far, the response from their small community has been neutral, with a lean toward negative. But as with any change, it takes time.
My take on it is that they’ll move back to the old forums. Though the posting rate on those forums wasn’t too high, the userbase could provide a lot of the help to new members and that made all the difference in support!
Moneydance offers the following support materials:
- User Guide
- Mailing List
- Trace (for bug reports/feature requests)
The User Guide is well-written, though it’s completely text-based. There are no screenshots or visual walkthroughs. I can understand not wanting to take screenshots because it can be time consuming to keep them up to date if you’re changing visual aspects of the software very often. However, a guide with a few pictures is much easier to work with!
You can read about the forum above under the Moneydance Community.
The other support options are done very well and the Moneydance email response time is definitely better than what you’ll find in the “corporate world.”
Moneydance Pricing / Upgrade Policy
Moneydance costs $39.99, which is about average for a financial application. Their upgrade policy is fairly liberal. You don’t have to pay an upgrade fee (re-purchase the software) for a few years.
Moneydance Overall Conclusion
Besides a nicer upgrade policy, I don’t find a compelling reason to choose Moneydance over many other financial applications. The fact that it’s built in Java means it will run on Windows, Mac, or Linux, but there have been some obvious sacrifices in look and feel / polish because of the Java choice. Functionally, Moneydance is there, though it’s very weak in Budgeting (as most apps are). It just needs more polish and maybe a usability expert to comb through it and get everything right.