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!
I specifically reviewed Quicken Deluxe 2008 here. You’ll find a few more features in the Quicken Premier 2008 version, and a few less in the Quicken Starter Edition 2008 version. I chose middle of the road because I figure most people also choose middle of the road.
Quicken has been around forever, since its DOS version, clear up until now, where Intuit (the company behind Quicken) boasts medical expense management, home inventory, rental property, and tax compliance software. They’ve also found it lucrative to get into home loans (via Quicken Loans) and credit cards (more on that later).
As I’ve watched them evolve it seems they’re stuck in a hard place. They must continually add features, while at the same time trying to make their software easier to use. It’s a virtually impossible task. The end result is that we have a very large personal finance application with very little additional user benefit (in fact, much of the time, it’s to the users’ detriment).
Quicken Deluxe 2008 – What’s New?
What’s new in Quicken Deluxe 2008? Feel free to grab the PDF and check it out for yourself. The short answer is that there’s not much more than was present in the 2007 version. 2007 brought a different user interface, but not much more than 2006…etc. You can see a few screenshots I took here:
It’s long been a gripe of users, that the upgrades of Quicken are forced (see their upgrade policy discussed in much more depth below). Customers wouldn’t complain if the upgrades brought new, useful features. However, the sentiment is fairly obvious here that customers don’t like being forced to pay for something that’s not showing it’s real value. You can see this disparity manifest itself when you compare reviews of Quicken from the corporate world (i.e. CNET) vs. customer reviews on CNET, or Amazon.com.
Getting Started with Quicken
Quicken boasts a very quick “up to speed” wizard, but if you want to do it right, it’ll take some time. Make sure you have prior bank statements, pay stubs, etc. when you sit down with Quicken. It will want to know everything possible. I would say just tell what you want it to know, but the end result is that there is a bunch of information that’s incomplete/inaccurate if you withhold anything.
I was initially very confused with the difference between Wells Fargo Direct Connect and Wells Fargo Web Connect. Apparently I have to sign up with Wells Fargo to use their Direct Connect (it’s $4 per month) but I can use Web Connect for free. I’m not sure if there are feature differences between the two, but Web Connect seemed to do the trick.
Buy This! Buy This! Quicken’s Annoying Ads (After You’ve Already Purchased!)
One thing I noticed right away after finishing with the wizard: the advertisements. I just purchased Quicken Deluxe 2008, so I’m now a paying customer, right? Well, Intuit knows they have me here and they begin to push a bunch of other upsells on me, some of which I’ve noted with screenshots:
This is one of the biggest detractors for me when it comes to actually using Quicken. Who wants to be subjected to a bunch of advertisements after already purchasing the software? Microsoft Money does this same thing. What we’re likely seeing is the fact that Quicken has quite a monopoly and they’re leveraging it to squeeze every dollar possible out of their userbase.
The Good with Quicken
- You’ll have an application that does virtually everything you want with your personal finances. Quicken will handle just about everything (except budgeting).
- You have a company that’s not going anywhere. They’ve been around for a while and you know they’re here to stay. (Though your data, were you to want to move it elsewhere, is held by a deathgrip).
- The calendar view is nice, with each of your account balances rolling forward so you can project how healthy your balances will be in the future.
- Quicken’s pretty smart when it comes to downloading. Your payees are categorized fairly accurately, and cleaned up nicely.
- A lot of transaction entry can be done completely by the keyboard, which saves time.
The Bad with Quicken
- It automatically grabs your transactions from WAY BACK when you first import, which means you have to categorize some 90 transactions before you can even really get started going forward. This was a huge annoyance.
- There was some very weird behavior where it would automatically minimize the app after closing a dialog box. Software coming from a company the size of Intuit should not have bugs like that in their shipping product (esp. when the Deluxe 2008 version has been out for a year).
- The cash register sound is extremely annoying. It happens every time you enter or change a transaction.
- You can’t batch delete imports. This is an absolute nightmare. Even the Delete key doesn’t work. You have to right-click -> delete and then confirm the deletion. The only way around it was to accept them all and then delete them in the Register.
- The right-click menu is truly daunting. People just starting out with personal finance software will be overwhelmed.
- All of your data is immediately compared to historical spending, even though there isn’t any history there. It ends up showing bad reports for months before that “history” is finally gone. For year to year comparisons, it’ll show you bad reports for up to a year.
Quicken’s Upgrade Policy: You Have to, or We’ll Shut it Off.
Well, it’s not quite that bad, but a lot of people purchase Quicken because they want to be able to download information from their financial institutions. That feature, among others, is gone after three years and you’re forced to upgrade. From the horse’s (Quicken’s) mouth:
As of April 30, 2008, in accordance with the Quicken discontinuation policy, online services1 and live technical support will no longer be available for Quicken 2005 users. These services include online bill pay; downloading financial data from your bank, credit union, credit card, brokerage, 401(k), or mutual fund accounts; downloading stock quotes, news headlines, and other financial information into Quicken; uploading portfolio information from Quicken to Quicken.com; and providing access to the investing features on Quicken.com, including portfolio tracking, any watch lists you have created, One-Click Scorecard™, Stock Evaluator, and Mutual Fund Evaluator.
This is very consumer antagonistic. I can understand cutting off support for legacy softwre, but disabiling features seems a bit on the aggressive side, especially considering the fact that there’s no legitimate technical reason why it’s necessary. They’re still using the same data format.
A few customer complaints (via the Washington Post) regarding the forced upgrade:
“I can understand not offering “support”, in the form of helping you fix problems. But it’s rediculous that you can’t even use any of the internet connect services, such as the download quotes.”
“This is a long standing gripe with me. Also Intuit has several other repulsive business practices.”
“Here’s the part I don’t get. How does Intuit control whether I can use Quicken to download info from my bank? I tried using Quicken 2003 past the deadline, and I couldn’t initiate the download even from my bank’s website.”
“The market has to speak up about these abuses. So long as people accept them, however, grudgingly, they will never get rid of the Dane.”
“I quit Quicken some time ago because it had become just too cumbersome.”
“If they are simply trying to monetize annual revenue vs create a good product there are ways besides forcing customers to upgrade to crappy software. After getting disgusted with the upgrade I switched to MS Money just in time to learn they had same policy. They at least had decency to tell you upfront.”
Quicken’s support has generated quite a bit of hostility from its userbase. Much of it has to do with Intuit’s business practices more than actual support per se. For instance, you can’t import your data from Quicken Basic to Quicken Starter Edition (the new Quicken Basic, with a different name), you’ll need upgrade to the Delxue version. If you decide you just want to use the Basic version a few years later? You can’t downgrade from Deluxe to Basic (Starter).
But anyway, I digress.
Back to their support. Intuit’s support area includes:
- Quick Answer Database – basically a repository of frequently asked questions
- Quick Callback – you put in your request and an agent calls you back within thirty minutes. I would have run a test on this but it costs $24.95 per call! (The fee doesn’t apply if the call is about ordering, installing, canceling, or modifying an order).
- Email – email support is free, with a wait time of under 24 hours.
- Quicken Community (see the section devoted to the community down below).
Overall, from what I could gather in reading about Quicken’s support, it’s been less than stellar and has a lot of users ticked off. This is perhaps a natural result of being such a large software company–it gets harder and harder to look after the little guys.
The Quicken community’s largest sections are: Investments in Quicken, Downloading Transactions, Core Quicken Features, and Managing your Quicken Files. The next closest forum in terms of volume is one third the size.
Doing a quick overview like that gives you a pretty good idea of where you’ll run into issues, if you have any.
Threads seem to have either very few responses (zero) or many (more than a dozen). You’ll usually see a thread die off, often without a resolution of sorts:
I thought I would update this thread. I’ve had several conversations with citibank representatives in an attempt to fix this, all to no avail. I’ve given up. I’m just going to manually enter the data and no longer use any citibank cards for charges
All in all, the Quicken Community offers a plethora of information, most of it appears to end up being an exchange between users and one (or several) quicken employees. (You can find Quicken employees on the forums with their name being Quicken [name]). While there’s not really a “community feel” to the site at all, you most likely will find the answer to your question if you spend the time searching/reading.
The Gist of Quicken
The gist of Quicken is something like this: It will do pretty much everything you would think a personal finance software application should do. It will track your spending, run reports, let you tag transactions, sync with your bank (probably for free, though you may have to pay a fee), etc. It will reconcile, it will plan, it will forecast, etc.
The big question is, will it help you improve your personal finances? My conclusion is that it will not. The times have changed, and the Big Two personal finances software applications, MS Money and Quicken, have not kept up to speed.