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!
**Update: Quicken Online has now become Mint.com. Or, better said, Intuit (the parent company for all Quicken products) acquired Mint.com and is now providing it as their free online personal finance software. I’ve left the review below in case anyone is still interested in reading it. Be sure to check out my full review of Mint.com!
Quicken Online is Intuit’s answer to the slew of Web 2.0 online applications that have recently hit the marketplace. They’re target market appears to be people who don’t manage their finances at all, and just need something with which they can now finally get started.
If their goal is to provide something simple, that doesn’t scare users on the initial experience, they probably need to revisit it a little bit. Keep in mind, I already reviewed Quicken Deluxe 2008. This review of Quicken Online stands separately.
Getting Started with Quicken Online
My initial experience was less than stellar. Things started out by looking really good. I clicked on Wells Fargo as my institution, entered my SSN and password, and it detected my accounts (business and personal). I excluded my business accounts and moved forward. Suddenly I was presented with an error screen (see screenshots below). I clicked “Try Again” (at their recommendation) and was signed out because I had been inactive for more than 20 minutes (I hadn’t).
Luckily, when I signed back in, my accounts were there (Checking and Credit Card). Unluckily, however, there weren’t any transactions. Quicken Online had simply pulled in my balances. I manually refreshed the accounts and the transactions did finally appear. Not the end of the world — just slightly annoying.
Quicken Online’s Dashboard
Quicken Online’s dashboard is broken out into several different parts. Your accounts are listed down the left-hand side. The main section asks, “Am I living within my means?” and then shows you total money in, out, and remaining over a specified time period. My first thought was how lame it was that it showed I had overspent by several thousand dollars. It mainly had to do with the timeframe, but I thought it was a bit misleading.
The other sections of the Quicken Online dashboard include a summarized view of upcoming bill reminders and “What am I spending money on?” I was impressed at Quicken Online’s ability to detect what were recurring bills for me (mortgage, health insurance, car insurance). That was very cool. The pie chart is pretty plain-vanilla-standard, and of course it will always show my biggest expense being the mortgage (except come tax time). My first desire was to be able to exclude certain categories from that dashboard view — categories I can actually control such as entertainment, dining out, and groceries (to an extent).
Quicken Online’s My Transactions
From this interface you can manage all of your transactions, or drill down and handle only a specified accounts transactions.
Quicken Online has a nice section to enter upcoming transactions. This is something lacking in Mint, where you only deal with transactions that have already posted to your account.
I personally think the whole trademarked RealBalance thing is a bit hokey. The concept has been around forever and they just joined the two words together and think they’re innovating on something.
What I like about Quicken Online’s transactions page:
- It remembers your payee changes and is smart about cleaning them up when they hit your account.
- It’s fairly smart on suggesting the correct category.
- You can add new categories, and edit the preset categories (something you can’t do in other “flashier” apps like Mint).
What I don’t like about Quicken Online’s transactions page:
- The interface feels very clunky. That’s part of just being a web app, but I’ve seen much better usability design requiring a lot less clicks from other web applications.
- When you load a new page, there’s a field that’s always active, so when you scroll (which you’re prone to do when dealing with a list of transactions) you end up changing the category accidentally.
- The Pie Chart view is nice, but there’s no drill-down into the actual transactions making up that slice.
Quicken Online’s Track Spending
The next main section of Quicken Online is called Track Spending. This is basically the reporting area, and reports are fairly sparse (though I’ll be the first to admit that reporting as functionality is largely overrated when compared to other things such as usability and effectiveness).
One little feature I found pretty cool was that you could click on a slice of the pie chart and the chart on the right would update to show you the month-to-month trends of just that slice:
Other than that, the Track Spending section of Quicken Online does just that. It tracks your spending. I was actually more excited to move on to their Budgeting section, as I’ve always found looking forward to be much more effective than looking backward.
Quicken Online’s My Budget
Unfortunately, when I checked out the My Budget page I was pretty bummed. I’m seeing the same budgeting interface used again and again and again (Mint, Wesabe, and all use virtually the same thing except for small presentation differences):
Quicken Online automatically sets your budget for certain categories at whatever your monthly average has been. It gives you a total at the top and then you can see if you’re tracking under or over your average. Unfortunately, this simple tracking toward an average isn’t nearly as effective as using something like the envelope method, made popular by YNAB (my favorite app) and Mvelopes (also a strong contender).
You can add new categories to your Budget page, but this is much more like a “goals” page than actual budgeting as I like to see it. I get the feeling we’re just seeing a bunch of copycat features coming along here (not just from Intuit’s Quicken Online, but also from other Web 2.0 startups) and not much original thought into what the user actually needs to do to get ahead.
Quicken Online’s Other Features
Quicken Online allows you to text it and get balance info from your accounts, and the last five transactions. What they really need is for you to be able to text and find out if you can still spend money in category X.
Alerts are all the rage right now, so it’s no surprise that Quicken Online lets you set up alerts. Again, I’ve found that if you’re properly planning there is very, very little need to for all of these alerts.
You can login on your mobile phone to m.quicken.com and access your data there. That’s a nice touch for people that are on the go quite a bit with just their phone.
Quicken Online’s Pricing
Quicken Online is not free. It costs $2.99 per month. You may be wondering why you would spend $3 per month for functionality that you can get for free from many other companies (many of which I’ve already mentioned in this review)…I wonder the same thing. Quicken Online offers no compelling reason to hand them any of your hard-earned money each month.
Update: Quicken Online has since changed and now offers its service for free (I thought this would happen eventually).
Quicken Online’s Support & Community
The Quicken Online community is quickly growing, as one would expect from a launch as large as they’ve had, with as much advertising dollars as they’ve spent. Most of the threads have to do with online sync’ing with the banks, transactions being double-counted, etc. The community appears to be fairly active though, with only a few threads being left completely ignored.
Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for Quicken Online’s support. From what I’ve read throughout the internet, their support is very slow to respond, if they respond at all. Your best bet if you’re having an issue seems to consistently be answered with “Try again in 24 hours”. You may consider heading to the community first if you need a question answered.
Quicken Online Overall Conclusion
Quicken Online is Intuit’s attempt at not losing its share of the personal finance application market. They’ve seen competitors come up from underneath them and they’ve responded. Unfortunately, their response was basically to copy what has already been done, then charge for it when their competitors are charging nothing. I find no compelling reason to recommend Quicken Online in any form.