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My switch from MS Money to Quicken (for Windows)

by Philip Sellers

I have chronicled my search for a Mac money management replacement for Microsoft Money.  Unfortunately, after trials and testing, I have not found a suitable Mac solution that works fully for me.  So, after searching, Quicken for Windows 2010 is my new solution and so far, its working pretty well.   There were a few requirements that the software needed, although, I didn’t realize what I needed when I began my search.

  1. Seemless integration with online banking service to pull down transactions
  2. Ability to import my transaction history from Microsoft Money (and import it pretty easily)
  3. Ability to preserve my categories after import
  4. Ability to preserve my transfer transactions (for reporting purposes) between accounts
  5. Ability to setup recurring transactions for bills, paychecks and things that recur.

I trialed several pieces of Mac money-management software – Moneywell, Moneydance, Money (unrelated to Microsoft Money), iCash, the Quicken Financial Life beta and a few others.  The Apple Mac OS X downloads directory served as a great place to discover software, but some better search capabilities and categorization could be helpful.  After searching, I found that the staff picks are a great guide to the best available titles.

A lot of developers are putting effort into money management on the Mac and there is a diverse group of software out there.  Many of the developers have a different take, a different idea than your traditional, mainstream products.  The downside is that sometimes the software packages are feature limited to the specific idea.   A lot of the software was pretty simple software and much of it was well designed and positively reviewed.   Most of the software is available as shareware or trial-ware, so that you can try before you buy.

So, I chose several of the more mainstream Mac products and gave them a try.  Of the software, I thought Moneywell was the best suited for my needs, so I purchased it and began my conversion.  Money could export the transactions of each account to a QIF file, so I did and then imported into Moneywell.  As I reported, the categories stayed in tact and everything looked good.  I hooked up the accounts to the online banking, downloaded transactions and then hit a problem – I couldn’t reconcile my checkbook.

In MS Money, I’d devised my method for making sure I didn’t overdraft – I pre-entered my transactions. I quickly found that Moneywell didn’t have running balances – only daily balances.  It made it hard to reconile and I was too accustomed to MS Money, so I switched back in a few days and continued to try to work with Moneywell.

Before I knew it, weeks had gone by.  So, I worked hard, reconciled everything and tried again to use Moneywell again.  For some reason, duplicate and extra transactions continued to throw off my balances (because of my pre-entry habit) and I depend heavily on downloaded transactions to fill in the gap.  Fortunately, Moneywell did a better job matching transactions that MS Money ever did, but manually searching for a transaction was too much work.  Moneywell had a reconcile feature which, I’ll admit, I didn’t use.  At the time, I thought reconcile was something you did with paper statement.  I’d later learn (too late) that reconcile could have saved me the entire time.

The other limiting problem was transfers transactions.  The QIF export and import didn’t link accounts and take into consideration my transfers between accounts. I would have needed to go through and manually enter and remove duplicate transactions for four years — not something I was looking forward to.

So, I gave up and continued to use MS Money.

Invitation to switch
Intuit, very smartly, began advertising within the MS Money
application that they were offering switchers discounts to move to Quicken.  In addition, they’d invested time doing an almost complete data conversion of MS Money data to Quicken data for the new 2010 version of the Quicken software.  Having failed a manual conversion, I decided to give it a try – it certainly sounded better.  Unfortunately, there was no trial version to try – so I had to dive in and purchase Quicken for Windows 2010.

The data conversion worked as advertised – almost seemlessly.  Within about 15 minutes all of my MS Money history was sitting happily in Quicken.  The interface was completely different, but all of my data seemed to be preserved.  There were a few notes that Quicken handles investment accounts (particularly cash in investment accounts) differently than Money and that I would have to do some manual cleanup for those accounts.  Fortunately, I’m investment lite, so it wasn’t a lot of work.

Of my checklist, Quicken met all 5 points.  All of my transfer transactions were preserved, my categorization was preserved and even my bills reminders were kept and transferred into Quicken recurring transactions.  My account metadata (bank name, account number, etc.) was also preserved and Quicken identified which banks had online services available based on the bank name.  One of my local banks even offered Quicken online services where they weren’t available in MS Money.

Quicken did a good job guiding me through the process of what to do after conversion – including linking the accounts back to online banking.  The vault feature saved individual passwords to banks so that it could automatically update as needed.  In addition, the vault was protected by a master password to keep it nice a secure.  A few minutes later, my account were linked and downloading new data.

But problems arose only a couple days a couple days after the conversion, similar problems that I had experienced in Moneywell.  Transactions weren’t reconciling and matching automatically when downloaded and my running balances were off again.  In addition, most of my 4 years of history weren’t cleared after the conversion.  Great – another failure coming…

First, I tackled the matching transactions.  Automatically entering the downloaded transactions seemed to be the problem, mainly because of pre-entering the transactions.  A quick search online sent me to the Quicken’s preferences and changing the automatic acceptance of transactions so that I can manually match them.  After that preference change, the register looked a lot like Quickbooks register and I could see the downloaded transactions and manually match them when necessary to the register.

To balance and clear my historical transactions, I tried the reconcile feature.  The reconciliation window let me compare money in and money out and make things tie to each other.  Money In = Money Out +/- Balance.  Its a pretty simple concept – and one that I completely missed earlier.  Newly downloaded and matched transactions automatically clear.  I cleared four years of prior transactions and Quicken actually found a discrepancy on one account and automatically entered a balance adjustment to compensate and tie to the online balance – much easier than MS Money.

Moneywell’s reconcile feature might have proved just as effective, if only I had tried it.  But, it was different than my normal mode of operation and so, I didn’t know.  But I should have spent more time reading and researching before giving up.  The transfers are the one problem left on my list for Moneywell and perhaps in the future, I could move to a Mac solution, but for now Quicken is doing the job quite well.

There are some things Quicken does better — in addition to the downloaded transactions and reconciliation features.  The reports are much better and faster than MS Money.  The way that transactions are matched is more intuitive in Quicken rather than matching them in the register, they are neatly kept below the register until all matched.  I also like the investment listing better in Quicken — gone are the integrated MSN Money with ads and other distractions.

All in all, I think Quicken 2010 for Windows is a winner.  Intuit has certainly captialized on the demise of MS Money and provided the easiest path for Money users to switch that I have encountered.  That doesn’t mean that life is without flaws – the best Quicken version and the one I am using is on Windows.

What about Mac software?
The new Quicken Essentials for Mac is no where comparable.  Essentials for Mac is appropriately named since its missing many features and it is a very basic package.  It is, however, very Mac-like and intuitive to use and it will make sense for many Mac users  My hope is that it will grow and mature, but its taken several years to bring it market (currently scheduled for February 2010) — the last revision is from 2007.

The screenshosts posted on the Quicken site look much better than the beta I played with.  And, conversion from your Quicken for Windows is a promised feature, though the list of what can’t be converted from Quicken Windows is pretty long.  For those who need advanced features on Mac, Inuit still recommends Quicken for Mac 2007, which has more features, but looks cludgy to me and still doesn’t have all the features of the Windows version.  The Mac version of Quicken and Quickbooks have always lagged behind their Windows counterparts, but hopefully the resurgence of Mac will help level the playing field.

Quicken for Mac is the most likely path for my next (far in the future) migration once the product has matured, if and when that happens.  I suspect the cloud based solutions like Mint.com will become more popular and desktop software may be pushed out to the pasture.

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