First Look: Business Tools Help Quicken Edge Out Money Plus
The 2008 editions of the leading personal finance packages--Intuit's Quicken and Microsoft's Money--try to simplify money management by making some features accessible even if you don't launch the full application. I looked at the Home & Business versions of the two programs and found that both sport other worthy improvements, too. Users who are seeking one application to manage both their personal and small-business finances will find Quicken's offering more robust, however.
Microsoft has renamed its package Money Plus, the "plus" being a new system-tray applet called Money Insights. Click on its icon, and you can view customizable minireports in any of three categories: Spending, to track expenditures within categories; Cash Flow, for monitoring specific accounts (say, different credit cards); and Bills, for getting reminders of upcoming obligations. You can opt to launch the full application from Insights, but unless you wish to enter a transaction, you don't have to. (And you aren't required to activate the Insights feature if you'd rather not load your system down with yet another background process.)
Money Plus 2008 lets you link transactions with electronic documents such as check images, something Quicken users have been able to do for a couple of years. Unlike Quicken, Money Plus doesn't add the documents to your data file (which can swell the size of the file quickly); it simply provides a link to a location on your hard drive. Quicken, however, encrypts the data file--a security measure that Microsoft's approach doesn't offer.
The free and trial versions of financial services--credit reports, a tool for helping children monitor their allowances, investment reports--that Microsoft adds in Money Plus Premium for an extra $10 aren't overly impressive. The edition I looked at, Money Plus Home & Business, adds a trial for the Web-based payroll service PayCycle (a worthy service for small businesses willing to pay for help with the crushing paperwork associated with paid employees), as well as extra software tools (invoicing and tracking tax-related expenditures) for people who mingle their personal and small-business finances.
Quicken 2008 Home & Business, on the other hand, is a meatier choice for small companies thanks to improvements that help you track one or more businesses separately. One useful tool is the new tagging feature, which essentially allows for the grouping of expenses from several categories. You can easily see all transactions relating to a business or a specific family member, for example.
Like Money Plus, Quicken introduces a system-tray applet, the Billminder Gadget, which lets you view upcoming transactions and bills without running the program. But I suspect more users might be pleased to see PayPal on the list of financial institutions that support downloading of transactions to Quicken account registers.
Quicken's other innovations are fairly routine, but it maintains its edge over Money Plus in one important way: Intuit still lets you download transaction data to Quicken for three years after you buy, while Microsoft forces you to upgrade Money every two years to maintain online services.
For anyone who needs a full-featured personal finance manager, Money will please if you want quick access, but Quicken continues to offer a slight advantage overall in features--especially if you're a small-business user.
Microsoft Money Plus Home & Business
Worthy upgrade adds easier access to some functions.
Price when reviewed: $90
Current prices (if available)
Intuit Quicken Home & Business 2008
Impressive small-business features, including support for PayPal.
Price when reviewed: $100
Current prices (if available)