Neat Receipts: Manage Business Cards and Receipts

It happens at every trade show: I say no, but it doesn't matter--everyone I meet sticks a business card in my hand anyway. At this year's CES, I collected over 80.

Coincidentally, every year the Neat Receipts PR people pitch me on their little scanner and software that scans, recognizes, and manages business cards.

Each year I find excuses not to try one: I have plenty of things cluttering up my desk already. The device insists on using a USB connection on the back of the PC and I'm running out of free ports. I don't need another contact management application. And even discounted, $200 is too expensive for my budget.

Yet I kept looking at stacks of rubber-banded cards--easily the collected works of a half-dozen trade shows. I felt technologically behind the times each time I manually sorted through the cards looking for someone's vitals. And all those receipts! Filling out the pesky expense report for the even peskier PC World bean-counter was going to be a nightmare. So this year I finally decided to give Neat Receipts a try, and I'm sorry that I held out for so long.

Easy Setup

I ignored the instructions to crawl under the desk to connect the scanner to a USB port on the back of the PC. Instead, I used a front-of-the-PC USB port and it worked fine. It also worked on a powered USB hub, and that way I kept the scanner on a side table, out of the way.

My other concern--about using the Neat Receipts contact management tools--was baseless. Once the business cards are scanned in, I can export one or all of them to a variety of formats including Word RTF, a PDF, V-card, or a standard, CVS text file. Very civilized.

Business Cards: Almost Perfect Scans

It takes about 10 seconds to scan a business card and the data optically recognized, then displayed in the Neat Receipts scanner's software.

After each card is individually scanned, it's shown as an image in one panel (great for seeing the notes you might have scribbled), with the contact info in another two areas. I found it amazing how Neat Receipts could extract information on the card and get it into the correct field.

Neat Receipts pulls out the usual stuff--name, address, e-mail, and Web site. If the business card labels the phone numbers, Neat Receipts sticks them in the right fields: phone, mobile, and fax. Anything without a field, say, "Universal Remotes," goes into the Other category. I haven't played with it, but you can add custom fields.

Scanning Receipts With Neat Receipts

Most of the receipts I end up with each month are from credit card transactions and I have a sophisticated system for dealing with them. First I enter the data in Intuit's QuickBooks; then I paper-clip the stack, put it in a drawer, and wait for the credit card bill. After reconciling the bill, I save the receipts that are for legit business expenses (and probably not-so-legit), using the same paper clip. Then I stash the stack in a portable storage device, an envelope marked "2008 CC Expenses."

To say that Neat Receipts makes handling receipts lots easier is an understatement. Scan them--portrait, landscape, or upside down, it doesn't matter--and the scanner's software optically recognizes the vendor's name, date, type of credit card, expense category, and payment amount--it even breaks out the tax.

Assign a vendor an IRS tax category--in my case, lots of Schedule C stuff--and Neat Receipts organizes the receipts in subsequent scans.

Once I've scanned the receipts, I push the data right into QuickBooks. When I need to send expense receipts to the bean counter, the program turns them into PDF files. (Neat Receipts supports Intuit Quicken and Microsoft Money, too.)

My CPA is going to be surprised this year because I plan to use the Neat Receipts to print tax reports gathered from my receipts. The program supports Schedules A through F, Form 1040, and a slew of other forms. [Note to George: You're going to love this!]

More Than Receipts

A buddy of mine, John D., mentioned that he's paper-free and his file cabinets are empty. The one thing John said that really struck me is that for safekeeping, he's scanned in all his business records--tax returns, insurance policies, financial docs--and burned them all onto one DVD. Boy, does that makes sense. And Neat Receipts can do all the scanning.

Time Wasters

I suspect those of you with a shoebox filled with receipts need some comic relief, so spend a few minutes with these time wasters.

This is pretty cool--and surprisingly creative--presentation. I won't tell you what's going to happen and let you enjoy it yourself. (It takes a while to load.) [Thanks, Mike.]

Imagine someone walks in your cube and tosses you an awful pun. You could groan, of course, but you need to step into the world of technology and offer a rim shot.

Cats are weird (and that's why I prefer dogs).

Oooze is one of over 30 "Games for the Brain"--and it's a favorite of mine. So's Counterfeit.

Steve Bass writes PC World's monthly "Hassle-Free PC" column and is the author of "PC Annoyances, 2nd Edition: How to Fix the Most Annoying Things About Your Personal Computer," available from O'Reilly. He also writes PC World's daily Tips & Tweaks blog. Sign up to have Steve's newsletter e-mailed to you each week. Comments or questions? Send Steve e-mail.

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