NeatReceipts for Mac

I've got a box full of receipts: some business-related, some personal, some from the doctor's office, others from the local grocery store--and I don't want to deal with any of them. NeatReceipts, which includes the NeatWorks for Mac 2.0 software, may well change all that.

NeatWorks is a combination scan and data capture program that lets you scan receipts, business cards, and other documents, automatically extract data from those documents, and then store that data in NeatWorks or export it to programs like Address Book, Quicken, Excel, or Numbers.

NeatReceipts ships with a small portable scanner that you use to scan documents into the NeatWorks application. (NeatWorks works with several other scanners and is available for purchase separately from the NeatReceipts package. The Neat Company has a list of scanners that work with the program.) When a scan is complete, NeatWorks begins performing optical character recognition (OCR) on your documents; depending on the size of and amount of information on your document, this can take anywhere from a few seconds to just under a minute to complete. When the OCR is done, NeatWorks does two things: it tries to determine the type of document you've scanned (text document, receipt, or business card), and then populates data fields with information it finds on your document based on the document type it has selected.

NeatWorks is quite good at OCR, especially when it comes to recognizing information on receipts. No matter how mangled my receipt, NeatWorks easily found the total and receipt date and appropriately placed that information into the program's form fields. NeatWorks always correctly recognized where numerical data was on a document, although it was less successful at finding and handling specific information, such as the amount of tax I paid or the name of the business where I made the purchase. Fortunately, because NeatWorks always knew where the numerical data was, I was able to drag and drop the information from the receipt image to the proper form field, where NeatWorks then filled in the correct text. I also found that NeatWorks often confused receipts with documents--a problem that could be fixed with a simple menu selection.

When it comes to scanning business cards, NeatWorks is a pretty slick application. I scanned a half-dozen cards, with a variety of different fonts, type sizes, and images, and NeatWorks always correctly recognized the business card and pulled the proper information into the program's data fields. But NeatWorks struggled a bit with fonts that looked more like script, and with type that was very small or too closely spaced together. So, while the program always placed the correct information in the correct fields, occasionally first and last names got concatenated, or gibberish appeared in the fields. For example, one business card had "Magic Lantern Productions" written in script as the company name. While NeatWorks populated the company field with data from where the business name was on the card, what appeared in that field was "xAlaoio jCaiUem £r*ocluction&." This was easy enough to fix manually and only happened with difficult fonts.

Once you've scanned and corrected your information, NeatWorks makes it easy to move that data to applications where it may be more useful. For business cards, all you need to do is drag the scanned document to the program's Address Book icon, and NeatWorks creates a new contact in Apple's Address Book app, complete with an image of your contact's business card. Receipts can be exported as PDFs, in a Quicken-compatible format, or as comma-delimited text files. PDF exports include copies of the scanned document plus all the data you have stored in NeatReceipts' data fields.

Macworld's buying advice

NeatReceipts' combination of a small scanner, capable OCR, and data extraction tools make the program a great option, especially for small business owners who want to keep receipts and business cards without having to hold on to the paper. While the program's data extraction isn't always perfect, it's good enough to make NeatReceipts a great way to go from paper mess to paperless.

[Jeffery Battersby is a (very) small-time actor and a regular contributor to Macworld.]

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