When it comes to using your computer to manage your money, Intuit's Quicken lineup was pretty much the only game in town—until the upstart cloud service Mint.com came along in 2006. Mint can do almost anything Quicken can do, but it's free and you don't need to install any software.
Intuit surprised no one when it co-opted this threat by acquiring Mint.com. Interestingly enough, Intuit decided to continue operating the ad-supported operation. So we decided to compare Intuit's traditional Quicken product line to its cloud service to determine if one was better than the other.
Both the just-released Quicken 2013 (with editions ranging in price from $40 to $160) and the free cloud service Mint.com (which replaced Quicken Online a few years ago) provide useful tools for tracking and planning your finances. Both help with data entry by providing support for downloading transaction information from your accounts at literally thousands of financial institutions. No matter which you choose, you'll only realize its full benefits if you're willing to put a bit of time and effort into monitoring and augmenting the automated data entry—and using all the program's features.
The difference between the two products varies greatly depending on which issue of Quicken you're looking at. With the $40 Quicken Starter Edition (available only from online retailers, and not even shown in the product comparison page on Intuit's web site) and the $70 Deluxe Edition, the choice between Quicken and Mint.com boils largely down to whether you prefer to keep your financial data on your PC or online—and how much you're willing to pay for the former.
Both products offer tools for categorizing expenditures and income, creating budgets, and sending e-mail or text messages to alert you when you overspend in a budget category, let your bank balances fall too low, or the like. Quicken Starter Edition supports downloads from checking, savings, and credit card accounts; Quicken Deluxe adds support for downloads from loan accounts (this is new in 2013) and investment accounts. Mint.com supports downloads from just about any financial account that's available online.
The more expensive Quicken editions add features that Mint.com doesn't tackle in depth—or at all. Quicken Premier ($100), for instance, offers detailed portfolio examination tools for investors, where Mint.com provides limited tools for reporting on the investment data it downloads, but only after plying you with brokerage service offers.
Quicken Home & Business ($110), meanwhile, adds support for small business owners who want to track both personal and business finances in one program, while Quicken Rental Property Manager ($160) also provides features for landlords. Also, while Mint.com is a free cloud service, advertising and targeted marketing offers pay the bills. Ads and pitches aren't all that intrusive, but they aren't always clearly labeled.
Here's a quick summary of what we think of each product. Click on the links to read our full reviews:
Intuit bumped the price of each Quicken product by $10 each, but it added free mobile apps. But the primary reason to buy desktop software, versus using Intuit's free cloud service, is that your private financial data will remain locked inside your PC—where Intuit won't be able to use it to bombard you with marketing offers and advertising pitches.
Read our hands-on review of Quicken 2013.
Mint is a fabulous—and free—alternative to desktop finance software, provided you don't mind the advertising and marketing pitches that come with it. No useful service (think Google) is truly free. At the end of the day, someone has to pay for development, server space, ongoing maintenance, and everything else. If the notion of storing your financial data in the cloud and receiving marketing pitches based on that data, you should pay for desktop software.
Read our hands-on review of Mint.