QuickBooks Online Gets Some Mint.com Data Entry Smarts

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QuickBooks Online home screen.
QuickBooks Online, the Web-based version of Intuit's popular small-business accounting software, is getting an update that includes improved online banking features and income transaction tracking.

The online banking enhancements borrow technology from Mint.com, Intuit's Web-based personal finance manager. QuickBooks Online will now download transactions automatically every night, and assign them categories based on historical data or intelligence built in to the software.

Users can review the categorization when they log in, and (as before) override them as needed. The software will remember the approved category and use it on future transactions. Since QuickBooks Online supports transaction downloads from some 5000 financial institutions, automatic categorization should save customers time they'd otherwise spend entering data manually.

Money Bar in QuickBooks Online.
A new Money Bar screen, meanwhile, uses color coding to show you the status of current income-related transactions: The color shows where the transaction is on a flowchart-like continuum that starts with estimates and invoices, and proceeds to billing and payment. QuckBooks also proposes popular context-sensitive next steps—for example, QuickBooks will suggest turning an estimate into an invoice, or sending reminders on past-due bills. The idea is to put all potential action items on one screen.

In recent years QuickBooks Online has come under pressure from a slew of Web-based small-business accounting services such as FreshBooks and Outright. QuickBooks Online's entry-level Simple Start version was free for very small businesses (defined initially by a small customer list) for years, and longtime users are still allowed free access, but newcomers get only a one-month free trial before a $13 monthly subscription fee kicks in.

The update, which Intuit has already rolled out to some users, includes a general redesign that exposes more line items on a screen, allowing for faster eyeballing when you're scrolling through dozens of transactions. Intuit also touts improved integration with mobile QuickBooks apps and numerous third-party services.

Pricing remains stable. Though the Simple Start edition offers the same core functionality as higher-end versions, it has limitations: For example, it will download transaction data from only a single financial institution, it supports only one user account, and it offers fewer standard reports.

Company snapshot in QuickBooks Online.
The $27-a-month QuickBooks Online Essentials supports three users, and adds estimate creation and other features; QuickBooks Online Plus, which costs $40 a month, incorporates inventory management and other features, and supports up to five users. Intuit also offers versions of Essentials and Plus that bundle payroll features for an extra charge.

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