Every year, Intuit Quicken outsells Microsoft Money, and there's nothing in Money 2003 Deluxe to change those popularity rankings. With only a few new features--most in the investing arena--there's little reason for current Money users to upgrade from version 2002. We hate the way Money makes you get a Passport account to access some services, and we fear that the program is getting too big for its britches. But overall, Money's attractive interface, first-rate Web integration, and excellent investing tools pretty much tie it up with Quicken this time around. And its superior customer support services give it just the edge it needs to take our Editors' Choice award. (Updated 8/16/02)
Every year, Intuit Quicken outsells Microsoft Money, and there's nothing in Money 2003 Deluxe to change those popularity rankings. With only a few new features--most in the investing arena--there's little reason for current Money users to upgrade from version 2002. We hate the way Money makes you get a Passport account to access some services, and we fear that the program is getting too big for its britches. But overall, Money's attractive interface, first-rate Web integration, and excellent investing tools pretty much tie it up with Quicken this time around. And its superior customer support services give it just the edge it needs to take our Editors' Choice award.
Pass on Passport
Money's setup remains similar to last year's: a slick wizard walks you through the process of configuring accounts and scheduling regular bill payments, such as those for your phone, mortgage, and car. In our trial run, we wrapped up the procedure in about 15 minutes, about 5 minutes quicker than last year. And Money still works hand in hand with the enemy; we imported a massive Quicken file without a hitch. Unlike last year, however, Money 2003 Deluxe now lets you choose to create your own Money password for accessing your finances, rather than rely on Passport, Microsoft's proprietary authentication system.
A Web look and feel
Version 2003's interface still looks and navigates like a Web site, with hyperlinks and a customizable toolbar. The new Task-Based Home Page groups your financial chores by topic, including paying bills, planning, and budgeting. Rookies will appreciate this straightforward organization.
That said, we fear that Money suffers from early-stage information overload. Its cluttered display, once so simple, is getting harder to work with while Quicken 2003's revamped interface is easier than ever. For example, this year, a small pane displays future bills and a cash-flow projection at the bottom of bank registers, crowding the screen. You must select from a menu to make this disappear.
Not much new
Alas, Money 2003's few cool enhancements are either separate programs, Quicken catch-ups, or useful only to a minority. This year, you'll get a free year of MSN Bill Pay (an e-bill-payment service run by CheckFree) and, finally, the ability to schedule Money to send out electronic payments when you're offline and compare spending and income for two different time periods. Quicken has offered both of these features for years. Worse, Money once again leaves Mac users out in the cold; Money runs only on Windows PCs. Shame on Microsoft.
Money's cool new investment tools, which let users monitor and exercise options and link directly to MSN's online investing research center, will benefit only those investors who are brave enough or rich enough to play this volatile market. In a different economic climate, however, anyone could benefit from Money. Quicken 2003 Deluxe's investment tools, though much improved, still can't compare.
Nonetheless, Money 2003 remains a solid personal finance manager. Its bill-paying, account-balancing, and budgeting tools remain fast and easy. In fact, a new automatic-balancing feature keeps your bank accounts on track all the time, and Money still records taxable expenses and exchanges financial data with TaxCut, H&R Block's tax prep program.
Money has also maintained and enhanced its online resources, including MSN Money. You can view MSN directly from within Money itself and access bank-account and portfolio information from any browser-equipped computer. Last year's Background Banking, which automatically downloads bank statements and stock prices when you're online, is still here, too. Unfortunately, so is the tiresome requirement that you have a Passport account to access that feature.
Support is up to snuff
Microsoft's support policies haven't changed either, fortunately. The toll-call phone support desk is open seven days a week (Monday through Friday, 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. PT; Saturday, 5 a.m. to 3 p.m. PT; and Sunday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. PT). You can e-mail queries and search through Microsoft's enormous--and often difficult to navigate--knowledge base. Reps answered our test support calls promptly and had solutions to our problems. By contrast, Intuit's phone support is costly ($1.95 per minute!) and is open only on weekdays.
Like last year's version, Money 2003 Deluxe is a superb financial manager marred by some small flaws, such as its Passport requirement for certain features and its creeping clutter. However, even though Quicken 2003's interface is now cleaner and more intuitive than Money's, that's still not enough to cancel out Intuit's wretched phone support. While 2002 users don't need to upgrade, new customers should look to Money for the best manager on the market.