Microsoft Money Premium 2006
Editors' note: Our original review incorrectly stated that Money 2006 requires Windows XP. Although not described at Microsoft's Web site, Money 2006 works with PCs running Windows 98 SE or later, Windows 2000 Professional SP1 or later, and Windows XP. (8/16/05)
Microsoft Money 2006 is a family-friendly program for household book balancers without accountant-level know-how who need an ongoing snapshot of their financial fitness. If you've already set up your bank or credit card accounts online, Money aggregates your login information within one eye-pleasing interface so that you won't have to jump between multiple Web sites for access. The downside of this convenience is that Microsoft stores your financial information on its servers, which some people may have an issue with. Money also helps you pay bills online, either one by one or in batches. The 2006 editions of Money and market leader are each excellent in their own right, so if you're already happy with one option, then we don't recommend dropping one for the other. Still, we'd like to see more help for, say, recent college graduates in the form of student loan advice. But if you're digitizing your finances for the first time, and you're comfortable with computers and online banking, then we recommend Money for its ease of use. More sophisticated users should opt immediately for Quicken, which lets you create more sophisticated reports and keeps your financial data safe on your desktop PC.
Once Money was on our hard drive, program wizards walked us through setup--an effortless process once we had our financial account information in hand. We typed in our online bank and credit card account usernames and passwords one by one, then sat back as Money displayed current balances and drew a spending pie chart on its main page. Money's new integration with online institutions appears designed to prevent current users from defecting to Quicken, which introduced a similar feature years ago. But Money makes online account retrieval a one-step process, while Quicken requires you to download your data first. Depending on the financial institutions you use, there may be a fee associated with account retrieval. In order to speed your online access, you'll have to log in every time you open Money, which then automatically synchronizes all of your online financial institution accounts with current information.
The straightforward, blue-and-white interface of Money 2006 resembles a Web browser, with arrow buttons to move you through the screens. The home screen, for example, shows either a basic or in-depth overview of your current finances, and you can customize further. An Expenses chart now tracks spending in an unlimited number of categories. The other main modules handle Banking, Bills, Reports, Budget, Investing, Planning, and Taxes. The screens also display up-to-the-minute MSNBC financial news, promotions for features within Money, and ads for third-party services.
The $80 Premium edition of Money 2006 that we tested includes financial forecasting tools and apps to manage charitable contributions, to detail investment capital gains, and to teach kids about money, along with a year of credit monitoring from Experian. If you like Microsoft Money but don't need such add-ons, the $60 Deluxe or $30 Standard editions may do the trick. The Small Business version offers tools for your modest enterprise, but your venture may be better off with one of these small-business accounting apps. You can also download Money 2006 for a free 90-day trial.