Intuit's Quicken remains the top dog in personal finance software, and for good reason: The program is well designed and novice friendly, and it removes much of the misery from money-management chores. Quicken 2004 Premier Home & Business continues this tradition by adding a clever Express Setup feature that automates the often tricky configuration of checking, savings, credit, and investment accounts. Quicken's interface is less cluttered and more intuitive than Microsoft Money 2004's, too. On the downside, Quicken 2004 lacks the free online services offered with some versions of Money 2004, and Quicken's tech-support options are limited compared to Microsoft's. Installing Quicken 2004 Premier Home & Business from CD took only a few minutes and required 75MB of drive space. The interface maintains the previous version's Windows XP-like look and feel with tabs across the top and a left-hand navigation column.
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|Express Setup, new in Quicken 2004, automatically downloads account information from more than 2,000 banks, brokers, and other financial institutions.|
Quicken 2004's biggest advantage over Money 2004 is its new Express Setup. It walks you through a series of wizardlike screens to enter the financial institution's name, the type of account, and an identifying account number and PIN. Quicken accesses the institution's Web site (thanks to its existing relationships with more than 2,000 financial institutions), downloads your account's financial history and current balance, and automatically fills the appropriate fields in its check register and other forms. If you have more accounts with the same bank, Quicken automatically configures all of them. Microsoft Money 2004 still forces you to enter this data manually from your statements.
While Express Setup is slick, it may require some manual intervention. When we tried to set up a Wells Fargo checking account, Quicken reported we had entered the wrong PIN, even though the PIN we supplied was correct. Wisely, the Quicken setup box includes the financial institution's customer service number, expediting the process of getting the online information corrected and entered quickly. Quicken 2004's features represent mostly evolutionary steps from the 2003 version, and the program doesn't provide Money 2004's wealth of online freebies. But in its quiet way, it's better than before--and better than Money. (Money users have one caveat: Quicken 2004 doesn't convert Money portfolios.)
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|The Net Worth view in Quicken's Financial Overview uses a series of colorful charts to display your personal worth.|
Quicken may lose some true cheapskates to its fee-based services. Users must pay $9.95 for bill paying, or about $120 per year, while Money Deluxe users get one year free, and Money Premium and Money Small Business users get two years.
But other online features in Quicken make the freebies less important. Quicken 2004 Premier Home & Business, for instance, includes a Business Center full of forms and legal advice from Nolo Books. Across all editions of Quicken, automatic categorization of transactions (another carryover from Quicken 2003) is better than before. It now searches Intuit's online database of business names. You'll still have to categorize some transactions manually, such as those from local mom-and-pop stores. Money 2004, on the other hand, requires you to manually rename these transactions the first time.
Other Quicken 2003 features have also been reworked in version 2004. The Asset Allocation pie chart, which displays your portfolio's diversity, now includes mutual-fund ratings from Morningstar. And the venerable check register now uses a faded font for reconciled transactions, making it easier to spot outstanding items. Money does not offer this register feature. Quicken's technical-support offerings are its weakest point. Microsoft Money users get free phone support all week, but Quicken users must pay $1.95 per minute for help with issues other than installation and data conversion, and there's no weekend support.
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|Quicken 2004 provides plenty of FAQs and troubleshooting advice, but we'd like to see better e-mail, chat, and phone support.|
Intuit's online site provides the customary collection of FAQs, troubleshooting advice, and other self-help tools, but you can't e-mail tech support. Intuit does provide online chat support, but the hours are limited and somewhat odd: Monday through Wednesday from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m., closed Thursday and Friday, and open again on Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT.