Quicken 2008 is a small upgrade of Intuit's popular personal finance program. This well-built money manager is easy enough for novices yet powerful enough for veteran number crunchers, although it feels like a warmed-over version of last year's model with a few helpful enhancements. That said, the 2008 version is a bit better at managing savings and investments, categorizing expenses, and tracking 529 college savings contributions.
Quicken comes in multiple editions, which have been retooled from previous years. The $30 Quicken Starter Edition, previously named Quicken Basic, provides a surprisingly robust set of tools. You can pay bills online, download bank transactions, and track tax deductions. For $60, Quicken Deluxe targets young families trying to save money for a house, college fund, or other big-ticket item. The $90 Quicken Premier--which we tested--is for older families with various investments, including stocks and property, and maybe a kid or two in college. For $100, Quicken Premier Home & Business aims to serve entrepreneurs who want to manage their personal and business finances with one program. Intuit is also working to build an online version of Quicken.
Setup and interface
Setup for Quicken 2008 is mostly unchanged from last year, and the process is largely automated and fast. Luckily, Intuit doesn't demand that you have a brand-new computer, as the application can run on Windows 2000 or more recent, and a recommended 256MB of RAM. Software installation took only 5 minutes in our tests on both Windows XP and Vista machines, and we successfully downloaded transactions from a major bank and a brokerage firm in about 10 minutes. Since Quicken's account registers automatically categorize your transactions, setup doesn't require a lot of manual labor. And tweaking is easy; to rename a transaction, for instance, select it and click the Edit button. Unfortunately, during installation Quicken rudely dumped four icons on our Windows XP desktop, including junk-mail pitches for credit report, credit card, and bill-pay services.
Of course, Quicken 2007 did these things, too. So what's new in 2008? The biggest upgrade is My Savings Plan, a helpful feature for those of us who have trouble socking away money each month. Using My Savings Plan, you enter monthly spending budgets and savings goals--say, $200 per month for next summer's vacation. Quicken then charts your actual versus allocated spending. It also adopts the "rollover" concept popularized by cell phone plans by adding extra savings to next month's target.
Windows Vista users will like the nifty Quicken Bill Minder Gadget, a Desktop window that reminds you of upcoming and overdue bills, as well as other transactions. In addition, Quicken now connects to more than 5,300 financial institutions, including PayPal. That's 1,000 more than what Quicken 2007 supported--so the odds are good that your bank is covered.
Early users of Quicken 2007 complained of frequent crashes, although Intuit later released patches to address those problems. Thus far Quicken 2008 appears reasonably stable. We did, however, experience one particularly ugly crash that required us to reboot Windows Vista.