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Intuit QuickBooks Premier Edition 2004 review: Intuit QuickBooks Premier Edition 2004

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The Vehicle Mileage Tracker is a handy tool with an intuitive interface for itemizing business mileage and generating a report for your tax return or for a client invoice.

Managing cash flow is one of the trickiest aspects of small-business management, and QuickBooks' new Cash Flow Projector is a welcome addition. This forecasting tool allows you to project cash receipts and expenses over a six-week period, thereby avoiding out-of-cash situations that can cripple a small enterprise.

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QuickBooks Premier's new Cash Flow Projector makes it easy for small-business owners to project cash receipts and expenses over a six-week period.

One big plus: QuickBooks now lets you import data directly from Microsoft Excel; in version 2003, you had to use a QuickBooks for Windows Interchange file (IIF) to transfer data, which was slower and more cumbersome. Another plus is the new Loan Manager for tracking escrow amounts, interest expenses, balloon payments, and other details.

QuickBooks Premier 2004 loses some points for technical support, especially when it comes to single-incident reports. One-time phone support (via a toll-free line) costs a staggering $75 for the first 20 minutes, then $25 for each additional 5-minute period. Alternative plans are available, but they're pricey, too. For example, the Ultimate Support Plan costs $399 ($349 when purchased with QuickBooks) for 12 months of unlimited calls, 24/7. The plan also includes e-mail query support with a turnaround time of two hours during normal operating hours, which are Monday through Friday, 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. PT. One-time support hours are the same. The good news: Phone support for questions about installation, QuickBooks-specific error messages, or those about converting QuickBooks data from an earlier version are free for 12 months.

We phoned Intuit support with a query about importing Excel data into QuickBooks. After being informed of the astronomical charges, we opted for free online support instead. The online knowledge base of FAQs provided helpful information on the Excel glitch. However, we noticed that links to an IRS page on vehicle mileage were out of date, as an IRS index page came up instead. Another free option is a message board for user-to-user assistance.

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QuickBooks 2004 has a direct link to an online support site, which is a money-saving alternative to Intuit's pricey phone support.

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