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Slower setup is worth the wait
For first-timers, there's no question which financial manager is easier to use: Money wins over Quicken in a landslide, even with the latter's new and improved setup wizards. Although Money's setup takes time--15-20 minutes in our tests--the step-by-step process helps you configure all your accounts and schedule all your bills (such as mortgage, utilities, and cable TV). Like last year, Money does a thorough job of converting Quicken data files from versions up to and including 2001. We translated several Quicken files and did only minor cleanup on the resulting Money files.
Sadly, Mac users are still out in the cold where Money is concerned, since the program works only in Windows.
We still prefer Money's look and feel over Quicken's, even though it hasn't changed much from last year's. Money's interface resembles a snazzy Web site and navigates like one, too. This edition offers a newly customizable toolbar, several predesigned home page templates to customize how your program's opening screen looks, and most important, the ability to modify those home pages and display whichever you choose. That way, you can quickly jump to the modules you use most often. When you're deep into investments, for example, you can set Money to show the ready-to-use Investing home page.
Money's tax expertise, particularly its links with the TaxCut tax prep package, is somewhat sharper than last year's edition. In fact, Microsoft has taken a page out of the Quicken/TurboTax integration book. As you pull data out of Money and into TaxCut, you have a chance to view and edit the financial data before finalizing the import. But TaxCut's historic second-rate status as a tax program shifts our faith to the Quicken/TurboTax combo come tax time.
However, Money still earns top honors for its long-range Lifetime Plan. This comprehensive tool lets you build a financial plan that accounts for all kinds of life events, from buying a house to caring for aging parents. Quicken's planning tools break major goals such as retirement and college savings into separate planners, making them best for devising short-term plans. We prefer Money's holistic approach, which makes it easy to generate long-term plans with overlapping goals.
Money conquers the Web
Money 2002 has achieved a Web integration breakthrough that, in our book, puts it above Quicken. Personal financial programs have had online components for years--electronic bill paying harkens to pre-Net days--but Money 2002 dramatically ups the ante with Background Banking. This utility automates all online communication between you and your bank (or broker). For example, as you surf the Web, Money can download bank statements or stock prices in the background, and Money doesn't even have to be running. You can designate the frequency of the background chores or turn them off if you don't like your software doing things you can't watch. We love the fact that we can set Money to update stock prices and account balances as soon as we fire up the program.