Intuit Quicken Premier 2005 fixes a number of the nits we picked in version 2004, mostly in important yet humdrum modules such as Account Register and Category Manager. Unfortunately, that's about all it does. The new Quicken, devoid of whiz-bang enhancements, has all the sparkle of a midyear bug patch. Nonetheless, Quicken 2005 retains its slight edge over its key rival, the much-improved yet still-lacking Microsoft Money 2005 (our review of Microsoft Money 2005 will be posted soon). We heartily recommend Quicken to personal finance beginners, but unless you're really into categorizing expenditures and you enjoy fiddling with the account register, Quicken 2004 users can skip the upgrade. Overall, Intuit Quicken 2005 has the easiest setup procedure in personal finance software. After a no-brainer software installation that takes less than five minutes, Quicken offers you the option of downloading checking, savings, and investment data directly from your financial institutions' sites.
Microsoft Money also offers an automatic setup feature, but it's not as intuitive as Quicken's. Let's say you're configuring a new checking account. Both Quicken and Money launch your browser, go to your bank's site, and instruct you to log in. Quicken, however, also posts instructions in an adjacent browser window on how to initiate the data download. Money does not. A minor difference, true, but this is exactly the kind of attention to detail that makes Quicken better.
We were less thrilled with Quicken's sloppy installation habits. For example, it automatically dumped five new icons on our Windows Desktop, four of which were advertisements for premium or third-party services. Money, by comparison, kept our Desktop clean.
Good news for upgraders: Importing Quicken 2004 data to Quicken 2005 proved fast and painless in our tests. Our budget and investment data remained intact, too. Switching from Money 2004, however, is cumbersome and requires a separate utility available for free download on the Quicken site. If you use Money 2004, you're better off upgrading to Money 2005 than making the switch. Intuit says there are 100 or so improvements in Quicken 2005. Though plentiful, however, the changes are subtle.
One upgrade lets you rename transactions downloaded from your bank to give payees more common names. For instance, you can select a Macy's purchase in the transactions list and rename the cryptic "Pos0808 Macy's West" to "Macy's," and all future Macy's transactions will follow your naming scheme. This is handy for creating reports that categorize your spending habits. (In previous versions, Quicken had trouble grouping retail-chain purchases because each transaction name often varied slightly--"Pos0001" vs. "Pos0808 Macy's," for instance.) An earthshaking enhancement? No, but it's a level of control not found in Microsoft Money.
Other improvements are equally pragmatic. A new monthly view provides a nice overview of bills and scheduled transactions, with a check mark now appearing beside paid bills. In Quicken 2004, paid bills simply disappeared from the calendar.
Here's a time-saver: you now can select multiple register transactions and process them--delete, reconcile, void, and so on--all at once. Welcome changes, all. Unfortunately, the Investing Center page, a wall of data that's hard on the eyes, remains unchanged from 2004.
Interestingly, Quicken 2005's enhancements aren't limited to the higher-end Premier version we tested. The improvements run the gamut of Quicken flavors, from the Deluxe edition that provides simple budgeting, check-writing, and online bill-paying tools, through the Home & Business edition, with its tools for tracking expenses and building business plans. Intuit deserves credit for expanding Quicken's support options, although they still fall short of those offered by Microsoft for its Money. For instance, Intuit now provides free phone help for installation and data-conversion problems, as well as for known product defects. For other issues, Intuit charges $1.95 per minute with a $49.95 cap. By comparison, Microsoft offers one year of free phone support to Money users. Intuit provides telephone technical support only Monday through Friday, 5 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT, while Microsoft provides weekend phone help.
New to Quicken 2005 is free online technical support via a chat app; however, Quicken 2004 users will have to pay $9.95 per online chat session after December 31, 2004. Intuit doesn't offer Quicken users e-mail support, while Microsoft offers a year of free e-mail support. Fortunately, the Quicken support site is thorough and includes detailed product FAQs and training videos.