Quicken 2006 series
Pity the makers of Quicken, the best personal finance package on the planet. When your product is already that good, it's hard to think up nifty new features each year. Such is the case with Quicken Premier 2006, an excellent program that, aside from a few nips and tucks, isn't a big step up from its . We like Quicken's new minireports, which make it easier to quickly study your spending mishaps in specific categories, such as dining out. The overhauled Reports Center is much easier to navigate, and version 2006's ability to attach check and receipt images to Quicken transactions is great for tracking tax records and eliminating paper clutter. Overall though, there isn't enough new stuff here for us to recommend an upgrade from Quicken 2005. However, Quicken 2004 and earlier stalwarts should consider upgrading, but check first to see if your financial institution will charge you for using the new OFX file format for online banking; if so, you might want to stay with an earlier QIF-enabled Quicken instead. If you're a Microsoft Money user--an excellent finance manager in its own right--there aren't enough compelling reasons to make the switch.
As you'd expect after 22 versions, Quicken's setup routine runs like a well-oiled engine. In our tests, upgrading from Premier 2005 took just a few minutes. Naturally, new users may find themselves spending hours configuring Quicken, particularly if they choose to manually enter checking, savings, and investment information. Chances are they won't have to, though: Quicken downloads financial data from more than 2,600 banks and credit unions, or roughly 80 percent of the U.S. market.
We do have one setup gripe: Quicken continues to use the Windows Desktop as its personal billboard. Premier 2006 dumped five new icons onto our desktop, including pitches for NetBank, Experian, and the Quicken Credit Card and Bill Pay services. We dragged each to the nearby desktop Recycle Bin.
The main interface hasn't changed much. No complaints here, though, as Quicken's presentation is first-rate. The Quicken Guided Setup is an easy-to-follow wizard for beginners. Once you've entered your data, the well-structured Home screen displays a myriad charts and graphs that summarize your financial health. Menu and icon bars along the top of the screen, plus left-side column links to the Investing and Property & Debt sections, make it easy to access just about every tool you'll need.
But the best interface upgrade is the new Reports Center, a dramatic makeover of what was a drab, hard-to-browse section. In Quicken 2006, a single screen displays both standard and custom reports, and standard reports are organized by category (for example, spending, tax, and such). The section includes five new reports for those who like to slice and dice their data. Our favorite is Current Spending vs. Average Spending by Category--a real eye-opener for those who fear they've exceeded their monthly spending cap.
There are four flavors of Quicken 2006. We tested Premier, the $79.95 package that has more features for managing investments and tax deductions than either the Deluxe ($59.95) or the Basic ($29.95) versions. At the high end, the $89.95 Home & Business edition has additional tools, including the ability to create and track invoices, for running a small business. (Note: A $20 rebate offer on the Deluxe, Premier, and Home & Business editions expires November 30, 2005.)
One of the best features in Quicken 2006 is the one-click minireport, a convenient way to pinpoint categories where you may be overspending. For instance, when you click a payee (for example, Rob's Diner) or a category name (Dining) in the check register, the minireport button appears to the right of the name. Click the button, and a drop-down list shows all recent transactions for that payee or category. Quicken's legendary attention to detail shines here: You can change the minireport's time frame to show, say, the last 90 days of Dining (rather than the default setting of 30 days) by clicking the down arrow inside the report box. While Quicken 2005 showed spending-by-category information, too, you had to jump through more hoops to find it.