The best personal-finance software

If you're mired in receipts, statements, and bills, there is a simpler way. Money magazine's David Futrelle gives his picks for the best ways to go paperless.

By David Futrelle, Money Magazine contributing writer

(Money Magazine) -- Woody Allen once said that 80 percent of success is just showing up. You could also say that 80 percent of financial success is just keeping track.

Knowing what you have stops you from bouncing checks; knowing how your investments are performing helps you move toward your goals. Trouble is, keeping track can be a royal pain in the posterior. A personal-finance program can ease the ache. Here are our six faves.

The 800MB gorillas
What you need to save

These two programs dominate for good reason. Both let you download your bank and credit card info and pay bills and manage investments online, creating cool charts and tables along the way.

Both offer everything from a cheap basic version (if you're looking for little more than a system for balancing your checkbook) to a pricier one with sophisticated tools to help you pay down debt, save for retirement and more.

Both give tax advice and let you transfer your data into tax prep programs like Intuit's (Charts) TurboTax and H&R Block's (Charts, Fortune 500) TaxCut .

The 2008 editions of these programs, out this month, include several new features meant to help you budget and track expenditures more precisely. (The 2008 versions were unavailable at press time; we tested the 2007 versions.)

Bottom line: You can't go wrong with either program. (If you're a Mac user, your only option here is Quicken.) Quicken and Money aren't perfect, though. They're so big that they can run slowly and be difficult to navigate.

Annoyingly, both try to sell you on other products and services. And they're not cheap especially if you factor in their monthly fee for online bill paying ($6 with Money; $10 with Quicken).

Simpler (and usually cheaper) alternatives

AceMoney offers a solid, basic personal-finance package. If you're a frugal sort with only one bank account to track, you can download AceMoney Lite for free.

While the $30 version doesn't include online bill paying, it does let you track multiple accounts and entitles you to free upgrades for life - or at least for as long as the small software company behind AceMoney sticks around.

If you're a Mac user, this is the only passable alternative to Quicken. It's sleek and simple to use, and it covers all the basics of personal finance. You can also download an assortment of free "extensions" - useful tools like credit card paydown calculators.

Moneydance doesn't charge for online bill paying, but your bank may.

Managing your money from the back of a cab

Attention, handheld-PC addicts: These two very similar programs are the only ones worth bothering with.

After you manage your finances on your handheld, you can transfer the data into your desktop personal-finance program (as long as that program is Quicken or Money, respectively). Because man cannot live by teeny keyboards alone. Top of page