Is Software the Solution?
Rabid organizers, start your hard drive. The 2005 versions of Quicken and Money are here.
By Nick Pachetti

(MONEY Magazine) – You're getting ready to go biking with your family on a sunny Saturday afternoon and it hits you: Maybe, just maybe, you have time to flip on the computer and ogle your net worth or your budget just one more time.

While that obsessive urge might seem alien—and downright rude—to most people, it's completely understandable to anyone who's drunk the Quicken or Microsoft Money Kool-Aid. Thanks to ease of use, powerful tools and hand-holding advice, both programs sweep away clutter and put you in better control of your finances. For the uninitiated, however, the $80 top price tag, tedious setup and monthly upkeep are off-putting. Is personal-finance software the key to simplicity, you wonder, or just another chore to feel guilty about?

If your only problem is not paying bills on time, skip the software. While both Quicken 2005 Premier and Money 2005 Premium work seamlessly with banks to track and pay bills, chances are your bank offers these services for free. (Plus, some banks charge to download data into these programs.)

When it comes to more complicated tasks like record keeping, portfolio rebalancing and investment analysis, however, both Quicken and Money are well worth the trade-offs. Yes, the initial setup, including linking to all your banks, fund companies and brokers, requires elbow grease, but in our test, hooking up with four vendors took an hour. Both programs' 2005 upgrades have simplified the setup. (Microsoft now works with 5,000 institutions, up from 1,100.) And sure, you have to key in cash expenditures every month and categorize others for the full addictive benefit.

But once the data is flowing, you start to feel the rush. Charge $200 to your American Express card at Safeway, and the software classifies it as a grocery. One click lets you track your income, expenses and savings and create a budget. A colorful pie chart provides a spending snapshot.

Thinking about next year's tax bill? If you key in the details of your pay stub just once and then categorize payments as medical expenses or charitable donations throughout the year, the software can estimate what your taxes will be at anytime. At year-end, one click uploads the information to tax software or prints out a report for your accountant.

Asset allocation pies—one showing your actual investments, the other your target—help with the job of rebalancing your portfolio. Best of all, Quicken and Microsoft Money track your data forever. So all the time you used to spend sorting your papers can now be devoted to obsessing over the perfect pie. —NICK PACHETTI