I have to admit: I’ve always been a little afraid of Quicken. It just seems so monolithic, in the world of budgeting and personal finance. And I always figured it would be incredibly complicated to use.
So I was pleasantly surprised to find how easy setting up Quicken 2014 can be!
As a detail-oriented budgeting nerd, I’ve used some sort of budgeting software most of my adult life. First, I used Mint, and now I’ve been using You Need a Budget. And then sometimes, when I’m feeling particularly nerdy, I’ll use other tools, like Manilla for tracking bill payments or Ready for Zero.
And these are all good tools, but I’m amazed at how Quicken basically brings them all together in one surprisingly easy-to-use program.
So first, let me say that this review is more of a review of the absolute basics. I’m not planning my future estate or even this year’s taxes, and I’m not going into huge detail about how to complete some piece of complex financial planning with Quicken. I’m a newbie, and, as such, I’ve just gone through to set up the very basics on Quicken. Here’s what I found:
Account Synching is a Breeze
With lots of financial programs, I’ve had trouble synching at least one of my husband’s and my zillion (okay, seven) student loan accounts. I think part of the problem is that the accounts get switched to new servicers all the time, and smaller companies can’t stay on top of the changes.
I wasn’t all that surprised to find out that Quicken easily synched with every last one of our accounts – even the most obscure private student loan account. I wasn’t surprised because I’d used Mint, another Intuit product, recently, and it never had an issue, either.
One excellent thing about Quicken, too, is that it automatically assigns categories to transactions when you synch accounts. And the assignments are fairly accurate, too. They presumably have the benefit of thousands of people’s data and transaction information to make this happen.
(You can set up your account so that it automatically gives Intuit anonymous data, so they can keep tweaking and improving the program.)
Once you get your information synched, that cool-looking pie graph will automatically customize to reflect your spending by percentage and category. Of course, you can go in and change transaction categories when you set up your budget. In fact, just after generating the first report, Quicken will tell you how many transactions it was unable to categorize, and you can go in and categorize those right away.
This is what the budget looks like if you don’t do anything to it, but you can add in any number of categories that you want.
Personally, I’m a fan of bar graphs when it comes to budgets. This is especially true when holding a financial checkup meeting with my very-visual husband. Numbers tend to fly out of his brain, but graphs he can get hold of and understand.
More Than Just a Budget
Quicken doesn’t just help you track your spending. The intuitive system has tabs across the top like this:
I found toggling through the various functions of Quicken pretty self-explanatory. I checked out the Budgets, Debt Reduction, and Savings Goals tabs. For now, I’m leaving the Lifetime Planner and Tax Center tabs alone. I looked at them a bit, though, and it seems like Quicken pretty much tells you what information you need to input, making setup relatively easy.
The Property and Debt tab calculates your current net worth, and will generate a graph for it if you want. (I did not want, as net worth is a rather depressing figure at the moment.)
It also shows you all your debt, and what percentage of debt each individual account represents. Like this:
Apparently student loan debts are blue because they’re not as bad as that glaring red credit card debt. Feeling the weight of all those student loans right now, I only partially agree.
Even though it didn’t draw the prettiest financial picture for me, I think the Property and Debt tab could be interesting for tracking the upward trend in our net worth as we pay off debt.
One function I could see myself using is the Savings Goal. As you can see below, it’s super easy to set up. You just create the goal by putting in its name, amount, and the date you want to have money saved by.
I only had one problem with the goal function: I tried to set up a fictional “vacation” goal, but it wouldn’t let me do that because apparently the “vacation” label is already set as a budget category. So if you want to set up a goal named the same thing as something in your budget, you either have to change the name of the goal (like I did) or delete the category from your budget.
I messed around with the savings goal function for a few minutes, and I think it has a couple of drawbacks. For one thing, it doesn’t seem like it will link with a specific account, like the comparable Goal setting in Mint will. I like that Mint automatically tracks your progress to your goal.
With this option, it looks like you figuratively transfer money from your account to your goal. So Quicken sets that money aside in an imaginary envelope, if you will, even though you may not be actually transferring it into a specific savings account. It works, but not as smoothly or automatically as it might otherwise.
Getting Out of Debt
Here’s probably my favorite function of Quicken 2014: the debt plan.
As a twenty-something with a load of student loan debt, among a few other smaller debt items, I’m working really hard towards debt freedom. So I love the idea of having a chart that automatically tracks my progress towards that goal, which I think would help spur me on in financial discipline that would push me towards that goal.
(Just for the record, it’s not going to take me nearly forty more years to get out of debt. I didn’t enter all my information into the debt plan before I snapped this screen shot. Just so you know.)
This is what a debt plan looks like. It also tells you, below the nifty graphic, how much you’ll need to pay towards each account to achieve your debt freedom goals most efficiently. You can put in any or all of your debts that are synched up with Quicken (as well as, I would imagine, debts that you didn’t synch an account for, like personal debts).
(I didn’t include a screen shot because I would have had to black out nearly all of the information, thus defeating the purpose.)
I’m going to have to play around with Quicken more before I decide if it’s really my end-all, be-all budgeting tool. I do like that it rolls multiple types of financial management tools into one interface. However, I’m pretty hooked on YNAB’s month ahead budget concept.
Still, I think that even if you wanted to track your actual budget through other means, Quicken could be a helpful tool for long-term planning, tax planning, and becoming debt free.
If you want to give Quicken a try, you can get $10 off Quicken Deluxe 2014 by using this link.