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Tech Take-Apart
Budgeting Chaos: Options for organizing your personal finances
by kp
Quicken for
PC, Mac or Pocket PC

It's that time of year again where many of us are spending late nights organizing for our tax return. Keeping track of a year's worth of receipts can be an arduous task. The good news is that there are several software programs available to help guide you through the turbulent financial waters. For everyday expense tracking, Intuit Quicken or Microsoft Money work well to systematize your accounts, and Intuit TurboTax and H&R Block TaxCut guide you through preparing your tax return. Each program offers similar features, but uses different interface functionality.

Quicken, one of the most popular financing programs on the market, is available in several versions - Basic, Deluxe, Premier, Premier Home Business and Mac. Each program has a basic set of functions such as paying bills, online banking, keeping account records, and budget analysis. The Deluxe and Premier versions offer advanced options like monitoring investments and tracking tax deductions. Most importantly, Quicken can import files from Microsoft Money and can transfer directly into TurboTax, so that you can easily switch programs. For your PDA, Quicken has introduced Pocket Quicken to manage your finances on the go. As a bonus, Intuit provides free access to customer support to all Quicken users and has a money-back guarantee.

Microsoft Money
Microsoft Money

Like Quicken, Microsoft Money offers many of the same features, but with its own custom interface. In the 2006 version, Money has a new Spending Tracker, Exchange Traded Funds center and the ability to pay multiple bills online. Besides tracking checking, savings and credit card accounts, Money can pay bills from multiple bank accounts, and you can set up one password for all accounts. This program can also import files from Quicken except for Quicken Home and Business files. Another conversion issue to be aware of is that Money takes multiple budgets from Quicken and combines them as one. Microsoft Money is available in Standard, Deluxe, Premium and Small Business versions, but not Mac. Similar to Intuit, Microsoft also provides toll-free customer support.

You can get started with Quicken Basic or Money Standard for just under $30. Digitizing your account register is much simpler than re-writing transactions if there is a mistake. Plus, you can be directly synced with your bank to reconcile your accounts. One thing to keep in mind that not all online banking services are compatible with the software programs, so check before purchasing.

H&R Block TaxCut
TurboTax Basic, Deluxe
or Premier

Having your everyday expenses organized is only part of the challenge. Next, you need to find a tax preparation program that can read your files. If you use Quicken, TurboTax may be a logical choice since both products are made by Intuit. TurboTax is offered in several versions - Basic, Deluxe and Premier. Each program gives you the same fundamental components, such as a guided tax interview, transfers data from previous years and imports from Quicken, QuickBooks or Microsoft Money. The Deluxe version gives you extra deduction support and the Premier version provides investment help. In addition, Premier has audit alerts and can electronically get your W-2 information from your employer (from participating companies only). 

H&R Block TaxCut
H&R Block TaxCut

Another option for tax preparation software is H&R Block TaxCut. They offer a combo box version as a Deluxe + State, but after this year, TaxCut won't be available for the Mac. Similar to the other programs, TaxCut can import files from - Quicken, Money, and TurboTax. Other notable features it includes are the Kiplinger's Tax & Financial Planning Library and Deduction Pro for charitable contributions.

Choosing the right financial software doesn't have to be difficult. It comes down to an issue of versatility, cost and OS. By digitizing your records, you can finally have the freedom from stashing your receipts in a shoe box. Get started now to beat the April 15th deadline.

Shop Online:
Intuit Quicken
Microsoft Money
Intuit TurboTax
H&R Block TaxCut

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