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No Reason To Quit Quicken


Personal Business: SOFTWARE

NO REASON TO QUIT QUICKEN

With more than 80% of the retail market, Quicken from Intuit has generated lots of loyal customers over the past 13 years. The personal finance program is wonderfully simple in helping people construct household budgets, print checks, and pay bills electronically. Users can also employ nifty charts and graphs to keep track of the family's loot.

Since 1992, Microsoft has tried in vain to unseat the market leader, which it even attempted to buy in 1995. Now, with much of the battle shifting to cyberspace, Quicken and Microsoft Money are about to butt heads again. In mid-September, Microsoft unveiled Money 98 Financial Suite, with several features that tap the Internet. On Oct. 23, Intuit will launch Quicken Deluxe 98 for Windows, with its own online goodies. After testing the new versions, I see no compelling reason for Quicken users to switch.

WEB SITES. Microsoft is going after Quicken customers aggressively. Inside the box is an instructional booklet aimed specifically at them, and the product promises to seamlessly convert Quicken files into data Money can understand. It took just 10 minutes to convert the Quicken files on my PC with no visible snags. (Quicken can also read Money files.) Microsoft has added some nice enhancements. The Money Home screen, laid out like a Web page, displays bill reminders, charts, and selected account balances. You can also click on headlines to jump to articles at the Microsoft Investor and Money Insider Web sites, provided you have Internet access. Non-Money customers can visit the sites with any browser.

The news and stock quotes are free. But many of the best Investor features, including data on 8,000 equities and mutual funds, analyst recommendations, earnings estimates, and E-mail market alerts, cost $9.95 a month, or $6.95 if you subscribe to the Microsoft Network. The first six months are free for Money customers.

At the Money Insider section of the program, you can peruse boilerplate articles on car buying, insurance, and retirement planning. Information is updated when you go online. Through a feature called Advisor FYI, the program tries to make these articles relevant to your personal situation. For example, you can read about the importance of paring down credit-card debt, and--for motivation--view your outstanding card balances in the margin. The site also provides directories of financial planners and online banking services, plus a database of personal finance questions.

Other Money 98 features include an automatically generated monthly report that lists, among others, a spending summary vs. your budget and an update on your investments. The program has also added goal and debt-reduction planners. Still, Money is slow and not as easy to maneuver as Quicken. And it requires a PC with Windows 95 or NT. (Quicken also runs on Windows 3.1 and Macintosh.)

With the latest version of Quicken, Intuit has bolstered some of the program's few shortcomings. There's a new tax-deduction finder and better 401(k) and paycheck tracking capabilities. The program contains an emergency records organizer as a place to store and print key medical and financial information, such as passwords.

As with Money, Quicken users can visit the Web for free news and stock quotes, culled from Quicken.com. You can also pore through more than 7,500 listed mutual funds updated with the latest Morningstar ratings and view prospectuses online at no charge. Quicken, like Money, is equipped with a Microsoft Internet Explorer browser.

ONLINE SHOPPING. What's more, anyone shopping for life and, by winter, automobile insurance, can get quotes and compare policies online from Allstate, State Farm, Travelers, and other companies. You enter your zip code but otherwise remain anonymous, so you won't be subjected to bothersome sales calls. You can similarly shop online for mortgage rates.

Intuit and Microsoft are continually making it easier to bank and trade stocks at the keyboard. Last January, the two companies, along with CheckFree, agreed to an initiative called OFX, for Open Financial Exchange. This allows financial institutions to swap data more easily over the Net with consumers. As a result, Quicken and Money customers will be able to download brokerage statements and view the same transaction information available at an ATM. Microsoft says it has relationships with more than 100 financial partners, more than twice the number Intuit claims. But in many ways, Quicken, rather than Money, is still ahead in the personal finance software game.Edward C. BaigReturn to top


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