Let’s face it. We’re not all financial geniuses. Some of us need help in figuring out budgets and sticking to financial plans. One way to get help is to use financial software that helps you with the mathematics, planning and decision making involved in personal financial planning. By getting familiar with the different types of software out there, you can choose the program that is right for you and your needs.
There was once a burgeoning marketplace for this kind of software. Not that long ago, the Wall Street Journal reported that the major contenders in the personal finance software market were Quicken, Microsoft Money and the less-known iCash. The leading Web-based applications were Mint and Wesabe. Since then, both Microsoft Money and Wesabe have announced discontinuation of their programs.
Each of the remaining brands of software will help you with the core needs of financial planning, including:
- Budgeting to limit spending and manage cash flow
- Banking for bill pay services, printing checks from your computer and balancing accounts
- Planning tools for paying off debt, estimating large life expenses, forecasting your needs for retirement and running calculations.
- Investing functions let you track the stock market and your portfolio performance.
- Reports let you print summaries that help you see the big financial picture
- Taxes can often be exported into other tax-preparation applications
The first thing most of us look for in financial software is price and Mint is free, so it clearly wins out over Quicken and iCash for that reason. But free isn’t everything. It’s important to look at your lifestyle and the features you feel are vital in financial software.
For instance, Mint is a Web-based application, so you can access the information from anywhere. According to the website, the data is encrypted to the same level of security used by banks, making your data stored on the site very secure. The downside is that Mint does not integrate with taxes or online bill-pay services.
Quicken offers many features the other two fail to include, such as online banking integration, and tax integration. The basic edition of Quicken does not offer investment tracking, but a deluxe version will offer the service at a higher cost. Mint offers investment tracking at no cost while iCash doesn’t offer it at all.
iCash only provides budgeting, and reports when looking at the main areas of functionality one desires in personal finance software. Many also believe that Quicken and Mint are easier to use and interface.
If you want to try something else, here are some criteria to look for in your search:
Ease of Use
The software you select should be easy to install, navigate and understand. Always go for the free trial when it is offered to be sure you and the software interface well together before you lay down any money or spend a lot of time inputting accounts.
Only a few brands of personal finance software connect with your bank so that you can do your bill paying and banking from within the software interface. This is a helpful feature, but may not be necessary if the software automatically integrates your banking information every day.
It is nice to track investments along with your budgets and savings. If you can get this feature, it may be a nice bonus. If you leave such matters to the professionals, then you won’t need this feature.
It’s important you have the ability to figure out how much money you should be putting aside for your children’s college education and for your retirement. Make sure the software you use has this feature.
This is a nice feature, but not necessary. It is certainly simpler to integrate the account with your tax software, but it’s merely a convenience and time saver, not a vital function.
Reports are important to seeing the overall picture of your financial status. They may also help motivate you towards your goals. Check out the report formats used by the software to be sure you can understand them easily.
Following these guidelines should help you find the software that is right for your personal finance needs. Even if you are bad at budgeting, software can be good at it for you.