Microsoft Money 2002 and Quicken 2002

New versions of two highly popular money-management software programs--Microsoft Money 2002 Deluxe and Intuit's Quicken 2002 Deluxe--offer a handful of changes that enhance the apps' ease of use. They aren't, however, must-buy upgrades for owners of the 2001 editions.

I looked at the beta 2002 versions of these veteran programs (Quicken is now in its seventeenth version, while Money is in its tenth). Both applications thoroughly cover almost every aspect of personal finance, including such areas as online banking, investing, budgeting, and tax planning.

Easy Does It

For example, consider how much time you spend on taxes alone. More than their previous versions, these programs help cut back on the drudgery. Improved online banking features in both programs expedite the electronic download and automatic categorization of your credit card, checking, and investment transactions, automatically matching most results to tax-form lines.

They can also show what-if scenarios of different stock-sale combinations that would minimize capital gains; ferret out tax deductions; and demonstrate how different financial choices affect your year-end obligation. In particular, with its 2002 edition, Money gains the kind of smooth data interchange with Kiplinger's TaxCut software that Quicken has always had with TurboTax, its sibling Intuit product. Using either program will help you spend less time on tax chores.

Money and Quicken's budgeting and portfolio managers have gotten a similar touch-up. Now Quicken's capital gains estimator, asset allocator, and other relevant tools are on a single page called the Portfolio Analyzer. Likewise, budgeting tools are collected on a single page and offer a lot more helpful instruction--perhaps too much of it.

Many Quicken pages are getting awfully busy-looking. Money achieves enhanced usability by beefing up Advisor FYI, its ever-present intelligent wizard. It pops up here and there as needed, to warn you of a looming cash-flow problem or to suggest an investment strategy, for example.

The only truly innovative addition in Money 2002 is MoneySide, a browsing companion that's sort of a Web version of Advisor FYI. It chimes in whenever it thinks you need a credit card number, a can-I-afford-that calculation, or a little how-to investment advice.

But to use MoneySide and certain other new features, you must assemble the IDs and passwords to all the online financial accounts that you care to have interact with Microsoft Money 2002 under Microsoft's new Passport system (which would let you type in only one user ID and password, admittedly a timesaver).

You may want to think twice, however, about concentrating access to so much of your personal and financial information under one lock and key on a Microsoft server.

The bottom line: I simply can't imagine getting along without one of these money managers. If you don't already own one of these programs, however, I suggest purchasing Intuit Quicken 2002 because it is not as adamant about knowing your personal financial information as Microsoft Money 2002 is. In my opinion, though, there is not really enough new in either package to compel users of previous versions to upgrade.

Microsoft Money 2002 Deluxe

A good advanced money manager; some functions are curtailed if you don't use Microsoft's Passport access feature. URL www.microsoft.comQuicken 2002 DeluxeA must-have for anyone who lacks such a program but wants to manage their money. This version contains too few new features to make upgrading worthwhile, however. URL www.quicken.com

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