Great for Financial Basics:
Setting Up Quicken EssentialsQuicken Essentials was very responsive, screens opened when called and data updated quickly. Everything in the software is bright and colorful, from the overview screen to spending category selection in the budget. This aspect of the software makes it really enjoyable to use. Pie charts and bar graphs are used to convey information at a glance. Click on these graphics to drill down and see the transactions or accounts that make up the graph. The visuals are nicely done and never pokey, with boxes that flip open with options to be chosen.
Getting set up is relatively fast, but depends on how many financial accounts you plan to track. I set up an investment account, checking account and three credit cards in about eight minutes. If you don't have an Intuit account (created when ordering software or participating in user forums on the Quicken website) you are required to create one before you can add your financial accounts. Speaking of adding accounts, the three credit cards I set up are all at one financial institution and Quicken Essentials recognized this so transactions for all cards were downloaded at once. I usually have to establish each of these accounts separately in the personal finance software.
Account balances are found by clicking on Account Summary in the left toolbar, and account registers are accessed by clicking on the accounts listed in the same toolbar. To find a list of payees, categories and tags, click on Window on the top toolbar.
Account Registers and TransactionsAccount registers look similar to what you'll find in other personal finance software. Transactions can't be added directly into the register as is the case in Quicken for Windows, instead you must click on the New button in the toolbar at the bottom of the register. Creating a split transaction is a two step process, which seemed odd: first click the New button, then click split on the bottom toolbar. Create a scheduled transaction from that toolbar as well.
Downloading account transactions is a fast and smooth process. To save time, Quicken Essentials will automatically apply spending categories and tags to downloaded transactions based on previously entered transactions. If you don't want the automatic categorization, turn it off in the preferences. Also in the preferences, you can tell Quicken to automatically assign a category or tag if it can't automatically categorize transactions, but I recommend selecting the Do Nothing option. Then, after transactions are downloaded, scan the register for uncategorized transactions so you can properly categorize them, and in the future Quicken Essentials will use that category for similar transactions.
Quicken Essentials has the attachments feature found in the Windows version. Using it is easy enough, but I was confused that there was no icon for the feature on the register toolbar or from a line in the register itself. To attach an image to a transaction, click on Transactions from the top toolbar, then select Add Attachment.
SecurityThe option to set a password to protect your data file is found in the Preferences menu. I recommend setting a password to keep your financial information secure and because Quicken Essentials stores user names and passwords for banking and other financial accounts. Be sure to choose a solid password to keep your data safe.
ReportsQuicken Essentials comes with six reports which are listed on the left toolbar, with very basic customization options. If you used Quicken for Windows or are a financial report hound, you're not going to be happy. Options included the ability to select accounts, categories and tags to include in the reports and the date range can be changed. There is no budget report that shows month to month budgeted amounts compared to actual spending, you will only find a bar graph available in the budget module.
The Budget ToolSetting up the budget is easy in Quicken Essentials for Mac. When you first open the budget feature, spending goals per expense category are recommended based on a three-month average of your downloaded transactions. You can change the goal amounts and add goals for that the automatic budget doesn't pick up, or remove categories you don't want to track. That's about all there is to budgeting in Quicken Essentials. As noted above, there is no comprehensive budget reporting. If keeping a more detailed budget is important to you, try iBank 4, You Need A Budget or MoneyWell.
Converting DataQuicken Essentials has a conversion feature for data from Quicken for Windows, Microsoft Money and older Quicken Mac versions. The conversions work reliably and require that you export data first from the previously-used software. Quicken Essentials has a limited number of reports and does not have a regular investment account register, so depending on the software you're exporting data from, some information won't transfer over.
Income TaxesIf you track tax related budget categories, you can export data for use in any tax software that supports the TXF file format, and most if not all do. To export data to tax software, categories are assigned to tax line items found on IRS tax schedules and forms used for your tax return. It is critical that these assignments are made properly. At the end of the year, click on Tax Schedule found in the toolbar under Reports, then select Export Taxes. This produces a TXF data file, which is then imported into tax software (the tax interview will ask you for it).
- Slick user interface with crisp graphics.
- The all your accounts in one place.
- Easy to use.
- Easy access to Quicken Live Community for help.
- Comprehensive help manual (PDF).
- Budget feature is overly simplified and there is no planned vs. budgeted spending report other than what you see for any given month but the bar graph in the Budget feature.
- No individual transaction support for investments, although account totals update.
- No Quicken Bill Pay.
- No mobile app or integration with Mint.com.
Bottom Line on Quicken EssentialsThe great thing about this personal finance software is that it has speedy downloads from a huge selection of financial institutions, and it actually looks and behaves like a Mac application, unlike earlier versions. Unfortunately, Quicken Essentials for Mac also lacks some of the features users counted on in earlier Quicken Mac versions, but Intuit is still supporting Quicken Mac 2007. If you need the bill pay, investment and other features in Quicken Mac, you should probably keep using it and wait for Quicken Essentials features to expand before you switch.
If you are a Quicken Windows user who has switched to a Mac, you are unlikely to be satisfied with Quicken Essentials, which doesn't have business features, a lifetime planner, integration with rental property, a more sophisticated budget, a debt reduction or tax planner. You could use software to run Windows on your Mac with Quicken for Windows or try one of my other picks for Mac personal finance software.
If you're looking for reliable but simple personal finance software for your Mac, then you will probably like using Quicken Essentials. The software retails for $50 but there are some great Quicken Essentials for Mac deals to be found online.