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Quicken 2012 Personal Finance Software Review

New Budget and Planning Tools Worth a Look

About.com Rating 4 Star Rating
User Rating 2 Star Rating (36 Reviews)

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Customize the Quicken Home Page to get the most important financial reports in one place.

Quicken Home Page

Intuit
Updated 01/30/2013

Quicken for Windows probably offers more money management features than any other personal finance software. The addition of so many features over the years once earned Quicken the title of "bloatware", but Quicken 2012 has really refined access to features and has a cleaner look compared to versions from years past. Quicken Bill Pay is a good feature add-on to consider for the convenience of paying bills from within the software.

New features in Quicken 2012 include a new budget, debt management tool and a large font option for high resolution screens. You can read more about new features and get help with choosing a Quicken version in my Quicken 2012 First Look Review, which is also worth a look if you're short on time.

Who Should Consider Quicken

  • Those who want all the financial tools in one place: financial accounts, budgets, bills, investing, net worth tracking, debt reduction planning, etc.
  • Anyone who wants to be able to track their finances in detail.
  • Those who are willing to pay $60-$100 every three years for the software. There's a $30 Starter Edition, but the features in this version are watered down.
Quicken is not for anyone who is unable to afford the cost of the software or who just needs to track a few accounts and put together a very basic budget. If you fall into one of these categories, see my free financial software for options and budget spreadsheet templates for options.

There are problems with the new budget tool introduced in this version, so read further down in this review for details. The budget feature was reworked for Quicken 2013 and operates quite nicely, so it's recommended that you skip Quicken 2012 and buy a version of the 2013 software.

This review is for Quicken 2012 for Windows, Quicken Essentials for Mac has some, but not all identical features.

Security, Mobile and Getting Around

Security
As with all desktop software, Quicken's security depends on how the it is used. Quicken can store all user names and passwords used to download transactions from banks and other financial institutions, and it protects this data in the Password Vault. One password is set up to access this vault and initiate account downloads. The Password Vault password is only as secure as you make it.

A separate password can be set up to get into Quicken when the software starts. It's a good practice to use this option, which is found under in the Preferences settings under Start Up.

Portability
Unfortunately, Quicken 2012 does not have a mobile app, which makes no sense to me. At one time, Pocket Quicken was available from the developer, Landware, and it was a slick app for the Palm mobile platform. At this time, no iPhone or Android apps that synch with Quicken exist.

Navigation and Response
When you need to move around in Quicken, just keep your eyes toward the top of the screen for easy navigation. Tabbed sections at the top for spending, bills, planning and the home page make moving around between feature groups fast. File operations like backing up, setting passwords or archiving data are found on the right just above the tabs, along with preference options and access to reports. Buttons with options for customizing or working with the money management tools or accounts are located at the top of each screen on the right. The accounts bar can be reduced and unused accounts can be hidden to open up space for other parts of the program.

The response time wasn't always great when I first started using Quicken 2012, but it improved with use. Some screens were slow to load the first time I used a few features. For example, the first time I clicked on Tips & Tutorials and the Help button to open the sidebar help resources, nothing loaded for several seconds. But, when I revisited these features, the screens loaded immediately. Automatic account updates completed very quickly, which is an enhancement in Quicken 2012. Other than first-time-feature-use-slowness, I experienced no errors or problems while working with the software over several days.

Working with Transactions and Data

Transactions are entered in the account registers in Quicken personal finance software.

Quicken Account Register
Click for Larger Image

Intuit / Screenshot by Shelley Elmblad
Quicken has supported multiple ways of working with transactions for years. Payees are memorized and auto-complete when typed into a register, accounts can be reconciled and cash accounts are easy to set up. Both transactions and accounts can have attachments, which are relevant visual or typed documentation like statements or receipts. Split transactions are easy to enter and are necessary for budgeting properly and, as mentioned earlier, automatic transaction downloads are speedy.

Multiple Currencies
Quicken 2012 supports multiple currencies. Currency exchange rates can be updated manually under the Tools menu, or can be set up to automatically update along with account transactions in the One Step Update.

Data Import and Export
Quicken 2012 imports data from QIF, QXF and web connect. You can import investment prices using CSV for spreadsheets, but you can't import any other account types using this format. Past year's tax data from TurboTax can be imported.

Quicken 2012 imports data from Microsoft Money directly from the File menu, but first remove the Windows Live ID password and save data in Money Plus Sunset Deluxe. The converted accounts may require some cleaning up.

Quicken 2012 exports data in QIF, QXF and TXT formats. The TXT option is for use with spreadsheet and is only for exporting report data (does not work for accounts). TurboTax tax software automatically imports Quicken data, but you may not have that convenience with other tax software.

Finding Help in Quicken

Quicken 2012 probably has the best-organized help resources available in this type of software that I've seen to date. Click on Help, Quicken Help for access to comprehensive information that explains how to use any feature. The majority of these help documents do not appear to require an Internet connection, and can be browsed or searched. Pressing F1 brings up help that's relevant to the area currently being used in Quicken.

If you're new to Quicken, be sure to use the Dock the Help and To Do Bar option under View. As you move around Quicken, the information in that bar will change to provide instant access to information about the feature you are using at the time. After enabling the feature, you may need to click on Help on the lower right to switch from the To Do view.

Other support options are customer support via chat and email 24x7, and phone support is available on weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. PT. The online forums in Quicken Live Community are available with active Q & A between Quicken users and support agents. Both of these options are available without leaving Quicken, but you need an Internet connection for access.

Budgets, Financial Reports and Debt Management

The cash flow report is one of many reports offered in Quicken personal finance software.

Quicken Cash Flow Report
Click for Larger Image

Intuit / Screenshot by Shelley Elmblad
Budget
The Budget tool in Quicken 2012 has been completely overhauled from past versions, and although it looks more like something from this decade compared to the old budget feature, it has proven to be very buggy. The budget tool in Quicken 2013 works much better.

Those who just want to keep an eye on a few spending categories can have a budget up and running fast using the automatic budget. The Advanced Budget option lets you work with a comprehensive spending plan and includes features to make doing so easier. For example, the Advanced Budget lets you select multiple categories and allows you to budget using category groups vs. one category at a time. Compared to Quicken's old budget tool, the Advanced Budget is much easier and faster to use.

Debt Reduction
The Debt Reduction Planner is another new addition to Quicken 2012. The tool provides a big picture view of your debt and develops a plan for reducing debt. The Debt Reduction Planner is located under Planning, not Property and Debt (a section available only in higher versions).

Start by selecting debt accounts to add to the plan and Quicken pulls in the interest rate and minimum required payment for each account. Then, enter the total amount you want to pay on the bills each month to see how much interest you'll pay over time. Use the slider over the graph that compares debt to payoff date to see how much interest you can save by paying more each month. Once the plan is in place, you can use what if scenarios to change the order in which you pay off the debt. The plan can be edited at any time.

Financial Reports
The number of reports you get with Quicken 2012 depends on the version you use since higher versions have more features. For example, Quicken Premier includes over 30 financial reports. Each of these reports can be customized to include or exclude a variety of information, and once you get a report set up just as you like it, it can be saved for future use. The format of reports in Quicken hasn't changed in years, but the buttons for customizing, printing and other report functions are easier to use from the top of the screen. I don't think you'll find more comprehensive reports in any other personal finance software.

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