When you first open personal finance software, you are required to set up at least one account in the software. This account represents a real financial account, like a checking account or credit card. You will give the account a name in the software, for example, "Checking" or "Chase Visa", and you will probably be asked for the current account balance. Once this account is set up in the software, you will access it from a list or toolbar in the software, and the account will look like a check register. As you use the account to make purchases, you enter details into the account register like date of transaction, payee and amount. You can also assign the transaction to a budget category, which is covered later in this tutorial.
Types of Accounts
To manage your money effectively, you'll need to set up an account in the software which corresponds with each real-world account you use to pay for goods and services. For example, all checking and savings accounts (include debit card transactions with the related account) and credit cards. If you routinely pay with cash or you want to track every penny in your budget, you will also want to create an account in your software called Cash. A cash account can have a zero starting balance unless you want to enter a deposit equal to the cash you have in your wallet, pocket, on your dresser or any place else you typically store change or paper bills.
Automated Transaction Downloads
Most personal finance software can be set up to securely download transactions directly from the financial institutions you hold your accounts at directly into the corresponding account in the software. If your software has this feature, sometimes called Direct Connect, the software will walk you through setting up the automated transaction downloads. Using this feature saves a lot of time because you do not need to enter each transaction by hand. Usually, the software retrieves new transactions automatically each time you open it, but to enable this feature, you will need give the software the user name and password for your account. You can always start using personal finance software by typing transaction details into registers yourself, and then set up automatic transaction downloads later if you wish to use them. And, if you choose to use automatic transactions downloads, you should set up a password in your software (if the software doesn't allow for a password to enter when you first open it, find another software package).
There is another option for downloading transactions that does not require entering financial account user names and accounts into the software that is typically called WebConnect. With WebConnect, financial account passwords and other details aren't stored in the software, and you enter this information each time you want to download transactions. Some personal finance software, like iBank 4 for Mac, Mvelopes online personal finance app and Quicken will let you initiate WebConnect from within the software. Others, like You Need A Budget, require you to use your browser (like Internet Explorer, Chrome or Firefox) to the online banking web site for your financial accounts, log in and then export and download transactions. The software can be set up to recognize the download and pull the transaction data into the appropriate account register, all without any access to your financial account credentials.
More About Accounts
The first time you download transactions into accounts that are set up in financial software, your financial institution may download 3 months or more of transactions. Having this account history is very useful for budget reporting, but for this reporting to be accurate, you will need to edit each downloaded transaction to be assigned to the correct budget category, which is explained later.
After you enter or download transactions into the registers, the software will show the balance for each account. After your accounts are set up, you can start working with transactions in the account registers.