Personal Finance 
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Free Online Budgeting & Planning Software Tools

With the unceremonious shuttering of Microsoft Money a few months ago, a lot of former Microsoft Money customers are looking for alternatives. If you were using Microsoft Money Essentials, Plus Deluxe, Plus Premium, or Plus Home & Business, your software will still work but support will be gone.

Fortunately, there are a lot of alternatives in the online budgeting tool chest. After a recent Personal Finance Hour show all about budgeting, I took a look at several software tools. This post will cover all of them briefly to help you decide which might be right for you (and they are not ranked in any predefined order).

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 Personal Finance 
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Quicken Online Cash Tracking

Quicken Online is the entirely online version of Quicken that was released a while back to compete with online money management sites like Wesabe, Mint, and Yodlee. They recently announced that they added “cash tracking,” a feature where you can track where your cash spending is going.

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 Personal Finance 
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Quicken Online iPhone App

Last year, I did a brief Quicken Online review announcing that the online money management software would now be absolutely free and that the feature-set, while small, looked promising. I thought Quicken Online was superior to other services because they had brand recognition and integration with their other online applications. Last week, I was treated to a quick demonstration of the online application’s new features as well as a sneak peek of their new iPhone application.

Quicken Online

Quicken Online is like a light version of the Quicken 2009 desktop application, with a heavy emphasis on cash flow management. The tool was designed to help people manage their daily affairs and be more forward-looking. It tracks transactions, categorizes income and expenses, and even does a little prediction to determine if you may be in some trouble in the future. Here’s a snapshot of your “Spending Money Outlook” screen:

Quicken Online Spending Outlook

As you can see, it gives you an idea of each of the scheduled expenses you are going to have as well as scheduled income payments. It does this based on your historical data, your input and the input of the community. For example, if the tool sees that “Comcast” deducts $100 every month on the 15th, it’ll record that as a scheduled expense and show it on your cash flow chart. It warns you if you might overdraw, before you overdraw.

If you’re a novice to managing your money (or just don’t want to spend the time to learn a meatier full service application) and comfortable giving your data to a major corporation, give Quicken Online a look. It’s free after all!

Quicken Online iPhone Application

Quicken Online iPhone Application screenshotThe part of the demo that most intrigued me was the video looking at the iPhone application. With mobile applications becoming more and more popular, Quicken Online is trying to catch up to the multitude of financial applications out there.

Unfortunately they don’t have any official out yet, it’s a concept/work in progress, but I can say that the app itself looked pretty cool. The app wasn’t just a browser opening up the Quicken Online website, it’s a full fledge tool in and of itself. There was a lot of integration with the online site (your typical alertis and data push/pulling) and then some slick features I thought would be very helpful for novices. For example, they showed me a feature that integrated ATM and branch data on a map, showing you all the ATMs and branches within a certain distance. In talking with the Quicken people, I suggested that they label your bank’s ATMs with special markers, say green, so you could avoid ATM fees, if possible. What’s easier, trying to use a bank’s web interface to find ATMs or firing up a Quicken app to tell you which of your banks has an ATM nearby? I think just that feature alone would help people save a bundle on fees.

Another cool feature was being able to upload transactions on the fly with notes and pictures. So if you’re at a coffeehouse and you just spent $5 cash on a cup of coffee, you could take a picture of the cup of coffee so you knew what you bought when you went back to review it. It’s not a crucial feature but it’s one that certainly falls under the category of very cool.

I don’t have an iPhone but if I did, I’d be eagerly awaiting this little guy to debut in the spring… maybe I need one now, you know, for business reasons. :)


 Personal Finance 
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Best Online Personal Finance Tool

CNN recently looked at four absolutely free online personal finance management webapps and came away with a winner. They took a look at the accounts the tool tracked, how easy it was to use, what they liked best, what they liked the least, and the bottom line of each of the four tools. From what I know about each service, I can’t say I disagree with their assessments of each tool.

#1 Mint.com

Mint - Free Online Money Management ToolMint.com was named winner, edging out Yodlee’s MoneyCenter, because of their recent investment tracking additions. You can now track bank accounts, credit cards, loans, and investments. Yodlee can track a couple other things like frequent flyer miles but it can’t track investments; I think investments trump mileage anyway, especially since I fly Southwest.

Another notable plus for Mint was it’s “inviting layout” (I considered Mint to be the most visually attractive of all the tools when I reviewed Mint) and their biggest minus was the thinly veiled advertising. I don’t think you can blame them, they have to pay the bills somehow.

#2 Yodlee MoneyCenter

As mentioned earlier, Yodlee MoneyCenter came in second with the most comprehensive feature-set but was austere in its layout. Another knock against Yodlee was how difficult it was to navigate. Yodlee is the backend that powers many of the other personal finance tools. Mint used to (and may still use) it to retrieving account transaction data.

#3 Quicken Online

Quicken Online has been around for a while but only recently offered their online application for free. They too can track bank accounts, credit cards, investments and loans (the same as Mint.com) and have been in the business for many many years, which means strong customer support. The only downside is you can’t sync the online with the desktop app.

#4 Wesabe

Wesabe has since closed its doors and been replaced with its own forums.

Wesabe took fourth because it had a much shallower feature-set letting you only get data from bank accounts and credit cards. Until recently, Mint.com had the same feature set as well but they’ve now put some distance between them. One security plus with Wesabe is that you retain your account login credentials on your computer, rather than storing them on the app’s server (encrypted, of course).

Of the four, I’ve used Quicken Online and Mint.com and, if forced to choose one, would pick Mint.com because of its interface and rich feature-set.


 Reviews 
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Quicken Online Review

Quicken Online is now absolutely free, joining the pantheon of free online personal finance management applications (we reviewed Mint recently too). Until Monday (October 13th), Quicken Online had a free trial offer month and then was $2.99 a month. With the recent competition, I’m not surprised that they made the service absolutely free.

I was able to shortcut the account sign up process because I used TurboTax in the past. If you were a previous Quicken Online or TurboTax customer (or any other online Intuit product customer), you can use your login to sign up for Quicken Online.

For the most part, it seems a lot like every other available personal finance management tool. You can pull in your account data automatically (It appears that Quicken uses the same security precautions as Mint, according to the information they provide on their privacy page) and categorize your purchases according to your needs.

Quicken Beam

Quicken Beam is a cool little feature that lets you check your account balances from your phone. I didn’t try it out but here’s the FAQ for it.

Why Quicken Online?

With little differentiation, why sign up for this service over the others? Brand name and cross compatibility with other Quicken products. With the brand name, you have some assurances that if there is a problem with security, you have some financial recourse. Many of the other management software companies are VC funded.

I don’t know how Quicken Online plugs into other services but it would be useful if it could do things like auto populate 1099-INT fields and any capital gains/losses into TurboTax. I’m sure something like that is coming in the future, if it’s not in there already, and that’s certainly a strong reason to use Quicken Online. Plus, it’s free!

Here are some other Quicken Online reviews:


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