Money: Let your computer do all the hard work

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The Independent Culture
To abuse a well-worn cliche, if you look after your money, it will look after you. Janet Swift compares two computer programs that try to make this a straightforward, and even rewarding, task.

Intuit's Quicken 6.0 was launched a few months ago and last week Microsoft caught up lost ground with Money 98. Even if you have never used any similar software, the learning curve is swift, thanks to the inclusion of multimedia tours and spoken instructions.

In the case of Quicken 6.0 you often hear a dialogue between an adviser and a person setting out to do a particular task. Money includes sample data files so that you can explore and experiment with the program before entering your own data.

Both packages let you set up and maintain an integrated set of accounts - bank accounts, building society accounts, asset accounts, loan accounts and investment accounts. Both incorporate a calendar view for scheduling bills, and handle recurring transactions virtually automatically. Both programs also have a graphical forecasting facility that let you see the state of your finances over a forthcoming period.

The Internet has an important role for both Quicken and Money. Quicken 6.0 led the way with its ability to track investments, and it lets you download prices for all UK shares, with the 400 most popular ones being updated every 20 minutes. Money 98 has followed this route.

Microsoft arrived first with online banking. If you have accounts with either Barclays or the Royal Bank of Scotland, and an online service, you can use Money 98 to check balances, move money between accounts and pay bills. You can also download statements so that the transactions they contain are automatically transcribed to your records.

Microsoft has produced two versions of its software, both of which are supplied on CD-Rom and require Windows 95 or Windows NT 4.0. Everything discussed so far relates to both the standard one, Money 98 and the extended one, Money Financial Suite 98.

The extras included in the Suite seem attractive to anybody who has a serious interest in personal finance. There's a Goal Planner, which can be used to plan for future expenditure both in the short term, such as car repairs and tax bills, and the long term, such as a once-in-a-lifetime holiday and retirement.

The Goal Planner is fully integrated with all the accounts you have set up. While using it you will find advice from the program's Expert Assistant, a feature provided to help you make sound financial decisions based on expert financial consensus and the goals you have defined.

Money Financial Suite has other features. Its Money Manager section has articles contributed by well known experts and updated information can be downloaded from the Internet. There are also a number of worksheets for financial calculations. Loan Worksheet calculates the cost of a single loan or compares two alternatives.

Intuit supplies Quicken 6 on both CD and disk and Quicken 6 Deluxe on CD only. All three versions will run on Windows 3.1, as well as Windows 95, thereby catering for those with older computer systems. Although you do not need a CD-Rom drive for the program's core facilities, the very helpful multimedia content is, of course, restricted to the CD versions.

Like Money, Quicken has features to help you consider long-term planning, medium and short-term savings goals, monthly and yearly budgeting. The Deluxe version includes access to Infotrade, a subscription service that gives access to financial news on the Internet, provides detailed information to help choose mortgage and insurance policies and to manage an investment portfolio.

QuickTax 97 is perhaps the most important of the additional programs on the Deluxe version. This guides you through the 1996-97 Self Assessment Tax Return and prints out a facsimile form approved for submission to the Inland Revenue.

Although Money 98 Financial Suite includes Tax Estimator, which will provide an assessment of your tax liability on the basis of the information already entered into Money or typed into on-screen forms, it does not provide assistance.

An invoicing utility is to be found in both Money Financial Suite 98 and Quicken 6.0 Deluxe, but of the two only Quicken is suitable for the needs of self-employed sole traders and partners in small enterprises. Even though Money 98 has some VAT reporting capabilities, its role should be confined to personal finances, something which both these products handle with ease and excellence.

Money 98 Financial Suite pounds 49.99, Money 98 Standard pounds 29.99, Microsoft, tel: 0345 002000; Quicken 6 Deluxe pounds 59.95, Quicken 6 Regular pounds 34.95, Intuit, tel: 0800 0727318.