Now you can take the Money and plan

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The Independent Online
COMPUTER buyers often cite managing household finances as a popular reason for owning a PC. And the latest version of Microsoft Money, Money 99, shows how far personal finance software has evolved. Money 99, which was launched on Friday is extremely sophisticated, especially considering that the standard version costs less than pounds 30.

At its simplest level, Money keeps track of bank account balances, salary mandates and bill payments. Increasingly, it fulfils the same role for small businesses and self-employed professionals. Last year, Microsoft added an invoicing option to Money; this year, the company has added a full sales ledger in response to users' feedback.

The other area in which Money 99 scores is in the integration of its different parts. If a user changes the information in one part, Money updates any relevant entries in its other tools. This way, using a windfall lump sum to pay off part of the mortgage should not just update the mortgage account, but adjust cash balances in the bank account section, and change the retirement wealth forecast.

The broadest tool is the Lifetime Planner. A couple could use the planner to calculate their finances for long-term goals such as buying a house, starting a family or retirement. It gives a clear picture of the impact of any decision on long-term financial health, allowing for variables such as the inflation rate, salary increases and investment performance.

The software is smart in other ways, too. It incorporates Wizards - Microsoft's term for electronic helpers - on loans and mortgages to find the best deals. Linked to the internet, Money runs in parallel with a new Microsoft personal finance web site, Moneyextra.com, which goes live on 16 November.

Moneyextra gives access to up-to-date information such as loan quotes, and stock prices with a 20-minute delay. Connecting the package to the web updates any variable settings, so a change in share prices will flow through into the wealth-projection charts.

Microsoft Money 99: pounds 29.99 (standard) or pounds 49.99 (Financial Suite). Call 0345 00 2000. Microsoft UK home page: http://www.microsoft.co.uk

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