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Personal-Finance Apps Fade On Disk, Flourish On the Web

Today's column may look a little familiar to regular readers. In it, I try out the same three Web-based personal-finance applications--Mint, Quicken Online and Wesabe--that I tested last May.


Why return to this topic so soon? Since last spring, three things have changed. First, these three applications have all seen considerable improvements since then (though covering their upgrades left no room to assess such competitors as Geezeo, Thrive and Yodlee MoneyCenter--the latter being the consumer product of the Redwood City, Calif., company that provides back-end services for many of these Web applications). Second, traditional, disk-based personal-finance programs now look a lot weaker, what with Microsoft shelving its Money software and Intuit delaying (yes, again) the next Mac version of Quicken.

Third, I've realized how much I despise keeping my financial records the old-fashioned way in my own copy of Quicken for Mac. I never manage to keep all my accounts reconciled; when I do get around to it, the only things I discover are that my bank's records were right all along and that the empty feeling of pseudo-accomplishment I get after a successful reconciliation fades even faster than it did the last time. I need to get out of this program.

Yes, even if I have to store my bank-account passwords on somebody else's site. I've decided I can live with that--just as I'm OK with using Web-based applications to do my taxes. These companies appear to be taking the right steps to protect their users' data. Their lack of money-transfer features or even a way to see those saved account passwords means that in the event of your account getting hacked, you'd have relatively little at stake.

And even if you never use one of these money-management sites, your financial privacy isn't assured anyway: Everybody raise your hands if you've gotten an apologetic letter from a store, a government office or a school after it lost a disk or a laptop with your personal data onboard.

So now that I've decided to fire Quicken, where do I go next? After doing this review, I'm looking at either Mint or Quicken Online. (I like Wesabe's openness as a company, and I like what its users have done to make the site work better--see the manual they've combined to write--but it doesn't connect to enough of my own accounts.) My choice between those two will depend largely on their ability to roll out their next batch of promised updates, since each site lacks some features I'd like to have; for example, Mint's lack of pending-transaction support and manual bill-due alerts bother me, while I'd like to see Quicken Online allow for transaction splits and sub-categories. So I'll have to follow their blogs carefully.

Plus, I still need to figure out what to do with my old Quicken records. I don't want to keep the program around just to see how much I made in 2005. I may just export the most useful data, such as my income history and spending breakdowns, into a spreadsheet format. If you've recently emigrated from Quicken or Money, I'd like to hear your tips.

I'd also like to hear from people who have used a Web-based personal-finance application for more than six months or so. How has it changed your own money management? What tips would you offer to somebody just starting that transition?

By Rob Pegoraro  |  July 17, 2009; 12:25 PM ET
Categories:  Productivity  
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Looking for experiences with this as well. I'm using soon to be sunset-ted MS Money to track as well as Pay bills.

Am I to assume that these online providers can track only, and I have to pay through my existing checking account? Or do they manage bill paying as well?

Posted by: JkR- | July 17, 2009 2:26 PM | Report abuse

I've been using Mint for almost 2 years now and I love it for its simplicity and "memory" when it comes to editing and tagging similar transactions. Mint does a great job tracking spending, but I'd like to see them do more to integrate the tracking of overall cash flow and total net worth. That said, I haven't found an online account yet that I can't set up through Mint. I have various student loan, 401K, brokerage, checking, and savings accounts all under one roof and all updated automatically. It's just so so so so so much easier than MS Money and Quicken and the like.

Posted by: HoyaParanoia | July 17, 2009 2:29 PM | Report abuse

I have two computers. The older one, running Office 97, is not attached to the Internet, nor has it ever been. I keep my day to day financials in EXCEL, backed up every so often to a flash drive.
Every spring the flash drive is plugged into my big computer and I use EXCEL and Acrobat to do my taxes. So far it has worked and my old computer has not been hacked.

Posted by: lrmc623 | July 17, 2009 2:31 PM | Report abuse

Well, I think lrmc has found the solution. If only I could keep those damn hackers out of my computer.

Posted by: HoyaParanoia | July 17, 2009 3:08 PM | Report abuse

Hmm, I'm still pretty happy with an old version of Quicken. And I actually like having my records going back to 2003. I can't tell you how often I use it to find the name of a repair company or some other contractor that I used a long time ago (if it wasn't an expensive job, I might not have the paperwork anymore), or to check the name of a restaurant I liked on a past trip, or to see how certain costs have varied over the years, and so on. I also appreciate the process of reconciling my accounts (which doesn't take much time) -- it makes me focus on (1) my spending and (2) any errors or discrepancies (I've found that restaurants are often sloppy with totals on credit card bills).

I'm surprised to hear that Quicken Online doesn't have transaction splits and subcategories. I use both of those heavily.

Posted by: Janine1 | July 17, 2009 5:22 PM | Report abuse

I am one of the ones sweating out the sunsetting of Microsoft Money. Money came bundled on my first computer back in '93 or so and I have used it through all its upgrades ever since. I don't use all the fancy "what if" features or have a bunch of investments or stocks or whatever. I just use it as an electronic checkbook and it saves me endless hours over the old paper checkbook register. I download transactions from my banks and credit cards several times a week and when my statements come in they are reconciled in two seconds. I even taught my wife to use it when I am away on business. It really helps budgeting to put in the scheduled transactions a month or so ahead of time so as to get a feel for what the balance is going to be over the next few weeks. I dread having to host this data on someone else's servers but apparently that is "progress". I wonder if Quicken is going to continue to support a disk based product.

Posted by: oldno7 | July 17, 2009 6:43 PM | Report abuse

Thanks to the WaPo for taking a look at what Quicken Online and the other companies are doing in the fast-growing online personal finance space.

Much like it was in the tax preparation business, the future of the personal finance is on the web. That does not mean we'll abandon desktop. We believe in allowing the customer to choose which platform is best for them.

As we continue to refine and improve Quicken Online, I feel more and more folks will give it a try and jump on board.

For those that don't, that's OK too. We'll be here to give you the tools you need to on the desktop.

And per Rob's point in the story, Quicken Online will roll out split transactions and more category improvements at the end of the summer.

We've been doing personal finance for 25 years. At a time when money is top of mind for all of us, having a trusted source that's been around the block and created the category gives us a great advantage.

That said, we're not resting on the laurels of yesterday. We're focused on giving Americans the best possible PF experience on the web. Customers will guide us on how to get there.

Quicken Online

Posted by: QuickenScott | July 17, 2009 7:13 PM | Report abuse

I am surprised that you and others are willing to trust their financial account logon credentials to anyone's Web site. I'm not there yet, and disagree with the notion that it is adequately secure. I still think that there will be a large breach from these practices.

Posted by: Arlington4 | July 17, 2009 8:55 PM | Report abuse

QuickenScott - I am a long time user of Q (probably 15 years). I would like to migrate to Quicken Online, but have many accounts at MorganStanleySmithBarney. Does QO currrently download brokerage accounts. Thank you.

Posted by: krasnow | July 17, 2009 11:11 PM | Report abuse

A voice from the past, but I really still miss Managing Your Money. Everything I could want- esp. for my stock portfolio and house expenses too. It was super as a dos program, but it died in windows. No kind of space hog; it just did what was wanted.

Posted by: rbmarc | July 20, 2009 11:50 AM | Report abuse

To not mention Yodlee MoneyCenter was a major oversight (if not rather suspicious for a piece of journalism that should be objective). Yodlee's free service is the longest-running and most trusted financial accounts aggregator of this kind.

You also completely ignored the secondary yet extremely useful feature of any such service: aggregation of frequent flier miles, hotel points and other rewards program points.

Posted by: hpmoon | July 20, 2009 4:41 PM | Report abuse

Like several other posters, I would like to hear how well some of these products work. I have been using MS Money for 15 years. I had considered going to the online version, just because my file is so huge -- 40 MB -- that it's a dog. It runs SO slowly.

But my fear then and now of any of the online services -- speaking as an information security professional -- is not that someone could get my online banking credentials. After all, any change, be it adding a payee or changing an address -- results in a message being sent to my email address of record.

What I fear is having ALL of my financial accounts' credentials -- banking, investment, credit card -- in one place. That's scary.

A few years ago, a friend who worked for Intuit gave me a trial copy of Quicken. The conversion was just OK. The problem is, "transfers" did not translate. And consider that sending money from my checking account to a savings account isn't the only kind of transfer; paying a credit card bill results in a transfer from my checking account to the credit card account. Yikes! That could be a lot of manual reconciling.

Also, I use MS Money's "Pay Bills" feature a lot. For those of you who have not used it, I set up in Money my payees, and then say, "Pay this bill." It logs into my online bank and does the rest. I sure would like to find a new app that does that.

Good luck to all of us searching for a replacement.

-- Michael Seese, Author of Scrappy Information Security

Posted by: MichaelSeese | July 24, 2009 11:51 PM | Report abuse

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