Quicken Deluxe represents Intuit’s latest version of the personal finance software that has dominated the market for over two decades. This latest version of Quicken is designed to organize your income, savings, and spending into a coherent household budget. Can Quicken Deluxe recession-proof your checkbook, or is it just another sunk cost? Read on to see our final bottom line.
Quicken Deluxe combines data from your bank account, monthly bills, investments, and even PayPal transactions into a single database to help you organize your finances. It comes with a number of robust financial planning tools to help you define a monthly budget, set aside regular savings, pay down debt, manage your investments and even plan for retirement. All of these features are overseen by a host of help tools, including a basic Clippy-style guide (only without the annoying animated paperclip), online FAQs, links to an answer forum, and e-mail or phone support.
The key to all of these features, however, is getting your financial data into Quicken consistently and accurately. Unfortunately, that’s the one area where Quicken didn’t deliver during our trial review. Moreover, a software app that’s designed to help with your finances shouldn’t exhort you to buy more products and services, but that’s exactly what Quicken Deluxe spent a lot of time and energy trying to accomplish.
INSTALLATION & SETUP
Quicken Deluxe ‘s installation was a breeze, taking only five minutes even on an old clunker PC with just 256 MB of RAM and Pentium 4 2 GHz processor. Just make sure you select Install Quicken from the initial menu, rather than the other options offered.
Once the regular installation wizard finishes up, you’ll be prompted to download the latest Quicken updates.
This is a critical step, because when Quicken first launched, it was notoriously buggy, and these patches are intended to stabilize the software more than add new features.
Once you’ve got all the software installed, you’ll be confronted with a setup screen that includes 5 tutorial videos. For the most part, these video clips simply inform you of what features Quicken has to offer, rather than how to use them. The videos launch in a Web browser and require an Internet connection.
Once setup and install are complete, you’ll notice that Quicken has dropped not one, but fourshortcuts onto your desktop. One for the actual product and three pimping affiliated products and services.
You’ll also likely receive one of several repetitive prompts to sign up for a Quicken Visa credit card.
The experience is rather off-putting, like being transported back in time to the age of Web browsing before pop-up blockers. You can opt out of the pop-ups, but you’ll find up-sells for Quicken Visa, Quicken Bill Pay or Quicken Picks throughout the use of the app, not just during initial set-up.
INTERFACE & EASE OF USE
Quicken has a standard list of menu options File, Tools, etc. at the top of its application windows, but all the real action is run through Quicken Tabs. These tabs are actually a very useful interface for jumping between views of your financial data. The tabs run horizontally across the top of the page and vertically along the right side. The horizontal items control data views, starting with setup and moving through banking, bill pay, savings, and planning. The right side tabs house the various help tools that do a pretty fair job of guiding you through the many, many features that Quicken has to offer.
One of the features central to Quicken , be warned, is Quicken Picks, which is sort of a built-in price-comparison interface that works by letting Quicken access what you buy and up-sell you on bargain alternatives from its affiliates. This feature is particularly unsettling, like having your bank tellers try to sell you jeans or perfume from behind the bank counter.
Despite these distractions, Quicken is still at heart a financial planning application. To accomplish said financial planning, the first order of business is giving Quicken some financial data to analyze. While you are given the option of manually entering your bank statements and transactions into the system, the promise of Quicken is that most major banks offer Quicken Direct access or Quicken Web access so you can download your bank statements automatically over the Internet.
The interface for handling these downloads is exceedingly simple. Under the Setup tab, select Accounts. You’ll then be prompted with a menu of account types, and most of us will lead off with our checking account.
From there, simply search through an alphabetical list of Quicken-supporting banking institutions and select your bank if it appears. If your bank isn’t on the list, you’re stuck with manual data-entry. Thankfully, hundreds of banks are part of the Quicken network, including our own relatively small credit union.
From there simply select an Automatic Download of financial data and Quicken will sort through the password protection with your bank’s online interface (and help you set one up if you haven’t one already). Have you account number handy for this process.
Even if your bank has multiple password thresholds, Quicken can handle it, and it also offers a Password Vault feature, which will remember all your account passwords and lock them behind a single, Quicken-only password for one-click downloads.
Once your data is downloaded, you can label and categorize all your transactions in the Banking tab, effectively changing all those cryptic “Point of Sale #00000000 at 123 Main Street, Nowhere, NY 11111” in your statement into “Starbucks on Main” under “Dining.” Setting this up can be a bit tedious, but once you’ve assigned a name and category to every regular item on your statement, Quicken is designed to auto-categorize and label these transactions during future account downloads.
After you’ve gotten all your transactions labeled and categorized, Quicken can generate a rather illuminating series of graphs illustrating your spending habits.
Quicken can also automatically setup a budget…
…provide you with a calendar of bills…
…and even help develop a savings plan based on your monthly expenses and income.
These tools are all rather easy to use, and where they get complex the help guides on the right side of the interface prove fairly useful. All of these tools, however, hinge on you importing transactions, labeling them properly, and manually setting up your regular bills and income sources. Basically, the analysis is only as good as the data, and Quicken Deluxe faltered considerably on gathering and initially organizing our financial data.
The problems with Quicken started almost immediately, as we tried to import our checking and savings account data from our credit union. After we provided both our initial and secondary passwords, Quicken had no trouble identifying our accounts.
Unfortunately, while Quicken could gather our savings account data easily, it could not gather checking account data, despite locating the checking account itself. Moreover, when we tried to reinstall the account, the interface often hung, unsure of what to do next. It took an hour of combing through the various help files and forums before we found an exact fix for the problem a type of direct server ping called a Refresh Profile/Rebrand that got the data in the system. Even after the fix, the checking account data could not be consistently imported without resorting to the server ping, which was quite a hassle.
Moreover, once the checking account data was in the system, it required a significant amount of categorization on our part. Quicken can “guess’ at which category each transaction falls under, but it defaults to Uncategorized most often, and when it does guess it’s often wrong. We had to work line by line through months of data to get it sorted, which took more than two hours. Quicken could not easily speed up the process, as many stores have multiple point-of-sale numbers-one for each register which meant that our grocery had to be labeled over a dozen times, as did our local Target store. Similarly, we had to manually schedule our bills, rather than have Quicken interpolate them based on past transaction data.
This sort of front-end investment would have been worth it if Quicken could have consistently imported our financial data. A portion of this blame certainly goes to the financial institution, which clearly did not do us any favors with its touchy Web download service or reliability. That said, we could not get our PayPal transactions a compelling feature to integrate with Quicken either, which means even mainstream, tech-savvy systems and Quicken not get along.
Quicken Deluxe has the potential to be an extremely useful and insightful personal finance management application, provided it can actually obtain access to your personal finances, and that you don’t fall for any of its service up-sells. Your experience with Quicken will be directly impacted by how well your bank and other financial institutions support Quicken data access, and how well Quicken handles the data those systems provide.
Our best advice is to check the list of supported financial institutionsbefore you buy Quicken to ensure your bank is listed. If yours is a Quicken-compatible bank, skim the Quicken Communityfor posts about Direct Connect and Web Connect access to make certain that the bank doesn’t have any known Quicken support issues. If no red flags come up, Quicken well be the product for you. If there are reports of transaction download problems, odds are Quicken Deluxe -for all its potential- be more trouble than it’s worth.
- Easy to use interface
- Lots of help tools
- Provides great analysis
- Full of up-sell spam
- Spotty bank data access
- A lot of front-end setup
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