Financial software might not be the type of thing to make your knees go weak, but a good program is a control freak's dream come true. Such is the case with Intuit's latest offering in the form of Quicken 2011, which is available starting today in a choice of three versions: Starter Edition ($29.95), Deluxe ($59.95), and Premier ($89.95).
It's immediately apparent that Intuit's acquisition of Mint last year has had a positive effect on the Quicken update. For one, the start-up process has been noticeably streamlined when compared with the previous version. Those who are setting up a profile for the first time can add accounts in just three screens as opposed to five or more; a process that used to take an hour now takes 15 to 20 minutes, depending on how many accounts you have. In preliminary testing, I added four bank accounts and one credit card in just over 20 minutes, and that included some glitchiness from one of the banks.
The time and work required by the user overall is also vastly reduced in the latest version of Quicken, thanks to the fact that the program can now automatically download data from more than 12,000 banks, brokerages, and loans. (That number in the previous edition was 5,000.) For most, this will eliminate the need to download Quicken-compatible statements or input data manually. The app will also now automatically detect transfers between accounts, so it's no longer necessary for users to keep tabs on and correct this data.
Plus, the software implements new technology from Mint that has improved overall categorization of transactions. According to Inuit, it's now 90-percent accurate, versus 55-percent in the 2010 version. This makes budgeting a lot easier, and it provides detailed insight on spending habits.
Another marked improvement in Quicken 2011 is the modernized user interface, which is less cluttered along the top and simpler to navigate overall. For example, the transaction registers for the previous version were plain white boxes, with nothing to delineate different transactions. Now, there are iTunes-like blue-and-white outlines to separate each occurrence. And you can sort and resize columns, which was a rather glaring UI oversight in past versions.
So which Quicken is for you? For casual users who want to get a handle on spending, well...it's probably just as well to stick with the free offering at Mint.com. Unless, of course, you want desktop software, in which case the Starter Edition is the right pick. The Deluxe version adds more options for creating a savings plan (including a handy cash flow graph), while Premier offers investment tools as well.