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Personal Finance Software

The other day, a law student at MIZZOU sent me an email asking for advice on personal finance software. I discussed this with the geekiest member of our faculty and his summary of the marketplace was quite informative. Thus, it is this week’s Tip of the Week.

First, when considering personal finance software you have two primary choices. You either (1) purchase desktop software that you install locally on your personal computer or (2) you utilize online software that you are able to access from any on-line computer. We’ll discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each, leaving the decision of which to utilize to the reader.

Desktop Software

Advantages:

  • Security is good as the data are on your personal computer. Viruses, however, can steal your information or your hard drive could crash. That said, any computer user should have strong anti-virus software installed and have backups made of important files.
  • It can be set up to work with other on-line accounts and to self-update information.
  • Desktop software is more flexible, allowing you to classify more accounts than most online versions.
  • If you utilize Quicken or Microsoft Money, you have the strength of either Intuit or Microsoft’s word that the product will be continually enhanced.

Disadvantages:

  • You will have to pay for upgrades, often costing between $50 and $100 every 2-3 years.
  • The software is only on your machine, making it difficult to view over the internet. It is true that the software can publish to an online site, allowing you to view some pieces of your information over the internet, but these are not as sophisticated as the online software.
  • The potential loss of data is very real, as too few people back up the data on their computers.
  • The software is not updated as often as the online software.

Online Software

Advantages:

  • Online software is accessible from wherever you can use the internet, including your mobile phone.
  • Updates are automatic. Some sites regularly retrieve information from your online accounts.
  • All the processing of data goes on through secure servers and is backed up by the provider.
  • You can share information with others. For example, a husband or wife can let each other see their finances at the same time from different locations.
  • Some provide free services such as bill pay.

Disadvantages:

  • All of your account information is online. If someone hacked into the servers of the online provider, your data could be compromised.
  • Online software is not as flexible. Some procedures may not be able to be accomplished by the online software (e.g., savings bonds).

What it comes down to is your personal comfort level and your satisfaction with the product for the purposes you need. Luckily, most of these products offer free trials online. As a point of departure, I would download some of the free trial software onto your desktop and try out some of the online services.

Desktop:

  1. Microsoft Money: http://www.microsoft.com/money/default.mspx
  2. Quicken: http://quicken.intuit.com/help-me-choose.jhtml?lid=site_banner

Online:

  1. Yodlee: http://www.yodlee.com (choose the Yodlee Money Center link)
  2. Quicken Online: http://quicken.intuit.com/help-me-choose.jhtml?lid=site_banner
  3. YNAB (You Need a Budget): http://www.youneedabudget.com/aw/quicken.php?gclid=CPG34auk9JICFQ4JPQodZHEvzQ

Our geek uses Yodlee. It is free, and they are constantly updating. Moreover, they actually sell their services to banks and other institutions. Personally, I don’t use any of them. I use a spreadsheet application that I wrote and have used for several years. The trouble is that I’m old and way behind on the evolutionary curve. This weekend, I plan to explore these options to see if it is time for me to move into the 21st century with you.

If you have any questions, let me know. Between The Geek and I, we’ll do our best to help.