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COMPUTER FILE / LAWRENCE J. MAGID

New Versions of Financial Old Favorite

September 30, 1993|LAWRENCE J. MAGID | LAWRENCE J. MAGID is a Silicon Valley-based computer writer

I don't generally rave about software, but for me, Quicken is far more than just the leading personal finance program. It's an essential part of my financial life.

Thanks in part to Quicken, I now have a clean credit rating, a reasonable handle on my savings and investment strategy and a grasp of where I'm spending my money.

Quicken's publisher, Intuit, is to release two new versions today: Quicken 3.0 for Windows and Quicken 7.0 for DOS. I tested the Windows version, which is similar but not identical to the new DOS version. A new Macintosh version was released in July.

Despite Intuit's claims, the new versions of Quicken are evolutionary--not revolutionary--enhancements. Not everyone needs to spend the $29.95 for what turns out to be an annual upgrade. However, many Quicken users are likely to find at least a few tempting new features.

Quicken has always had a lot to offer. All versions of Quicken allow you to write checks, record deposits and keep track of your investments. Also, previous versions work with CheckFree, a service that lets you pay your bills by modem so you don't have to write and mail checks. People who prefer paper can use Quicken to print their checks.

Starting with last year's versions, Quicken offers an "IntelliCharge" feature for customers who sign up for a special Quicken Visa Gold card issued by Primerica Bank. With IntelliCharge you get your statements via modem or floppy disk and load them directly into your Quicken register.

The combination of CheckFree and IntelliCharge has made my life a lot easier. I use CheckFree to pay my bills and move money into my various savings and investment plans, and I use the Quicken Visa card for most of my business expenses so I don't have to worry about losing track of a deductible expense.

Both the new DOS and Windows versions feature a financial calendar, which makes it easier to schedule payments and deposits. You just click on the vendor's name, drag it to a date on the calendar, fill in amount and click OK. Click again and the payment is recorded in your check register or scheduled as a CheckFree payment. On the Windows version, the calendar features a financial planner that projects your bank balances based on anticipated income and expenses. It's a great way to determine whether you'll be able to afford an upcoming expenditure.

Another new feature in both the DOS and Windows versions makes it easier to keep track of the money you've already spent. Quicken has always allowed you to create reports to show how much you've paid to a particular vendor, but now you can get a quick report by clicking on a vendor's name in your check register. That can be very handy when you're trying to figure out whether or not you've paid a bill.

Portfolio management has been beefed up. As with earlier versions, you can track stocks, bonds, mutual funds and other investments. But now you can easily get a customized snapshot of how your investments are performing. A spreadsheet-like feature lets you select such information as market price, value of investment, amount invested, return on investment and more.

The program also has a built-in calculator, which you can pop up from the register, check-writing screen or anywhere you enter dollar amounts. The result of the calculation is automatically entered into the appropriate field.

Quicken also manages loans and automatically keeps track of the equity in your home by amortizing both fixed and variable rate loans.

Quicken for Windows users can purchase an optional "Quicken Companion Program" ($20) that provides three enhancements: a way to download securities quotes via modem, a way to estimate your tax burden based on the most recent tax law changes and, new this year, a home inventory program that keeps track of your personal and business possessions.

The home inventory program can be linked to your check register so that as you purchase products, you have a place to record their value, serial number, warranty and all the information you'll need in case of a fire, theft or other casualty. There is no companion program for the DOS version.

Both new versions have a suggested retail price of $69.95 but should be widely available for about $35.00. Owners of previous Quicken versions can purchase an upgrade for $29.95 plus $5 shipping directly from Intuit, at (800) 624-8742, or get a $10 rebate if they purchase the product from a retailer.

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