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PERSONAL TECHNOLOGY | PC FOCUS

How Quicken, Money Stack Up

October 05, 1998|LAWRENCE J. MAGID

Microsoft dominates in most software categories where it competes, but not when it comes to personal finance software. Intuit's Quicken practically owns the category with a market share of about 70%.

A few years ago Microsoft tried to change all that by acquiring Intuit, but the Justice Department put a damper on those plans. So Microsoft adopted a different strategy--competition. It has put a lot of resources into its home-grown Microsoft Money software, giving consumers a choice between two robust personal finance programs.

The two programs have a great deal in common. Both are designed to help users with financial planning, debt reduction, investing and managing existing accounts. And both companies have a strong commitment to electronic banking and investing, with tools that make it easy to move money and pay bills without having to write checks, fill out forms or stuff envelopes.

The programs have even adopted a similar look and feel. New to Quicken 99 this year is the Quicken Home Page, a single screen that gives you the balances on all your accounts along with alerts and reminders and scheduled transactions. Like an Internet home page, this one has hot links that take you directly to any account.

Money 99 starts off with a similar home page listing account balances and overdue items and providing customized advice.

Both programs are Internet-centric. Not only do they enable you to pay bills and transfer money online but each comes with a copy of Microsoft Internet Explorer that takes you to Web pages offering financial advice.

Quicken takes you to a Web site with links to partner institutions that promote financial products or services that the software determines you might need.

Money provides direct links to information from Microsoft Investor (http://investor.msn.com) and the Web sites of various financial magazines and newspapers. There is also a marketplace area with links to mortgage brokers and other financial service companies.

Both Quicken and Money have evolved into multipurpose financial programs, but the main reason people buy them is to manage their checkbooks, credit cards and other financial accounts. Both enable you to set up multiple accounts with a wide variety of financial institutions including banks, credit unions and investment brokerages. You may also transfer funds and pay bills electronically with participating institutions.

Quicken transfers funds via the Internet, which can be convenient if you're already online or if you have a full-time connection to the Internet via a cable modem, a digital subscriber line or a company network. I have a cable modem, which means that my PC is always connected to the Internet. When I'm ready to pay a bill, check my balances or transfer funds, I just click on an icon and Quicken does it in the background in a matter of seconds. Quicken connects to about 65 institutions, including Union Bank of California, American Express and Fidelity Investments.

Microsoft has a direct Internet link with about 12 institutions, but most require that you use a standard modem to make a local call connecting you to a private online network. But this is a transitional strategy. Microsoft is encouraging customers and institutions to move to Web-based banking.

Bank of America and Wells Fargo customers, for example, can "write checks" directly from the banks' Web site and record the transactions in Money. This strategy, according to Money product manager Julie O'Brien, enables a wider range of institutions to participate because they no longer have to customize their transaction system for a specific software product. Microsoft says that it has similar relationships with more than 400 financial institutions.

Intuit this year has launched WebConnect, which has a similar strategy. The company hasn't yet released a list of participating financial institutions.

If you plan to do online banking, call your bank or visit its Web site to determine exactly how it works with Money or Quicken.

Both products have built-in planning tools that enable you to determine how much you need to save for college, retirement and other major goals. Money Financial Suite now has a Life Planner, which gives you a more comprehensive picture of what you need to do for the long term. That level of detail is not available within basic Quicken, but the Quicken Deluxe suite comes with Quicken Financial Planner.

Quicken Deluxe also comes with automatic tax-category tracking. If you create a category called "baby-sitting" or "charity," the software will automatically set up the appropriate tax category. The software also comes with free access to Intuit's TurboTax Web site (http://www.intuit.com/turbotax) where you may complete and file or print your tax return.

Intuit has been working on ways to make it more convenient to enter data into the program.

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