Do You Really Need the Power of Money Management Software?

I have been a loyal user of Quicken(R) for more years than I can remember. But a conversation the other day with my youngest son started me wondering whether or not I really need money management software.

The difference is what most banks have done with their online banking in the past few years.

It used to be that the only way you could keep track of your spending online, pay bills and determine where you had spent your money was to have a money management program.

However, today you can get most of that information you need from your bank. For example, we have two accounts at a bank I'll call First Denver National. When I sign on for online banking, I have a choice of Account Summary, which shows me how much money I have in each account. Bill Pay or Transfer.

If I select Account Summary and then click on the name of the account, I can see a list of all my deposits and withdrawals for the past 30 days.

When I click on a hyperlink titled "Spending Report," I can see exactly where I spent money for the past 30 days by category such as utilities or groceries.

If I choose Bill Pay, I can pay a bill once or create a recurring payment. Naturally, I have to set up payment information for each of my creditors but I have to do this only once. In my case, I have provided payment information for six of my creditors, including our local power company, satellite TV provider, telephone company and so forth. I have not established any recurring payments as all our bills vary from month to month.

When the monthly bill comes in from, say, our local power company, I open my online account, select Bill Pay, and then tell my bank which day I want the bill paid and for what amount. This all takes maybe 30 seconds.

Now, my money management program does offer many features that are not available through my bank. For example, I can quickly generate reports such as "Am I saving more or less?," "Has my spending changed in this category?," "What am I worth?", "How are my investments doing?," and "Did I meet my budget?" In addition, my program provides a lot of tax related information.

The problem is, I don't use these reports. I would guess that at least 90 percent of the information I need on a daily basis is available through my online accounts.

Don't get me wrong. Programs like Quicken and Microsoft Money(R) are powerful programs with a bevy of great features. However, before you invest in one of these programs, you need to ask yourself whether or not you really need all that power. Do you have a lot of investments you want to keep track of? Do you own a business? Do you use a tax program such as TurboTax? If the answer to any one of these questions is "yes," you probably need money management software. On the other hand, if you answered "no" to all three, you may be able to get by with just the free information available from your bank.

Before you make a final decision, there is one other factor to consider. In our case, the bank charges for both online banking and bill pay. The charge is about $10 a month or $120 a year. In comparison, a program such as Quicken Basic 2005 costs only $29.99 and includes both bill pay and online banking.* This means that if your bank changes you for either of these services, you might be better off buying a money management program ? even if you never use many of its features.

*Some banks my charge for online banking even when you use a money management program. Be sure to talk with your bank before making a final decision.

(R)Quicken is a registered trademark of Intuit Corp.
(R)Microsoft Money is baa registered trademark of Microsoft Corporation.
All other registered names are the property of their respective owners.

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