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Howard Rohleder

I’VE USED QUICKEN since the DOS version, with my first entry made in August 1992. I’m trying to decide if I qualify as a power user. The fact is, there are so many Quicken features that I simply don’t use.

The product was first released in 1984 as a basic digital checkbook. It later moved to Windows and it’s now a subscription service. I love the ability to manage my checkbook, but over the years Quicken has added features aimed at managing my entire financial life. I did experiment with tracking some basic investment accounts, only to revert to my own homemade spreadsheets.

In the beginning, all entries had to be typed by hand. This required diligence but, for me, the payoff was the ability to manipulate the data once it was entered. For a while, I used the one-click update feature, where Quicken would initiate an automatic download of transactions from all my bank accounts at once. Various glitches led me to give up on that. Now, I enter my checkbook entries manually and download my credit card transactions from the card websites, rather than initiating the transfer within Quicken.

When the subscription service was added in an effort to increase Quicken’s revenues, I thought I might use the web feature to access my checkbook, rather than relying solely on the installed software on my desktop. It worked for a while. But when I had problems with the web version, I didn’t see enough value to call the help desk to try to fix it. They have a mobile app, but I haven’t tried it.

I’ve never tried the budgeting feature, either. I don’t budget, so it had no value to me. Likewise with bill pay. During the years I’ve used Quicken, I’ve migrated from snail-mailing checks to bill pay through my bank. Today, I have a combination of automatic deductions and payments made online through vendor websites. With the online glitches I’ve experienced with other Quicken services, I never wanted to invest the time to test its bill pay system.

Quicken offers a version that helps with managing rental properties and a home-based business. I don’t have either of those. They offer several service levels: starter, deluxe, premier, and home and office. I use the starter version. That’s all I need.

If I don’t use most of their product features, how could I consider myself a power user? The answer lies in how I use the core checkbook feature. I manage four bank accounts and five credit card accounts in Quicken. When our parents were alive and we paid their bills, Quicken allowed us to track their spending and account for where all the money went.

Through the report feature, I can readily track income and expenses, pull data for our tax return, compare different time periods, and run special reports on specific spending categories. The beauty is that it draws data from all accounts into a single report. Medical expenses paid with a credit card are merged with those paid from our checkbook.

Once built, reports can be saved so that they can be rerun or updated. They can be viewed on the computer screen, with the ability to double click a line item and get the details behind it. Alternatively, reports can be printed or downloaded into a spreadsheet for further manipulation.

Over the years, data entry has become easier, thanks to these product improvements:

  • Autocomplete suggests entries after typing the first few letters of a word.
  • Recurring transactions can be memorized for quick entry.
  • Money transferred from one account to another is only entered once.
  • Cryptic descriptions downloaded from credit card accounts can be automatically renamed to something recognizable.

I still believe in balancing my checkbook. This is accomplished quickly in Quicken, compared to doing it by hand, plus this exercise catches entry errors and missed transactions.

The key to Quicken’s usefulness lies in setting up the account right. Some forethought must be given to what you want to track. Set these up as categories. Quicken comes pre-loaded with numerous categories, but for the most part I’ve created my own.

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Once categories are set up, each entry must be assigned to a category to make future reporting useful. Subcategories are available, too. In the insurance category, for instance, you can have subcategories for home, auto and life policies.

New categories are easy to add when new expenses arise. I’ve used them to track the costs of home remodeling projects and our daughter’s wedding. When these events were over, I could easily summarize the totals. When we moved, I ran a report on home improvements to update the cost basis of the house we sold.

At tax time, I rerun saved reports for medical expenses, taxes paid, 529 contributions, charitable contributions and miscellaneous income for the latest tax year. Yes, it took time to enter all that data, but the payoff comes in how quickly I’m ready to prepare my taxes. I’m also less likely to overlook something.

Anticipating early retirement, when I would have no regular source of income, I ran reports on my annual expenses. I downloaded these reports into Excel and made assumptions about which expenses would increase or decrease. Now that I’m retired, I run an annual report to monitor my spending.

I don’t have to guess or dig to find past expenses. What did we spend on lawn service last year? What was the cost of that appliance we bought? The answer is all in one place—and at my fingertips. I think all that makes me a Quicken power user.

Howard Rohleder, a former chief executive of a community hospital, retired early after more than 30 years in hospital administration. In retirement, he enjoys serving on several nonprofit boards, exploring walking paths with his wife Susan, and visiting their six grandchildren. A little-known fact: In May 1994, Howard was featured—along with five others—on the cover of Kiplinger’s Personal Finance for an article titled “Secrets of My Investment Success.” Check out his previous articles.

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Jerry Granderson
Jerry Granderson
1 month ago

I’ve been using Quicken since 1992. Before that I used MS Money. Before that, pencil and paper. I have over the years looked at and tried several other tools but none had the robustness of Q. It’s not perfect, but in my opinion it is the best option for serious household financial and investment tracking, reporting and analysis. 

I use the desktop version. I renew and pay the $ to have the ability to download transactions. I’ve had a few minor issues with transaction downloads over the years, but nothing I couldn’t resolve. This to me is one of the major benefits of Q.  

I use Q to:

  • Budget & track actuals
  • Track & analyze investments & other assets
  • Create tax reports

I do not use its billpay function or web-based functions.

One of the benefits of Q over other tools I’ve tried is that it can handle a large amount of data. My current QDF file is over 200 MB even after archiving every few years. I have over 1200 individual securities and funds from the past 30+ years and all the transaction history for them. 

I use Excel and Q to help analyze investment performance. One of the most useful features of Q re investments is being able to set up investment goals and then track performance. I use this basically to help assess different investment strategies that I have tried over the years. Each strategy is set up as an investment goal in Q. The securities are then assigned to the appropriate investment goal. The value of each investment goal is put into Excel each month for analysis. 

Q does have some quirks and I have found some of the info it gives re investment performance is not accurate which is why I take the data I need from Q and put into Excel for analysis.

Joseph Hack
Joseph Hack
1 month ago

I still use Quicken 2001 Deluxe. I enter transactions manually. Eventually I’ll have to change to a newer version, but I’m not looking forward to it.

Jeremy Hockenstein
Jeremy Hockenstein
1 month ago
Reply to  Joseph Hack

You might want to upgrade now to Quicken 2013 – for free, including the software it seems – since it is getting harder to upgrade versions. (For example, versions from 1998 and before are no longer upgradeable.). To go from 2001 to 2013, you first need to upgrade to 2004. It is all explained here:
https://www.quicken.com/support/how-and-when-use-intermediate-version-convert-older-versions-quicken

Mitch D
Mitch D
1 month ago

If your personal computer has a disk drive, you can purchase older CD versions of Quicken off of eBay for very reasonable prices. As others have mentioned, the older versions are leaner, less glitchy, and require no ongoing fees. I personally use Quicken 2007 and find it to be very efficient for all of the basic functions others have mentioned. With having used Quicken over the years, I had the confidence to retire earlier than many of my peers because I didn’t have to guess at my basic recurring expenses. I could simply examine them through quicken for the previous 14 years.

Ron Leaf
Ron Leaf
1 month ago

I have been using Quicken since 1998, and stayed with the 2002 Deluxe version until I upgraded to Windows 10 a few years ago. The accumulation of transaction data serves as my diary. I often look for information about locations I have visited or retailers I have frequented. I use the reports for year over year comparison of spending. I have had to create several work-arounds to manage transactions for which there does not seem to be a straightforward answer (e.g. donations of stock). I stopped downloading credit card transactions when my version was no longer supported, and never resumed. I may not be a power user, but I am certainly a committed user.

Barbara Peter
Barbara Peter
1 month ago

Like you, I’ve also used Quicken in a way to best suit my needs by manually adding all transactions. The version I’m currently using is a number of years old, but still works well for my purposes. What I love about doing everything manually, is that I can plug in all planned transactions for the entire year, shifting them around as desired according to what best suits my budget for the month or beyond. I also use the free version of the Every Dollar app in the same way, setting up my monthly budgets for an entire year, tweaking as needed. The combination of the two really helps me to stay on track of my day to day and yearly expenses.

Edwin Belen
Edwin Belen
1 month ago

I’m jealous as I could never get it to work for me. I’ve been diligent with tracking expenses over the past 3 years and have found something I like doing (nerdy for sure). I use google sheets and have created a process that works for me. Would probably be cumbersome for most but as I said, it’s almost fool proof now and allows me to run albeit a little more manual similar reports that you’ve mentioned in your article, which I hardly need. Seeing actual to actuals and budget to actuals annually is very eye opening and is how I like to plan for the next year.

Randy Dobkin
Randy Dobkin
1 month ago

Have to admit Quicken does a decent job with my whole family’s investment accounts at Vanguard and Fidelity.

Jo Bo
Jo Bo
1 month ago

My financial life is thankfully so simple that I don’t need Quicken. I’ve seen Quicken in action at the local non-profit where I was treasurer. It’s a great tool, especially for a small institution.

I too always balance my checkbook, albeit with pen and ledger. As for annual budgets, I love doing those on the back of a recycled envelope. Call that quirky, but it works for me!

Jack
Jack
1 month ago

I also transitioned from DOS. My version was so old that they sent me floppy disks to sequentially update. I wasn’t seeing much return on the time invested so I dropped it. I kept the files containing decades of data but I really haven’t missed it using the program. My bank allows assigning categories to payments and has a nice e-check system, I can’t easily retrieve the price and purchase date of my refrigerator, but I can live with that.

Bob G
Bob G
1 month ago

Also a Quicken “power user” since 1998. Basically like it, with the following caveats:

  • Credit Card Download Errors have caused me to accidentally underpay my credit card balance a few times. I have to be very careful to compare the Quicken balance with the actual balance before paying. It seems to occasionally not download every transaction or mysteriously deletes a previously downloaded transaction.
  • Occasionally other quirky errors appear, but then seem to self-correct.
  • I think the fee is way too high, but pay it begrudgingly because of the one-step update feature. I would be open to suggestions of other software with lower fees, but similar structure to Quicken.
Robert Cutrell
Robert Cutrell
1 month ago
Reply to  Bob G

I switched to MoneyDance back when Quicken switched to a subscription model.

Jon Daley
Jon Daley
1 month ago
Reply to  Bob G

Have you seen Gnucash? https://gnucash.org/ It is open source and free to use.

I’ve used it for 15 years or so, and it successfully keeps my credit cards and checking accounts balanced, and then I use an excessive amount of categories/accounts to make various kinds of reports easy to generate.

I also use it to track income and expenses for schedule E and schedule C, both of which I have a saved report that can be generated in seconds (including history since I started keeping track). I also use it to keep track of employee time-cards/taxes as well as generate invoices for customers. None of those features get in the way if you don’t need them.

The double-entry took some getting used to. And every once in a while there will be some sort of bug that makes the icons wrong, or auto-completion to get a little wonky, but I’ve never lost data (and it makes lots of automated backups, so it would be pretty hard to lose data, unless I didn’t notice something was going wrong for a long time or something).

Importing the credit card statement works alright. I haven’t found a US bank that supports its online communication – supposedly it works well in Europe, I don’t know.

mytimetotravel
mytimetotravel
1 month ago
Reply to  Bob G

That’s odd about your credit cards. I’ve been using Quicken since 1999, and I’ve never had that happen. I reconcile against my actual statements. I wonder if the fault is with the credit card company? Mine are Citi, Capital One, and occasionally Pen Fed.

Howard Rohleder
Howard Rohleder
1 month ago
Reply to  Bob G

RE: credit cards: one step update never worked smoothly for me. I sign on to the credit card site and download from there. I reconcile Quicken to their numbers before I pay the balance that they say I owe. I pay through the credit card site not through Quicken.

mytimetotravel
mytimetotravel
1 month ago

Sounds like the way I use it. All my spending going back to 1999 is on Quicken, which came in handy last year when I wanted to forecast my likely expenses after moving to a CCRC. It was easy to take out housing expenses, and calculate how much I’ve been spending on travel, which will decline. I enter data for my local checking account manually, because I can’t be bothered to figure out why the connection doesn’t work, but all my credit card transactions are downloaded. I simply ignore all the “added features”.

Gene Simmons
Gene Simmons
1 month ago

I have been a Quicken (and Microsoft Money) user off and on over the decades. This was a great program that has gotten worse over time. The last time I used it in 2020-2021, I kept having to manually fix download errors. At one point, Quicken told me that I was a Quadrillionaire! (Take that, Musk!)

The one Quicken feature that I really liked was the Morningstar X-Ray. I switched to Personal Capital last year and bought a premium subscription to Morningstar. The combined cost is only slightly more than a Quicken subscription, but the glitches are gone and the quality of the data and analysis are leaps and bounds above Quicken.

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