Helpware: A Quick And Easy Way To Organize Your Finances

By Harold Glicken
Tribune News Service.

If you wait until April 14 to do your taxes, and you’ve been sloppy about entering expenses in your checkbook or saving your credit card statements, the last thing you want is someone nagging you about your fiscal shortcomings. But nag I will: Do yourself a huge favor and run out and get Quicken 2015. The basic version of the money-management software costs about $40; for my money, it’s worth its weight in gold.

At the risk of sounding like an accountant, one who has visions of auditors armed with subpoenas, I recommend downloading all your transactions, checking, credit cards, cash payments and even your investment portfolio, into Quicken. It’s easy to set up categories, such as veterinary expenditures for your aging Lhasa apso’s tummy tuck.

Setting up your accounts and budget categories goes quickly, depending on how many checking, savings, credit card and investment accounts you want to track. Quicken assumes that this is all new to you, and guides you patiently as you enter your account numbers, sign-ons and passwords into the download part of the software. You then do a mouse-click on “one-step update,” enter your update password and watch as Quicken fills in the areas for payee, amount of transaction and budget category. At tax time, you simply run a report of all your accounts and budget categories and gasp that you’ve spent more on your Lhasa apso than you spent on your daughter’s orthodontia, which is more than you spent on your new clothes by five-fold. You also discover that you’ve spent more than you took in, and there are no government bailouts to help you get solvent.

After you’ve taken your heart medicine, you realize that you need to set up a budget, and keep to it. Quicken helps you do that, too, and it will give you daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly updates on how far you’ve strayed from the Pollyannaish budget you set up. It’s the equivalent of getting menacing calls from your accountant. True, you can fire your accountant, and you could uninstall Quicken, but I will tell you, from more than a decade of using the program, it has made budgeting easier, and at tax time, if you’ve been compulsive about recording your income and outgo, all you have to do is fill in the blanks on your 1040 and supporting forms. I’m not saying that you won’t need a professional tax preparer, but you will make his job easier. However, if you prefer to do your taxes yourself, and I recommend Intuit’s Turbo Tax, Quicken will dutifully upload all your transactions, with totals, to your tax forms.

There are other unpleasant surprises at tax time. One is your habit of making just the minimum payments on your credit cards. In one scenario, where the interest rate on unpaid balances is 18 percent, it would take until August 2022 to get out of debt. And that assumes that you’ll never charge anything else. Fat chance of that. If you take overspending seriously, though, Quicken will help you develop scenarios that will pay off your debts sooner.

How complicated is all this? Quicken has videos and other tutorials that get you started. I guarantee you that if you take the time to watch the videos, you will get up and running quickly and accurately.

The 2015 version is a bit slicker than its predecessor. Among Quicken’s features is the ability to snap photos of your receipts with your smartphone and use Quicken on your smartphone or tablet, which is huge if you travel for business. And there are many versions, including basic home finance, investment management, home and business and one for landlords.

Whether your dog is taking a bite out of your budget, or you just can’t figure out where the money is going, Quicken stands watch. It won’t print money, but it will help you manage it.

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