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Software Review of:
Quicken 2003 Premier Edition


Picture of Quicken 2003 Premier

Larry Mathews is one of the teachers of the Alamo PC Quicken class at the Resource Center. He and Yael Friedlander teach a 12 hour course on all aspects of Quicken. He has been a Quicken user for over a decade and has taught it for the last four years. When Larry is not teaching Quicken, he works as an attorney for the United States Department of Justice where he specializes in Cybercrime law.

From the March, 2003 issue of PC Alamode Magazine

For the 2003 edition of Quicken, Intuit has redesigned the user interface. The new design is the result of the largest customer research project since the inception of Quicken 18 years ago. It is the most major change since1999. Users of prior editions will immediately notice the difference in the interface. It is cleaner, and, in my opinion, easier to understand. Another major change is that Quicken has gone from three versions to four. Previously, Quicken was released in the Basic, Deluxe, and Home & Business versions. In 2003 Quicken added the Premier version which is the one reviewed here. The Basic version handles Banking and Credit cards. The Deluxe version adds investments and planning to the Basic. With the Premier version you get all of the Deluxe features plus several advanced investment and tax features. Finally, the Home & Business version adds business features to the Premier version. Although these business features are more robust than in previous Home & Business versions, they do not take the place of a full-fledged accounting program for the non home based business. The program will run on any of the Windows operating systems since Windows 95, except Windows NT. It will also convert data from all previous versions of Quicken for Windows. 

Quicken has always done a superb job of providing the user with information on what he has; how he is doing; and how he can do better. The new 2003 Premier version provides tools to help the user decide what action should be taken and with a new service, Quicken Brokerage powered by Siebert, Intuit has joined with Muriel Siebert & Co., Inc. to provide comprehensive investment information and to conduct investment transactions from within Quicken. 

The installation of Quicken 2003 is straight forward and typical of a Windows installation. It will require at least a Pentium 133, 32MB of RAM and approximately 70MB of hard disk space. However, like all new Windows programs these minimum requirements do not provide a very satisfactory experience. A faster CPU and more RAM memory will make the program run faster and consequently be less frustrating.  If you have an older Pentium computer, you may want to give consideration to using an older, less demanding, version of Quicken. Because of the size of the program, it will run much better on a newer Pentium III or higher computer with at least 64MB of RAM. If during installation an existing version of Quicken is detected, you will be prompted to install Quicken 2003 over it. Choosing “yes” will uninstall the existing version and install Quicken 2003. If you later decide you want to go back to your prior version, you can do so by inserting the CD from your old version and follow the instructions to uninstall 2003 and install the old version. You will also be offered the opportunity to convert your data to 2003. Although once converted, you cannot use the data on an older version, Quicken automatically backs up the old data in the old format as part of the conversion process. Of course, with any upgrade, you should back up your data before you begin the installation process. 

When Quicken 2003 starts up, a new user is taken to the “Quicken Guided Setup.” This is new for 2003 and makes getting started very simple. If you are an existing user and you convert your existing data file, you will be taken to the Guided Setup after the conversion. For several years, Quicken has had a setup screen for new users that asked questions and used the answers to determine the default categories. The new Guided Setup does much more. It begins by asking what you want to do in Quicken. It calls what you want to do your goals. Based on the choices you make, Quicken will display the appropriate account setup window. For example, if you have chosen to set up a financial account and your financial institution is one of the 2000 Quicken has an online relationship with the next window will allow you to setup the account for online use.  One of the goals of Intuit in developing Quicken 2003 was to reduce the number of manual entries the user is required to make. Thus, there is an emphasis on making it easier to download information into Quicken. This integration of the online setup with the account setup is one example of this emphasis. During the account setup process, if you have chosen to pay bills with Quicken, then you will be taken to the Guided bill setup where you can choose the types of recurring bills you have. The next screen allows you to insert the payee, category, amount, frequency, and next date for each of these recurring bills. This is a very easy way to set up scheduled transactions. Quicken also offers the opportunity to get bills online; again an effort to reduce the number of manual entries required of the user. 

In prior versions of Quicken the program opened to the default screen called “My Finances” which gave the user an overview of all the accounts. In Quicken 2003 the “My Finances” screen has been replaced by the “Home” screen. 

Screen shot of the Home Screen

The account navigating tabs which in the older versions were on the left or right side of the display and only gave the account name have been replaced with a vertical listing of all accounts on the left side of the display. The user can either show the balance in each account or just list the account names. You navigate between accounts in 2003 by clicking on the account name. The “Home” screen can be customized with more than 45 different types of charts, graphs, and reports. In prior versions the navigation tabs were divided into seven centers that were always present. In Quicken 2003 the interface has been simplified. Now in the account bar there are only three account centers: Cash Flow, Investing, and Property & Debt. The Planning and Tax functions are reached by clicking on buttons in the upper right corner of the screen and analysis & reports are tabs that appear on the top of each center. 

In prior versions of Quicken, you could minimize manual entry of data in three ways. You could schedule recurring transactions so that when they came due they were automatically entered in either the register of the appropriate account or you were reminded to enter them. You could do a manual update, which would download data into your account. And, finally, each entry that you manually entered was memorized and using a Quick Fil function was entered when you next started typing the payee. You can still use any of these three methods in Quicken 2003. But, there is an additional method in Quicken 2003. As stated earlier, one of the goals of Intuit is to reduce the amount of manual entry. One new nifty feature is to allow you to schedule an automatic download of data from your financial institution. In this way when you start the program your data will have already been downloaded and entered into the account register. This only works with one of the two thousand financial institutions that Quicken has arrangements with. In order for this to work, the computer must be on, it must be connected to the Internet and Quicken must be closed.. Another time and manual entry saver is the automatic categorization of entries. When you enter a name in a register, Quicken will first search your list of memorized transaction and then a large database of names to see if it can determine what category should be assigned to the entry. Of course, if you want to use a different category you can easily change it. 

In the investment area, Quicken 2003 Premier has strengthen the tax information an investor may want to know. Quicken 2003 has something called “Tax Smart Investing.” Tax Smart Investing proactively points our opportunities to improve your after tax returns. This is not a list of generic tips as was the case in the past, but these are tips based upon your specific financial situation. Quicken 2003 can tell you about opportunities to offset capital gains or losses to help reduce the tax bill. It can let you know when similar but more tax-efficient mutual funds are available. It can alert you when taxable events occur. Also the Capital Gains Estimator can evaluate the tax impact of selling an investment. 

Quicken has also joined with Muriel Siebert & Co., an online discount stock broker, to provide a service linking your exact financial situation as known to Quicken 2003 with all the analytical power of the brokerage house to provide one place where you can organize your finances including other brokerage and mutual fund accounts, receive proactive insights about how you can do better, and take action to execute those insights. One of the insights Quicken 2003 provides is the tax implications before you make the trade. This brokerage service is available to non Quicken 2003 users, but it doesn’t work as seamlessly as it does with Quicken 2003. 

In conclusion, I was very impressed with the new user interface and the new investment bells and whistles in Quicken 2003. You still have all the power that you have come to expect in Quicken and are in a better position to make informed investment decisions. Of course, this assumes you still have some money to invest after the bear market we have had the past two years. 

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