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Quicken 2015: Close, But Not Yet Acceptable

What I wanted out of Quicken 2015 for Mac wasn’t improvement so much as a path forward: I wanted to know that when OS X 10.10 Yosemite shipped, I wouldn’t be waiting for Intuit to issue yet another extension on life for Quicken 2007. I pictured myself setting up (as I had before) a virtual machine running an older version of Mac OS X just to keep Quicken 2007 alive. Horrors.

I have tried nearly every Quicken alternative over the last five years, including Mint and the terrible Quicken Essentials, and none suited me. Some couldn’t import the full 15 years of data from my Quicken file; others lost valuable information in conversion; and many just didn’t match the way I thought about recording transactions and running reports, something that Quicken had certainly shaped. (Quicken emulates the approach of paper accounting ledgers in terms of how transactions are entered and discretely represented as line items, but it isn’t skeuomorphic — no torn page edges or leather stitching.)

Quicken 2015 isn’t awful. That’s great praise given how bad Quicken Essentials was and Intuit’s long-running inability to update its flagship financial software for a platform of customers who desperately wanted a new version. At $74.99, Quicken 2015 is also not cheap, but given the small amount I’ve paid for minor updates to 2007 over the years, I was willing to plop my money down.

But for my purposes, Quicken 2015 still isn’t fully baked. After finding much to like about it, including a crisp interface, a better way to specify transaction details, and good connections to online financial accounts, its failure to import my Quicken 2007 reports (honed over 15 years for business and personal tax and other reporting) and its lack of report customization makes it a non-starter.

Quicken 2015 could be adequate if you don’t rely on its reporting or don’t mind its simple set of reports. That could be true if you don’t need detailed itemization and summation reports for tracking income and expenses as a sole proprietor or small corporation. Some people use Quicken just to enter or download transactions and then check them off, keeping their budget in line and ensuring there are no illegitimate charges. Because I use a large set of custom reports to manage my business — from tracking income to filing city, state, and federal taxes — I’m holding out to see if Intuit addresses the reporting limitations.

A bit later in this review, I’ll get into the missing features of importing and reconciling. (I didn’t test the mobile app, as I don’t plan to use this release, and the mobile app has extremely limited features.)

Critical Advice before Starting — Before I start on the review proper, if you’re converting from Quicken 2007, please read the following advice. I made mistakes so you don’t have to.

  • Don’t leave Quicken 2007 running. I know Intuit already tells you that, but you really must close it or the import will mess up completely.

  • Have patience. It can take 30 minutes (with mobile sync) to import a large Quicken 2007 file and then sync everything. Intuit has done a lousy job with threaded and asynchronous operations. Despite many spinning rainbow cursors and apparent freezes, the program is working — I never saw it actually crash during multiple import tests.

  • Be careful when you set up connections to online banking, credit card, and other accounts. Quicken attempts to match up accounts you already have with ones on the financial server, but I found a number of mismatches. Had I clicked to proceed, I would have wound up with transactions imported into the wrong account and then had to back those out and relink. (Quicken 2015 offers multiple levels of undo, but not for every operation, and you can break the chain of undos across accounts and launches.)

  • Match transactions with care. If you create an online linkage in accounts that already have manual entries, you may be flooded with duplicates. I spent almost two hours manually matching transactions to be sure that my records corresponded.

Now on to the meat.

A Random Walk Down Quicken 2015 — This new release is crisper and cleaner than Quicken 2007. Intuit has created an up-to-date Mac program that looks like it was written this year, and that acts as expected. It’s generally stable, and clearly has some auto-save capability. After a crash — the only one across many hours of imports and intensive use — all my data changes were saved, but changes to the default column view in every account were gone. Clearly, Intuit needs to auto-save preferences, too. Also missing from Quicken 2007 is automatic backup on quit — you’ll need to rely on Time Machine, other backup software, or Dropbox to retrieve older versions of
your financials.

Quicken 2007 made heavy use of palettes and windows and menu items, which was common in older Mac apps. The 2015 version integrates the Accounts view directly into the main window, as well as reports, bill reminders, investment views, and budget. It’s a good approach, because you rarely need to see those elements in multiple windows at once. However, if you do want to bring up multiple items at once, you can right-click on any item in the list on the left of the main screen and duplicate the view into its own window.

Preferences are similarly slimmed down: many options are now gone and others are neatly integrated into contextually appropriate places. For instance, right-click anywhere on the header bar of any view and you can choose columns to show or hide. (You can also click a Columns button at the bottom right of the view.)

Entering and reconciling transactions in Quicken 2015’s simplified view is much the same as in the 2007 edition, but Intuit has made improvements in the amount of detail you can attach in this update. Click the New button to create a transaction or double-click on an existing transaction, and you can modify simple details: date, payee/payer, category, amount, and any other editable columns you choose to display.

(Massive irritant: the default view doesn’t show the Reconcile column, which would seemingly be the point of integrating online accounts with a financial app. And after this many years, there is still no keyboard shortcut to mark an item reconciled, my single most common mouse action in the program?)

Click Edit Details, and you get a four-tab view containing:

  • Details, which provides more information

  • Splits, a feature carried over from earlier Quicken versions to break a transaction into pieces

  • Attachments, for adding photos of receipts and tying into the mobile version

  • Checks, which let you set up check printing for transactions

Altogether, transaction entry and editing is improved, but it often requires more clicks or pressing Return than should be necessary. If I press Return, that signals “I’m done editing” in most software; in Quicken 2015, it advances to the next field if the cursor is in the date or payee/payer field, and accepts the transaction and records it only when the focus is on the category field.

If you’re familiar with Smart Payees from Quicken 2007, the change in Quicken 2015 may be maddening. Smart Payees used patterns or partial matches to identify similar items or rewrite them from imported online transactions or imported data files to improve reporting. For instance, one grocery store chain in Seattle shows up on my credit card bills as several because each store has a unique number. Quicken 2007 had “learned” all these, and they all collapsed on entry to a single line item.

In Quicken 2015, the Smart Payees set of rules has disappeared, and you’re left with a simple text entry. If there’s a way to edit these rules I haven’t found it, and if it’s really gone, that would mean that all imported entries from 2007 would have changed from storing both the original data and the display/report name to just the plain text of the matched name — reducing utility in my older records!

The category entry has also been simultaneously improved and made worse. Start typing in the field, and it pre-fills matching entries and also provides a useful pop-up menu with all the matching options. However, unlike in Quicken 2007, you can’t type a colon to jump to the next level in hierarchical category. For instance, if I have “Business:Hardware:In-State” defined, I can pull reports for Business, Business + Hardware, and Business + Hardware + In-State. In the past, I could type bus and then a colon to leap to the end and start autofilling the next level. Not so in Quicken 2015, which dramatically reduces my manual entry efficiency.

Linking to Online Accounts — One of the hardest parts of sticking with Quicken 2007 is that banks and other institutions gave up supporting it over time. My credit union dropped its legacy support two years ago, insisting that I could just switch to Quicken Essentials. No thank you. Happily, Quicken 2015 supported six different institutions that I entered, which reduces a lot of the manual work I’ve had to do.

The online connection seems to be among Quicken 2015’s strongest new components, although Intuit removed the familiar reconciliation screen in the interest of simplicity. That’s a good choice, but it means retraining this old dog.

Each Quicken account, like a bank account or loan, can be linked directly to an institution, but the first time you connect to a site at which you have multiple account numbers associated with a single login, the software prompts you to associate all accounts. You can opt to create a new Quicken account to associate, ignore it, or link it to an existing local account.

After a first failed attempt to set up Quicken 2015 and deal with duplicated transactions (the ones I had entered manually and those downloaded from my various accounts), I discovered that the app offers drag-and-drop transaction matching. You drag a downloaded transaction onto a manually entered one, and it merges the information into a single, confirmed entry. This is nifty, but because Quicken 2015’s online help is so terrible and there is, so far as I could find, no manual, I learned this only after complaining on Twitter and then searching the Web.

Intuit advertises this as a feature, too, but it’s unclear what the utility is until you drill down into what the company means by “drag-and-drop transaction matching.” This drag-and-drop interface replaces Quicken 2007’s wonky transaction-matching window, in which you viewed downloaded items and accepted them one at a time, as a whole, or worked to match them against manual entries. This new method is far superior, and if your accounts actually sync, you should need to use it only rarely.

With my accounts — including separate business and personal accounts at my credit union — I found that it wasn’t always possible to get everything to line up. This surely has something to do both with the cruft of previous data imported from Quicken 2007 and varying levels of support for Intuit’s online banking standards.

For instance, I was unable to get a home equity line of credit to match up until I realized that it probably had outdated information already stored. Even though I hadn’t linked it in Quicken 2015 and had been unable to sync for years in Quicken 2007, the account remained set to sync. Once I disabled and re-enabled online syncing for it, I was able to create the linkage. However, I was never able to get my home mortgage account to link correctly in all my testing, though I don’t know whether to blame the bank or Quicken.

The online sync, which is modal and cannot be canceled, includes a transaction upload stage if you have mobile access enabled. For some reason, on every sync, it wanted to upload thousands upon thousands of my transactions, even if none had changed. I didn’t put the time into figuring out which account was causing the error, or if the problem was with Quicken 2015 or the remote institution.

What’s Missing and What’s to Come — To Intuit’s credit, the company has been completely up front about what’s not yet in Quicken 2015 and how it may add popularly requested features. One expects, based on my testing, bug fixes and feature adjustments as well. A “compare” page at Intuit’s site shows two lists: at the top, it’s a “positive” list showing every major feature across current and past flagship products (Quicken 2015 for Mac, Quicken Essentials for Mac, Quicken 2007 for Mac, and Quicken Premier for Windows).

It’s odd to note when releasing new software, as Intuit does in the top item, “free feature improvements included,” but the company backs it up with a second list on that page which shows all the lacunae! These proposed features include everything that was dropped or needs to be added, most of which was found in Quicken 2007 and all of which is already in the Windows release.

This is bold and honest, and with the Vote buttons next to each item, I hope Intuit is serious about moving forward. Given that Quicken 2015 dropped amortization support (calculating loan principal for you), advanced reporting, and bill-pay support, there’s plenty of room to grow.

This is an idiosyncratic review, I admit. I have my set ways, which are undoubtedly different from how others have used Quicken over the years. Quicken 2007 was sufficiently rich and robust that everyone was able to choose a different approach, and thus some people will find this new release adequate.

People like me, however, need Intuit to bring Quicken 2015 into closer feature parity with Quicken 2007 so it’s not just a compatibility upgrade with fewer capabilities, but a full-featured financial package that allows us to move forward. For now, I’m sticking with Quicken 2007 as Quicken 2015 is not ready for my version of prime time, but I’ll be keeping a close eye on updates to see when it will meet my needs. If you’re in that subset of users who just need sophisticated tracking and reconciliation, but not reporting, Quicken 2015 may work for you as it currently stands.

Perhaps I am too forgiving. After so many years and so many missteps since Quicken 2007’s initial release, I should have given up on Intuit. (Do all Quicken users feel like Charlie Brown, taking yet another run at Intuit’s football?) But since I still can’t find a comparable package that meets my modest needs for entry, sync, and reporting, I have to hope Intuit succeeds in rebuilding a full 2007 house on 2015’s new foundations.

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