Quicken Essentials: Four Strikes and You’re Out

| Ted Landau's User Friendly View

My initial approach to Intuit’s newly released Quicken Essentials was similar to how the bomb squad in The Hurt Locker approaches an improvised explosive device: with extreme caution. Why? Because, given the program’s dismal history, Quicken Essentials already had three strikes against it before I even installed the software. In baseball, three strikes and you’re out. Fortunately for Intuit, the rules of the software game are more forgiving. I figured I could allow the program at least one more strike before sending it back to the dugout.

Strike 1: Quicken struggles to survive. Prior to the release of Quicken Essentials, Quicken for the Mac had not seen a major upgrade since Quicken Mac 2007, released well over three years ago. For the record, I am still using Quicken Mac 2006 (as the 2007 version did not add any new features that mattered).

While Quicken 2006 has worked fairly reliably at carrying out its essential tasks of tracking transactions and printing checks, I would never describe it as a joy to use. To the contrary, I grumble and complain about some aspect of the program almost every time I launch it. It has a clunky interface (a remnant of the fact that it is a port of the Windows version of Quicken). Basic Mac conventions, such as Command-A for Select All, do not work. The Search function is annoying, showing only one match at a time, forcing you to jump from one unwanted item to the next until you hopefully stumble over the one you want. Auto-fill too often persists in filling in out-of-date or unwanted data. Connecting online to my bank has never worked as promised. Generating reports is clumsy, as I often have to redo the settings for a report several times before it finally displays what I want. The program was never updated to run natively on Intel Macs and has always lagged behind its Windows sibling in terms of features.

The only reasons I continue to use Quicken 2006 are because I have never found a better alternative (mainly due to a lack of competition) and at some point inertia took over.

Given this history, I was not about to get my hopes up for Quicken Essentials.

Strike 2: Financial Life is stillborn. In January of 2008, Intuit admitted that Quicken for the Mac was not up to the standards that Mac users expected. To remedy this situation, they planned to replace Quicken with Financial Life. As suggested by the new name, Financial Life would be a completely new program, rewritten from the ground up. It would be a Cocoa-based Intel-native application with an entirely new iTunes-inspired Mac-specific user interface.

As I wrote previously, Intuit initially promised a September 2008 release date for Financial Life. That never happened. New release dates were announced, followed by announcements of further delays. Intuit offered a free beta version of Financial Life at one point. Still, after over two years of development and considerable hype, Financial Life died. The program would never see the light of day.

Given this history, I was not about to get my hopes up for Quicken Essentials.

Strike 3: Quicken Essentials’ missing features. At the very end of 2009, Intuit announced the forthcoming release of a new and different upgrade to Quicken for the Mac: Quicken Essentials. Essentials appeared to be based on the Financial Life code. So why the rename? Because Quicken Essentials would not include certain “non-essential” features offered in Quicken 2007 and Financial Life. Intuit noted three such features in the “Using a prior version of Quicken Mac?” section of the Quicken Essentials Web page. Quicken Essentials: (1) “will not track investment buys and sells, nor will it provide some advanced investment performance reports”; (2) will not export data to TurboTax; and (3) will not allow you to pay bills online. If you want these features, Intuit recommends that you stay with Quicken Mac 2007.

On first hearing this, my reaction was: “What? After all the years of having to put up with the hassles of Quicken, and after the failure of Financial Life to ever appear, the best Intuit can do is release a product that isn’t even as capable as the program it’s replacing?” By this point, I was ready to storm Apple’s annual stockholders meeting and demand that Intuit’s Bill Campbell be removed from Apple’s Board of Directors. I restrained myself.

Given this history, I had virtually no hope for Quicken Essentials.

Quicken Essentials: A New Hope? Despite this gloom and doom, there is reason for hope that Quicken Essentials may yet herald a successful new direction for Intuit. I got my first inkling of this via a conversation with Aaron Patzer, VP and general manager for Intuit’s Personal Finance Group. Mr. Patzer is also the founder of Mint.com, the financial Web site that Intuit recently acquired.

I suspect that, after Mr. Patzer surveyed the wreckage in Intuit’s Mac division, he determined that: (1) there was no way Financial Life was going to be ready for market any time soon (although I have still seen no explanation for why this was the case, given that they had years to finish it); (2) something had to be released relatively soon or the window of opportunity to salvage Quicken’s Mac reputation would be closed forever (if it had not shut already); (3) it would be better to come out with a decent feature-missing “essentials” upgrade than a buggy more full-featured program or no upgrade at all.

From this logic, Quicken Essentials was born. As for the missing features, Mr. Patzer promised that they would return in a future “Deluxe” version of Quicken. Mr. Patzer also described a future where Quicken for Mac, Quicken for Windows and Mint.com are integrated so that users will be able to access their personal data equally well from any of the platforms.

As for the present, Quicken Essentials was publicly released last week. After spending a few days with the program, I can confirm that this is not your father’s Quicken. It is a major rewrite of the software. It at last feels and works like a program written specifically for the Mac. If you didn’t know that this was an upgrade to Quicken, you would think it was an entirely new program from a competitor. It’s that different.

Overall, the interface is much improved from the old Quicken. Quicken Essentials successfully imported my old Quicken data in a matter of minutes. The program easily established an online link to my bank (it connects to over 8000 banks with support for over 15,000 coming in an upgrade). In addition, Quicken Essentials now supports tracking credit card and brokerage accounts. Search requests in Essentials result in a convenient single list of all matching items. When entering a new transaction, you can scroll through all existing options (such as for payees) via popup lists — or you can start typing to take advantage of the improved autofill function.

Not every interface change in Quicken Essentials is a change for the better. I had unexpected difficulty figuring out how to use the reworked Reconcile feature. The data in the Balance column of my checking account sometimes vanished. I could not turn to Intuit’s documentation for help in such matters; all that is currently available is a far-too-brief Getting Started Guide. For an application entrusted with the critical task of managing finances, better documentation should be a requirement.

Strike 4: No Check Printing. I was not especially bothered by Quicken Essentials’ publicized trio of missing features. I never used those options anyway, so their omission was not a big deal for me. I certainly have the patience to wait for their return in a future Quicken Deluxe. I was not, however, prepared for the shocking discovery of another missing feature — one that Intuit did not mention:

Quicken Essentials does not support printing checks!

Let me state that again, in case you thought you misread it: Quicken Essentials does not support printing checks. Apparently, this is not an “essential” feature. For those of you with a stack of Intuit-supplied Quicken checks, you can toss them in the garbage if you upgrade to Quicken Essentials. I don’t know which is worse — that Intuit dropped check printing from Quicken Essentials or that Intuit’s Web site does not warn prospective buyers about this change.

Quicken Essentials does not even provide a column to display or enter check numbers. This means that, whether you write checks by hand or print them to your computer, you cannot record check numbers in Quicken Essentials. Further, after importing your old data into Quicken Essentials, all your existing check number data are stripped out. [Update: I stand corrected. You can add a Number column by Control-clicking on any column header and selecting the item. If you do this, you will see that your imported check numbers have been maintained.]

I asked Intuit about the absence of check printing. They replied: “We are reviewing the customer feedback and looking into the possibility of adding the ability to print checks into future versions of Quicken for Mac, but we don’t have specific plans to announce.”

My guess is that Intuit will not be restoring check printing in any future Deluxe version. In keeping with their planned integration of Quicken with Mint.com, Intuit sees the future of personal finance management as a paperless online-only world. While this may fit well with a segment of Intuit’s target audience, I am not in that segment. There are too many occasions where I want or need to stuff a check in an envelope. I may be “old-fashioned,” but the failure of Quicken Essentials to support any form of check printing is Strike 4 and definitely out. I will not be upgrading.

Bottom Line

I’d like to believe that Quicken Essentials will eventually grow into a program that I can use with pleasure and without hesitation. There are certainly aspects of the program that show promise. But Intuit has disappointed me too many times for me to have any confidence in this belief. Next batter!

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Comments

geoduck

Well said
The idea of dropping check numbers is absurd. That alone would have driven us away, that is if we’d known about it.

After sticking with our old Quicken we were ready to go to QE despite the missing bits. On one of the TMO Forums several people suggested Moneydance. It does everything we want. It DOES track by check number. It’s downloadable as a demo version so we could try it out. It imported all our Quicken data without losing anything even the fairly complex splits on debits and credits. (Significant because Intuit would not say if we could import our old, Q2003, data at all.) AND IT"S CHEAPER.

QuickenEssentials is likely to be remembered along side the PuckMouse as an epic failure.

mdsnyder

Ted -

You are being too kind regarding the predecessor Quicken for Mac. After realizing that Quicken Essentials will not be a viable solution for a while, I decided to upgrade my Quicken Mac 2004 to the 2007 version while it is still available from Intuit. Unfortunately, I found that it is nearly identical to the older version. They even contain the same bugs and are prone to crashes in similar circumstances (which I have trained myself to avoid). Thankfully, a refund was easy to come by.

For the future, I see Mac users clinging to the remains of the 2004-06 versions of Quicken Mac, much the same way that many legal professionals clung to WordPerfect 6.1 for DOS, well beyond the rise of Windows and Word. Not encouraging.

Dean Lewis

I still use Quicken 2006. Never “upgraded” to 2007 for the same reasons as others: nothing new. I was hoping Quicken Essentials would work out since it would be Intel- and Snow Leopard-native, but the check number thing is a deal breaker for me. I don’t write many checks anymore, but my apartment rent requires one and I have legacy data I want to keep since I compare things over several years.

Thanks for the heads up on MoneyDance, geoduck. I think I tried a version several years ago, but I’ll be checking into it latest version soon.

Gareth Harris

I finally put Quicken where it belongs - in the trash.
Next I put my clients on Checkbook Pro - simple, quick, not overgrown for what it does:

http://www.splasm.com/checkbook/

makes everybody happy.

jragosta

For years, Mac users have been complaining about Quicken (I was a beta tester nearly a decade ago and nothing has been done to address them). For years, Mac testers have asked for:
- Feature compatibility with Windows
- File format compatibility with Windows
- Same banking interface - so all banks that support Quicken for Windows would automatically support the Mac.

For years, Intuit has said that Mac users don’t need all those features and we would have to live with a crippled, watered down version. Instead of getting better over time, this has gotten worse. Who in the world would use a finance program that won’t print checks, won’t track investments, and won’t pay bills online? Maybe if it were free and there was nothing else out there.

Of course, it’s not just Quicken for the Mac that stinks. Quickbooks is equally crippled. The Mac version won’t even connect with a network to share data files with Windows. Hello?? McFly?? Networking has been standard for over a decade.

I guess the one ‘bright’ side is that Mac users aren’t being singled out- the WIndows software stinks, too. We used Point of Sale (aptly nicknamed POS) for our retail operation. We wanted to move the data file from one server to another. Intuit’s response (I couldn’t believe it, so I called back later and got the same answer) was that we had to uninstall all the client software on every computer, reinstall Windows, reinstall the client software (and all 4 patches - which needed to be added sequentially rather than all at once) and then reinitiate the data file.

As bad as Intuit’s Mac software is, the really unforgivable aspect of it is that their CEO sat on Apple’s board for a long time. He should have been forcibly removed ages ago.

I used to buy Quicken every single version and Intuit’s tax software every year, as well. But those days are over. Intuit will never see another penny from me until they start writing decent software for the Mac. I’ll live with the limitations of iBank if necessary.

bizzkit

Hope you had a review copy and didn’t fork out $$$ for this train wreck since there is no trial version. smile I am not about to pay a company with Intuit’s track record without test driving it first. I switched from Q2007 to iBank about a year ago. iBank has a ways to go but for now it works for me. At least their tech support is responsive. Hope they aren’t bought up by Intuit.

I have no spare change to invest in stocks. I prefer doing my online banking through my banks website. I’m retired so I don’t need to export to TurboTax. I’ve never used it but I didn’t know until I read your review that it doesn’t support check printing.

But no check numbering? I recently had to write a check and realized it was the first I had written in almost a year. Online banking really isn’t that old and probably like most everyone else I have years of data and almost every debit had a check number. This borders on retarded. Oops, sorry, mentally challenged.

Keith Smith

WHAT were they thinking when they put a feature stripped version on the market and charged the full-featured price for it?  The Mac version has ALWAYS been more expensive than the Windows version (I know, I know, economics of scale and all that, but COME ON now) - but to keep the same price point and publicly admit they removed features… insane.  QEM should cost $30US, same price as the Windows Quicken Starter Edition (which probably STILL does more than QEM), and this mythical “deluxe” edition that might see the light of day in a few years time should be no more than $60 - a $10 premium over Quicken Deluxe PC, ASSUMING feature parity.  Intuit has priced themselves out of their own market, and I won’t be surprised when they announce that they’re abandoning the Mac platform due to declining sales, even though they (FINALLY) re-wrote the software to be more Mac-like.

Dan Ashley in Chicago

Six Questions:
1. Does MoneyDance print checks?
2. Does Moneydance do online banking include using your bank’s online bill paying function?
3. Does iBank print checks?
4. Does iBank do online banking include using your bank’s online bill paying function?
5. Do any other Mac programs do both these functions?
6. If iBank, MondyDance or another program print checks, do they use my old Quicken checks that I’ve stocked up on?

Thanks!

- Dan

scott

dan a. in chicago: iBank does connect online with most banks to download transactions. in most other cases, you can download a quicken-compatible file (look for a QIF download in your bank’s options) and import that to iBank. while iBank does not yet support billpay, it does print checks, and you can use your old quicken checks with the program. there’s also a trial version of the app available from http://www.iggsoftware.com/ibank. hope that helps.

Gasport

If only Quicken Essentials drawback was the inability to not print checks and not allow for online banking.

I purchased, installed, and transferred my Quicken Windows 2010 data file seamlessly.  I was impressed as the accounts matched the QW accounts except the Investment accounts.  As I dug deeper into QEM, many smaller features I used were missing as well as ONE MAJOR PROBLEM.

That problem involved several investment accounts held at Cambridge Investment Research which basically supports independent financial advisers.  They are on the QEM financial institution list. However, and here is the problem.  They, Intuit, only provide a link to one of the many client service sites (Pershing) CIR provides.  No way can I connect to the site that supports my accounts. In the QW I can use Direct Connect perfectly with CIR using the correct URL.  I contacted support via email and was told to use Web Connect.  I wrote back and told them CIR only supports Direct Connect.  NO Reply.  I went online to the chat service.  Dealt with two reps, neither of whom could help me.  Basically recommended that I set up a phone call with phone support and they could help.  This I did and when I received the call back, they immediately disconnected.  Did they call back?  No…  I again contacted email support and went over what had happened and asked them to pleas at the correct URL as a subset of sites that CIR serviced.  I got a reply back with a link to their tech site http://www.fi.intuit.com/support/  There is some useful information there and explains the whole process of providing Direct Connect and Web Connect to the financial institution’s customer base.  This is all well and good but they already provide Direct Connect in the QW.  It just boggles my mind that I have to take such a circular path to get Intuit to recognize the problem.  I have communicated all this to the technical people at CIR and they tell me it is up to Intuit.  Intuit tells me it is up to CIR.  I am not alone in this problem.  Check the QEM boards. People are having all kinds of problems connecting and Intuit boasts 15,000 financial institutions.  The people with problems are not trying to connect to obscure institutions but ones like TR Price.

MINT is now part of Intuit.  The CEO of MINT, Aaron Patzer is now an Intuit Officer and in charge of QEM.  I have listened and read many of his remarks about the future of QEM.  I tried to see if MINT would accept CIR.  No luck.  The MINT site provides a mechanism for me to request that my financial institution be added to MINT for Direct Connect.  I received a nice reply from MINT saying they were going to contact CIR. I am not holding my breath.  But this does show that Intuit support is non existent.

There were other smaller functions that I found were missing from QEM.

There is no Save or Save As feature.  There is no Year End Save procedure as in QW.  There is no way to manually create an investment account that does not support Direct Connect.  There is no ability to track bonds and savings bonds. There is no Savings Goal Planning, a big feature of QW.  And the list goes on. Check out the QEM forum on the Intuit site. 

At this point I gave up and requested a RMA from Amazon and am shipping QEM back.  I will try at another time when Aaron Patzer’s enhancements make their way into QEM.

This is really sad and a waste of 3 years.  Of all the reviews I have read, most were critical of QEM. I will continue to follow the Intuit boards as they provide some degree of levity when I see all the problems people have and Intuits attempt to convince posters that they were right in developing a limit

ChrisStitches

First the good, yahoo, Intuit FINALLY did something, I was getting tired of trying to get rid of Campbell.  Price is a bit of a rip but there is a money back guarantee.  Interface isn’t too bad, takes a bit of getting use to and some rearranging/deleting.  Which requires a little research.  I finally managed to get cleared/uncleared transactions to show, you’d best know accounting terminology.  I did get the check number column to show up, it’s relatively responsive.  You can have ONLY the year/month your working on showing, wahoo.  The reporting is better, not perfect but better.  Transferring data from 2006 to Essentials was a bit convoluted but worked fine, they seem to have gotten rid of those cryptic (to me) codes when you tried to figure out which is the most recent.

The not so good, it’s trying to help you a bit too much, figuring out what to do or how to do it is a bit of a pain, the help is IMHO almost useless.  The ‘community’ is a better resource even though you can tell that the some of the answers are close but you do have to play a bit more.  You MUST hit New to get to the next entry.  IMHO again this is a pain.  There is no current support for Wells Fargo which for me is a pain in the arse.  How about Intuit and WF get together for a few minutes and get this fixed!!!  This is not quite a Beta but not far removed from it.

Oh yeah, it seems to take up a lot of screen real estate at the top and bottom, not adjustable that I’ve found YET.

Ted Landau

There is no Save or Save As feature.

You are absolutely right. This is another significant omission. The best I can suggest is that, for saving a Report, you can select Print and save it as a PDF.

dMacGuy

Just a heads up ... tracking check numbers is included in QE. If you Control click on any column header you will get a drop down list of all the types of info you can show in your register. Simply clicking on an item adds that column to the register. Why check number is not on by default is a mystery, but it is there.

Like so many others I had given up on Quicken and moved on. I tried iBank but did not care for their reconciliation model. I found a program called Prospects that was great. It had a couple of minor bugs but I was essentially pretty happy. The only reason I decided to move away from it was the developer seemed to disappear for months at a time with no responses to anything. That scared the heck out of me. I then moved to the 2010 version of Moneydance. Again ... I like this program and it definitely seems to have a future. My one big complaint is the lack of control over importing transactions. I constantly end up with duplicates that I would have to search for and weed out. Hopefully they will get this fixed.

As for QEM ... so far I am fairly happy. Maybe I am one of the 80% they were targeting. I do not track details of investment accounts (buys and sells). I do not print checks. I use my bank’s online bill pay system, so I do not require bill pay within Quicken. The scheduled transactions feature adds them to my register as I need them to be.

QE also seems to connect with more financial institutions than the other software I have tried. It was very easy to get various credit card accounts connected and download transactions, including from our credit union.

I do have three qualms I hope to see corrected in a future version ...
1) The ability to change the font size in both the register and the accounts pane.
2) I prefer either the old two line register or the ability to add some space between transactions. The single line format is too hard on my eyes and takes up too much room horizontally.
3) More control over imported transactions BEFORE they are added to my register. I actually like the “accept or reject” method. No software I have seen gets it 100% right without some user input. I do appreciate the QE feature of quickly viewing a list of all the last imported transactions. That helps.

Just my two cents ...

ChrisStitches

@dMacGuy

I’ve found that moving/deleting columns and resizing helps.

The Single line works once you get use to it.

Other input..

I had an issue where a .qfx would not import to an account, kept wanting to make a new account.  Solution was to open Settings while in the account, scroll ALL the way DOWN, either uncheck the I want to download transactions box or check it, do the assist me then bail out.  For some unknown reason this enabled me to import the .qfx download to the account.  It’s a feature.

Ted Landau

If you Control click on any column header you will get a drop down list of all the types of info you can show in your register.

Thanks for the heads up. I somehow missed this. I have updated/corrected the column text accordingly.

Gasport

“I had an issue where a .qfx would not import to an account, kept wanting to make a new account.  Solution was to open Settings while in the account, scroll ALL the way DOWN, either uncheck the I want to download transactions box or check it, do the assist me then bail out.  For some unknown reason this enabled me to import the .qfx download to the account.  It?s a feature. “

One of the problems I had.  Will try and see if it works.

ChrisStitches

Rats, I forgot to say the box must be unchecked if downloading and import a .QFX.

Ted Landau

Playing with Essentials some more. Unless I am again missing some option, after enabling the display of the Number column, if you quit and relaunch Essentials, the Number column disappears again. You have to re-enable it on every launch.

Dick VH

I realized that Mac Quicken 2007 was going nowhere and gave up on it.  Did their upgrades for years which became a waste for any added value.  I hate to admit it but I’ve been using Quicken Windows running on Parallels for 3 years.  Works just fine and I actually sort of like the program.  I realize it’s a bit of effort (and expense) to run Windows on your Mac - but Quicken on Windows does do what it’s supposed to and problem solved.

Once you are used to the convenience of direct connect and bill pay it’s hard to want to take a step backwards.  Hopefully someday MoneyDance or iBank will have a version which support these functions.

Isaac

Good to hear that it tracks brokerage accounts. I am not sure how this is different from investments. Could someone clarify for me. To ask a simple question. I trade I trade in stocks. Can I track and enter transactions?

One disadvantage is that for one to buy QEM, you have to be in US or Canada. What are mac users outside these countries supposed to do? You can’t even download!!

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