I'm an organizer by nature. And these days, organization is about using your computer to not only store information but to give you the power to sort and actually use information to your advantage.
That's what drew me to Quicken nearly a decade ago.
Unlike most bank Web sites, which only allow you to pay bills and track payments, Quicken lets you categorize every payment, including those debit transactions at the grocery store, gas station or dry cleaner. With a click of your mouse, you can create a chart that will illustrate where all your money went. Armed with that knowledge, you can take steps to divert your cash flow to more productive uses, such as an IRA or college savings account.
Quicken is a product of
, a company that not only sells the money-management software, but also offers well-known products such as TurboTax and QuickBooks. I don't own any shares of the company, but I love its products. Here's a look at some new features and programs that you can download.
TurboTax Estimated Taxes
This is a new product for 2006 designed to help the 10 million people who are required to file quarterly estimated tax returns. Those are all the people who receive non-W-2 income. They include the self-employed, spouses who receive alimony, sellers on eBay, and retirees who collect dividend and investment income.
Those individuals are required to file estimated taxes in January, April, June and September in an amount equal to 90% of their tax obligation for the prior year. An estimated 5 million of those quarterly returns have penalties assessed against them -- either for late filing, mistakes, or simply the failure to file.
This new product is designed to take the anguish out of the quarterly filing process by helping you calculate how much you need to pay based on last year's tax return. It's all done securely
online. The $29.95 cost includes four quarterly online estimated tax payments, each with an electronic 1040ES voucher sent to the IRS along with your payment, which is debited automatically from your checking account.
Quicken Medical Expense Manager 2.0
I first wrote about the introduction of this program in July 2005, and I knew it would change the lives of people who live with ongoing medical treatments and the subsequent hassle of dealing with multiple bills and insurance forms. But even if you're part of a family with no major medical issues, you can get buried in paperwork trying to sort out forms and worrying about whether you've all met your deductibles.
Quicken Medical Expense Manager is a simple and handy way to track each medical bill and insurance "explanation of benefits" letter so you can deal with the insurance company from a position of strength. It guides you to organize all your documents and then search them in several ways -- by provider name, member of your family, name of illness, or date.
You'll know whether you should pay a bill, wait for insurance, or ask questions. The program helps you track the conversations you have with the insurance company, and also gives you templates you can use to write dispute letters.
The latest version, available for $49.95, helps you track potential tax deductions, including mileage driven to medical treatments. An enhanced report center compares the costs of procedures, which is especially helpful if you're spending your own money in a
health savings account. The program also tracks expenses for your flexible spending account, so you don't leave money on the table at the end of the year.
One helpful aspect of this new version is a clear indication of when you've
a bill -- something that happens surprisingly often when you and the insurance company pay the same bill.
Quicken Rental Property Manager
If you're a landlord, you've probably made money in recent years. But you've also likely had heavy expenses and the hassle of dealing with tenants.
The latest version of Quicken Rental Property Manager improves upon what was already a very useful program. It helps you track tenant accounts and maintenance and improvement records, and correlates them all, allowing you to better manage properties. It also exports the data to TurboTax, making tax time easier. I first wrote about this product nearly two years ago, and heard from many property owners who said they had thrown away their makeshift spreadsheets because of this better system. The latest version incorporates changes suggested by users, and is available for download at $99.99.
Since I'm not a real estate investor in this category, I can't give you a personal perspective. But it's certainly worth a try, because it probably will save you at least an expensive hour's worth of an accountant's time!
I get a kick out of being organized. In hindsight, I probably should have bought Intuit stock -- something I never did -- since I'm so enthralled by the company's creative product development. I'll let Jim Cramer help you decide whether the stock's a buy -- but as far as organizing your finances through your computer, the time is right now. That's The Savage Truth.
Terry Savage is an expert on personal finance and also appears as a commentator on national television on issues related to investing and the financial markets. Savage's personal finance column by the Chicago Sun-Times is nationally syndicated, and she released her fourth book, The Savage Number: How Much Money Do You Need? in June 2005. Savage also was the first woman trader on the Chicago Board Options Exchange and is a registered investment adviser for stocks and futures. A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Michigan, Savage currently serves as a director of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange Corp. She also has served on the boards of the McDonald's and Pennzoil corporations.