Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Quicken 2009 first impressions

I mentioned in a previous blog post about the death of MS Money. I'm a long time user of MS Money - in the past decade I've used 3 versions - 97, 2000, and 2002. I never upgraded from 2002, and was still using it happily until very recently. Though to be honest, I always missed the simple interface from the '97 version. My only experience with Quicken was that I used it for about a week in 1997, but the software was only so-so, not exceptional. And when they started calling me after I registered their software, I was done with them. I switched to MS Money, which has truthfully never knocked my socks off. It was functional and easy and talked to my banks/credit cards, and my phone never rang with a pushy MS salesperson so I never had any reason to switch. It was easy, no-hassle financial management, which is what I still want today.

Even though I'm on a really old edition of Money, it still downloaded my bank transactions and just worked. However, the fact that MS no longer supports it meant that I needed to make a decision about whether I was going to stick with my really old version (which has no guarantees of working on Windows 7, and surely won't ever see updates as banks change their online offerings). Or I could upgrade to a new version of Quicken. Or, I could use Open Office Calc. Or I could build my own. I still haven't ruled out building my own, but for $25 and a money back guarantee, I decided to give Quicken 2009 a try.

The first thing I noticed was that Quicken still wants to force me to register, and claims that it's online offerings require it. I found this blog post which told me to hit CTRL+SHIFT when the registration prompt comes up, and that the online offerings are still available if I do this. I tried it on my 2009 edition and it worked. One 1997 mistake successfully averted.

So, now that I'm in, the interface looks smooth and the online banking transaction downloads seem very full-featured. The reporting looks easy, and the bill reminders will do what I want. This may just work for me, so I think I'm in business. Or not.

I have over a decade of financial transactions stored in the MS Money format. And Quicken says it can convert Money files, but not from the 2002 version... it's too old. No problem - Money has always been able to export to QIF - The Quicken Interchange Format. Except that Intuit (ironic name) appears to have decided that Quicken didn't need to support that import format anymore. They wanted to force banks to change over to a new proprietary format called QFX, which allows them to charge royalties for the privilege of using it. The long and short of it is that there are no free utilities out there to convert QIF to QFX, and I couldn't find a QFX specification published so I code it myself. I downloaded a QFX file from my bank to see if I could mimic it, but without a version of the file that includes split transaction examples, I can't fully mimic my QIF files.

So, off to Google - the all-knowing oracle of the internet. Except that it proved exceedingly difficult to find an answer. In fact, I've been at it off and on for two weeks. It appears to be nearly impossible to import a .QIF file into Quicken unless you are using a "cash account". Credit cards, checking, and savings accounts are arbitrarily not allowed. For no legitimate reason. At this point I'm just about ready for my refund. But, luckily I finally found this post, which led me to a workable solution.

Here are the step-by-step instructions for getting MS Money data into Quicken 2009:
  1. Create a "cash account" in Quicken. You won't need to keep this, but you must have one while importing your historic data.
  2. Create a single account for either your Checking, Savings, or credit card account. Whichever you're going to import first. For simplicity, name the account "Checking", "Savings", or "CCard" and tell Quicken that you'll manually add the transactions rather than connect to your bank. Even if you have multiple accounts of the same type, you'll only be importing one at at time.
  3. Export all the transactions for an account from MS Money to a QIF file. I recommend NOT exporting to "strict" QIF unless your Quicken import fails. Start with the loose QIF.
  4. Open the QIF file in a text editor (notepad). At the top of the file insert the following text, replacing "Checking" with "Savings", or "CCard" if you're importing one of the other account types. Be careful not to delete anything already in the file, and don't leave any empty lines.

    !Option:AutoSwitch
    !Account
    N
    Checking
    TBank
    ^
    N
    Checking
    TBank
    ^
    !Clear:AutoSwitch
    !Account
    N
    Checking
    TBank
    ^

  5. Import the .QIF file. You'll need to choose the "cash account" you created in step 1 as the destination. Of course, that's just a ruse to fool Quicken because if all goes as planned, the import should go to the account you named "Checking", "Savings", or "CCard". You'll likely get a dialog box that says your file has new categories in it - say "yes" to add the categories. If all goes well, you should get a success dialog. If you don't get a success dialog, you're on your own. This worked without a hitch for all my accounts. You might try the "strict" QIF in step 3.


  6. Double check your downloaded transactions and be sure that splits and amounts all worked out. Some things may not have imported exactly as you hoped, but this should get you really close. Once you've accepted all the transactions, now you can rename your account and enable the online transaction downloads. Repeat from step 2 for each account.
  7. Remove the "cash account" when you're done. It should never have received any of the transactions you imported, even though you chose it as the destination account.
At this point, I'm finally ready to start using Quicken. Of course, none of my saved reports or scheduled bills are there - I'll have to recreate those manually. This was a lot more effort than I had hoped. And, there's more bad news. Once you get the data into Quicken, you'll find that the one format they say they want you to use, QFX, is not a choice for exporting your data. And, even though you can export to a legacy .QIF file, it's a variant that MS Money won't be able to import without extensive modifications. So, for the layman, this is a one way migration... no changing your mind later. However, amazingly you can export to .QIF and Quicken will re-import it's own exported file. And exporting my data is a vital feature for me, as I'll need to get my data out once I've written my own financial management program. I'll post my C# version of a .QIF parser to the blog soon. (UPDATE: here it is)

Intuit has a lot of work to do to win over MS Money users to Quicken. Perhaps I'll post again after I've used it for real for awhile. For now, I'd rate Quicken 2009 a 6 out of 10 for user friendliness.

1 comments:

ftmomma said...

good gravy. thanks for everything you do to keep our family finances running smoothly. I stopped understanding any of this post about half way through but I sure do appreciate you!