Microsoft Money 2005 review
Seldom have two words sat together on the page so propitiously; Microsoft and Money go together so well, which makes the title of this personal accounting software so apt. Rather amazingly, Money has been around for 13 years and by now is well locked in to the yearly update cycle, with Money 2005 being the latest release. Unsurprisingly, the brief remains unchanged: it’s not a full-blown accounting package, like Sage, but is aimed at families looking to control their finances. With Money 2005 you can set and balance budgets, monitor your expenses, pay bills online and even manage your investment portfolio – not a bad deal for £21.
On the other side of the pond there are no less than four versions of Money available. Over here, we’re restricted to just two: the standard version plus the Money Financial Suite. This costs more than double but comes with TaxSaver 2004, which not only helps you complete your annual tax return but can actually submit it online as well. Don’t worry too much about TaxSaver being a year out of kilter with Money – remember your current tax year ends on April 5th 2005.
Money 2005 closely resembles last year’s model in many respects, but it’s been made somewhat more user-friendly. For example, setup doesn’t force you to enter each and every account; you can just jump in and start using Money 2005 from the off, though spending time on tasks such as categorising spending will let you get more out of the software.
The 2005 interface has had a lick of paint and its new, blue, less-cluttered appearance bears an uncanny resemblance to an MSN website. There are more changes under the bonnet too, and the new version simplifies much of the drudgery associated with bookkeeping. A new Bills Wizard helps set up and track recurring payments, whether fixed or variable. Another tool tracks the daily status of problem spending categories and alerts you to overspending. And if you want financial advice, on things like mortgages or pensions, you’re whisked away to pages on http://money.msn.co.uk. An improved portfolio manager assists with long-term financial choices. The distinction between the local client and the financial advice it pulls down from the MSN Money is seamless to the point of near invisibility.
A worthwhile improvement is Money 2005’s useful ability to track up to three specific budget categories for expenditure, which appear on the homepage. There are plenty of budget categories that stay the same each month (such as mortgage or pension) but there are also options for those that vary, such as ‘food:groceries’ or ‘food: dining out’.
Two views of your financial affairs are on offer: Essential summarises your bank transactions in an easy-to-read format. Your spending habits are also analysed, for example by category or payee, and automatically if Money can recognise the payee’s name. By contrast, the Advanced view displays more transactional detail. Charts and graphs are available by the shed load. If you overdo it, there’s even a debt-reduction planner.
Money’s other planning functions, on the other hand, are a tad simplistic, and don’t take into account factors that make planning personally relevant. For instance, the budget planner will evenly distribute over 12 months a one-time expected expense or receipt, which skews the budget. The 30-year, long-term planner is of very dubious practical worth too.
Much more beneficially, you can also automatically synchronise your account data in the desktop application with your web-based MSN Money account, meaning that you can review your finances from any PC with a browser.