Perhaps it’s an indictment of how far Money 2004 is from the usual user-friendly Microsoft approach; the firm includes a tutorial book, Microsoft Money Made Easy, with the Financial Suite edition we’ve got on test here. It’s not that there’s anything particularly wrong with the package, but where other programs from the House of Gates manage to accommodate a decent learning curve, Money 2004 can be quite a daunting experience.
Still, it’s got quite a daunting job. The idea is that the program will help you organise and track your finances, so it can then take you through various budgeting and future planning options. To do this, you first need to follow quite a comprehensive, time-consuming yet straightforward wizard, which asks you detailed questions about your financial incomings and outgoings, as well as your bank accounts and credit/debit cards.
Once that’s finished, you’re transported to the main Money screen, which is tailored around the answers you gave to various questions throughout the initial wizard. It offers an at-a-glance guide to the state of your finances, and from here you can click through to pay bills, generate reports and suchlike.
There’s certainly a lot of information and power at your fingertips, but the sterile if efficient way it’s presented doesn’t make it the most comfortable program to work your way around.
It’s extremely powerful at what it does, although one potentially very useful option – logging onto your online bank, obtaining the latest data and sending it to the My Money screen – is hampered by the number of financial institutions that don’t support the program. A pity, as this is a feature with real potential.
Still, there are some good ones in there anyway. The ‘What If’ scenarios, for instance, are very useful for future planning, and additions such as the ability to create a will are welcome.
On top of all of these, the program factors in management of savings and investments. This keeps an eye on the value of them and, along with other areas of Money, relies on an active Internet connection to keep things as relevant as possible. It’s not compulsory, but it certainly helps.
Elsewhere in the Financial Suite edition, there’s a copy of TaxSaver 2003 Deluxe. This is an efficient little program that seems to quite ably calculate your tax return, filing it too should you so wish.
Still, you can’t get away from the fact that, despite the plethora of features, Money 2004 requires some hard input on the part of the user. It’s a sophisticated and powerful finance management tool but it does run the danger of bewildering the novice, although undoubtedly it will reward the user who spends the time to get to know the program and its features properly.
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