In the spring of 2010 I’d been a Quicken user for a little more than ten years (since 1999 to be exact). In the summer of 2008 I made the switch from Windows to a Mac but I had to hang onto Windows XP for a couple applications for which I just couldn’t find Mac equivalents. One of these two applications was Beyond Compare for which I finally found a suitable replacement in DeltaWalker. The other was Quicken. Quicken for Mac does exist but every review I’ve ever read about it is completely unfavorable. I’ve never seen a product more universally panned. It hasn’t been updated since version 2007 and the first proposed update since (Quicken Financial Life) had a fraction of the features of its Windows counterpart. That initiative was scrapped by Intuit (generally read sentiments being that it was pretty terrible) and has since been tasked to a company Intuit recently purchased called Mint.com. That product at the time of this writing is called Quicken Essentials for Mac (the title really a euphemism meaning fewer features for the same price). It’s still pretty lame in comparison to its Windows counterpart, so much that I’m not willing to spend $60 on it only to likely have to request a refund (since I can’t seem to get a trial version).
So after having the Mac for about a year and a half I went on the search once again for a suitable Quicken replacement for the Mac. There were more players than I had originally thought but most of them did not have a comparable feature set to Quicken. After doing some research I ended up settling on four possible replacements; iBank, GnuCash, Moneywell, and Moneydance. What I found is that I experienced such poor performance on many of the replacement solutions I was unable to test most of these “feature by feature”. All of the other applications had problems of varying degree importing my Quicken data as well. Instead this is more of a review of Moneydance than anything else. For more extensive reviews on multiple personal finance products click here.
(I’ve added an addendum review to include a short review on a Mac personal finance application called SEE Fiance after it was recommended in a comment below by Robert Tell. I’ve also added a follow up review on iBank 4.)
I began by compiling a list of my requirements. First, I was looking for a Mac-native Quicken replacement so I could finally get rid of my Windows XP virtual machine. Second, I had to have the ability to track all the different account types I had; checking, savings, investments, loans, credit cards, assets, and cash accounts. It needed to be relatively straight-forward and easy to use and I needed to have the ability to create customized graphs and reports that I could save for quick reference later. I also needed to be able to import my existing Quicken financial records; I couldn’t afford to lose any history. That requirement was crucial. I also needed to be able to split a transaction between different accounts and categories. If I could find a replacement personal finance application that did all these things, along with a $60 price point, then I was set.
Quicken also has a nasty policy of crippling prior versions to force users to upgrade to new versions (I never wanted to upgrade to Quicken 2009 and was disappointed after I did). I was also hoping I could get away from that with a replacement solution.
To test these applications I exported my entire 10 year Quicken history into a QIF file and imported it into each application. I then tested the various features, as well as how well the import went.
My first impression of iBank was good. It looks great visually and it seems like it’s got great potential. There were a couple things that turned me off to it. First was how slow it was. It took 4 seconds or more to view the register each time I clicked an account. That might sound trivial, but when jumping back and forth between accounts it became tedious. It has great-looking charts and graphs but they also took more time than I was willing to wait to load. I honestly didn’t get much further than that in my testing because of how slow everything was (documented here as well).
It also did a poor job importing my existing Quicken data; account totals were all over the place and fixing it was going to take a while. Also iBank would only allow me 15 minutes of “playtime” with it in demo mode before quitting. This limited my ability to preview the software thoroughly to ensure it met my needs.
iBank is Mac-only and does not run on Linux or Windows; not a show-stopper but it does impose a limit on where I can use the software.
In the end I had to pass on iBank. It looks great and it looks to have great potential but for me it wasn’t quite ready. It also has a $60 price tag, the same as Quicken deluxe, which put it at the top of my price range. If it had one-to-one feature parity with Quicken Deluxe I could justify the cost; truth is it doesn’t, so it was difficult to justify it. I would have felt more comfortable at $40.
[Update 5/8/2011: iBank 4 has now been released, resolving the performance issues I experienced with version 3 during this evaluation. Click here to read more about it.]
GnuCash is a Linux personal finance/accounting application that has been ported to both Windows and the Mac. This is great from a cross-platform perspective. It also uses double-entry accounting. The problems for me were that it was extremely slow on my Mac and the import of my existing Quicken data didn’t go so well. Again, things were all over the place, requiring a massive effort to clean it up. Generating a single chart took what seemed like forever-upward of 10-15 seconds-and clicking on a register caused me to wait much longer than I had patience for. I also ran into problems when GnuCash tried to redraw the screen but this could just be the Mac port. Regardless, it was still a problem. It looks a little rough, nowhere near as polished as I’d like, but that in and of itself isn’t a show-stopper. Aesthetics are low on my list though; accuracy is key for a financial app.
Ultimately I had to pass on GnuCash. Although I can’t argue with the price (free) it just had too many problems for me to make the switch. I have a friend who uses it so I believe it is a viable option, just not for me at this time.
Moneywell showed the most promise out of any of the applications I tested but didn’t actually choose. It also looks great, tapping into OSX built-in technologies (as does iBank), but it too was really slow. It showed the same lag when viewing an account register or reports. Moneywell focuses a lot on budgeting but I don’t really have many requirements for that. My wife does all the budgeting and I just track all the expenses, providing her with information to help her adjust her budgets. It also had trouble importing my existing data; it was pretty messed to be honest and would have caused quite a bit of rework for me. The evaluation was reasonable (200 transactions and no 15 minute time limits) so I was at least able to get a decent look at it. MoneyWell is Mac-only which is, as I’ve said, not show-stopper but is minor limitation for me.
Despite the very reasonable trial I wasn’t able to pull the trigger on MoneyWell in the end. It looks great and it’s got great potential but it didn’t really do the job for me. Maybe with less historical data it would be more responsive. MoneyWell also might appeal to those who are more budget-oriented since budgeting is a key focus of the product. Moneywell came in below my price point though-around $42-which seems like a very reasonable price given the maturity and feature-set.
Moneydance 2010 r3
Moneydance had a lot going for it right out of the gate. First off, it was fast. Really, really fast. Clicking on an account register displayed the transactions immediately, without any noticeable lag. The interface has been updated to look more like a native OSX application, despite its Java underpinnings. I used to think Java apps were slow; I now no longer have this opinion. I imported all my 10 years of Quicken history into Moneydance with only a few minor errors. Six, to be exact. A couple correcting transactions and 15 minutes later all my totals were matching to the penny against Quicken. Moneydance brought in my loan accounts as liabilities so I had to convert the open loans manually over to loan type accounts. This wasn’t “wrong” per se; I just needed them to be in a loan account type so Moneydance would automatically calculate my principle and interest. I left all my closed loan accounts as liability accounts since they’re functionally the same.
One thing that really caught my attention with Moneydance was the home page. It’s simple and useful, kinda like Quicken used to be before all the bloat. It shows me all my account balances and then calculates my net worth at the bottom. It shows me a list of upcoming scheduled transactions in a list and in a monthly calendar view. There’s an expense graph that looks very similar to the graph in iTunes showing used/open disk space (see below). It looks great and is very useful to see at a glance exactly what you’ve spent for the month. it doesn’t show percentages like Quicken but honestly I prefer seeing the actual dollar amounts now. That’s turned out to be more useful to me. By clicking on a segment of the graph you can drill down to the components that make up that segment and then all the way to the register transaction itself. Very cool.
Speaking of those loan accounts, Moneydance allowed me to easily set up a loan. It tracks my principle and interest for me and set up reminders for the loan payment. The principle and interest splits matched Quicken exactly. Moneydance also allowed me to set up reminder transactions, just like Quicken. One drawback is that Moneydance only allows for escrow to be sent to a single account. So if you have an escrow account for both fire insurance and taxes you can’t split them in the loan payment. I worked around this by creating an asset account to hold the money transferred to escrow, then entering two transactions in that new escrow account (one for fire insurance and one for taxes) to account for the split of the total escrow payment. It’s a couple extra steps, but I only pay one mortgage, once per month, so it’s trivial really. Effectively I’m accomplishing exactly what Quicken did.
All the account types I need are supported in Moneydance, satisfying one of my major requirements. As a bonus, Monedydance also allows me to update my Vangard Roth IRA though it’s online banking features. I can also split transactions just as I could in Quicken; another requirement met.
Graphing and reporting are included but are admittedly not quite as “pretty” as Quicken, MoneyWell, and iBank. As I said though, I’m not as concerned about aesthetics. The important thing was that I could recreate all my existing Quicken customized reports and graphs in Moneydance. Moneydance has what’s called a “Search” report that accomplishes what Quicken’s “Easy Answer” reports provided as well as net worth, income & expense, account balances, investment tracking, and other reports and graphs one would expect from personal finance software.
[Update 7/23/2010: A particularly useful feature I’ve recently discovered is the concept of “tags”. A tag can be used to further group categories of expenses. So if, for example, I take a vacation and want to track the total cost I could create a tag for it and then assign that tag to expenses in various categories associated with the trip. I might have spent money in categories like “Travel”, “Gas”, and “Food” which would normally appear as unrelated on a category report but on a tag report they’ll all be grouped together. Moneydance provides a convenient tag report to show the sum of these exepenses. I believe Quicken also provides this functionality but so does Moneydance, so that’s another requirement met.]
Moneydance also allowed me to store additional information for accounts, such as account numbers and other attributes, just like in Quicken. It uses double-entry accounting for increased accuracy. The nice thing is that it does it under the covers, exposing it as accounts and categories, allowing Quicken users to more easily transition.
Another thing that I like about Moneydance is that it’s cross-platform. With a single license I can run it on the Mac, Windows, and Linux. I’ve tested it on all three platforms and it works great. This will allow me to also work on my finances on my laptop (which is a dual-boot of Windows XP and Ubuntu Linux) and not just my Mac . Similar to Moneywell the trial is very reasonable; 100 transactions before you have to buy a license. That gave me plenty of time to evaluate the software.
Moneydance can also be set to encrypt its data file, similar to Quicken (I’m not entirely sure if Quicken encrypted the file or if it just locked access to a binary file with a password).
For all the things Moneydance gets right there were a few caveats. As I said, graphing and reporting aren’t quite as pretty but they’re practical and easy to use. Also Quicken allows a user to store checks and other documents and associate them with a particular transaction. It allows a user to store bank statements and associate them with an account as well. It also can encrypt these if you like. Moneydance doesn’t support this so to get around it I just store the statements in a subfolder along with my Moneydance file on a password-protected disk image. Not as convenient but not a showstopper.
Quicken also has some retirement planning features but I used them only once or twice and then kinda just dropped it. Replacement software didn’t have to have that kinda stuff to meet my requirements.
The interface took a bit of getting used to. It’s not as flashy as Quicken and to be honest I was kinda used to that. After a couple days I started to feel at home though and I really never think about it now.
Moneydance also crashed once during the evaluation but nothing was lost or damaged. Overall it’s been stable; stable enough for me to not really worry about it. [Update 2/22/2010: Moneydance has crashed a couple more times in the past two weeks or so I’ve been using it. None of my data was corrupted but it has been a little frustrating. I save more often now and the problem isn’t chronic enough to cause me any major headaches.][Update 7/23/2010: I’m now using the 2010 r3 release and Moneydance hasn’t crashed since. Prior versions seemed to be unstable while working with reports and graphs but I’ve been working extensively with reporting and graphing and have had no stability issues.]
[Update 2/22/2010: Moneydance has an open API, which allows developers to write extensions for it. These are free, by the way; you just click through a wizard to install them. I now use an extension to check my stock prices and to check for software updates. The coolest one is an extension called Payoff! to help me payoff my debt early. That extension used my Moneydance financial data to structure a plan that will leave me completely debt-free in 8 years. That’s worth the price of the software alone.]
[Update 4/27/2010: Another really useful feature of Moneydance is the ability to perform calculations within virtually any amount field. So if my receipt breaks out tax by grocery/non-grocery, I can simply type .86+1.59 and it’ll automatically calculate the value. Very useful, fast, and cool.]
There’s also now an iPhone application released by the developer that allows you to enter transactions and then sync them with Moneydance over wifi. It can be downloaded for free from the iTunes store.
Untested or Moderately Tested Applications
There were a few other applications that I really didn’t get to test because I just ran out of time and patience. You might want to check these out in your search. They are Money from Jumsoft, Cha-Ching from Midnight Apps [Update 8/26/2010: Cha-Ching was recently purchased by Intuit and subsequently discontinued; their developers are now working on their Quicken/Mint products], and iFinance from Synium Software. I very briefly tested Money from Jumsoft; it looked great and it did import my financial data but it crashed when I tried to view my checking account. Again, probably too much data. There’s also YNAB (You Need A Budget) which focuses primarily on budgeting. You might also want to check out Squirrel.
I also briefly tested KMyMoney (for Linux) with only my checking account data. The import completed and the software was able to handle the volume of transactions but it made assumptions about my accounts that couldn’t be changed. For example, it decided my credit card accounts were actually checking accounts and the would not allow me to change the type of account. I do not know if KMyMoney would be able to handle all of my data (probably ten to fifteen times what I actually loaded) but without being able to fix the incorrect assumptions the QIF importer made I’d have to start all over again, not to mention it has no Mac port (both of which are show-stoppers). It also provided only reporting (no graphing). Both the reports and the app looked great though, it appears to have lots of potential, and it’s free.
If you’re starting from scratch and don’t have lots of existing data to import, iBank, GnuCash, or MoneyWell might very well suffice. iBank and MoneyWell (from a Mac perspective) both looked very nice. In the end, however, I chose Moneydance. It had all the essential features I needed and all at a reasonable price, with no crippling “sunsetting” policy that I’m aware of. [Update 12/19/2010: Moneydance (at the time of this update) sells for $49.99 as a download from their online store. You can “like” Moneydance on Facebook and receive a 20% discount code, resulting in a $39.99 price tag. The software is well worth the purchase price, with or without the discount.] Since it was so feature-rich (and most of the other products I evaluated were so excruciatingly slow) spending a significant amount of time studying every nuance of the competition soon became pointless. Moneydance runs natively (well, counting the JVM) on the Mac-as well as Linux and Windows-and has now allowed me to turn off my Windows XP virtual machine, freeing up 1 gb of RAM on my Mac.
Although Moneydance doesn’t have exact feature parity with Quicken for Windows, it does have parity with what I consider to be the important features and that was enough for me to make the switch. It was also the most Quicken-like out of the bunch (I’d say Moneydance most closely resembles the “Deluxe” version). Not that being different is bad at all, but I was explicitly looking for a Quicken replacement. I bought a Moneydance license this past Friday and at this point consider it money well spent.
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