Choosing a Personal Finance App (Part Two)

In August 2009, I abandoned my search for a personal finance app to replace Quicken, but have taken it up once again. With Quicken now unsupported on Lion—because Lion won’t run PowerPC apps and Quicken still hasn’t been updated for Intel Macs—it’s time to look again for something to take its place.

Looking back at the apps I’d started with two years ago, I found some immediate reasons to eliminate a few...

  • Cha-Ching, which may have been a contender by now, is no longer published. Its developer, Midnight Apps, was purchased by Intuit shortly after I set my previous review aside. mini$, too, has been discontinued.
  • Squirrel has not yet reached version 1.0; also, it’s now only on the Mac App Store and there is no trial version available for me to review.
  • Prospects hasn’t been updated in 16 months and the developer’s web site and support forum have seen a similar lack of attention. Without an involved developer, there’s no way I would use or recommend this product.
  • CheckBook and CheckBook Pro continue to be updated, but reporting is still weak and budgets are non-existent.

...and I found two more contenders to pit against the others: iFinance and SEE Finance.

(Well, there were some others—Budget, Cashculator, Savings, Stash—but these were too limited to consider as Quicken replacements.)

As before, my most important criteria was the app’s ability to accurately import my Quicken data. And, like before, Money, Moneydance, MoneyWell, and iBank all did this with no problem. Whoops, no, I just noticed that iBank incorrectly marked all of my income categories as expenses. And Money marked a liability as a bank account and I can’t change it without deleting the account, creating it again, and importing the data separately. (Money also breaks out transfers in a split.)

SEE Finance, as best as I could tell, correctly imported my data; iFinance, like Money, doesn’t allow transfers in a split and breaks those out.

Fortora Fresh Finance has corrected the issue I had with importing transactions with splits, but it still had other issues: it incorrectly identified the type of several accounts and lost one account’s opening balance.

Speaking of account types, some apps have more than others. Outside of investment accounts, Quicken identifies ten. The contenders range from three (iFinance) to nine (iBank). iFinance can’t identify loans as such; both iFinance and MoneyWell can’t identify assets as anything other than bank accounts.

Liquid Ledger still has a problem with opening balances imported from Quicken. And, not noted before, it doesn’t handle sub-categories the same as Quicken; instead, it breaks them out into fully separate categpries. (Not a real problem, but the ability to group expense categories in Quicken was useful.) Given its lackluster design and the increasingly negative reviews on MacUpdate.com, I decided to pass on this product.

iCompta was disappointing. When I first launched it, there was no welcome, no setup wizard, nothing to make a new user comfortable with beginning to use the product. Next, it still can’t separate Quicken data into separate accounts, and when it created categories from that data it insisted on asking me each time—even though I checked the "Always make this choice" option.

Another quirk was its failure to take Quicken’s transaction type (Deposit, EFT, ATM, etc.) and put it into its own Kind (or "Mean [sic] of Payment") field. Yet another was its insistence upon putting "New Transaction" in the Name field when the Quicken data had no name for the transaction.

All of those could be corrected using its rules feature. But reporting? Nearly non-existent. That removed it from the running.

Fortora Fresh Finance has my basic reporting needs down pat. But the app otherwise isn’t compelling; it really doesn’t feel Mac-like and has a number of interface quirks that turned me off.

I then looked at reporting for the remaining apps. iBank has great looking reports; it lacks a printable budget report, but otherwise there is a good selection of reports. Moneydance has all the reports I need and more, but they lack iBank’s polish.

Money also has great looking reports; it lacks a cashflow report, though, and doesn’t have the breadth of reports of iBank. SEE Finance is similar in types of reports, but their design is average.

MoneyWell is weak in reporting. My biggest complaint is its inability to view reports in the app; instead, one must print the report and preview it in Preview. But it’s also missing a standard balance sheet and its Bucket Summary doesn’t work well as an income statement.

(Before I leave MoneyWell behind, I have to mention that I find its bucket metaphor to be confusing. I know they’re just categories, but there’s "Bucket Flow" and "Filling Buckets"—it’s a bit over the top for me. And Smart Buckets: why can’t I create my own?)

iFinance’s reporting is a mixed bag: while its charts look great, I couldn’t create new ones, and although its reports offered nice analysis, I couldn’t generate a standard balance sheet or income statement. On that basis, I pulled iFinance from the lineup.

SEE Finance has my reporting needs met, so I’m not going to drop it just yet, but it’s a bit awkward to get just the right report.

These final four apps—iBank, Money, Moneydance, and SEE Finance—all do budgets, and my needs in this area are rather modest. Still, I find it annoying that iBank won’t allow me to print a budget report or view a previous month’s budget—and that may be its downfall in the end.

Much of my decision in selecting an app has to do with how well it’s designed, both in overall looks and in ease of use. Two apps out of the remaining four stand out in this regard: iBank and Money. A head-to-head comparison will be the subject of another review. For now, you can take my comments and weigh them against your own evaluation of these apps.