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Microsoft Money Plus Premium - Is the New Name Up to the Game?

written by: Chris Leeds•edited by: Jean Scheid•updated: 6/24/2011
5

Microsoft Money Plus Premium has its work cut out to impress me. I'm a Microsoft SBA (Small Business Accounting 2006) consultant, and I even helped write the CPA Competency Exam, so it's fair to say I have a particular interest in reviewing Microsoft Money Plus.

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    Introduction

    Microsoft Money Plus Premium is an offering of importance to me. I’m pretty deeply involved with Microsoft Office Accounting 2007 (formerly Microsoft Small Business Accounting 2006). I use the business accounting program every day for my own business, I was invited to speak at a large accounting technology trade show at the Meadowlands last year, and I was even on the team that wrote the CPA Competency Exam for both Small Business Accounting 2006 and Office Accounting 2007.

    I really love the business accounting software but I can certainly see how double entry accounting and a big portion of its features would be total overkill for the typical user interested in keeping tabs on personal finances or a very simple small business. Enter Microsoft Money Plus Premium.

    I’m interested to see how much of the good stuff Microsoft Money Plus Premium has in common with Small Business Accounting and Office Accounting, and whether it has anything that Microsoft left out of the “bigger” business level products, as well as whether or not the new Money Plus program is really the ideal personal finance software.

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    Price to Value

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    There’s no denying that the price levels of Microsoft Money Plus Premium are attractive. Microsoft actually has four separate versions of the product; Essentials, Deluxe, Premium, and Home and Business, each with varying levels of features and a graduating price structure.

    This review is for the Microsoft Money Plus Premium version, which retails for $49.99. Given the features and the excellent level of “polish” on this program, I would say that it’s a tremendous value.

    Beyond the value ratio rendered by comparing the cost of Microsoft Money Plus Premium to the features available, there are about ten free items in the “Value Pack of Financial Services.” If you only take one or two of them it negates the cost of the software completely. Of course, it’s only a cost offset if you would have wanted to use the particular products and services anyway, but several of them are really good free deals for some truly useful services.



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    Installation & Setup

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    I’m using the “Download Version” of Microsoft Money Plus Premium, which is a U.S. English-only product. It’s unique as installers go because it’s a custom built installer and runs the user through a set up for both the program itself and the user’s initial file. It ran without a hitch and was fairly quick despite its 34MB size.

    What's Not: 
    It would be nice if the good folks at Microsoft would set up Money Plus's installer in such a way that a user could install it on his or her system, and then open a sample Money file, rather than having to populate the user profile and initial setup wizard. Personally, I like to poke around a little with a program before I get herded into a specific user interaction path.
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    User Interface

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    Microsoft Money Plus has a very nice user interface. It’s attractive and responsive and it’s so well designed that it almost eliminates the need to check the help file. There isn’t any ambiguity about what a certain button or particular function actually does. It uses the typical Windows paradigm of a main menu bar across the top of the program followed by a program specific toolbar and then contextual items appearing on the left pane of the UI depending on what view or feature of the program you’re using at that time.

    Another nice thing about the UI is the way that the help pane appears to the right and doesn’t cover up the work area of the UI. It’s good because a user can work in Money to the extent that they’re able, then when using the Help system they can still see the main work area while following the instructions that appear in the help pane on the right.



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    Product Features

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    Features are where Microsoft Money Plus Premium really shines. Besides the ability to log on to your bank’s website and download an OFX (Open Financial Exchange) or QIF (Quicken Interchange Format) file, you can also categorize your spending, monitor your balances, bills, retirement accounts, even specific stocks.

    I was actually expecting Microsoft Money Plus Premium be sort of like a computer based checkbook register, and it can perform as such, but I really didn’t expect to see the kind of feature set that it has. There’s integration with your Windows Live ID (formerly Passport), the software can send you alerts on the Windows Live system and you can do some significant planning activities such as retirement, major purchase, investment maximization, and so on.

    One of the items they’ve added to Microsoft Money is the ability to link a file to a record such as a PDF cancelled check image to the record for which the check was written. This is a feature that I really liked in OA/SBA and was glad to see integrated into Money.

    Microsoft Money Plus Deluxe and above even has the capability to help you with your taxes by leveraging features such as Tax Estimator and Deduction Finder. You can also export the pertinent data to tax preparation software if you like.

    As you might imagine Microsoft has done significant work to tie Money Plus to MSN and Windows Live, so the more you’re willing to use those online services the more potential rewards you can wring from the interrelationship.

    Almost as an afterthought there’s “Insights” which is a notification feature that runs in the system tray whether Money is running or not. It’s actually a nice and useful feature with fairly broad settings. It also serves as a launch button for Money.



    What's Not: 
    I find it a little disappointing, but typical of the way Microsoft likes to kill mosquitoes with a sledge hammer, that instead of updating your investment portfolio within Microsoft Money Plus Premium and having it update your portfolio in MSN automatically, you’re expected to update both locations manually. This isn’t the way the previous version worked and as far as I’m concerned it’s a step back. I don’t think making a user do double entries is a valid method of “security improvement”.
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    Performance

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    Performance of the product was very good on a programmatic level. The application performed as fast as expected on my laptop (1.5 MHz Celeron processor with 512 MB of Ram). I suppose the more “full” your money file becomes the greater the potential for slowdowns. I don’t believe multiple account profiles would be an issue since each account profile would result in a separate money file being created rather than just another segment of a database, so I can see the performance of this product not suffering much from heavy use.

    What's Not: 

    While the programmatic aspects of Microsoft Money were fine, the problem I ran into was that the software didn’t want to connect to my accounts at Bank of America. It would seem to me that Microsoft would want to have a dedicated staff group for bank relationships as it pertains to online connection of account data. Unfortunately Bank of America and Money didn’t work together (automatically) any better than Bank of America worked with Office Accounting 2007 or Small Business Accounting 2006. It’s unfortunate because Bank of America has one of the best online interfaces I’ve ever used and I think both they and Microsoft should work together to pull off a better melding of their platforms.

    Microsoft Money Plus Premium connected just fine with my account at KNBT (a small obscure bank in Pennsylvania) and with my Charles Schwab accounts. If you would like to check whether or not your current financial institution is “Money capable” check here: http://www.microsoft.com/money/bankonline.aspx

    There’s also a little bit of “advertising” type stuff in the program such as links to “insurance quotes,” “auto loan rates,” etc. I don’t mind a little advertising in free software but I really take exception to it in software I pay for. All in all the advertising type links aren’t overwhelming and can easily be ignored, but still.

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    Help & Support

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    Support for Microsoft Money Plus Premium is available in several forms; Videos, Phone, E-mail, Online, and a hefty Knowledge Base (KB) segment.

    Microsoft is big enough and has been around long enough that they’ve got communities of users who are more than willing to answer questions, give advice, and help. Because user to user community help is almost always driven by a real-world user helping another would-be real-world user this is the most valuable of the support methodologies. See http://money.mvps.org/ set up by Glyn Simpson, a Microsoft MVP for the benefit of the user community. It’s a well organized site and I found it to be very complete and useful.

    If you’re “old school” like me, you might prefer using a newsreader such as Outlook Express, Windows Live Mail (a really nice new desktop application), Thunderbird, etc. (news://msnews.microsoft.com/microsoft.public.money).

    One of the really nice features of the Money help system is that you get the MSN/ Windows type help window where it opens a pane to the right of the main UI and as you click help items they show up within that pane. It makes it easier to get contextual help when you need it without putting a window on top of your main UI.



    What's Not: 
    Since this program is so broad and has so many different features available it’d be nice to see Microsoft provide a printable PDF type of manual for users.
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    Images

    Initial Money Sign-InWindows Live Set-UpWindows Live Sign-InMoney Plus Home PaneMoney Plus Banking PaneMoney Plus Investments PaneMoney Plus Taxes PaneMoney Plus Reports PaneMoney Plus Insight Options
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    Suggested Features

    Besides refining some of the existing features and sticking points, I would add the “marketplace” feature from Office Accounting 2007 that lets you list and sell on eBay right through the software’s user interface. I’d also add a better calculator. For instance a calculator with some financial capabilities like amortization and that sort of thing would be great. Currently, if you click Tools -> Calculator you’ll get the way too “retro” Windows calculator. Certainly Microsoft could develop something better than a link to an existing (and lame) Windows component.
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    Conclusion

    Microsoft Money Plus Premium is more full featured than I expected. I liked it so much that I’m planning on checking out Microsoft Money Plus Home and Business to run the books for a small retail mobile phone and computer repair facility that I’m opening up soon.
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    Related Products

    Quicken, Quick Books