Microsoft Money Software Review: A Look At Money Essentials

Our review of Microsoft Money.

I haven’t encountered Microsoft Money in a while since I’d been using a different brand of money management software along with other personal finance tools, but I was curious enough recently to check out this package to see how well it worked. So, I went to the Microsoft Money site to download the free 60-day trial of Money Essentials, a program that helps you manage your finances.

Microsoft Money Software Review: First Impressions

Once I installed the trial, the program gave me several options to create a password (or skip it altogether). Supposedly by using a Windows Live ID as a way to sign into Microsoft Money, I would have many more features from the program available to me. But since I was just testing the package out, I went and created a brand new password instead.

Feature #1: Bank Data Downloads

Data Syncs. As with many other software packages, MS Money can initiate a data download from your bank so that your bank data is automatically stored in the Money program. The program performs automatic downloads so that your data keeps in sync with what’s in your other accounts. However, as with my Quicken Online trial, I couldn’t find a listing for my small credit union.

Account Labels. MS Money also allows you to enter names for accounts you establish in the program. For instance, I went with the generic name of ‘checking’ for a sample account, but I could’ve named it whatever I wanted — a feature that would be beneficial if I maintained several accounts for different purposes, such as a house maintenance fund or an irregular expenses account.

Feature #2: Basic Money Management

Money Management Features. MS Money supports basic money management tasks such as entering transactions, recording bills or deposits, seeing reports, or viewing budgets. You’ll be able to see a list of your favorite accounts, view your bills and deposits, and see what’s new in Money. From within the program, you have access to current headlines from MSN Money. Other nice features I noted: you could get reminders/alerts/notifications, review spending reports, and check out a spending tracker for the current month. There’s a lot here to help you keep track of your money closely.

Microsoft Money Essentials
Image by Zdnet

Feature #3: Account Support

Account Management. If you’ve got a lot of accounts that you want to manage, you can do it all under the Banking section. Setting up additional accounts for savings and credit cards won’t take much effort. You could also add accounts for investments like employee stock options, stocks, bonds, CDs, mutual funds, retirement accounts like a 401(k) or Roth IRA, and more.

If you so desire, MS Money will let you enter information for investment accounts you may want to watch or keep track of. The one inconvenience to note though, is that if your bank or brokerage firm isn’t in the list of institutions you can automatically download from, they you’ll have to enter the names and transactions manually yourself instead of using an online update.

Feature #4: Bill Pay Support

Expense Management. To manage your expenses, you can enter a bill payment service provider like CheckFree or MSN Bill Pay as part of your account set up. Also, the Bills Summary lets you add upcoming transactions such as your next mortgage payment or cell phone bill. If necessary, you can make them recurring transactions, too. You can tell Money to select a fixed amount for the transaction each time, or it can estimate the amount based on prior transactions.

Elsewhere in the Bills Summary section, you can view a calendar with your listed transactions, or peruse your transaction history.

Feature #5: Reporting Tools

If you prefer your personal finance software to come with plenty of reports, you’ll have enough to choose from here. MS Money offers spending reports by category, payee, and category comparison; a monthly budget; reports on net worth, credit card debt, portfolio value by investment type, and a monthly report that shows a range of information.

Feature #6: Budgeting Functionality

So you want to budget your money? The Budget section lets you decide if you want to cover your income and expenses, or just your expenses only. If you like, you’ll be able to track several sources of income as well. Like many standard budget tools, you can pick which categories to apply to your expenses. What more, MS Money shows you the actual spending versus your budgeted amounts, and tells you whether your budget will last based on how many days remain in the month.

If you need to monitor certain categories closely, you can tell the Spending Tracker to show what you’ve spent so far. That way, if you’ve spent too much on birthday gifts or groceries, you can scale back. Here’s how a monthly budget report looks:

MS Money Essentials budget
Image by Zdnet

Feature #7: Layout Customization

One thing I liked about the Home page is the ability to customize and personalize the layout. For example, if the latest headlines from MSN Money are too much of a downer, you can bounce them out of there. Or if you want to keep tabs on mortgage rates, you can add the module that shows those latest rates on to your front page.

I found out that I can automate my backups by tinkering with the settings as well — a great idea considering how easy it is to lose data. Unfortunately, according to Microsoft, Money Essentials can’t import data from my ancient version of Quicken or previous versions of Money. So this means that I’d have to opt for the more expensive Money Plus Premium to import.


Upgrading for the Future

Also, downloading the account info from your banks and brokerage firms will only be free for the first year — after that, you’ll need to upgrade to the current version of MS Money or purchase an extension of the online services, if Microsoft provides it. But of course, you’ll have the capability to enter transactions manually, as something you can always fall back on.

Current MS Money users might get more out of upgrading to Money Plus Deluxe or Premium, which offer more features. If you’re already a fan of Microsoft and Windows Live, you might find this version of Money comfortable. Compared to Quicken Online, it’s easier to customize. However, on a personal note, considering the accessibility and free price of contenders such as Wesabe (see our Wesabe review), I’m not ready to commit to Microsoft Money just now.

Microsoft Money Software Particulars

3 thoughts on “Microsoft Money Software Review: A Look At Money Essentials”

  1. Hi
    I have been using msmoney for 10 years. In that time it has once just crashed and I was foolish enough to buy a new version and use it again. That version has now corrupted my files back dating any account to nov 2007. No idea why..there is no support I know of in australia to help resurrect my accounts. Can you suggest a means of support or a new program please?


  2. Check out this blog post for a great, simple review on some of the best tax software options.

    It includes the various prices, features, and links to the software. The post focuses more on how much bang for your buck you can get out of TurboTax and H&R Block At Home.

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