The Plus Premium version of Microsoft Money connects to your online accounts and lets you establish budgets, view graphs, and perform detailed tracking and analysis. It bridges the gap between traditional install-only software and Web-only apps, but its $60 price may give some pause when compared with free online competitors.
Picking the Right Version
Microsoft Money is available in four versions. The most basic, Essentials ($19.99), provides facilities for online banking, consolidated views of credit cards, bank accounts, and investments; the full featured Home and Business version ($69.99) includes options for invoicing, inventory, and payroll. The version we reviewed, Plus Premium ($59.99) connects to your online accounts, and allows you to establish budgets, view graphs, and perform detailed tracking and analysis. While the application is installed on your PC, it leverages the required Internet connection to access your accounts, and draw your personal transaction data together.
Online vs. Offline
This financial application straddles the line between the older-style installed software, and hosted online apps such as Mint. One problem with the software-based Money is that it runs only in Windows, leaving out Apple and Linux users. It also means that accessing your financial information while not at your own computer isn't an option.
Being a locally installed application has its advantages, too. Those concerned with privacy will prefer their financial details being stored on their local PC, rather than on a remote server. Also, in the event your Internet connection is unavailable, you can still access and maintain the information you've already downloaded or added manually.
Microsoft Money Plus
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One of the best features in Money is Insights, alerts that pop up on your desktop to let you know when certain conditions have been met, based on what you've told Money you're interested in knowing. We set up several Insights for spending limits for particular categories, notification of bills due, and cash flow, and found the advance notices helpful, warning us that we were approaching our preset limit for dining out.
Money can be used as a full-featured personal accounting system or as a more simplistic service to view your financial status. As we performed more-detailed tasks, our level of interaction had to increase; this result was more a by-product of the complexity we were asking Money to deliver than a drawback of the software. For example, Money Plus lets you attach scanned images of receipts and other documents directly to transactions, which is great for converting all your financial records to digital form. Even though we were doing more work, we were happy to find that increased detail didn't make using the program any more difficult.
If you want to work with your finances at a high level of granularity, and you are content with accessing your information from your main computer (provided it's a Windows PC), rather than strictly via a browser interface, spending $60 of your own money for Microsoft Money Plus Premium may be your best choice.