Quicken's Basic Functions - dummies

Quicken’s Basic Functions

By Stephen L. Nelson

Before you spend a bunch of time on Quicken 2012, you need to know what Quicken can do. When you boil Quicken down to its essence, it does six things:

  • Tracks tax deductions

    To track your tax deductions, make a list of the deductions you want to track. To do so, pull out last year’s tax return. Note which lines you filled in. (Perhaps mortgage interest, property taxes, state income taxes, and charitable contributions?) This method works because there’s a darn good chance that the tax deductions you claimed last year will also be the tax deductions you’ll claim in the future.

  • Monitors spending

    You can use Quicken to monitor spending on the mundane little necessities of life: groceries, clothing, dog food, cable television, and, well . . . you get the picture. To keep track of how much you spend on various items, you also can use the Quicken categories.

    If you want to monitor a particular spending category, decide up front what the category should be before you begin recording your data.

    Your list of spending categories, by the way, shouldn’t be an exhaustive list of superfine pigeonholes, such as Friday-night Mexican food, Fast food for lunch, and so on. To track your spending on eating out, one category named something like Meals or Grub usually is easiest.

    You can probably start with a dozen categories, more or less:

    • Car

    • Clothing

    • Entertainment and vacation

    • Groceries

    • Household expenses (besides food)

    • Insurance

    • Medical and dental

    • Rent (or mortgage payments)

    • Taxes

    • Utilities (electric, water, cable television)

    • Work expenses

    If you want to, and over time, you can expand this list. Heck, you can create dozens and dozens of categories.

  • Prints checks (and other forms)

    You can use Quicken to print checks. This little trick provides a couple of benefits: It’s really fast if you have several checks to print, and your printed checks look very neat and darn professional.

    To print checks, you need to do just two things. First, look through the check supply information that comes with Quicken, and pick a check form that suits your style. Then order the form. (The check forms that come with remittance advices — or check stubs — work well for businesses.)

    Preprinted check forms aren’t cheap. If you’re using Quicken at home with personal-style checks (such as those that go in your wallet), using computer checks may not be cost effective. Even if you’re using Quicken for a business, and you’re used to buying those outrageously expensive business-style checks, you’ll still find computer checks a bit more expensive.

    Although you can order Quicken check forms from other sources (such as your local office supplies store), they’re about the same price from Intuit (the maker of Quicken). If you want to order from Intuit, you can refer to the catalog that came in the Quicken packaging.

    One other comment here about printing checks: If you’re going to pay bills electronically, you don’t need to print checks with Quicken. Oh, sure, you can print checks if you want. But you won’t want to. Paying a bill electronically is easier and cheaper than paying a bill with a Quicken-printed check.

    A general comment about printing other forms: If you run a business, and the business needs to produce invoices, you can use Quicken Home & Business and Quicken Rental Property Manager (two business-y flavors of Quicken) to produce invoice forms, too. (Both of these features can be added by choosing a command from the Help menu.)

  • Tracks bank accounts, credit cards, and other stuff

    You must decide which bank accounts and credit cards you want to track. In most cases, you want to track each bank account you use and any credit card on which you carry a balance.

    You may also want to track other assets and liabilities. Assets are just things you own: investments, cars, a house, and so on. Liabilities are things you owe: margin loans from your broker, car loans, a mortgage, and so on.

  • Plans your personal finances

    Your computer’s computational horsepower makes it the ideal tool for doing complicated calculations. So maybe you’re not surprised that Quicken comes with five powerful calculators that let you make smarter borrowing choices, better mortgage-refinancing decisions, more accurate savings and investment calculations, and extremely helpful retirement and college savings calculations.

  • Provides online banking

    If you want, you can tell Quicken that it should do the work of paying some person or merchant electronically. In other words, at the same time that you describe some check to Quicken — you do so by entering stuff in a window — you can say to Quicken, “I not only want you to record this check for me, but I also want you to pay it for me.”

    If your bank supports online banking, you may also be able to move money between your accounts and get up-to-date statements electronically. Ask your bank for details about this service.

    To perform this sort of online banking, you need to have an Internet connection, and you need to do a little bit of paperwork. But the Quicken online banking features can save you scads of time. And the features are easy to use. Basically, all you do is use Quicken in the usual way and then click a couple of extra buttons.