Three Things I Wish I Knew About Quicken

I first used Quicken sometime in 2009. For me, the software was overwhelming and quirky to the point of not being useful. But I really wanted something other than Mint, since Mint’s user interface was driving me bonkers. I still think it jumps around too much. Mint is beautiful, graphically, but it jumps all over the place in weird ways, in my opinion.

More recently, I have developed a healthy relationship with Mint and use it as a nice way to get lots of personal finance reports, and to get ideas for things to do with my money. And the truth is, the user interface task of Mint is less complex than Quicken’s. Quicken just “does” more.

But Quicken’s interface needs help in a few areas. For example, I talked about the benefit of adding some key pop-up messages in An Idea to Reduce the Newbie Pain for Quicken Users.

The Limits of User Frustration

I eventually gave up on Intuit software.

Quicken 2009 just did not work reliably. Later that year, I upgraded to Quicken 2010, hoping that the bugs in the 2009 version had been fixed. They were not, but I stumbled along, learning more about the software. I looked for good books and online resources to help me gain some comprehensive and in-depth knowledge of the software, but all I could find were the very basic Quicken manuals offered at the local book stores and on Amazon. None of them told me anything particularly useful. I also could not find any dedicated Quicken blog, other than the official one, which is really just a marketing vehicle. (Contrast that with Mint’s blog, which is a treasure trove of useful personal finance knowledge.)

Pushing forward, I eventually found the Quicken support forums and something called the “Quicken Inner Circle”. As support forums, these of course would require a significant amount of time to get acclimated and understand how to find useful information within the mountains and piles of topics and posts. Not very helpful to me, who really had three simple problems that were bugging me enough that I again upgraded to the latest version (Quicken 2011) in hopes that the “bugs” I thought I had found would finally be fixed.

Well, Quicken 2011 had the same problems. By this point it was clear that my albatross of bugs were not on anyone’s radar. And finally I began to find the time to dig deeper into the problems.

Quicken’s One-Step Update Problems

Here are the three problems that caused me a lot of user pain over more than two years:

  • If your data file has a password, then your scheduled overnight transaction download will fail silently. You will wonder why.
  • If you try a One-Step Update of transactions, and for some reason some transactions are missed, Quicken will never try to get those again, no matter how many times you bang on the One-Step Update button. It will fail silently about this.
  • Quicken does not support “special characters” in passwords. For example, “&$@*” is no good. If your bank’s password has “special characters”, then Quicken will fail silently every time it tries to get new transactions.

Updated April 21, 2011: I believe the information above re: “special characters” is slightly wrong. Further discussion in the Quicken Inner Forum (requires free membership to view) led to an Intuit Support articlebeing posted which clarified that the problem occurs in certain cases due to just the following character, which can break XML parsing: “

By the way, I, personally, think software that fails silently is dumb. Software should never fail silently, unless the failure is not important, which, of course, begs the question of why you would call it a failure.

And the solutions to these silent failures:

  • Remove the password from your data file.
  • Reset the DTSTART to force Quicken to try again on older downloads.
  • Remove the special characters from all your passwords.

The Bright Side of Quicken – It’s Really Cool Software!

Now, finally, I can begin to enjoy more the amazing product which I realize Quicken to be. Among the useful features, many of which take a good amount of investment of time and thought to learn how to use well:

  • It has some great online research features for investments.
  • Cool budget tools.
  • Reports, reports, reports! Finally you can go into that family argument about finances with some pretty graphs to backup your nonsensical comments. 😉
  • Tax reporting. If you carefully categorize transactions during the year, then it will really pay off around tax time since you can import a lot of useful data into TurboTax.


2 Replies to “Three Things I Wish I Knew About Quicken”

  1. Oh man. This is awesome! I had given up on being able to update/download transactions automatically from Paypal. All I had to do was change my password, getting rid of those damnable special characters!
    Thank you, Shannon. I am happy to have found this particular techno-zen-hippie-geek.

    1. Thanks for your comment – I’m glad the post helped you!

      One of my frustrations has been that, even though there is a lot of great information on the Quicken forums, most of it is not Google-searchable, so it is effectively barred off from the rest of the Internet. I think many users are not likely to find solutions to their problems since they may not think of joining and then searching those forums. I thought that by bringing some of my forum experience out onto the more “public” Internet, I might get it out to more people.

      As for the special characters, a few weeks after I published this post there was further discussion on the Quicken forums and it turns out that the problem is not with ALL special characters, but just with the ones which need to be “escaped” when processing XML data feeds. And the problem only happens on an Express Web Connect download (which is what you do with PayPal), but not on a Direct Connect download.

      I’ve updated the original post with some better information and links to the forum posts.

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