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.


And … Why Exactly Do I File a Tax Return?

The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters (etching...
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I believe in paying taxes. I’m not one of those guys who claims that the government doesn’t have a right to collect them. I pay taxes of all sorts, to all sorts of agencies and et cetera

Those tax payments may or may not be used efficiently, properly, or in the ways that I would like them to be used. But honestly I don’t know enough about things like how much it costs to run a country or how flexible various budget line items actually are (before other things start going off kilter) to make a judgement about the use of my tax money. For the sake of this blog post, I am just assuming that the amount I pay and the way it is used is all fine and dandy. Jolly good job by the tax collectors, I say. 🙂

But you know what? I can’t think of a single reason why I should need to file a tax return in order to pay taxes.

Let me reiterate: Paying taxes is fine. Filing tax returns is dumb.

Filing a tax return is like…

  • … sending a letter by USPS mail, and simultaneously jumping in your car to hand-deliver a copy of that same letter.
  • … reverse engineering your grocery receipt while the check-out kid rings up your produce and canned goods, so you can see if you get the same number and remember all the coupons you handed him.
  • … pulling teeth, and not in the gentle way that is unpainful. 😦

So – each year, around February, after finishing my cussing rant against the snow and the cold weather, I begin to receive various “tax statements”. These are copies of the information that the “government” already has, since the folks who send me the tax statements are also sending that same information to the government.

(Note: I put “government” in quotes, because I mean it to refer to the several levels of government which are typically involved – Federal, State, maybe a second state, City, Town, and any other municipalities. I’m not really clear about where and to who exactly my numbers are distributed at that point.)

After I receive all these documents, I go out and spend about $150 on software and filing service fees, and then I muscled my way through a ridiculously bizarre assortment of questions, down a Magic Path of Administrative Super-Hurdles, and come up with some finalized forms and numbers. Then I either send more money or request that money be sent back to me.

I also do other related things like clicking on buttons, giving out routing information for any refunds, keeping extra copies of stuff, and putting it all aside for a week or two so that I can come back to it with a fresh mind, so I can pull more teeth. I take solace knowing that the other lemmings are running off the cliff with me. 🙂

And I pray, through all this, that the numbers I come up with are the same ones that the various government agencies also came up with. I pray that my reverse engineering skills are sharp this year. It would sure make it easier if they would just reveal their number ahead of time and then I could watch it carefully as a target to make sure I come up with the same exact number. Instead, I play a game very similar to Final Jeopardy. My time would be better spent … actually PLAYING Final Jeopardy.

My Disclaimers, Ad Nauseum

I’m not a tax expert. I know that there is some “wiggle room” in tax returns. But I am pretty certain that almost everything in almost everyone’s tax return is not wiggly at all. The bulk of it – all the income and withholding and tax charts – well, that’s preordained. It just is what it is. There are, of course, the deductions, and people will come up with various levels of complexity in there – but it’s not like me and Joe Taxpayer can file for the same set of circumstances and come up with different numbers. I mean, either my medical expense is deductible, or it is not, and there’s a well-defined set of rules which says which way it is – it’s called Topic 502 – Medical and Dental Expenses. Whether I actually take that deduction is likely to have more to do with whether or not I saved the right paperwork during the year or whether my eyes had already glazed shut before I got to that line item, but is not really affected by any other factors. The deduction calculation could be (should be?) outsourced to … the IRS, leaving me to concentrate on the far more important task of record-keeping and double-checking submitted expenses.

Of course, another reason I might not take any particular deduction is just that I might not know about it, or I might have forgotten about it since I was so buried in the 99% of the tax law which is routine and mundane. But still – there isn’t really any wiggle room, so far as I can tell. And there really is no point in me filing a tax return to explain the whole situation, 99% of which the government already knows about before I file. Since they got the same information that I got on my tax forms, very likely before I even got my copies!

But this year, as in years past, when I should be scanning a few receipts and sending them in by fax, kind of like I do with my Flexible Spending Account – instead I buy TurboTax, file a return, and pore over buckets and buckets of numbers and forms in order to make sure I come up with THE SAME FREAKIN’ NUMBERS THAT THE GOVERNMENT CAN CALCULATE WITHOUT MY HELP.

Perhaps I am missing something. I’m sure I am, since I usually do. But can you tell me: Is there, actually, in this modern age of easy distribution of information, any longer any reason for me to file a tax return?

Also, I don’t think I should have to take out my own garbage. 😉