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What's Better: Quicken or QuickBooks?

Deciding between Quicken and QuickBooks isn't easy. The choice that's right for you depends on a lot of factors.

What is your accounting background/understanding? If you want double-entry accounting capability, go with QuickBooks. If you want simplicity and single-entry or checkbook accounting try Quicken. However, realize that QuickBooks' double-entry features are "hidden" well enough that many small businesses use it for single-entry accounting without even considering the difference.

What are your accounting goals? Viewed from the standpoint of most small businesses, the two packages don't really differ much in what they offer. We say this because, though the programs' features differ considerably, the features you're actually likely to use in a small business are substantially the same in either package.

For example, though QuickBooks lets you keep a complete double-entry set of books, most small businesses don't use the double-entry features. They end up using QuickBooks for single-entry bookkeeping--about the same way they would have used Quicken.

Having said all this, here are some of the differences in the two packages as they relate to small business accounting, and various goals you may have:



Easier to learn and simpler to use (fewer options)

More features and options (but more difficult to learn)

Fine for simple checkbook-based income and expense records

Allows either single- or double-entry bookkeeping method

Some users complain of not having enough space for transaction detail

Allows more detail in transactions (larger Memo field, etc.)

Plenty of reporting capability for most users; limited capabilities to export to Microsoft Excel

More extensive reporting capabilities, including more
"standard" accounting reports. Pro version can export
some data / reports to Microsoft Excel spreadsheets

Allows using Classes (enterprise codes) to associate income/expenses with specific enterprises

Provides for multi-level (parent and child) Classes, for greater enterprise flexibility

Has features for tracking stocks and other investments

No investment tracking features

No inventory system

Has an inventory system

No payroll system

Complete, easy-to-use payroll system

Limited support for invoicing, receivables, etc.

Many professional small-business features: invoicing, customer statements, accounts receivable, etc.

Single-user versions only.

Multi-user (up to 5 simultaneous users) versions available

No programming interface

Programming interface available since QuickBooks 2002, will encourage development of 3rd-party add-ons for QuickBooks

Street Price: about $40 - $80, depending on the version

Street Price: $150 - $400 for Basic or Pro versions, depending on version. (Other higher-end versions also available for more $$)

Do you hire employees? QuickBooks comes with a complete payroll system, and can print the required quarterly reports, etc.

Do you have a side business? Quicken began (and remains to this day) software primarily designed for personal financial management--keeping track of income and expenses, balancing a checkbook, monitoring investments, etc. Someone starting up a small business might consider Quicken during the startup and small business infancy, but as it grows, QuickBooks is a better strategic decision due to the flexibility and functionality it provides.  QuickBooks, was designed to streamline the paper flow typical of many small businesses. If you do much invoicing, or need to keep track of accounts payable and receivable, or collect and report sales tax, or send customer statements, then QuickBooks is definitely the better choice.

A common practice is to start with Quicken since the learning curve is much quicker.  Then as your business grows and you decide you really do need QuickBooks, you can upgrade easily. QuickBooks can directly import your Quicken records--so none of your effort will be wasted. And you'll already have a head start at learning QuickBooks because of your experience with Quicken. Note: You can't go the other way; that is, QuickBooks records cannot be imported into Quicken.

QuickBooks Basic or QuickBooks Pro?

If you've decided you need QuickBooks, should you consider QuickBooks Pro? At one time we would have said "No" in most cases. But recently, the Pro versions have added numerous useful features beyond what you'll find in QuickBooks Basic. For some users this makes QuickBooks Pro a better choice.

QuickBooks Pro adds the capabilities for (1) estimating, such as estimating construction costs to make a bid on a construction project, (2) time tracking, for businesses that bill on the basis of time, such as an attorney or CPA, (3) advanced job costing, to compare estimated costs with actual costs of a job, etc., (4) exporting data to a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet for further analysis, and (5) several other features.

QuickBooks Pro normally costs $80 to $100 more than QuickBooks Basic, so carefully consider whether the Pro version's added features are worth it to you. Note that if you buy the Basic version now, you can painlessly upgrade (with no changes in your records or data) to the Pro version at any later date for less than the full price of the Pro version.

Finally, understand that the "Pro" in QuickBooks Pro doesn't mean it provides a more powerful accounting system. On the contrary, the core accounting features of QuickBooks Basic and QuickBooks Pro are identical. All that's different in the Pro version is the addition of more "bells and whistles"--but very worthwhile "bells and whistles" if they provide features you'll actually use.



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