Money Essentials may be the simplest program Microsoft has ever produced. The developers will likely tweak it over the years, but Microsoft says its meant to be a clean, simple tool for aggregating separate accounts (giving one gatekeeper access to all of them by supplying your log-in information) with bill-paying, budgeting, and reporting capabilities. Unfortunately, the simplification has come at the expense of program utility. Unlike other Money applications, this one requires you to track all of your bills and manage all your financial accounts online. You enter transactions in the program, but theyre all handled online, even when it comes to remitting money to payees who dont accept online payments.
For example, if your landlords stuck in the paper-check past, the service will print out your rent check and mail it for you. You cant, however, print checks locally. This would be a problem for me; though I pay most bills online, I still write a small number of paper checks every year. Ive been a diehard online banker/bill-payer for 11 years, but Id never dream of sending in a tax payment that way or having a gift check delivered from CheckFree instead of inside a card.
Obviously, you must have online access to any accounts you want Money Essentials to handle. In most cases, to take full advantage of the product, you need a Windows Live ID. This allows account aggregation, provides an extra level of security, and lets you access your data from any computer. Without a Live ID, you cant update accounts automatically and may have difficulty downloading statements at all. You add your accounts (banking, credit card, and investment) to your Live ID by walking through a Wizard and supplying log-in informationuser IDs and passwordsfor each. Of course, you also need an online banking account with your own bank or with MSN BillPay. Once youve completed these steps, the home page appears and shows a list of your accounts, links to other program tasks, a graph of your spending by category, and a graphic thermometerthe Spending Trackerthat alerts you to problematic spending areas. You can choose to have account updates occur at a set interval or let Money update regularly in the background. Read the full story on PCMag.com: Microsoft Money Essentials 2007