- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 3, 2010

This shouldn’t be a problem, but it is, and on more than one level: Getting a handle on your personal finances via the Apple Macintosh platform isn’t the easiest thing out there.

And, frankly, that’s a shame.

Here’s why this matters: On Jan. 25, Apple Inc. reported selling 3.36 million Mac computers during the previous quarter, a 33 percent increase over the same period a year ago. Coupled with the Jan. 27 announcement of the iPad and the excitement attending that move, it appears more and more home users are moving to the Mac platform.

Personal finance is a key application for computer users. We like to track our bank accounts, stock portfolios, IRAs and so forth using PCs because they’re high-tech devices, presumably super-accurate and capable of producing all sorts of nice reports. And while you can set up a spreadsheet to track a simple checking account, the longtime success of Quicken in the Windows-based computing world suggests many people prefer to have more bells and whistles than Microsoft Excel might provide. Another big plus of using personal-finance software is the ability to export tax-related transactions to a tax-preparation program, with the hope of assuring a bigger refund.

Quicken has appeared in several versions for the Mac platform, and a new one is reportedly due this month. For now, however, users have two Mac-specific programs from which to choose: iBank, $59.99, from IGG Software of Putney, Vt., or iFinance, $29, from Synium Software of Mainz, Germany. Both firms also offer compatible versions for the Apple iPhone: iBank Mobile will set you back $4.99, while iFinance’s Mobile version is $1.99.

Each program promises a range of account types — bank accounts, credit cards, investments — as well as a range of reports, graphs and other displays. IGG Software’s iBank claims the ability to connect directly with a bank, via the Internet, to download data from an account; Synium’s iFinance says it can import various data file types downloaded from a bank’s Web site.

Well, in both cases, the answer is yes — and no. Though it costs about half the price of the iBank product, iFinance did the better job of importing data from my account at an area credit union (no names, but they’re in Linthicum, Md). It got the deposits and debits correct, but somehow left me “overdrawn” by several hundred dollars, a fact disputed by, among others, my credit union’s online system.

The data importing results with iBank were more cheering, but wrong in another direction. Despite numerous attempts and strategies, including the creation of specific “import rules” to assign transactions in a certain fashion, iBank consistently imported my data as consisting solely of deposits, leaving me with nearly $189,000 in my checking account. (I wish.)

There must be a way to fix all of this, to make iFinance balance my account correctly, and to set iBank so that it can tell the difference between a deposit and a debit. But I’m not a computer programmer, nor am I an accountant, and, frankly, the idea of these programs is to avoid such unpleasant tasks. The ultimate “fix” might be to edit each individual transaction, but with a current count of 1,114 such transactions, however, I don’t have the time.

Part of the fault may lie with my credit union and the way its computer system exports data. I’ll try this, at some point, on a Windows system and see what happens there, and with the soon-coming Quicken/Mac product.

On the other hand, online finance site Mint.com, now owned by Quicken parent Intuit, was able to tap into my credit union’s data and prepare a flawlessly accurate accounting. Kinda makes the software thing irrelevant, I’m guessing.

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