Kiplinger's CA-Simply Money. (personal finance software) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by Alfred C. Giovetti
Some would say that you'd have to give away a new program to get any kind of market penetration in today's ultracompetitive PC software marketplace. That's exactly what Computer Associates decided to do with its new personal finance manager program: Through November 4, 1993, the company is giving away up to a million copies of Kiplinger's CA-Simply Money. The only charge is a $6.95 fee for postage and handling.
The incredible price doesn't mean you're stuck with a limited, special-version package, either. It's the fullblown package, complete with a thick, heavy, and well-written reference manual. CA-Simply Money is a personal finance manager that also helps you make decisions about mortgages, refinancing, retirement, debt payoff, investments, college tuition, and even household help and payroll. Along with the usual electronic check register, the program includes the Kiplinger Financial Advisor, which tracks all your transactions and offers you personalized financial advice.
CA-Simply Money runs under Windows 3.1 and provides a simple, icon-based user interface. Instead of forcing you to scroll through long lists of accounts looking for the one you need, CA-Simply Money provides Browsers; typing one or more letters produces a pop-up window which contains a list of related buttons, categories, or classifications. This makes recording transactions much faster and easier. And you can easily call up any of 50 preprogrammed reports which provide quick, useful information about your accounts to help control and direct financial matters.
For the novice in financial recordkeeping, CA-Simply Money goes a step past the automatic budgeting systems of other financial programs by automatically prompting for repetitive payments and drafts. Repetitive transactions are recorded so that payees and account distributions are processed automatically. You'll have to compute percentages manually for transactions involving a home office or automobile that's used for business purposes, though; it would be nice if the program had a data feature that would compute these automatically.
The Financial Advisor feature provides context-sensitive advice and comments written by the prestigious Kiplinger editorial staff. Its handy Alert feature can optionally pop up whenever you start Windows, warning you when you need to take care of pending items such as payments or deposits. Financial Advisor will warn you if a recurring transaction seems overly large or small, alerting you, for example, if your normally $80 phone bill jumps to $553. The Advisor feature looks at your current financial situation and offers tips for saving money. For instance, it might advise you to take out a home equity loan to pay off your credit cards, lowering the amount of interest you pay each month. Unfortunately, the financial advice can't currently be printed out for offline review.
I did run into a few quirks when using the program. Check numbers aren't automatically assigned when you enter transactions, a limitation which a company representative said will be corrected in a future release. Also, when I entered after-the-fact transactions, automated date functions became confusing, making entries more difficult than necessary.
CA-Simply Money imports and exports files in Quicken format, exports to any tax-exchange-format (TXF) tax preparation program, and can use DDE to communicate with databases and spreadsheets. Of course, you can print checks on your printer, but CA-Simply Money also works with Prodigy's BillPay USA system to pay bills electronically. You can also use it with CompuServe's online financial database and stock quote system to get updates on stock prices and live financial advice.
For the lucky million or so purchasers who order the program before November 4, CA-Simply Money is the least expensive finance manager program available. But CA-Simply Money is by far the easiest-to-use, most advanced financial recordkeeping and money management package available today--so it's worth taking a look at even at the full retail price.