My Accountant is a Computer
by Joe Ashbrook Nickell for Digital Living Today

Personal accounting is really about managing a web of financial relationships. Little surprise, then, that the World Wide Web has proven to be an excellent place to monitor and act upon those relationships. The day has come when you don't need a checkbook to pay most of your bills, and you don't need a tax accountant to figure out second-mortgage point amortization. Here are some resources that can help bring your own financial web to the World Wide Web.

It's become increasingly hard to choose between Microsoft Money 2000 Deluxe and Intuit's Quicken Deluxe 2000, the two leaders in the world of personal accounting software. Both offer deep integration of Web resources with their offline personal computer-based applications.

All three services offer one-stop-shopping for all of your accounting basics. By consolidating not only your bank account data (assuming it's accessible via the Web) but your credit card balances, investment accounts, and even awards programs such as frequent flyer miles, all three services allow you to gauge your combined asset status. You can pay bills through a point-and-click interface, compare refinancing rates for mortgages and consumer loans, and create and track progress on your plans for retirement or other long-term goals.

For those who want to run a small business, Money 2000 Business & Personal Edition and Quicken Home & Business Suite combine both personal and small business accounting into one seamless online/offline package, allowing all the personal accounting basics, plus important business management capabilities such as payroll accounting and inventory management.

Or, for an all-online small business accounting solution, check out ePeachtree, a Web-based version of Peachtree's popular small business accounting software.

The U.S. Tax Code may continue to grow more complex by the year, but tax preparation software is moving at Net speed, and most popular applications are now as trustworthy as your local H&R Block tax preparer -- and cheaper! Those who use Quicken for their personal or business finances should look no farther than Intuit's TurboTax, a full-function tax preparation program (available both as boxed software, or as a Web application) that integrates directly with Quicken. If you've faithfully kept records of your finances all year using Quicken, inputting that information into TurboTax -- and having it placed in the proper categories on the various forms -- is nearly painless. If you haven't used Quicken, TurboTax is still an excellent app, with thorough, plain-English explanations of every blank on every form. And it scales to your needs -- indeed, those who only file the 1040-EZ form can file using the Web version of TurboTax for free.

In far too many instances, computers and the Web fail to live up to their promises of increased productivity, greater analytical tools, and access to deeper information. But personal accounting is one area where the digital age is starting to live up to its billing.

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