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Dollars & Sense
Updated tax and finance programs make it easier than ever to manage your money. Try these tips to make the most of your financial software.

-- by Eileen McCooey

If you break out in a cold sweat at the prospect of balancing your checkbook or develop palpitations as April 15 nears, it's time to get help. Fortunately, fiscal fitness is just a click away with the latest tax planning and personal finance software. We've compiled dozens of tips to help you make the most of these programs.

With a little digital discipline, you can get organized down to the last red cent, monitor your spending patterns and even pay bills right on the button-without stirring from your PC. And when Uncle Sam comes to call, hat in hand, you'll have all the facts and figures at your fingertips, along with a tax strategy to work them to your best advantage.

Ambitious as that may sound, it actually takes less time and effort than managing your finances the old-fashioned way, with pencil and paper (and usually an eraser). Customer surveys conducted by Intuit show tax software can halve the time it takes to prepare a tax return manually. And you're more likely to get it right, thanks to the host of electronic experts guiding you along the way. IRS statistics indicate that 21 percent of manually prepared returns contain miscalculations, compared with only 2 percent of those prepared using tax software.

The trend is clearly toward friendlier programs with greater financial intelligence. Ease of use is especially important with tax software, since you'll probably use the program just once a year.

With an eye on simplicity and usability, TurboTax's EasyStep interview has been streamlined and targeted at your specific tax situation. It also has a Where Am I? progress list that helps you navigate your return. Similarly, Kiplinger TaxCut has added a getting-to-know-you feature that customizes the Q&A interview to your unique circumstances. As a safety net, the two programs have new features to help you review your return, find and correct errors, and avoid the dreaded audit.

You'll also find more expert help and tax-related resources in both programs. Kiplinger TaxCut Deluxe Multimedia has more than 2 hours of audio and full-motion video tax tips, along with context-sensitive IRS instructions. TurboTax Deluxe likewise includes video tax tips from financial experts, IRS publications and information on tax-planning strategies.

Mirroring the trends in the tax software arena, personal finance software is also becoming easier to use and more fully featured. With Money 97, Microsoft has added more wizards, simplified data entry and functions such as bill paying, and developed features to automate routine and repetitive tasks. Meanwhile, Intuit has improved navigation from within Quicken 6 with a new activity bar offering plain-English descriptions. And its "smarter" help displays messages that warn you about errors.

The Web is also playing a bigger role in personal finance. Quicken provides extensive Internet information and services under the Quicken Live banner. Money 97 offers one-click access to Microsoft MoneyZone on the Web.

Both programs emphasize online banking, a key factor in this product segment's growth. An estimated 1 million PC users now bank online, and that number is expected to soar. By 2000, there will be between 13 million and 30 million PC banking accounts, according to various estimates. Both Money and Quicken have upgraded their online capabilities with access to more financial institutions, enhanced security and speedier operations for activities such as bill payment.

Given all the resources available to you, there's no excuse for loose ends. Here are some tips and pointers to help you get the most out of the financial tools available.


Window Watch -- By default, TaxCut displays a window (such as a tax form or report) as a full screen. If you'd rather have smaller, overlapping windows, select Edit/Options and uncheck the option under Screen Control. Click on OK.

Function Follows Form -- If you've entered a number on one form but don't see it carried over onto a related form, choose Tools/Recalculate. TaxCut will redo the math and display the updated results on all forms.

Now See Here -- Take advantage of expert tax advice. Select the Q&A tab, and at the bottom of the screen, click on Index of Audio/Video. Then choose a topic from the list to start an audio/video explanation.

Get a Jump on Things -- Use the context-sensitive Jump feature to move directly to any form with information related to the calculated field in which the cursor is positioned. Press Ctrl+J or select Forms/Jump to Related. Choose the form you'd like to view from the list. When you're done, press Ctrl+E to return to the original form, or select Forms/Previous Form.

The Question Is ... -- In any Forms window, click on the question mark icon to access Help, Navigation and Tools buttons.

Take a Memo -- You don't have to leave TaxCut to make notes. Press Ctrl+M or select Tools/Memo Pad, jot your note and click on OK. Next time you open Memo Pad, you'll see the note, which you can modify or expand as needed.

Just Your Type -- By default, TaxCut displays text on forms or worksheets in 9-point Arial regular. You can choose smaller type to see more of the form on screen, or larger type to make it more legible. Select Edit/Options, click on Form Fonts, choose the desired type style and click on OK.

My Savior -- Make TaxCut save your work automatically. Select File/AutoSave and set the desired interval, then click on OK. You can enter 0 to disable this feature, but we don't recommend it.

Speed Up Printing -- Use Text mode to speed printing or prevent out-of-memory messages from your printer. Choose the Print tab, click on Standard Forms and then on Print Tax Return. Check Text Mode and click on Print.

Find It Fast -- Use the Rapid Find feature to locate the specific form and line on which you enter certain information. Open the Forms menu and choose Rapid Find, or select the Forms tab and click on the Rapid Find button on the right. Choose the desired topic and click on OK. TaxCut will ask if you want to go to the form or the Q&A. If you select Tax Form, you'll jump to the relevant form and line.

Lost and Found -- If you accidentally delete your data file, restore it from the automatic backup TaxCut makes every time you save the original return. In Windows Explorer, find the TAXCUT96/BACKUP folder. Choose the file you want to restore and change the extension from BAK to P96. Click on the filename, and copy it by holding the Ctrl key while dragging the file to the TAXCUT96 folder. In TaxCut, select File/Open and choose the file from the list.

Accentuate the Tentative -- When working with estimated figures-if you haven't gotten your W-2 form, for example-it's wise to mark them so you remember to go back and enter the real numbers. With the cursor in the entry field, select Edit/Mark Entry Tentative, then choose OK. The figure will be marked with an asterisk when you move the cursor out of that field, but calculations will proceed as usual. To unmark the entry, put the cursor in the field and choose Edit/Unmark Entry Tentative.


(See review of TurboTax for Business in this issue.)

Read It! -- Take a few minutes to peruse the Read1040 file, which contains late-breaking information. In Windows 95, go to Start/Programs/TurboTax 1996/Read1040. If you're using Windows 3.x, open Program Manager, open the TurboTax program and double-click on the Read1040 icon.

First Things First -- Transfer data from last year's tax return before importing financial data from Quicken or another program. Use the Import command only once for each file you're importing.

Transfer Trick -- Tax forms have changed somewhat since last year, so if you're transferring data from your 1995 return, check this Help file topic: "Transferring data from last year's forms: situations to watch for."

Look Before You Leap -- Before importing information from Quicken, print a Tax Schedule Report from that program. This will help you ensure your Quicken data is assigned to the correct tax forms and lines.

TaxLink Import -- When you're ready to import data by going to File/TaxLink, close all other applications-except Quicken.

Import-ant News -- Want to find imported data in your tax return? Look for the green text on your tax forms. You can also click on Tools/My Tax Data and look for Import in the right-hand column. If it says Transfer, that means you transferred the data from your 1995 return. If the column is blank, you entered this data manually.

Speed Things Up -- If TurboTax isn't running fast enough, close down other programs to free up some RAM. Don't forget about background apps like fax software and screen savers.

Out with the Old -- If you want to change data you imported from your financial software, delete it from the return, adjust it in your financial program and then reimport the corrected information. To delete imported data, go to the Forms view, choose File/Remove Imported Data and click on Yes. Note: This won't delete data you transferred from last year's tax return.

The Color of Money -- Identify entries by text color. Data entered manually is blue, while entries calculated by TurboTax are black. Errors and entries that override a calculated value are red. Entries you mark as estimated are red italic. Entries for which you created a supporting details list are purple. Data transferred from last year's tax return is aqua. Data imported from Quicken or another financial software package is green.

Size Things Up -- In Forms view, you can enlarge and reduce the size of forms. Select Forms/Magnify and choose the desired percentage. Fit Page will show all text within the window.

Drive Time -- If a document won't print or prints with text in the wrong fields, and you've turned off Print Manager, that means the printer driver is not accepting the TurboTax routine properly. You need a printer driver that's more compatible with TurboTax. Check the printer manual for help or get updated drivers from the printer vendor's Web site.

This Is Only a Test -- A few weeks before your taxes are due, try printing a test page from your tax return. That way, if you encounter printing problems, you have time to solve them.

Stumped? Get Help -- If you're working on a form and have a question about a particular entry, right-click on the field and choose Guide Me. You'll jump to the EasyStep section for the specific item. To return to the form, click on Forms/Go to Forms.

Get Around -- Speed through a form by pressing Ctrl+Home to go to the first line of the form and Ctrl+End for the last line.

Refresh Your Memory -- To see what you've entered in your return thus far, choose Tools/My Tax Data. If you're not sure how to interpret an entry, select it and click on Interview to open the EasyStep interview topic for that entry.

Go Straight to the Source -- To view the source for data in a calculated field, click on the magnifying glass to the left. You can also click on Help/Data Sources, then choose a specific form.

On Second Thought ... -- If you've overridden a calculated value provided by TurboTax, but think better of it, choose Edit/Cancel Override. TurboTax will update the field with the proper calculated value.

Coping with Leftovers -- If you've finished the Interview but you still have receipts, income or expenses you weren't asked about, click on Help/Tax Help and search for the appropriate item.

Error Check -- To pinpoint errors, in Forms view, select Forms/Form Errors to display a list of errors or omissions. Click on an error message to open the form and enter correct information in the highlighted field. Run Form Errors again to make sure you've caught them all. You can also search a specific tax form for errors or missing data by pressing F7 repeatedly.

Check It Twice -- Before you call it quits, compare this year's return to last year's to spot possible irregularities. If you used the Transfer option, go to the Forms view, choose Tools/History Report and view the Tax History Worksheet. If you didn't use the Transfer option, refer to a hard copy of last year's return.

Don't Trip Up -- If you file your form electronically, do not use the Override feature, and don't enter zeros in blank fields.

Quicken 6

Wave a Red Flag -- Set an alert to warn you when you're approaching your credit limit. From within your credit card register, click on Edit Account and enter your credit limit. Click on Done. Then open View/Register Options/Miscellaneous and check Alert. Enter an amount that provides a comfortable buffer and click on OK. Quicken will watch your balance and warn you when you're near or over your credit limit.

Drop the Drop-Downs -- You can decide how much (or how little) you'd like QuickFill to do. For example, if you find it distracting to see drop-down menus listing previous entries every time you move to a new field, turn them off. Go to Edit/Options/Register/QuickFill, and check or clear options to suit your preferences.

New Views -- Quicken now lets you customize your register to organize entries in various ways: by date, check number, amount and so on. Open the View menu and see which suits you best. Explore Register Options to customize the order of columns, colors, fonts and more.

Back to Basics -- Get back to New User Setup by selecting File/New while holding down Ctrl+Shift. It's an easy way to start a new account or revisit the overview of features and functions. Click on Help on the overview's last screen to get more detail on each topic; use the live links to get to related info in a flash.

Take a Rosy View of Things -- Brighten up your financial picture with a new hue. Right-click anywhere in the QuickTabs column, choose Color Schemes and pick the palette you prefer.

Get a Quick Fix -- From the register, right-click on a payee and you'll get a dialog box that includes an entry "Payments made to ...." Click on it for a summary of how much you've forked over to that company or person. Similarly, right-click on a category-such as clothing or vacations-and you can find out how much you've spent on that category.

All Net, All the Time -- Quicken will automatically connect you to the Internet to download stock prices and update Quicken Live features, and then disconnect when you're done. If you'd like to stay online after you've downloaded, exit Quicken, back up the QUICKEN.INI file in your Windows directory (to something like QUICKEN.BAK) and use Notepad to edit the INI file. In the section called [Internet] add =True after Stay_connected, so it reads Stay_connected=True. Save your change and exit Notepad. (This will not affect online banking.)

Don't Forget! -- Click the tiny To Do icon at the bottom right of the screen to jump to the Reminders dialog box, where you can view-and establish-reminders for making online payments, printing checks and so forth.

A Fitting Solution -- Tired of reports that span many pages? With a report open, go to File/Print Report and check "Fit to one page wide." While you're there, try changing the orientation from landscape to portrait, and get a sneak peek at the result by clicking on the Preview button.

The Bottom Line -- When you click in a field for dollar amounts, you'll see a tiny calculator icon. Click on it once to open it, then play the numbers game using your mouse or your keyboard's numeric keypad. You can also pop up a monthly calendar by clicking on the miniature icon in the Date field of the register.

Check It Out -- You can either choose the check number (Next Check Num) from the drop-down list (if you have the QuickFill feature enabled) or type just the first numeral, and Quicken will automatically complete it for you.

Add Icons -- Add icons to the toolbar for frequent transactions. Memorize the transaction, then choose Edit/Options/Iconbar. Select New from the Customize Iconbar dialog box. In the Icon Action list, select "Use a specific memorized transaction," then click on OK. When Quicken displays the "Assign memorized transaction to icon" window, select your memorized transaction from the drop-down list. In the Target Account drop-down list, select the account in which you usually enter this transaction. Click on OK and Done.

Play It Safe -- Always back up your data periodically to a floppy disk or other media. Select File/Backup and choose the backup drive and file to be copied. Give the backup file a unique name or Quicken will overwrite the current data file when you restore files, and you'll lose data added since the backup was created.

Get Your Backup -- Quicken will prompt you to back up your data every third time you exit. If you'd like more frequent reminders (or none at all), edit the QUICKEN.INI file in your Windows directory. Exit Quicken and make a backup of that INI file. Using Notepad, find the line AutoBackup=3. Change the 3 to 0 to turn this feature off; change it to 1 to see a prompt every time you exit.

A Hot Date -- Press the following keys to change the date in the register as indicated:

+ Next day

- Previous day

t Today's date

m First day of month displayed; press a second time to get first day of previous month

h Last day of month displayed; press a second time to get last day of next month

y First day of year displayed; press a second time to get first day of previous year

r Last day of year displayed; press a second time to get last day of next year

Emergency 911 -- If disaster strikes and you've been lax about backing up, all may not be lost. Quicken automatically makes a backup copy of your data every seven days and places it in a BACKUP directory. If you can open the backup file, copy it to the directory where you ordinarily keep your data. You may be missing some recent data, but you won't have to start from scratch.

Invisible Ink -- To add a memo to a check without printing the information, enclose it in curly brackets { } on the Payee line.

An Interesting Point -- When paying off credit cards, it makes sense to pay the ones with the highest interest rates first. Enter the interest rate in the Description field when creating the account. When you're making payments, choose Lists/Account and find the highest interest rate in the Description column. Let that be your guide.

Microsoft Money 97

A Moving Experience -- If you enter a transaction in the wrong account, right-click on it and click on Move to Account. Choose the correct account and click on OK.

Do It Right -- To correct an error in a transaction that you've already entered in the register, right-click on the transaction in the register, choose Edit and then modify the information in the form at the bottom of the screen. Click on Enter, and the register information will be corrected.

Pluses and Minuses -- When you mistakenly enter a check as a deposit, the amount is added to your account rather than deducted. To fix this, right-click on the register entry, click on Edit and, in the form below, insert a minus sign before the amount. Click on Enter, and the amount will then show up as a payment.

Play the Angles -- When you're in a register for one account and would like to move to another account, click on the inverted triangle before the account name and choose another account.

One Good Tip Deserves Another -- When the Tip of the Day pops up, right-click and choose Next Tip to view another. You can repeat this as many times as you'd like.

Terms of Address -- You can include the payee's address on printed checks. Right-click on the transaction in the register, choose Go to Payee, then enter the information in the designated fields. Click on Back to return to the register, or Go To and a destination.

Mouse Maneuver -- Hold the mouse pointer over an area of a chart, and information about what it represents will appear.

Chart Your Course -- Right-click on a chart and choose Zoom to enlarge it. Click on Back to return to the previous screen.

Charts-Bar None -- Don't like pie-charts, that is? Right-click on the chart and select a different chart type to see the data represented as a line or bar chart.

Be Calculating From any Amount field, you can pop up a calculator by clicking on the Down arrow next to it or pressing Alt+Down arrow. Or just type a numeral and then press any function key (like + or -), and it will pop up.

Get a Date -- From any Date field, click on the Down arrow next to it to pop up a calendar. Select a date on the calendar to enter it in the Date field.

Transaction Tracking -- When entering a new transaction in the register, right-click on the payee or amount and choose Previous Amounts. You'll see details on the past five transactions involving that payee, including the category if you've entered that information. Use this to avoid paying a bill twice or entering duplicate transactions.

Instant Recall -- Have a transaction that's identical or similar to one you've already entered? Save time by entering the payee's name or the amount, then right-click on either field and choose Previous Amounts. The past five transactions will appear. Choose the one you'd like to repeat, and that information will appear in the new transaction. You can edit as needed.

Secret Stuff -- Enter information that's for your eyes only on online bill payments or printer checks by enclosing it in curly brackets { } in the Payee field.

Time Trip Right-click in the Date field and choose Yesterday, Today or Tomorrow.

One Step Forward-Or Back -- Type a plus sign in the Number or Date fields to advance by one, based on the last figure entered. A minus sign takes you back one.

Get a Different View --Toggle back and forth between a detailed view of the register and top-line-only by pressing Ctrl+T.

Windows Magazine, February 1997, page 224.

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