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-- by Deborah K. Wong
Are you saving enough money today to retire comfortably tomorrow? Is it wiser to buy or lease a car? Will refinancing a loan really save you money? Ernst & Young's personal financial software, Prosper 2.0, may help answer these and other questions. With its easy-to-use navigation and eight categories, you can set your financial goals for the future.
Getting started is simple. Fill in some basic information (name, address, social security number, date of birth and so forth), then enter the current marginal tax rate, level of risk tolerance, inflation estimate, discount rate and five-year U.S. government bond yield.
Eight automated calculation tools-Financial, Car Purchase, Home Purchase, Retirement, Insurance, Portfolio Manager, Education and Taxes-let you examine important everyday financial situations, such as the benefits of refinancing a mortgage or how many exemptions to claim on a W-4 form.
Prosper clarifies financial objectives and helps develop a financial plan, taking into account the variables associated with investment portfolios, your 401(k) or 403(b) retirement plan, and a child's educational costs. You can also explore home purchase options, assess insurance needs, and estimate federal income and estate taxes. However, there are no warning signals if goals are not being met; and the procedure for developing what-if scenarios is slightly inconvenient.
You'll find a glossary of financial terms under Help, although in some cases the program's language and information requests are so confusing that you may give up before you're finished entering the data.
Illustrative charts are scarce and graphically weak-and there was no supporting documentation. A short multimedia presentation serves as Prosper's tour guide, but it can only be viewed if your monitor is set to 256 colors.
For an extra $10, Ernst & Young bundles Prosper with its Personal Financial Planning Guide, Second Edition. In addition to money-handling tips, it offers advice to keep you on top of your investments.
But our WinList recommended product, Intuit's Quicken Financial Planner 2, beats Prosper with its easy-to-understand interface, clear reporting and multimedia advice. Although Prosper 2.0 offers a diverse set of versatile features, it fails to truly master any category.