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Summary:

For years, the realm of personal finance on the Mac has been ripe for a small, independent kick-butt developer to come in and win everyone over. Anyone who is a mac fan and has ever launched Quicken can attest to that fact. And so, in 2003, […]

iBank 2 Icon

For years, the realm of personal finance on the Mac has been ripe for a small, independent kick-butt developer to come in and win everyone over. Anyone who is a mac fan and has ever launched Quicken can attest to that fact. And so, in 2003, IGG Software, a small software company out of Vermont, released the first version of iBank. Now, over three years later, we have iBank 2, and it’s a very capable application. It’s not Quicken and it has a few drawbacks, but it also excels in ways Quicken never will.

The Beast

I’ve used Quicken for years, I even played around with it in the OS7 days. If you have any history with Quicken, you know that it really hasn’t changed much since then. To Quicken’s credit, it hasn’t really needed to. It dominates the market, and it only needs to be good enough to keep its users from giving up all together. Maybe I’m being too harsh. It’s really not that bad. Quicken is actually a pretty powerfull application. It’s also quite buggy and lags behind it’s PC cousin, feature-wise. The main attraction of using Quicken is the ability to automatically download transaction data from your banks. This doesn’t always work, and, unsurprisingly, the Mac crowd can tend to get left behind.

iBank

iBank feels like a Mac application. It’s more attractive and friendlier than Quicken. It imported my Quicken data easily, allowing for minimal transition time.

iBank 2 Interface

The day-to-day usage of iBank isn’t anything transcendent, it is a personal finance application after all. In my opinion, an application such as iBank should be easy and quick to get in and out of. On that qualification, iBank does great. It’s easy to add new transactions, modify them and get a glance at your data. Quicken suffers from too many windows and unintuitive locations for information. iBank doesn’t at all suffer from this. It sports a unified window with a fairly Mail.app-like organization. Instead of inboxes and outboxes you have accounts with balances shown, and instead of a list of messages in the main area, it’s a list of transactions.

You can build reports based on certain kinds of spending complete with pie charts. iBank also sports a feature called “smart accounts”, which is an iBank take on Smart Playlists from itunes. It allows you to build a view of your accounts based on specific criteria, such as category, date or amount. I can see this as being helpful for the freelancer who doesn’t want to build are report or chart each time he or she wants to monitor the money in the freelance business.

Getting Your Data In

I mentioned earlier that iBank imported my Quicken data with ease. After that initial import, one has to consider how to get future transaction data into iBank. With Quicken, if you’re lucky, you can connect to your bank online and Quicken updates your accounts with your latest transactions. iBank doesn’t support this feature. IGG is investigating the possibility, but as you can imagine, this would be a huge undertaking and would increase their support costs quite a bit.

Hope is not lost though. If your bank allows you to download transaction data manually, there’s a good chance it will come in either OFX or QIF format. iBank supports these formats, so that does make things a little bit easier. Of course you can always just keep things up to date by manually, if that doesn’t keep you from feeling like you’re in the stone age.

When you do import data, such as through OFX or QIF files, you can set up smart import rules to help you automatically stay organized. This allows imported transactions that, say, have Apple Retail as the payee, automatically sort themselves into the Computers category. Once you set up these rules to match your regular shopping, this could be a big timesaver.

iBank 2 Smart Import Screen

A few drawbacks

iBank has a few other problems that keep it from being the blissful experience that personal finance should be.

Split transactions still need some user interface work too. They are a little hard to use. I tried using the budget feature and after spending a fair amount of time on it I had to give up. The interface was extremely problematic and ultimately too inflexible for me to use on a regular basis. I imagine as iBank matures further, these features will become more honed to users needs.

Good enough to switch?

In my opinion, iBank is good enough to switch away from Quicken. The only huge drawback when comparing the two is the inability to automatically connect with your banks online. It’s up to you to decide if that’s the killer drawback. As someone who has been looking for a reason to give Quicken the pink slip, I give the upper hand to iBank.

  1. I wonder if it may be possible to write an AppleScript or an Automator workflow that can automatically download OFX or QIF files from your bank’s web site and import it into iBank. If that is possible, I’m sold!

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  2. I hope iBank developers hear your wish Ryan :)

    or make the word a better place for everyone, email ‘em about this. I’m sure they’d came up with an elegant solution integrated within the app.

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  3. If people are looking for a much simpler app for doing home finances they should try cha ching…. I have been using it and its heaps easy to use for simple transactions.

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  4. Moneydance is another good alternative. It will directly connect to banks, credit card companies, etc. It’s Java, so it will run on OS X, Linux, or Windows, which can be handy. Imports Quicken and OFX without any trouble. It’s well supported, and unlike Quicken, bugs actually get fixed. Insert your standard “Just a Happy Customer” disclaimer here.

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  5. Thanks for the Moneydance suggestion, Kevin.

    Anybody else know of a similar product (i.e., has automatic online banking connectivity) with a elegant Mac interface? I’d be willing to lay out some quality dough for that feature alone – think a simpler, uber-streamlined Quicken, with an interface designed by Midnight Apps. Mmmm.

    This has been my holy grail for ages, but I’ve been unable to find anything that fits the bill (sorry, bad pun intended).

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  6. I’ve actually been an iBank2 user for quite awhile now, since at least April 06, and after only using it for about a week, bought the license. (they have a great trial option, you get to use it until you hit 100 transactions — give or take on that number).

    Since then I’ve been very happy with it. Great software, very intuitive. The only thing I dislike is after 8 months of use, my database file is getting rather large, and at times it takes a little while to load. But, in comparison with Quicken which I had used about 4 months before finding iBank… it is much faster.

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  7. I’ve been using Quicken since it was first created more than a decade ago, migrating to it from Managing Your Money, but recently just became so frustrated with it, especially since incorporating our business and needing to manage two databases (Quicken only lets you keep one open at a time), so I began checking around. I ended up purchasing Cha-Ching for my teenage boys for teaching them basic principles of budget management, but buying iBank for our business as it’s easier to manage separate sets of books with it. As for the inconvenience of having to download QIF exports from our banks, it’s not big deal, since Quicken has not been as reliable with the auto-download process, sometime, for some inexplicable reason, confusing transfers between accounts as separate transactions on EACH account, doubling the transactions. I’ve never figured out why it does that from time to time through 2004, 2005, and 2006 editions. It didn’t happen often, but when it does it is frustrating!

    I’m very pleased with iBank after 60 days, and will continue to use it, I think. It lets me get the data into a format I need for our accountants. My only other option was to get an Intel/Mac and run Quickbooks. But that was really overkill for the simplicity of our corporate needs, and it would not really be ideal for our personal needs at all. I’d recommend iBank to anyone who needs to spend LESS time with the actual bookkeeping chores and thus wants a simple to operate application.

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  8. If you’re using multiple currencies, you’ll have problems with the Budget and Smart folders features. It doesn’t do conversions– 10 euros + 10 dollars = 20 dollars. Other places in the app multiple currencies work fine.

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  9. Close, but no cigar here. The transfer from quicken isn’t working, can’t get the currencies downloaded. What’s up with the budget? How about auto-categories? I have to manually input them? I love the multiple currency function so I will continue to battle it, but not a happy experience thus far…

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  10. I used to use MS Money and Quicken back in my “dark” days. A couple of years ago, I switched to a program/service called Mvelopes. Based upon the old envelope method. This is a very easy way to create and manage a budget. I find it far easier to use than the Quicken type of managing money. It’s a web-based app that downloads into your browser. Built with Flex and Flash. Works great using Firefox and Camino. Has hung a few times for me with Safari. You pay via a monthly subscription and it includes a bill pay feature. Here are a couple of links:
    http://www.mvelopes.com/mvelopes/index.php
    http://www.mvelopes.com/mvelopes/pcworld.php

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