Intuit’s QuickBooks 2004

Another year and another new version of QuickBooks. While the venerable accounting package arrives with the usual marketing hype, it does offer decent new features and is the finest QuickBooks yet. In addition to Basic, Pro and Premier editions, Intuit adds new industry-specific versions for retail, services and manufacturing. QuickBooks is a family of accounting products and services that will serve a small business well.

Some Things Old and Some Things New
A useful new Cash Flow Projector in the Pro and Premier versions helps small businesses predict cash flow in advance and experiment with “what-if” analysis. This is a worthy new feature that is easy to understand and use. A decent new Business Checklist feature serves information about local, state and federal requirements and provides helpful information on incorporation, partnerships, permits and licenses, as well as finding funding, tax and insurance and managing business finances.

From here, the new features are only found in the Premier edition. A helpful Fixed Asset Tracker monitors assets by name, serial number, acquisition date and disposal date to help with taxes. The program now supports up to 100 price levels, which should give businesses better control over prices and the discounts that they apply.

A new Loan Manager stores loan information, calculates principal and interest and lets users experiment with “what if” analysis. Also, a new Vehicle Mileage Tracker monitors mileage in the standard way, and alerts you during invoicing when there are miles to be billed-a useful feature that is also found in the Pro version.

You may now generate and email purchase orders, sales orders, sales receipts, credit memos and reports from within the program. This useful feature will save on postage. A new packaging slip and shipping label feature automatically enters information from the invoice so you don’t have to reenter it.

Integration with Microsoft Office has been improved. List data from Excel may be imported into QuickBooks by assigning a spreadsheet column to a QuickBooks field, and reports may be exported to Excel spreadsheets, complete with formulas and formatting.

A notable new service, Intuit’s UniPlan 401K plan, Section 125 Plans, and Pay Along the Way Workers’ Compensation Service, make it easier for small business owners to administer employee benefits packages and stay in compliance with federal and state employment regulations. Intuit continues to offer powerful supporting services that include the Intuit Complete Payroll Service, an outsourced payroll plan; The Employee Organizer that provides employee information, guidance for the employment process and information on employment laws; QuickBooks Billing Solutions, which gives businesses a way to bill customers and accept payments via e-mail; QuickBooks Credit Check Services, to extend credit to customers and vendors and manage the collection process; and QuickBooks Merchant Account Service (MAS), which lets businesses process and authorize credit card payments from within QuickBooks.

To Be Specific
As QuickBooks evolves and adds new features, Intuit is also expanding its product line by adding industry-specific versions. These versions of QuickBooks offer built-in features geared towards a specific industry. Indeed, industry-specific version of QuickBooks can reduce the initial setup time and provide important features.

The most important of the new industry-specific versions is QuickBooks: Manufacturing & Wholesale Editions 2004. This product is designed to address the billing and inventory needs of manufacturers and wholesalers so they may monitor order management, perform inventory tracking, apply flexible pricing and create manufacturer and wholesaler-specific reports. Interestingly, while the product supports assemblies, it does not support LIFO or FIFO, or work in process, which may or may not be important to a business.

QuickBooks: Retail Edition 2004 offers features that help retailers track sales, keep tabs on vendors, and create financial reports. And it works with QuickBooks Point of Sale Version 3.0 to create a PC-based point of sale (POS) application that can ring up sales, process payments and oversee inventory, and manage sales and customer relationships.

For service businesses, QuickBooks: Professional Services Editions 2004 offers flexible billing rates that may be set by client, and alerts users during invoicing when there are outstanding time and expenses to be billed. Intuit continues to offer industry-specific versions for contractors, healthcare companies, nonprofits and accountants.

Test Drive
I encountered no problems installing, configuring and running QuickBooks Premier 2004. I found the program to be much like last year’s with an intuitive interface that relies on accounting flowcharts and organized pull-down menus. I found the program easy to navigate and use, and the Fixed Asset Tracker, price levels, Loan Manager and Vehicle Mileage Tracker worked as I expected them to. I was also impressed with how easy the Cash Flow Projector was to use, and how it clearly and intuitively presented information.

I discovered during installation that if you upgrade a single copy of QuickBooks on your network, you have to upgrade all of the copies to use its multi-user features — something to keep in mind if you’re considering an upgrade.

Bottom Line
QuickBooks: Basic 2004 retails for $199.95. QuickBooks Pro 2004 retails for $299.95 (single user) and $749 (5-user value pack). QuickBooks Premier 2004 retails for $499.95 (single user) and $1,499.95 (5-user value pack). Intuit offers several support plans including the Ultimate Support Plan that comes with unlimited number of phone and e-mail questions for 12 months.

For 2004, QuickBooks remains a powerful small business accounting solution. If you don’t need its new features, you probably don’t need to upgrade. And definitely check out the capabilities in an industry-specific version to see if it might better meet your needs.

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