Updated: May 3, 2013 12:14PM
I'm an organizer by nature. And these days, organization is about using the power of your computer to not only store information, but to give you the power to sort and use information to your advantage.
That's what drew me to write about Quicken and Microsoft Money nearly a decade ago. Unlike most bank Web sites that enable you only to pay bills and track payments, Quicken categorizes every payment, including those debit transactions at the grocery store or gas station or dry cleaner. Then with a click of your mouse, you can create a chart that will dramatically illustrate where all your money went! Armed with that knowledge, you can take steps to divert your cash flow to more productive uses, such as an IRA or college savings account.
Here's a look at some new features and new programs that you can download from www.Intuit.com.
TurboTax Estimated Taxes
This is a new product for 2006, designed to help the 10 million people who are required to file quarterly estimated tax returns. Those are people who receive non-W-2 income. They include the self-employed, stock traders, spouses who receive alimony, sellers on e-Bay, and retirees who collect dividend and investment income.
Those individuals are required to file estimated taxes in January, April, June and September in an amount equal to 90 percent of their tax obligation for the prior year. An estimated 5 million of those quarterly returns have penalties assessed against them either for late filing, mistakes or simply the failure to file.
This new product is designed to take the anguish out of the quarterly filing process, by helping you calculate how much you need to pay, based on last year's tax return. It's all done securely online at www.EstimatedTaxes.TurboTax.com. (You don't have to use TurboTax to use this service.)
The $29.95 cost includes four quarterly online estimated tax reports, each with an electronic 1040ES voucher sent to the IRS along with your payment, which is debited automatically from your checking account.
The program sends you an e-mail reminder 15 days before your payment is due, and if you haven't gone to the Web site to calculate and submit your tax payment, you'll get another reminder five days before the tax is due. Then you receive an email confirmation that says the IRS received your payment.
Medical Expense Manager 2.0
When I first wrote about the introduction of this program in July 2005, I knew it would change the lives of people who live with ongoing medical treatments or major surgeries, and the subsequent hassle of dealing with multiple bills and insurance forms. But even if you're a family with children and no major medical issues, you can get buried in paperwork trying to sort out forms that say "this is not a bill" and worrying about whether you've all met your deductibles.
Quicken Medical Expense manager is a simple and handy way to track each medical bill and insurance "explanation of benefits" letter, so you can deal with the insurance company from a position of strength. It guides you to organize all your documents, and then search them in several ways: by provider name, by member of your family, name of illness, by date.
Now you'll know whether you should pay a bill, wait for insurance or ask questions. And it helps you track the conversations with the insurance company, as well as giving you templates so you can write dispute letters -- and then track the responses with pop-up reminders.
The latest version is now available for download at www.QuickenMedical.com for $49.95. This new version helps you track potential tax deductions, including mileage driven to medical treatments. An enhanced report center that helps you compare costs of procedures and make informed decisions is especially helpful if you're spending your own money in a Health Savings Account. And it tracks expenses for your Flexible Spending Account, so you don't leave money on the table at year-end.
One helpful aspect of this new version is a clear indication of when you've overpaid a bill, something that happens surprisingly often when you and the insurance company pay the same bill. They've thought of every medical issue: you can even track your pet's veterinary bills. (The icon is a paw print!).
If you want to be organized and in control of your finances, your computer is the best asset. It won't eliminate paper completely, but it will save trees. And that's The Savage Truth.
Terry Savage is a registered investment adviser. Distributed by Creators Syndicate.