AceMoney Personal Finance Manager Review

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  • Pros

    • Spam-free
    • Very small footprint
    • Great at transaction cleanup

     

  • Cons

    • No automatic bank downloads
    • No online bill-pay
    • Little fiscal guidance

     


AceMoney is to Quicken as indie music labels are to Sony Music: The little guy trying to outdo the industry behemoth with more pluck and less money. So, can a garage-band personal finance application outperform Intuit’s headline act? We sound it out in this review.

PRODUCT OVERVIEW

MechCad’s AceMoney is a personal financial management application patterned very clearly after Quicken and the late MS Money. It allows you to view your bank, credit card, and stock transactions through a single program and thereby gain a clearer view of your overall financial standing. Like nearly all such programs, you can run basic fiscal reports against your financial data — producing the obligatory pie charts — and set up budget limits to guide your spending and saving activities. But, unfortunately, AceMoney has some critical limitations.

INSTALLATION & SETUP

We tested AceMoney 3.16.1, which is an important distinction, since MechCad doesn’t offer automatic updates and it’s up to the user to check for patches or more recent versions of the software. The latest version of AceMoney is a 2.4 MB file — incredibly small — which required less than a minute to install after we downloaded it. This was the first hint that AceMoney was going to be much lighter in features and footprint than its major competitors.

Technically speaking, AceMoney isn’t freeware, but you can download a fully-functional evaluation copy that you’re expected to register after deciding whether you like the app or not — though we saw no obvious self-enforcing mechanism to the 30-day evaluation period. Basically, don’t be a jerk and pay the $30 for the software if you intend to use it.

 evaluation alert

Immediately after you agree to the license agreement, you’ll be asked to choose a default language (from a surprisingly robust list) and set your default currency and date-display options, in case you prefer Dollars and Month/Day/Year, Pounds and Day/Month/Year, or any format permutation betwixt, between or beyond.

AceMoney Personal Finance Manager currency settings

Then, finally, you’re asked if you want to load a sample data file. The answer is definitely yes, as seeing sample data is far more instructive than the rather limited online tutorial that MechCad provides. Just be sure that, once you’ve tweaked the sample file with your own account information, you save the data under a different file name. AceMoney expects you to start with the sample data, and even offers a convenient Delete-Unused function for Bills and Banks that lets you erase all the default institutions that you don’t actually bank with.

Before you get there, however, you’ll get to meet the AceMoney interface.

INTERFACE & EASE OF USE

The main AceMoney interface looks like a hybrid of Internet Explorer 3 and a Windows 2000 system accessory application. We half-expected to find a menu option for jumping into a DOS shell, the interface was so old-school. Fans of the WordPad design aesthetic will be right at home; those of you who’ve grown accustomed to the Apple-influenced ultrasleek interface style will find the design a bit crude. Nonetheless, the interface works.

AceMoney Personal Finance Manager default home screen

There are number of intuitive Sections, each with its own icon at the top of the interface, and a duo of Forward/Back buttons that allow you to skip between them, browser-style.

During the setup for Quicken, MS Money, and Mint.com, we were automatically prompted to select our bank accounts and download transaction data directly from the institutions themselves. AceMoney doesn’t do that, and if you’re waiting for it to explain why, it won’t — because there are absolutely no wizards or tutorials native to the program. You’ll read the classic Win2K-esque Help File and like it.

Thankfully, the Help File explained why AceMoney didn’t prompt us to download transaction data directly from our banks — AceMoney doesn’t support downloading transaction data directly from our banks.

To get your financial data into AceMoney, you can either enter it manually from your paper statements, or you can import a data file that you manually download from your financial institutions. AceMoney, thankfully, will support QIF (Quicken), OFX (MS Money) or CSV (Comma-Separated Values; basic default spreadsheet files) so they’ve covered all the typical bank-export formats. This also makes switching from most any other personal finance app to AceMoney rather easy, as you can simply grab your old backup file and AceMoney will interpret it appropriately, even integrating almost all of your old transaction categories and bill/bank data into its system.

AceMoney Personal Finance Manager import acount

That said, a manual data import is inconvenient at best and a recipe for data overwriting at worst, so we were not a fan of this little feature decision. We appreciate AceMoney’s Spartan design and essentials-only feature set, but this is simplicity taken one step too far.

Once the data is in AceMoney, the program offers some very capable tools for analyzing you transactions — after you’ve categorized them. This, again, is the bane of all personal finance applications, as raw bank transaction data almost never includes enough metadata for any software — and even most humans — to quickly or easily sort it into various categories like Mortgage Payments, Entertainment Expenditures, or Retirement Savings.

All the financial programs we previously reviewed made vain attempts at automatically categorizing our transactions based on payer or payee name. AceMoney wisely didn’t even try to guess at transaction categories, and that saved us the trouble of correcting all the mistakes that Quicken or Mint would have made in divining whether “Louisville Gas…” was a utility company or a place where you fill up your car.

To our surprise, AceMoney had a transaction-sorting function that rivaled the outstanding usability of Mint — one that was staggering in its simplicity. AceMoney offers a basic find-replace tool for setting up import rules, so that any time a certain string is found in the transaction field, you can append a category and a payee name to it. For example, in the case of Louisville Gas & Electric, we could give it the more colloquial payee name, LG&E, and list it in the Utilities category.

AceMoney Personal Finance Manager import rules

We had to go to the trouble of setting up an import rule for all our regular bills and income sources, but once the rules were in place, it was extremely easy to keep our transactions clean and categorized. The import rules simply edit all the transactions as they’re imported into AceMoney, and you can reapply the rules to existing transactions by highlighting them. It’s simple, easy, and effective.

OVERALL PERFORMANCE

AceMoney has all the basics of personal financial management covered, but just the basics. There are some very nice mortgage, loan, and savings calculators built into the tools menu, which are nice to have even if they don’t automatically import any data from your bank transactions.

AceMoney Personal Finance Manager savings calculator

You can schedule recurring bills or deposits as easily as you schedule any event in a typical calendaring program.

AceMoney Personal Finance Manager bill schedule

AceMoney Personal Finance Manager bill calendar

This lets you project out your cash flow pretty effectively, though AceMoney never really gives you a nice, big-picture view like Quicken offers. AceMoney has a decent stable of built-in reports, and also allows you to design custom reports, but its hands-off approach puts heavy emphasis on the user to design something meaningful. That was disappointing. Pie graphs are only helpful in context.

AceMoney Personal Finance Manager expense chart

Moreover, AceMoney doesn’t have any general guidance about proper spending guidelines or budget caps. You can configure a budget-limit for spending in any category, but whether the caps you choose are reasonable is never really discussed. If you think spending 98 percent of your income on your cell phone bill is appropriate, AceMoney will take you at your word.

AceMoney doesn’t have any integrated bill-pay features, so you can’t actually make transactions from inside the program. If you want to pay your electric bill online, or simply write a paper check to the power company, you’ll have to do it from outside AceMoney. You can manually record these payments in AceMoney and then reconcile them with your imported bank data, but AceMoney doesn’t actually offer a one-stop interface for paying your bills.

It’s not all bad news. AceMoney downloads realtime currency exchange rates and stock prices into the program, so you can get up-to-the-minute price valuations on a number of cash or investment assets. We just wish we could act on the price data that AceMoney provides from inside AceMoney itself.

The most refreshing thing about AceMoney, however, was the total lack of upsells or spam. We were never so much as asked for an e-mail address, let alone prompted to apply for a Quicken Visa or register for a Windows Live account. That alone is going to win the program some friends in the anti-spam community.

CONCLUSION

AceMoney is the definition of a good-enough off-label software application — almost. You can definitely keep track of your finances with AceMoney, so long as you’re willing to go to the trouble of manually importing your bank, credit card, and stock transactions from all the various Web sites that allow you to download such data (and not all companies offer the option). This is the crux of the problem with AceMoney — most users simply won’t go to the trouble of handling all these cumbersome downloads, and many that do will likely make some minor version-management mistake that causes major book-balancing headaches.

Just as AceMoney makes it a little difficult to get transaction data into its database, there’s no way to make outgoing transactions at all. What little analytical guidance AceMoney offers will require you to take your bill-paying and stock-trading activity elsewhere, to some other program, to act on its insights.

At $30, AceMoney is only a few dollars cheaper than most of its more-full-featured competitors, and is more expensive than the free online applications that simply make data import easier. AceMoney has a very small footprint and none of the upsell-spam that its more well-known competitors throw at you, and those are definite marks in its favor.

Bottom line: AceMoney is suitable only for those financial app-seekers that will never use an online, browser-based service like Mint, and those who refuse to give a mainstream software company their money. Like most indie-label products, AceMoney is only for those users who are consciously bucking the mainstream.

PROS

  • Spam-free
  • Very small footprint
  • Great at transaction cleanup

CONS

  • No automatic bank downloads
  • No online bill-pay
  • Little fiscal guidance


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