How to Tell if You’ve Outgrown Quicken

By Stephen Nelson, CPA

Think you’ve maybe outgrown Quicken as a small-business accounting solution? Maybe, maybe not. Small-business accounting systems (including Quicken) are supposed to do three things:

1. Measure your profits and cash flow so that you can prudently manage your business.

2. Track the assets and liabilities of the business so that you know what you own and what you owe.

3. Generate the business forms that you use to transact business.

As long you keep these three accounting system tasks in mind, you’ll find it easy to tell when you’ve outgrown Quicken and should move up to a more full-featured small-business accounting system.

Symptom #1: You want to use accrual-basis accounting

Quicken measures income and expenses using either cash-based accounting or very simple accrual-based accounting. If you want to do sophisticated accrual-based accounting rather than cash-based accounting, you’ve outgrown Quicken. You’ll need a more full-featured accounting system, such as QuickBooks from Intuit or Peachtree Accounting for Windows.

Symptom #2: You need detailed records of more than just cash

To keep detailed records of assets besides cash and your investments, you also need to use a small-business accounting system. For example, if you buy and sell inventory items and want to track those items, you need an accounting system that includes inventory management features. (Most small-business accounting packages provide these features.) If you own a lot of depreciable assets and want to track them, you need an accounting system that includes a true fixed-assets module that easily handles depreciation. (This is a less common feature, by the way.) If you want point-of-sale accounting, or other special features, you also need to upgrade to a more powerful accounting system.

Symptom #3: You need business forms other than checks

One other issue is business forms. Quicken produces check forms and Quicken Home & Business produces invoices and customer statements, but you may need to produce other business forms, such as purchase orders. If you want to automate production of these other forms with an accounting system rather than prepare them manually, you need to upgrade to a more powerful system.

Before you jump to another accounting system:
Two Caveats to Consider

If you think you’ve outgrown Quicken, and before you purchase a new accounting system, there are a couple of things to keep in mind.

First, no accounting system is perfect. I’ve seen more than one business waste enormous amounts of time, energy, and money pursuing the perfect accounting system. If you have a system that works reasonably well, lets you gauge the performance of your business, and in general does most of the things you need it to do, you may create more problems than you solve by converting to a more complicated new system.

If Quicken works reasonably well and presents you with only a handful of minor problems and irritations, I’d suggest you stick with it.

Second, the more powerful small-business accounting systems generally require you (or someone who works for you) to know a lot more about accounting than you need to know to operate Quicken.

All you need to know to operate Quicken is how to use a checkbook and enter payments and deposits into a check register. In comparison, to use a full-featured small-business accounting system, you (or your employee) should:

  • Know how to perform double-entry bookkeeping
  • Understand the tricks and techniques used in accrual-based accounting (accruals, deferrals, reversing journal entries, and so on)
  • Be able to read and use the financial information contained in a standard set of accrual-based financial statements (income statements, balance sheets, and cash flow statements). Note that the cash flow statement produced by an accrual-based accounting system won’t look anything like the Cash Flow report produced by Quicken.

About the Author: CPA Stephen L. Nelson wrote the bestselling book on Quicken and QuickBooks as well as downloadable do-it-yourself guides at Setting up an S corp.

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