Low-Cost Accounting Software Review

The market has culled the weak and left strong packages standing.

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The history of accounting software is evolution in action. Twenty years ago, there were dozens of DOS-based accounting packages for small-to-midsized businesses. Ten years ago, the market had shrunk with the move to Windows, but the general quality of products had gone up. Today, there are only a handful of products, but they range from pretty good to dazzling.

Accounting Software Features

Accounting software for small-to-midsized businesses should be able to do GL, AR, AP, and PR; most can also do inventory, job costing, and time and billing. You should be able to generate and print quotes, sales orders, purchase orders, checks of all kinds, and have a wide range of customizable, professional-looking reports. Both printed and online documentation should be complete; in addition, there should be an Internet user forum that lets you ask questions and discuss problems with other users.

Partner Insights

The product must also support multiple users with varying security levels; import and export accounting data in several formats; provide customer address books and to-do lists; and let you update tax tables and transmit data over the Internet. Depending on the nature of your business, you may also want the ability to make direct deposits and B2B payments or to set up a Web store using your company's inventory.

This article reviews five accounting packages for Windows:

* Bookkeeper 2006;

* Peachtree Premium Accounting 2006;

* QuickBooks Premier Edition 2006;

* Simply Accounting 2006 Basic; and

* Small Business Accounting 2006.

QuickBooks Premier 2006 is just slightly better than Peachtree Premium Accounting 2006, but both are great products. Microsoft Small Business Accounting is perfect for businesses that want accounting that is completely integrated with Microsoft Office. Simply Accounting 2006 Basic is a great place to start if you need a basic accounting package with great documentation for a low price. Bookkeeper is aimed at SOHO businesses that want something more than a check register and a spreadsheet, but don't want to spend much on it.

Evaluating the Products

Each product was evaluated using the following criteria:

Overall ease of use. Is the product easy to install and configure? Did the product feel easy to use? Was it necessary to pick up the manuals or go to the online help? Did each step in the new company set-up make sense? Was it easy to add invoices and pay bills?

Product features. How complete is the feature set? How many sample charts of accounts are there? Are there add-on features such as Webstore creation, fixed asset management, or integration with other programs?

Documentation. Was the online documentation well-indexed, useful, clean? Were the manuals complete, easy to read? Could I find information quickly?

Trial versions, money-back guarantee. Finding the right accounting package is a challenge. It's a little easier to determine which package is right for you by trying before you buy.

Reporting and exporting options. Is there a good range of reports? Are there filtering and sorting options? Can you easily export report info and financial data to other formats?

Bookkeeper 2006

Bookkeeper 2006 is a small, single-user program from Avanquest designed for mom-and-pop businesses with less than 10 employees. It's a good entry-level program for people who just need something to get them started.

Installation was quick. Unlike the other programs in this review, there is only one predefined chart of accounts. You can add and edit new account codes, but the standard chart is a given. The software has GL, AP, AR, inventory, and simple job tracking. Payroll features are built in, but you will probably want to buy the tax tables to go along with it. (The tax tables are very inexpensive.)

There's a small printed copy of the user's guide, but you can print a bigger version from the enclosed PDF file. The online help is okay, but there is no sample company to experiment with, which was a bit disappointing: I would have liked to see what the reports look like with data already entered. There are 98 reports with a surprising amount of customization available.

The interface could be more intuitive. For example, rather than entering a new vendor's customers on the fly as part of creating POs or paying bills, you need to set them up first so they can be selected from the drop-down lists. This may slow down the paperwork by requiring you to switch back and forth between screens rather than just pull up the screens you need as you need them.

Because this is aimed at the entry-level user, there aren't a lot of the bells and whistles you'd expect with bigger, more expensive products. There isn't a training module, but the product is simple enough that you can figure out what you need to do. You can also process credit-card payments through LinkPoint, which may make the product worthwhile for this feature alone.

Bookkeeper 2006's best feature is the price: $29.95 ($19.95 after a $10 rebate). The payroll tax tables are $24.95, which makes choosing to enter them by hand seem a bit silly. There's a 30-day money-back guarantee as well. For users who want more robust features, a higher-end product is scheduled for release later this year. (Check the Avanquest Web site for details.)

Bookkeeper 2006 is a small program for small businesses. It feels like you've opened your checkbook and discovered a whole bookkeeping feature you never knew about. It's not as richly featured or snappily designed as other products in this review, but it's mighty hard to argue with the price.

Bookkeeper 2006

AvanquestUSA

Pleasanton, Calif.

(800) 325-0834

www.avanquestusa.com

Price: $29.95 ($19.95 after a $10 rebate). Payroll tax tables, $24.95.

Peachtree Premium Accounting 2006

Peachtree Premium Accounting 2006 is an excellent product with everything that a small-to-midsized business might need in an accounting product in an easy-to-use and well-integrated package.

Installing and setting up a new company is fast and easy, with 75 charts of accounts to choose from. The company set-up wizard enhances an already clear and effective process. The product's screens and general look-and-feel make excellent use of graphics and color, and there are outstanding navigational aids to identify accounting tasks.

The product does everything: GL, AR, AP, PR, inventory, time and billing, job costing, and fixed asset management. Peachtree also has an online payroll service (available for an additional fee), which lets you pay employees with checks or via direct deposit. The inventory features are extensive, including building and un-building kits, user-defined attributes for inventory items, and the ability to reserve stock from purchase orders and sales orders. Peachtree can auto-create a PO to automatically re-order stock for smoother inventory maintenance. Peachtree also supports direct deposit, back orders, transaction summaries, and backups to Internet sites.

Peachtree Today, the general interface, has a built-in contact manager, integrated Web site builder, Internet postage, and integrated UPS features. Both the credit-card features and navigational aids have been improved and expanded. The Peachtree Web Accounting interface lets users enter and view transactions online.

The 736-page printed manual and the online help are both complete and clear. The manual is also available online in PDF format and there are 22 training videos that teach you how to do specific tasks such as opening saved transactions.

New in this release is Peachtree Bill Pay, which lets you transmit payments to vendors electronically or by paper checks automatically on the selected pay date. You can also download bank statements and reconcile them within Peachtree. There is also an internal accounting review that checks for up to 15 common transaction mistakes.

There are more than 220 reports, forms, and financial statements, including new customer and vendor management detail and transaction reports, the federal 1096 Form, and a new bill of materials report. There is a trial version of Crystal Report Writer, and reports can be emailed in PDF format. Peachtree integrates with Microsoft Excel and Word for additional analysis and to create mass mailings/emailings of invoices, newsletters, sales announcements, and other types of information in your company database.

Premium Accounting 2006 costs $499.99 for a single user. A five-user value pack is available for $999.99. The product also comes with a 60-day money-back guarantee. If you don't need all of the features of Peachtree Premium, consider Peachtree Complete Accounting, which costs $299.99 for a single user and $699.99 for a five-user value pack.

This is a complete product with the full range of accounting features, good business management tools and services, and comprehensive documentation and training. (If this isn't enough, the upcoming release of Peachtree, due this summer, is scheduled to have enhanced Excel, Word, and Outlook integration, print-and-sign payroll tax forms, and new budgeting tools, with a completely revised product look-and-feel.) It's the right product for a company that needs the full spread of options and is willing to spend a little more up front for it.

Peachtree Premium Accounting 2006

Sage Software Small Business

Norcross, Ga.

(800) 773-5445

www.peachtree.com

Price: Peachtree Premium Accounting 2006, $499.99 (single user); $999.99 (five users).

QuickBooks Premier 2006

QuickBooks Premier 2006 is once again the premier accounting package for small-to-midsized businesses. It handles all accounting functions with ease and provides many additional features that make the product easy to use and customize.

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