Low-cost Accounting Software

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Over the last five years, the number of accounting packages for small to midsize businesses has shrunk as products have been bought up and consolidated or just squeezed out of the market. However, the products that have remained have a lot to recommend them, with a wide range of basic features, as well as Microsoft Outlook and Office integration, tax forms, credit-card processing, customer contact management and many other add-on functions and services. You can even find products that let you use handheld devices to do invoicing and sales entry.

These days, you can expect accounting software for small-to-midsize businesses to do GL, AR, AP and PR, as well as inventory, job costing and time and billing. You should be able to print quotes, sales orders, POs, checks and have a wide range of customizable, professional- looking reports. Documentation should be complete and there should be an Internet user forum discussing problems with other users.

The product should also support multiple users with varying security levels, import/export accounting data in several formats, provide customer address books and to-do lists and let you update tax tables and email invoices, statements and reports. Depending on your business, you may also want to make direct deposits and B-B payments or to set up a Web store using your company’s inventory.

Partner Insights

This article reviews five Windows accounting packages:

* Microsoft Office Accounting Professional 2008

* MYOB Premier Accounting 2008

* Peachtree Premium Accounting 2008

* QuickBooks Premier 2008

* Simply Accounting 2008

Peachtree Premium, Microsoft Office Accounting Professional and QuickBooks Premier all have strong accounting features, but the interface and documentation for QuickBooks are not what they used to be. MYOB Premier Accounting offers a wide range of features and is available in both Windows and Mac versions. Simply Accounting is a good basic accounting package aimed at Canadian businesses.

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 setup make sense? Was it easy to add invoices and pay bills? Can data be imported and exported?

Product features. How complete is the feature set? How many sample charts of accounts are there? Are there add-on features such as Web store 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 & 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?

Office Accounting Professional 2008

Microsoft Office Accounting Professional 2008 is the newest product in this review, but it is an excellent choice for anyone who wants a well-documented product that is strongly integrated with Microsoft Office.

The company setup wizard is similar to wizards in many other Microsoft applications. There are 31 charts of accounts to choose from, a substantial increase from the previous version. The main screen is complete, with reminders and to-do items, vendors you need to pay, overdue customer accounts, a cash-flow graph and navigation options. When you click on a subcategory, you see a clickable flow map with the steps for the related tasks. The layout and options on the main screen (as well as most of the others) can be changed to suit your needs and preferences.

Office Accounting Professional does GL, AR, AP, inventory, job costing and fixed assets. You can also do time and billing with Outlook and the Business Contact Manager. PR is done with an add-on from ADP. Microsoft has a number of add-ons for such things as online banking, credit profiles, eBay sales and PayPal transaction processing (although you can create a basic Web site for free.) In fact, you can look for product add-ons and services online. (Microsoft currently has over two dozen available.) The online documentation is complete, if a little plain.

This release comes with 77 reports (up from 55 in the previous version). There are strong formatting, charting and filtering options and most of the reports have good drill-down features. Although other products in this review have more predefined reports, none of them has better integration with Microsoft Office. You can export reports to Word and Excel and modify and email them. You can also run Access reports from within the application.

There are some exceptional new features, including a Spanish-language edition, a U.K. edition, budgeting tools and universal transaction import that lets you import transaction data from any application that can export to Excel. The Resource Center (shown on the main screen) is a new feature that lets you browse topics, download demos and training, participate in user forums and find accountants and other resources.

Office Accounting Professional costs $199.95. (A standard version with fewer features is $99.95. There is also Express, an ad-supported version of the same product available for free if you want to try things out.) The Small Business Management version for $449.95 includes Microsoft Office 2007. Volume licensing is available for five seats. There is a trial version available on the Microsoft Web site.

This release of Office Accounting Professional makes it a true contender. It has the strengths of a premium package and many attractive features that will appeal to users at all levels. You can tailor the look and feel more than with any other product in this review. Moreover, it is fully integrated with Microsoft Office and people who are familiar with Microsoft products will find it quick to learn.

Peachtree Premium Accounting 2008

Peachtree Premium Accounting has everything you could want in an accounting package for a small to midsize business. It has a wide range of features that are comprehensive and useful.

Setting up a new company with one of the 12 charts of accounts is very fast. Peachtree handles GL, AR, AP, PR, inventory, job costing, time and billing and fixed asset management. It also has an online payroll service, so you can pay your employees using checks or direct deposit.

Peachtree uses information centers with process flow charts to identify tasks and display information. The business status center displays comprehensive business information about your company that helps you track the status of your business. The online help is well-written and the printed manual, though relatively small, is a good getting-started guide. The product also has an extensive guided tour and training videos for specific tasks such as opening saved transactions.

The system has good inventory features. You can reserve stock in inventory from POs and sales orders, build and un-build kits and automatically create a PO to re-order inventory stock when it drops below a specified level. You can also do backorders, transaction summaries and direct deposits. Some of the new features in this release include broadcast emailing invoices and adding attachments to vendor, customer, inventory and other records.

Peachtree can print 229 reports, lists, forms and statements and export reports to Word and Excel for additional analysis or emailing. This release also has major improvements to filtering, sorting and drilling down in reports, as well as a new forms designer. You can also print signable payroll tax forms. Other features include UPS shipping, credit-card handling, a contact manager, a Web site builder and backup of your company files to Internet sites. In addition, with the Peachtree Web Accounting interface, you can enter and view transactions online.

Peachtree Premium Accounting costs $499.99 for a single user and $1,099.99 for a five-user version. (Industry-specific versions are also available at the same price.) If you don’t need all of the features of Peachtree Premium, consider Peachtree Complete Accounting, at $269.99 for a single user and $699.99 for a five-user value pack. For something more robust, look at Peachtree Quantum at $3,950, a server-based accounting product with 10 users that supports up to 100 employees. All Peachtree products come with a 60-day money back guarantee, but Quantum has a 90-day guarantee.

Peachtree Premium Accounting 2008 is a complete accounting product, with good business management tools and services. Any company that needs the widest range of options in a strong accounting product who is willing to spend a little more should look at this first.

MYOB Premier Accounting 2008

While MYOB Premier Accounting 2008 still has the solid, familiar look and feel that it’s had for ages, this version has significant updates that are keeping it competitive.

Company setup in MYOB is broken into the essentials of company info and one of 99 charts of accounts. The Easy Setup Assistant lets you add information for accounts, sales, purchases and company payroll. Once the company is set up, Command Center maps the accounting tasks in the order they’re most likely to be performed.

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