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Battle of the Money Management Tools: Comparing YNAB Pro and Quicken

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I recently published a review on You Need a Budget, and a reader asked me how YNAB compares to Quicken. YNAB and Quicken are both powerful and useful financial management tools, but they have different advantages and disadvantages. The key difference is that YNAB Pro is designed for making a budget and acting on it, and Quicken is designed primarily as a tracking tool.

You Need A Budget Pro

YNAB Pro is designed as a budgeting tool, and it does this job very well. The goal of YNAB is to track all of your income and your spending and “learn” your tendencies. After about 30 days or so, you should have a good idea of where your money is going and YNAB will make recommendations for where you can cut back on expenses and how you can better use your funds.

YNAB is a zero based budgeting system, which means every dollar is given a job. As you go through your monthly expenses, any funds that are left over will be assigned a job based on the priorities you assigned it when you set up your profile. The goal is to help you reach your financial goals more quickly and use a budget to your advantage.

Quicken

There are several different versions of Quicken which offer a similar core capability, but may have a specialized additions. The versions are Quicken Deluxe, Quicken Premier, Quicken Home & Business, and Quicken Rental Property Manager. If you don’t have specialized business or rental property needs, you should be fine with a copy of Quicken or Quicken Premier. You can compare Quicken products for more information.

Quicken is a more robust money management tool than YNAB. Quicken is designed to track income, expenses, net worth, taxes, investments, business transactions, rental property information, and even pay bills. But it is also a more complicated tool than YNAB Pro.

Quicken also offers a free online version, and Quicken Medical Expense Manager, which is designed specifically for tracking medical expenses, but does not have some of the other features.

Which is better – YNAB Pro or Quicken?

Quicken and YNAB are very different tools, so it depends on your needs. If you are simply looking for a budget or money management tool (as in cash flow and expenses), then I would recommend YNAB Pro over Quicken. YNAB Pro is much easier to set up, use, and navigate. And for most people, simpler is better.

Quicken can also be used as a budgeting tool, but it is better equipped for tracking expenses, not “giving every dollar a job” and making recommendations for your money. If you need a tool for tracking investments, net worth, assets, business income/expenses, rental properties, or other more advanced features, Quicken is a better option than YNAB.

Advantages of Quicken over YNAB Pro:

  • Track investments, including basis price, asset allocation, etc.
  • Some versions of Quicken allow you to manage specific financial situations, such as rental properties, medical expenses, small businesses, etc.
  • Track net worth (all assets, including liquid assets, real estate, cars, and other property).

Advantages of YNAB Pro over Quicken:

  • Simple and easy to set up, navigate, and use.
  • Give every dollar a job.
  • Get recommendations for how to spend and manage your money.

An easy way to look at the two software programs is this: Quicken does a better job at tracking the past and all your assets; YNAB Pro does a better job of helping you create a path forward.

Which is the better money management tool – Quicken or YNAB Pro?

My verdict is that if you have specialized needs such as tracking your investments – including cost basis, asset allocation, forecasting, etc., or want to track a home business, rental property, or specialized medical care, then I would recommend using Quicken. But if all you are focused on is creating a budget that works and maximizing your money management, then I would recommend YNAB Pro.


Published or updated April 20, 2012.
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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Kirk Kinder

Great review…I was wondering if you or anyone else has worked with Mint.com. It looks like a pretty neat application – all online and free, but I haven’t tried it yet.

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2 Miranda

I’m all about Quicken. But, sadly, I haven’t tried anything else. My mom got me Quicken when I went to college 11 years ago, and I haven’t looked back. I thought it was so cool, so beyond the pencil and paper method I used through junior high and high school. I love Quicken. It’s easy, and I don’t want to migrate my finances elsewhere. I find that the budgeting tools and expense reports work well for me; they’re especially helpful when my husband says “where did the money go?” and I can show him how many times he nipped over to the sandwich shop… ;)

Anyway, it may be lazy, but I’ve been with Quicken so long that I just don’t want to shift anywhere else, especially since Quicken meets my needs.

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3 ChristianPF

I just can’t get too excited about footing the bill for Quicken when you can get the online version for free or Mint.com which many people consider to be better anyway… It is nice that there are so many free options these days…

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4 Ryan

ChrsitianPF: The difference is how much capability Quicken has for tracking investments, real estate and other property, taxes, business income/expenses, etc. You can even pay your bills through Quicken.

Quicken Online and Mint don’t have the same capability as Quicken’s desktop version.

Mint, Quicken Online, and YNAB are all better for tracking income/expenses, but not the other aspects of personal finance.

I think they are all good options; it just depends what you are looking for.

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5 TStrump

I used to use Quicken but switched to Microsoft Money because it was much cheaper.
Actually, it was bundled with the laptop I bought – Quicken started raising their prices, too, which got me annoyed.
Money isn’t as feature-rich as Quicken but I find it still works really well.

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6 skye

YNAB rules. I used quicken and quickbooks for years and years, both at work and at home. My husband and I switched to YNAB a couple years ago and it is SOOOOO much better for managing home finances. Simpler, more effective, better at making you conscious of how you spend money and making conscious decisions about how to spend your money in the future (instead of just seeing how you spent it in the past). Highly recommend it.

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7 Save Money Hound

From your synopsis above, i would agree that Quicken is a comprehensive tool for managing your finances. YNAB would be a good tool if your focus is on budgeting and identifying areas where you can save money.

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8 Kelly

I have used Quicken at work (law office), MS Money and YNAB (at home). I do not like Quicken at all. I finally got my boss to change. I do like MS Money better than Quicken at work BUT at home you CANNOT beat YNAB Pro. I absolutely love it. YNAB 3 is getting ready to come out and I will be the first to purchase it. It is so worth the money. We love the way we stopped living paycheck to paycheck and now have a savings and see every month how we budget for different catergories. It is the easiest program I have used to date and actually fun.

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9 Greg

I don’t usually gush about a software program, but YNAB is an exception.
I used to use Quicken, but it wasn’t a very effective tool for keeping me and my wife on budget. I ran across YNAB recently and L-O-V-E it. Using YNAB, I finally have control over our spending habits. YNAB also enables me to balance my checkbook and credit card account easily.
One more thing…the training resources and customer support at YNAB are excellent. They have a very helpful video library that quickly shows you how to do any operation you may have a question about. When I e-mailed YNAB’s customer support desk about a particular question, I received an answer within 24 hours. How great is that?!
I strongly recommend that anyone who is trying to live within a budget take a look at YNAB. You won’t be disappointed.

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10 Mel

I’ve been hunting for good software for a few months. Initially I bought quicken but soon after installing it on my computer I added a hard drive – which ruined my license key because it thinks it’s a different computer if you modify any of the hardware specs. This drove me crazy – and as the help line charges you a ridiculous amount of money to reactivate your license key to your “new” computer, I gave up. I wasn’t going to go through this every time I did something to my computer. I then found YNAB a few days ago and am on the 7 day trial and loving it. Seems easier to use quicken too. I’m just still a little infuriated that I wasted money on quicken.

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11 Jeff

Great review. I think the real battle is between Mint and YNAB. Wonder if this will be in the next installment. I haven’t tried YNAB yet, but will be based on the reviews. I’ve been using Mint for about a year. Couple advantages right off the bat…
1. Mint is online. I can access from anywhere.
2. Mint is free.

Any other thoughts?

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12 Ryan

Jeff, I wrote this over a year ago, and while Mint.com was good then, I think they are better now.

I would probably put this in a three way heat between Mint.com, YNAB, and Quicken’s desktop software, depending on your needs. YNAB excels at budgeting, Mint is great for the online/portability, and Quicken is still the most robust of them all, particularly if you want to integrate it with your taxes, business, rental properties, etc.

In my opinion, you can’t go wrong with any of these tools.

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13 Soraya

Doesn’t YNAB have a mobile app for on the go tracking?

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14 Freda

Here is what I am battling with — I NEED a budget tool. I have a MAC. Got “Essentials for MAC” despite reviews and am very frustrated since there is no manual and it is not intuitive in terms of how to get started with it.
Thus I am looking for another software package.
Can anyone comment about pushing forward to get over the learning curve with MAC Essentials vs YNAB?

Thanks much!!

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15 Ryan

Freda, YNAB 3 runs on Adobe Air, so it is compatible with Macs. If all you are looking for is a solid budgeting tool, then I would give YNAB 3 a try. You can get a free trial at their site.

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16 Sukee

Can one import an Excel or QIF file from an electronic credit card statement into YNAB ?

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17 Sean SR

Though I started off with MS Money, I have been a Quicken user for the past many years. After reading a lot of positive YNAB reviews, I thought of giving it a spin.

In one sentence, its not an apples to apples comparison. YNAB is a Budgeting tool ( a uni-tasker). Which it does extremely well. So if your single purpose is Budgeting then YNAB is certainly better than Quicken. It uses a simple flash based interface, which doesn’t overwhelm you.

Quicken on the other hand is a comprehensive Financial Management software. You can do Budgets, financial goal setting tracking, assets and liability tracking, investment portfolio management, debt management etc etc.

I have used Quickens budgeting feature for years and have had a good amount of success with it. But for me, YNAB being a unitasker is a deal breaker and also that YNAB Pro costs twice as much as what I normally pay for Quicken Delux makes it even more of a hard sell.

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18 Ryan

I agree, Sean – it all comes down to personal needs.

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