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December 6, 2007

QuickBooks Simple Start 2008 v Microsoft Office Accounting – Both Free, but which one?

I find accounting tedious so I frequently look out my window at the wonder of winter in Chicagoland.
Christmas weather in Chicagoland

Quickbooks released a free version called Simple Start 2008. I wanted accounting software for my 1 employee S Corporation that would retrieve/import my Paypal and Bank transactions automatically. Well, the short story is: it’s not possible to automatically download transactions without out extra work and extra cost.

QuickBooks Pro vs QuickBooks Simple Start 2008

Long story on automated downloads: I installed Simple Start 2008 but it would not download transactions. You have to buy QuickBooks Pro for automated downloads so I called Intuit, the maker of QuickBooks.

I asked, “Can I download transactions from Paypal and JP Morgan Chase Bank?” Answered “Yes”.
And “Do you have a refund policy?” Answered “Yes, 60 days”.
Great, “I would like to purchase it please.” They, “That will be $179.99.”
But wait, “Your website says it is $169.99!” They, “To get that price you would have to re-download the software. For $10 more, I can give you a code to unlock your already installed software.”
Me, “Click.” They just lost a customer.

The free version of Microsoft Office Accounting 2008 allows you to import online transactions for free. They advertise that they are perfect for eBay sellers and are integrated with Paypal. Now I was ready to import my JP Morgan Chase transactions into my newly installed MS Accounting. The Chase bank site offers an online interface but they charge $10 per month to enable it. No way. I hate paying bank fees. I instead download my transactions in an Excel spreadsheet.

Importing the transactions into MS Accounting is not easy. You import the data and then match each item to an account. Soon a problem arises. When you enter a transaction, the default date is today’s date. I didn’t notice this at first so a lot of transactions show today’s date. I want to delete these transactions or edit the date. But both are impossible, you must “void” the transaction. I didn’t believe it a first but a few forums confirmed that you have to void errors.

This is a deal breaker. No one wants to look at a bunch of voided transactions. MS should know the difference between a data entry mistake and an accounting transaction that needs to be voided.
MS Office Accounting 2008

Back to QuickBooks. I manually enter transactions and finally get to the accounting. Simple Start 2008 features are pretty good. You can edit or delete any errored transaction.

SS 2008 made it easy to keep track of transfers between Paypal and Chase. It’s clear now that it’s not really possible to automatically import transactions from a bank and PayPal without manual intervention. Paypal records the funds transfer date as the date it was initiated while a bank records the date that is is completed. This must be manually adjusted.

Bottom line: Go with QuickBooks Simple Start 2008! It’s free!

The whole point of accounting is to control your money. Go with free software as long as you can. SS 2008 has a painful learning curve but don’t waste a day evaluating MS Office Accounting. You can get help from local QuickBooks instructors or ask for help on forums. Paying an Accountant to do your books without understanding what they are doing is risky and costly. Once again, there are no shortcuts for us small business owners.


  1. Another problem with MS OAE is that when you automatically import your paypal transactions, it forces you to create a customer for each transaction. I have a zillion small transactions – I don’t *WANT* to create a customer for each one. And there seems to be no way to bypass this AFAIK.

    Comment by That Software Guy — December 29, 2007 @ 11:29 am | Reply

  2. That Software Guy –

    Yes, that’s a bad feature. MS didn’t set up their software for companies with frequent transactions from numerous customers. They advertise that they are perfect for eBay sellers but they missed the mark on this one.

    QuickBooks has the same issue. Since I had to make QuickBooks Simple Start work for me, I decided to download my Paypal transaction history and save it in Excel. I sum the numerous Paypal transactions and call it one large transaction in QB at the end of the month.

    So unfortunately I could not find one single Software package that does my books.


    Comment by estreet — December 30, 2007 @ 9:17 am | Reply

  3. We chose to go w/ the MS Accounting (Pro version) over upgrading from QB2005 Premier to QB2008 Premier (or what it’s called now), mainly because Intuit FORCES an upgrade by disabling features such as online banking (which the @-holes did on the June 1st!). The Intuit QuickBooks Extortion program is not gong to happen to us again (we were FORCED in 2005 to upgrade from 2002 Premier by them DISABLING features that had worked fine!).

    Since our “upgrade” cost is more than twice what we paid for the 2005 version, the MS Accounting (while missing some of the bells & whistles of QuickBooks) is a much better deal and more easily extensible (QB’s SDK is a nightmare) – plus, since it uses SQL as a back end and simple integration into Office – we can program in VB, any extra features we may need relatively inexpensively.
    Die, Intuit! Die! 🙂

    Comment by Dave — July 2, 2008 @ 9:15 am | Reply

  4. Hi there,

    RE: editing transactions, it is fully supported in MS Accounting 2008. Usually, you can just double-click on the transaction to open it up. Then hit “Edit”. MSOA will prompt you that payment may have already occurred for the transaction, simply tell the software that it’s OK to go ahead. Unlike QB, Office Accounting actually does additional bookkeeping underneath the covers for you to provide a audit history of all transactions.

    The actual details are better explained here:

    I think beginning with Office Accounting 2008, there’s now a good alternative QuickBooks for small biz owners. Competition is great for customers!

    Cheers, Duc

    Comment by Duc — July 28, 2008 @ 7:43 pm | Reply

  5. RE: This is a deal breaker. No one wants to look at a bunch of voided transactions. MS should know the difference between a data entry mistake and an accounting transaction that needs to be voided.

    Maybe if you’re a solo operation this seems unreasonable to you, but to ME …. well lets just say i don’t want ANY of my employees to be able to make ANY kind of transaction disappear. If they screw up VOID it. An audit trail is absolutely necessary if you want to know where ALL of your money is going. Think security, and keep your business from being the victim of dishonest employees.

    MOA2008 FTW!!!

    Comment by Ken — October 14, 2008 @ 9:29 am | Reply

  6. MS Accounting may have its faults, but Intuit has still yet to get Quickbooks to work in 64-bit versions of Windows Vista and XP. THAT is a deal breaker for me. And FWIW, the last Quickbooks update broke my invoice email sending from within SimpleStart. This company is behind the times when it comes to updates and listening to a business demographic that is trying to move forward to 64-bit computing.

    Comment by Brady — December 29, 2008 @ 11:45 pm | Reply

  7. Thank you for the excellent topic and informative posts. I’m in the process of bootstrapping a website. Finding information on which business checking accounts integrate with which financial software applications and merchant accounts is challenging. I’m trying to do the foot work before I download or open anything to ensure I get the right products the first time as I don’t intend to change.

    I was trying to find something that I could use with both Chase and my merchant software and couldn’t find anything on Chase’s (WaMu’s) website about which financial software products you could download into. I appreciate the vote for Quickbooks. It’s free and does integrate with my merchant account, bummer the free version doesn’t work with Chase downloads. Maybe I can afford to upgrade down the line. Thanks!

    Comment by Jennifer — May 29, 2009 @ 9:19 pm | Reply

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