Household finance. (evaluation) Larry Allen.
Have you ever purchased a software product because the features listed in the advertisement sounded enticing, and then discovered that, indeed, it could dot he things which were advertised but "now that I know more, I sure wish it could..."
My purchase of The Accountant by Decision Support Software has turned out to be one of my best software investment. My experience with the program has been "now what I know more, you mean I can do all that, too?"
The accountant has three features which make it stand out: It is a double entry accounting system, you don't have to know what a double entry system is to use it, and it has an interface to Visicalc for advanced projections and planning which sells for $20. Setting Up A Database
Upon booting a copy of The Accountant, you first see the main menu. A demonstration database which allows you to gain experience interacting with The Accountant is provided on the program disk. When ready, you select the menu option to Create A New Database. Whenever an action such as this, which might inadvertantly destroy the current database, is requested you are asked if you really want to do that before proceeding.
At this point, you decide whether to let the program disk contain the new database or to use a separate data disk. For most users this is not a critical decision. The Accountant uses memory very efficiently so very little disk swapping is required when one drive is used. If you make a large number of transactions per year, you may want to use a separate data disk since more room is then available for transactions. A disk holds from 2500 to 4000 transactions, which is more than enough for most users.
From here your options are to Create A Database or to Rollover from Last Year's. In the beginning, we obviously want the first option.
The next step is to define up to 63 accounts and 63 codes. Each account is designated as an Asset, a Liability, or a Reserve account. Bank accounts, cash, stocks, and property are examples of Asset accounts (Note that you may define as many bank accounts as you want).
Liability accounts include such things as charge account and loans. Budget type disbursements make up the Reserve list, which can include rent, insurance, utilities, groceries, etc. The manual suggests defining a reserve account called Equity to represent your net worth.
You may also want to set up Group accounts. By doing this, you may gain easy access to the sum of the balances of up to nine groups of accounts. For example: may utilities are defined as a Group, thus, it is convenient to find the total I pay each month for all utilities. I do the same for insurance, charge accounts, liquidity, and other general categories of interest.
Codes, which will later facilitate retrieving transactions, are defined. These are particularly good for tax purposes. Examples of some useful codes are long term gain, long term loss, short term gain/loss, charitable contributions, interest expense, and non-taxable income. Since I operate a small business from my house, I defined a code for business. Thus, all business transactions for which I pay with personal funds may be accounted for and later retrieved in a detailed breakdown for reimbursement (which also facilitates entry of each transaction into the company's general ledger).
Tax return time becomes almost enjoyable in a strange way as all tax related transactions are printed out by category, i.e., medical, gains, losses, interest expense/income, etc. Of course, we'll still save the old receipt shoe box sans organized printouts for the IRS auditor--why let others share our fun?
Once the accounts and codes are defined, you are ready to start entering transactions. Many examples are provided in the documentation and in the demonstration database. Decision Support has done an admirable job of "hand holding."
First, initial year entries are made to show the status of each account at the beginning of the year. Next, individual transactions are entered. For the sadistically inclined, every penny can be accounted for by category. My own Cash account grows slowly, because I do not account for every soda pop. I simply adjust the Cash account via a Miscellaneous account each month to reflect near-reality.
As I mentioned earlies, you do not have to be an accountant to use The Accountant. For example: suppose you cash a check for $200. An accountant would debit Cash and credit Checking. By selecting the prompting mode from the main menu (which is also the default mode), you simply instruct The accountant to Increase Cash and Decrease Checking by $200, and the computer decides which is the credit and which is the debit.
The date and a brief description, as well as a code if appropriate are supported for disbursements which cover more than one account. Also, the program is very fast. Transactions may be entered with nary a delay between them.
Several years ago I took an evening accounting class. At the end of the course I still did not know the difference between a debit and a credit. Because of the excellent tutorial included in The Accountant manual, I now feel comfortable with the basic principles of accounting.
A very handy feature for entering data or querying the data base is the ability to abbreviate accounts and codes and have the program fill in the remainder. For example, entering CA RETURN will instantly display CAR INSURANCE or the first alphabetical account which starts with CA. If some planning is used in defining accounts and codes, most can be found by typing only the first letter or two. This saves a great deal of time by avoiding constant reference to a printed list. An alternative is to enter the number associated with each account and code (from 1 to 63) and, again, have the proper name filled in by the computer.
Some transactions, such as rent or mortgage payments, will usually be regular entries. For these, up to nine sets of automatic transactions may be defined. When requested from the main menu, these transactions will be posted automatically to the specified posting date.
For those regular transactions which vary in amount from month to month or week to week, you may request prompting to fill in the proper amount before they are posted. It is convenient to define a set of automatic transaction for common weekly expenditures such as groceries; another set for your paycheck to account for taxes, insurance, and other deductions; and another set for regular monthly expenditures such as rent and utilities. The feature saves a lot of redundant typing. Querying the Database
Here The Accountant really shines. Transactions may be listed by numerical range, by date range, by specific account or code or by a combination of account and code. "Inverted" file pointers may be defined for specific accounts and codes which considerably speeds the retrieval of transactions by those accounts and codes no matter how large the database. Retrieval by transaction number or date range is already very fast.
A current balance sheet is also available from the main menu. This, your current net worth or the current balance of every charge account is always just the push of a button away. Similarly, it is a simple matter to see which of the Reserve accounts (groceries, entertainment, clothing,) are staying within budget.
When the Hardcopy option is turned on from the main menu, the results of all queries are sent to the printer. Miscellaneous Features
Password protection is provided, but is intended only to deny a casual eaves-dropper access to the database. A "desk top calculator" may be called up at any time for the four basic math functions. This is especially helpful when doing split transactions.
Transactions may be Rectified to correct errors, and the correction will be reflected in all the following months. Of course, professional accountants will probably want to enter a new transactions to correct an earlier mistake in order to maintain an audit trail.
Transactions are numbered automatically in chronological sequence. If a transaction is missed, it may be entered under the proper date by using Date Sequence Suppress from the main menu. When the session is terminated, the database will be rebuilt and transactions renumbered as required. During this rebuilding process, which may take from I to 25 minutes according to the size of the database, the program tells you approximately how long it will take a nice courtesy.
A Monthly Summary of Account command displays the ending balances each month of a specified account and also the change from month to month in that account. Each of these displays has an associated histogram for graphical representation. These displays may be sent to the printer if the Hardcopy option is in effect.
Finally, one of the nicest features--The accountant disk is not copy-protected. A small "key" which fits in the game I/O socket is required to use the program. I have found that swapping the key with game socket peripherals causes no inconvenience when a port extender (recommended by Decision Support) is used to bring the game socket out of the Apple. In fact, this extender has proved very convenient for switching between joy sick and paddles for various games, thus, the port extender is a worthwhile $14.95 investment. (It is available from Decision Support for even less.) The Accountant may be copied for as many backups as will comfort you. Utilities
A utility disk adds the following capabilities:
* End of Month Balances which report and end of month balance for every account for a specified range of months.
* Monthly Report which lists transactions for a specific month first chronologically, then by account, and finally by code. The beginning balance, ending balance, and change are shown for each account.
* Year to Date Report which reports transactions for the entire year by account and by code for those accounts and codes which are currently inverted.
* Reconcile which reconciles differences between balances in The Accountant database and the balances reported by the bank, charge accounts, etc.
Actually, the first three functions can be done from the main program; the utility programs simply automate them. The Reconcile program has proved most useful for me. It is extremely easy to use and occasionally finds "lost" transactions, credit card company errors, and other mistakes. It is very pleasing to see the flasting "0.00" which indicates a reconciled balance. Business Version
A business version of the program offers the following additional features:
* Definition of a fiscal year.
* Transactions up to one cent less than one million dollars. Assets up to ten million dollars.
* Five-part balance sheet (Assets, Liabilities, Equity, Revenue/Expenses, and Income) with separate sections for expenses and income.
* Up to 200 accounts.
* Multiple data disks (when one becomes full).
* Improved password protection.
A 16K memory board is required to use the business version. The price has not been announced as of this writing, but to those who want to upgrade from the personal version, only the difference between the purchase prices will be charged. Conclusion
The Accountant brings the powerful personal financial management tools of a double entry accounting system to accountant and non-accountants alike. The documentation is thorough, easily read, and complete. My manual did not come with an index, but a new manual with index is now available. The program is so easy to use that rarely will reference have to be made to the manual.
The only problem I have experienced with this software is during the monthly reconciliation process. In order to use the Reconcile utility, each account to be reconciled must be an inverted account. I always turn off the "pointers" during data entry because with them on there is a relatively long delay between transactions. To turn the pointers back on requires a rebuilding time of about 12 minute for the present size of my database. I also wish here were room for a longer transaction description, but then there would not be room for as many transactions on a disk.
I have found customer support from Decision Support to be exceptional. Questions are answered courteously and intelligently, updates are mailed promptly, and periodically a newsletter is sent out to answer questions and offer tips. After several months of heavy use, I have discovered no software bugs or error trapping problems.
As you may have guessed, I am a completely satisfied customer of Decision Support services and an enthusiastic user of The Accoutant.
Products: Decision Support Software The Accountant (computer program)