Quicken vs. QuickBooks

Small businesses frequently ask the Quicken vs. QuickBooks question. Or restated, the question is, "Can I use Quicken or do I have to use QuickBooks for my business?"

As the author of both Quicken for Dummies and QuickBooks for Dummies, our firm can probably provide some useful information on the Quicken vs. QuickBooks question. So let us try to do that here.

To start, note the three basic tasks that a small business accounting system does or is supposed to do:

Task 1: Your small business accounting system—whatever it is—should let you and other people (the bank, your partners or investors, and the Internal Revenue Service) accurately measure your profits and your financial condition.

Task 2: Your small business accounting system should produce the business forms—checks, invoices, customer statements and so on—that you need again and again in your business.

Task 3: Your small business accounting system should allow you to keep appropriately detailed records of the assets and liabilities of the business. In other words, your accounting system should be able to tell you with a mouse click how much money you have in the bank, which customers owe you money, and what inventory you've got stocked on the store, warehouse or shop floor.

No kidding, that's really it. Stated most simply, your accounting system should perform (and perform well) three, easy-to-understand tasks.

If you think about these tasks and then the requirements of your business, it's pretty easy to choose the winner in a Quicken vs. QuickBooks competition.

For all practical purposes, Quicken produces only two business forms: checks and invoices. This means that it doesn't work for businesses that own inventory. But Quicken works really well for service businesses—especially small service businesses.

If you need more forms—customer receipts, purchase orders, customer statements that show finance charges, and so on—you need QuickBooks. Also, if you need to use accrual based accounting to accurately measure your business profits or you need to keep detailed records of what the business owns and what it owes, you need QuickBooks.

Finally, if you need to keep detailed records of anything besides cash, you need QuickBooks. QuickBooks, for example, includes an inventory feature and a fixed asset tracking system.

We should also mention that QuickBooks includes better features for automating common bookkeeping tasks like payroll, customer statements, and finance charge calculations. What's more, QuickBooks includes security features that make it possible to have people (like a bookkeeper) do some of your accounting without having them see every bit of your business's finances.

Hopefully, that information will let you get started in your decision but let us emphasize something that's really important and related to "Task 1": It is essential that your accounting system let you accurately measure your profits or losses. If you don't know whether you made or lost money last month or last quarter, you're almost certainly in big trouble. Sorry, but you can't successfully manage a business unless you know when and how you're making money—and when and how you're not.

If you need help getting started with either Quicken or QuickBooks, you can try using the program right out of the box. If that doesn't work and you enjoy reading, you can try one of our books, Quicken for Dummies or QuickBooks for Dummies. If you want more help than that, you can call our offices ((425) 881-7350) and arrange to schedule an hour or two of personalized training that will teach you how to use Quicken or QuickBooks in your specific situation.

Note -- People refer to Intuit's accounting system as both QuickBooks and Quick Books. The correct name, however, is actually not Quick Books (two words), but QuickBooks (one word).

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