Taking care of business

Accounting software takes a byte out of bookkeeping chores

Ignorance is bliss, so the saying goes. But when it comes to managing your small-business finances, ignorance can mean red ink. Although you didn’t launch your business with visions of ledger books dancing in your head, you can’t afford to lose touch with the bottom line if you expect to be successful. Fortunately, accounting software isn’t what it used to be. Arcane accounting language and confusing tables have been replaced with easy-to-use menus and one-screen reports that give you an up-to-the-minute view of the health of your business. You’ll never confuse bookkeeping with fun, but today’s software can take the edge off of the torture.

We took a look at Intuit’s QuickBooks Pro 2002 (www.intuit.com) and Peachtree’s Peachtree Accounting 2002 (www .peachtree.com). Both are targeted to small businesses that have fewer than 50 employees and that want to streamline their bookkeeping process.

Quick Look at QuickBooks
QuickBooks Pro 2002 uses a menu bar on the left side of the screen and a set of icons at the top to keep things organized. Open windows are listed in the menu bar making it easy to jump from one account or report to another. For example, if you click on Customers, a new window offers you the chance to create an invoice, accept a payment, create statements, or perform other customer-related functions. If you click on Customer Center, QuickBooks tells you which customers owe you money, which invoices are overdue, and which job-related expenses you’ve run up but haven’t been billed for yet. A new feature included in all QuickBooks versions is the QuickBooks Credit Check Service, which uses data provided by Dun & Bradstreet, a company that provides records on more than one million U.S. and Canadian public and private businesses. The service, which requires an extra fee, lets you download credit information about your customers, including an assessment of the company’s risk for making late payments and a count of pending lawsuits and bankruptcy filings. QuickBooks CreditCheck Service is $14.99 per individual report or $19.99 per month for the Silver Package, which includes two free reports a month, or $39.99 a month for the Gold Package, which includes four free reports each month. Once you purchase a credit report, it can be updated free online for one year. You can, however, verify a company’s address at no cost.

QuickBooks Pro lets you accept credit cards via the QuickBooks Merchant Account Service and it can download bank statements from banks with compatible software. Paid invoices are now stamped “PAID” in large letters, making it easy to check the status of invoices. Intuit says it is making an effort to help other companies make their applications compatible with QuickBooks. For example, the Professional and Enterprise versions of Time Matters, a time and billing application from Time Matters Software (www.timematters.com), can now share live data with most versions of QuickBooks.

A more muscle-bound version of QuickBooks, currently code-named “Hercules” because it’s aimed at businesses with 20 to 250 employees, should be released shortly. Also in the Intuit

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