A survival guide for investors who use Microsoft Money

Q: I've been using Microsoft Money to track my personal finances, including stocks and investments. What should I do now that it's being discontinued?

A: Microsoft stunned many investors who have come to rely on its personal finance software.

After promoting it for nearly 18 years to anyone who wanted to get control of their finances, Microsoft on June 10 said it will stop selling the software and end online services by Jan. 31, 2011 or earlier for some customers. You can read more from our Technology Live blog here

It's an especially big blow to investors. Microsoft Money's ability to track large and complicated stock and mutual fund portfolios is outstanding. In fact, I just recommended the software in May as a great way to track the cost basis of your inestments.

So, what do you do if you've been using Microsoft Money? First, don't panic, even if you have years of financial data stored in the software. Microsoft Money Plus currently lets you activate the software four times and that will be increased to six starting in July, Microsoft says. The activation servers will be available until January 2011.

This means you don't really have to do anything until your copy of Money "expires." You can check this by going into the Help>About Microsoft Money menu option. Even if you get a new PC, you will be able to reactivate Microsoft Money and use the software.

Also, the software will work even after the online functions expire. You'll be able to read your old transactions and export them. But you probably won't want to bother. Why? Because the software will no longer download live stock quotes; you will have to enter them by hand. Kind of defeats the purpose.

The good news is that there are options. First, if you're just interested in tracking your stocks, funds and ETFs, I urge you to check out USATODAY.com's Portfolio feature. It lets you enter your stock holdings and cost basis for different lots of shares. While it's not as interactive as Microsoft Money's Capital Gains Estimator, it's free. To start, just click on this link to start creating your free portfolio.

If you're looking for software that tracks all your investment information, as well as your checking and savings accounts, you might consider Intuit's Quicken. For Microsoft Money users that want to have comparable power and control, converting to Quicken may be the best option.

Quicken is the dominant player in the personal finance software category. It offers many of the robust cost-basis tracking tools Money offers.

Intuit and Microsoft have said they are working together on software that will make it easy for former Money users to transfer their data into Quicken in time for the release of Quicken 2010 this fall. If you're looking for an experience most like what you had with Microsoft Money, you'll probably want to wait for that.

If you want to get started with Quicken before Quicken 2010, it's a little tricky. For some reason, Quicken makes it difficult to import the QIF format that Money exports. But there's a work-around for those of you who are brave and somewhat technical, explained here.

There are other alternatives, although I'll warn you that none have anywhere near the capability of Money or Quicken. If you still want to use software you install on your PC, some of the rivals to Money and Quicken include:

•MoneyDance. Of all the Money and Quicken alternatives, this one looks the most promising. The software tracks not only your spending and savings, but your portfolio. It's based on the Java operating environment, so it runs on a Mac as well as a Windows PC. The software also allows "extensions," which allow different developers to bolt on new capabilities.

But there are downsides. Importing Microsoft Money data is complicated and requires lots of scrubbing to fix errors during the transfer. Java is kind of a dated platform. The software is somewhat complicated and the features limited.

•AceMoney. Microsoft Money users will feel somewhat at home with AceMoney. The software uses the same "browser-like" navigation Money users got used to. It's pretty stripped down, but handles the basics.

But the downsides are killers. For instance, the reports are basic and inadequate. In fact, the software lacks any useful report for investors. There is no report that breaks down your portfolio's asset allocation or capital gains.

One reason Microsoft is abandoning Money is the trend that pushes users to track their personal finances online at sites like USATODAY.com, or your bank or brokerage. That might be a decent option for you if you:

• Tend to keep just a few accounts and stick with the same banks or brokerages for a long time. With online systems, you may lose your historical financial data if you switch to another bank or brokerage firm.

• Are not concerned about online security. Some online services require you to enter user names and passwords for your various accounts if you want to import data. As the multiple breaches against credit card companies have shown, security should be a concern. You want to be sure you trust the company you're handing your information to.

If you want to try online personal finance tracking, a good place to start is with your bank. You are probably paying your bills online there already. And if you're not you should be.

Many banks are beefing up their online personal finance capabilities. Many offer the tracking capabilities provided by Yodlee.com. If you're not willing to change banks or want to see how the system works, you can give the Yodlee system a test here.

There are also independent third parties. Mint.com is gaining lots of attention and it does have a slick interface. But, currently, the system isn't geared for investors and doesn't allow you to track multiple lots of stock. That's a deal killer. In addition, Mint doesn't let you manually enter transactions, nor can you import historical transactions from Microsoft Money or Quicken.

If you're thinking about switching from Money to Quicken, come back to Ask Matt later. I plan to write a more in-depth column on how Money users can make the transition to Quicken.

Matt Krantz is a financial markets reporter at USA TODAY and author of Investing Online for Dummies. He answers a different reader question every weekday in his Ask Matt column at money.usatoday.com. To submit a question, e-mail Matt at mkrantz@usatoday.com. Click here to see previous Ask Matt columns. Follow Matt on Twitter at: twitter.com/mattkrantz

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