Hard Facts About Software

Review by Gail Vaz-Oxlade, Journalist and Author, Published in Chatelaine Magazine

Ditch the Calculator and Let Your Computer Plan Your Budget

As another year peeks around the corner, so do thoughts of promises not kept and new resolutions to be made. If you're determined that 2001--this really is the new millennium--will be the year you put your financial house in order, maybe it's time to look at some tools that'll ease you into better money management. Why not give yourself a treat this holiday and go for a financial make-over that'll put you in control.

In the old days, when programs such as Quicken and Microsoft Money first came on the market, they were little more than handy-dandy cheque book balancers. Now, these über-sophisticates of software let you do everything from online banking to monitoring your investment portfolio. Both Quicken and Microsoft Money feature online help and tutorials, making them perfect for the software neophyte.

These programs come in basic and advanced editions, with the upgraded version offering far more bells and whistles for not much more money. For example, while Quicken's basic version sells for about $45, the deluxe version is about $70. Microsoft Money costs about $42 and $50 for the basic and super-duper versions, respectively. Both packages are found at business supply stores.

While Microsoft and Quicken have dominated, they aren't the only financial software packages available to Canadians. The following programs are less well known but offer excellent value:

Financial planning

ANNPLAN--which stands for Annual Planner--is a personal financial program developed by ANNROC Retirement Financial Planning Corp. It lets you create a plan to control cash flow so you can maximize the amount you stash away during your working years. Questions such as "Should I put money into my RRSP or pay down my mortgage?" are answered in dollars and cents. So, if you want to tap into that RRSP a little early, this program will show you how much that will hurt in the long run. The price is about $50. Log on to www.annroc.com.

Another planning package is Vorton's Financial Tools. This program will show you how to build your own financial strategy and update it as market conditions and personal circumstances change. Whether you're trying to decide on a mortgage repayment schedule or you're comparing different bonds to identify which offers the best value, this tool will help. The suggested retail price is about $20. Log on to www.vorton.com

Retirement planning

RetireWare works for you before and after you retire. It'll help you to see how much you must save--and the rates of return you'll need to earn--to get to your retirement goal. It will also calculate your RRSP contribution room, RRIF and LIF distributions and, taking into account all forms of retirement income, tell you how much you owe the taxman. The cost is about $30. Log on to www.retireware.com.

RRIFmetic offers the option of a downloadable demo to make you comfortable with its features. It's updated regularly to incorporate changes in taxation and pension legislation. The price is $79 plus $49 for annual updates. Log on to www.fimetrics.com.

Mutual funds

BellCharts is a more sophisticated (and, at $399, more expensive) program. It's a mutual fund analysis package that provides information on almost every mutual fund sold in Canada, ranking funds by performance size, management expense ratios, volatility and much more. Test drive before you buy at www.bellcharts.com.

PALTrak, updated monthly, also has a downloadable demo. An annual subscription costs $399. Log on to www.morningstar.ca.

© Rogers Media Publishing Inc.

Apeiron Software's flagship product is RetireWare, a Web-based retirement planning software specifically designed for Canadian tax and retirement savings rules. RetireWare's stunning user interface has over 30 charts, a results dashboard, complementary stand-alone tools and calculators, easy-to-use file management, comprehensive risk analysis and PDF and editable reports.