Keeping a Close Eye on Your Finances: Which Accounting Software Should You Use?
Finding the right accounting software is almost like finding a mate. You never knowwhich one is going to be the right fit until you put yourself out there to try a few choices.
Some of the tools currently available are complicated and can handle loads of data for large companies, while others are more streamlined and simple to use for freelancers, individuals and smaller businesses.
So how do you determine which one is right for you? Here’s how to choose the best accounting software for your needs, along with the top choices available.
1. Determine your financial situation
Are you an individual or family who needs basic tools to manage household finances? Or are you a self-employed business owner who needs to keep track of income, expenses and payroll? Before you settle on the right accounting software, your first step is determining what type of features you need.
This decision will also outline the features of the accounting program and how expensive (or not) it is, based on for what purposes you intend to use it.
2. Examine your budget and tech needs
What’s the top dollar amount you’re willing to spend on an accounting program? What price will make it worth the cost to manage your money properly? If you’re a beginner, you don’t want to get too overwhelmed with all the features of a paid service, so starting with something free or very inexpensive is your best bet.
If you’re more of a techie, then don’t be afraid to tackle some of the web-based applications that come with a premium price. They can offer excellent features and mobile capabilities that help you run your business from anywhere.
3. Test out a few before choosing
Before settling on the best accounting software, you will likely have to test out a few options. It’s a good idea to start with any recommendations from friends and family, since they will probably be in a similar situation.
Your finances are constantly changing, adapting and evolving. Likewise, your accounting software needs to adapt to your needs. You might start using a program and then realize you need more or less features. For this reason, many accounting applications come with 30-day free trials so you can test them out.
Since I started my own business and expanded my family, I’ve discovered multiple services for my money management needs. What was a perfect fit in the past isn’t the best choice anymore, so I’ve had to test out new services to reach that custom fit.
Types of accounting software
The range of accounting software products available for small- and mid-sized businesses has been growing steadily. Right now, there are a few general categories from which to choose: small business payroll and accounting packages, more full-service business management programs, online Web-hosted applications, and free programs
Here is a run-down of each category and some of the popular products available for small- to mid-sized firms:
Desktop accounting services. Some of the best accounting software out there is available to download to your desktop computer or laptop. It won’t have the mobile or online access, but that means the features will be more comprehensive and can stand up to large amounts of transactions, accounts and investing needs.
Web-based (and mobile) applications. These days, it’s vital you have access to your banking information wherever you go—which makes mobile applications and web-based programs that much more appealing.
Free accounting programs. In general, getting something for free comes with strings attached, or the features aren’t that great. Not so with free accounting programs such as Mint.
As an added bonus, consider checking out Accounting Made Simple: Accounting Explained in 100 Pages or Less by Mike Piper. It’s an easy-to-understand book that will take the headache out of choosing the right accounting software.
The answer to finding the best accounting software is easy to reach when you apply these simple steps. And don’t be afraid to test out a few different ones and be open to new programs as your situation evolves.
Carrie Smith is a financial writer and the creative solopreneur behind Careful Cents. On May 1, 2013, she quit her full-time accounting job to pursue entrepreneurship and blogging. She also writes for The Huffington Post, Yahoo! Finance and several other business websites. Find her on Twitter (@carefulcents).