CheckBook Pro’s Hidden Powers

Last week, MacNN compared CheckBook Pro to iBank, rating both 4 out of 5 stars. Reading the review you’d think that, compared to iBank, CheckBook Pro is a bit like a knife at a gunfight – but here’s the key question: Is CheckBook Pro the better knife? The review didn’t say, but in the spirit of upholding the honor of all our products, I’m here to tell you, by golly, CheckBook Pro is better if what you’re looking for is a darn good knife.

First, I think we should take a look at the humble, understated nature of CheckBook Pro. Everyone has that one friend who, though extremely talented, doesn’t toot their own horn, spouting off about their accomplishments and abilities. Rather, they’re the intelligent soul who quietly tucks the A+ beneath a text book before their classmates can see it, the athlete who blushes as they approach the podium to accept a medal.

CheckBook Pro is kinda like that friend, hiding more advanced features so you won’t feel intimidated. Its sleek, user-friendly interface is crafted so that, no matter what level you’re at, you can just get started with the business of managing your personal finances. Later, as you get more comfortable with the app, you’ll uncover options that would have overwhelmed you at the outset.

MacNN’s review compared CheckBook Pro to iBank to see which would make an ideal replacement for Quicken. By now, everyone knows poor old Quicken 2007 flat-out doesn’t work with Lion. In the weeks after Lion came out, though, Quicken users began frolicking with the new king of the jungle only to find out later that their personal finance manager was completely useless. Not only that, after installing Lion these poor souls learned they couldn’t even export their data so they could migrate to another app. Good on MacNN, a trusted Mac news outlet, for taking the time to help these Quicken refugees find alternatives.

While working with iBank, the reviewer stated, “I found the interface easy to work with, once I figured out the hide and show options.” That makes CheckBook Pro’s approach look all the better, don’t you think? Rather than a busy array of options you rarely need and have to figure out how to hide, CheckBook Pro gives you a clean, easy to use interface that focuses on the current task, with advanced features never more than a click or two away.

Now, since CheckBook Pro is not in the habit of bragging, I’ve got my work cut out for me. Let’s begin with CheckBook Pro’s resumé:

• Everything in CheckBook, its powerfully simple little brother
• Smart Folders to help you search using any combination of criteria
• Folders so you can group or archive your Entries any way you want
• Global Account Summaries to report on all your Accounts
• Global Scheduled Entries Reminder so you can manage all your pending Scheduled Entries at once
• Multiple Entry Change to help you quickly change the details for the current selection

Like CheckBook, CheckBook Pro presents the basics of personal finance management with very little to get in your way. Open the app and you’re returned to the last account you used, looking right at the user interface for what you’ll spend most of your time doing – managing your transactions. When it’s time to reconcile or schedule a transaction or look at a summary of your cash flow those tasks are a single click away instead of distracting you from the task at hand. That’s what we mean when we say CheckBook Pro is “simply powerful” – it gives you the power you need, but keeps it simple so you can get on with managing your finances.

Smart Folders, Folders, Global Account Summaries and Scheduled Entries, they’re all powerful tools but let’s focus on the first two. With Smart Folders it’s easy to save any combination of filter criteria so you can find transactions later. Pretty handy if you want to see all transactions where you bought groceries over the past month or you need a list of tax-deductible transactions for last quarter. Like the MacNN review points out, Smart Folders lack ANY and OR logic (touché), but those enhancements are planned and will come in time. The review didn’t mention Folders at all. They’re a great way to archive everything from last year, or group related transactions, like all the checks you write for your kid’s band uniforms.

Our reviewer was hit pretty hard by iBank’s inability to properly import QIF. Multiple Entry Change could have made all the difference there – if it was an iBank feature, that is. Select a group of transactions in CheckBook Pro and press the Change button at the top of the window and you’re changing the dates, amounts, categories, etc. and etc. for your entire selection instead of one transaction at a time.

Among other talents that didn’t impress our reviewer, CheckBook Pro gives users just one type of report: the Account Summary. Account Summaries look simple, but users can customize them to report on several types of transactions, such as Debits vs. Deposits or Tax-Deductible vs. Taxable transactions. The review notes that Account Summaries subtotal by month, but that’s just the default – they can also be set to subtotal per day, week, quarter, or year. Take it even further by turning on or off subtotals by Description, To/From, Type or Category. That’s a lot of power, but you won’t see those options unless you press the Change button at the top of the Summary section. Why is that? Because when it’s time to look over reports you want to focus on the actual data, not a window full of buttons. Here’s a bonus tip: select a Smart Folder or Folder and its results feed right into the selected Account Summary – so you can be pretty specific about which transactions to report on.

Another interesting item the review touched on: CheckBook Pro’s Split Line Items interface. At first glance, they can be added only by clicking the Add Split Line Item button. When you’re actually using them, though, you’ll find you can tab through the last Split Line Item and a new item will be added automatically. It’s the same if you double-click an empty part of the Split Line Items list – a new item will be added. Bonus tip #2: double-click part of a Split Line Item from the main Entry or Reconcile register to go straight to editing the same row and field in the Split Line Item.

There’s a lot more to it but, what I’m really saying is, CheckBook Pro doesn’t make a big deal about how powerful it is because you’ll find out soon enough when you actually use the app. That’s something reviewers don’t always have time to do.  Can CheckBook Pro replace Quicken?  The best way to decide is to download the free trial, import your data and give it a spin. You wouldn’t buy a car without a test drive.  Why purchase something as important as a money manager without trying it first? If you have any questions or comments, shoot us an email at and let’s talk. Unlike your stereotypical car salesman, we really want you to end up with the best personal finance manager for your needs – whether or not that turns out to be CheckBook Pro!


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