CountAbout Review: Personal finance meets basic accounting

CountAbout Review: Personal finance meets basic accounting

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Epblogs verdict

CountAbout bills itself as a personal finance app, but it also appeals to lone proprietors thanks to its transaction management, budgeting, and invoicing features. It cannot, however, compete with the top personal finance apps due to an antiquated UI and some missing functionality.

Quick Summary

The two most well-known and experienced personal financial apps are Quicken and Mint. Each has drawbacks despite their many advantages. While Quicken is solely available on desktop, Mint displays advertisements (with some web functionality). CountAbout doesn’t have either of those drawbacks. It is a web-based, paid utility that imports data files from Quicken and Mint.

Excellent account administration, reporting, and recurring transaction capability are all provided by CountAbout. With regard to its budgeting and financial overview features, it serves as a substitute for Mint and Quicken. It also appeals to solitary proprietors because it has some invoicing features.

Since we wrote our previous assessment, CountAbout has improved by adding a dashboard and a new slider tool for entering budget information. The program still lacks a number of capabilities seen in Mint and Quicken, such as cutting-edge budget tools that make data entry easier and the capacity to track investments in great detail.

These flaws keep CountAbout from earning a higher grade. Furthermore, CountAbout still has a dated user interface and adds extra fees for various functions that, in our opinion, should be included by the subscription fee.

CountAbout Plans and Pricing

Pricing for CountAbout is a little strange. You can purchase a Basic package for $9.99 per year that gives you access to everything but the ability to communicate directly with online financial institutions. It’s strange considering every other personal finance website offers it for free or is included in the subscription fee. With this Basic plan, transactions must be manually entered; however, if your bank exports transactions to QIF files, you can import those files.

To get the ability to connect directly to your financial accounts, you must shell out $39.99 per year for CountAbout Premium.

No matter which level you choose, you pay an additional $10 per year if you want to add attachments to transactions, which is usually included in subscription fees. Very simple invoicing tools, which are not commonly found on personal finance sites, cost an additional $60 per year. CountAbout also offers a 45-day free trial of the Premium version, and you don’t need to enter your credit card information at signup.

You may appreciate the free trial, but it’s worth noting that numerous similar tools don’t charge you a dime—ever. In addition to the previously mentioned Mint, Credit Karma and NerdWallet are free, though they have different feature sets.

CountAbout Connecting and Importing

Since it doesn’t really need one, CountAbout does not have a true setup tool. After registering, select My Account to set choices for things like category display and register options. You can enable multi-factor authentication for increased security and export data in CSV format using other settings on this page.

If you choose CountAbout Basic, you have to manually add checking, saving, credit cards, and other financial accounts. Premium users can theoretically create connections to online accounts just by entering the usernames and passwords needed to access them.

These days, however, banks are adding more layers of security, so you may have to jump through some additional hoops. CountAbout offers good customer support if you do run into problems. Once you have that all settled, CountAbout then imports transactions and drops them in tables that resemble checkbook registers.

The method, which requires exporting from the source data before you can import the file, is explained in the instructions that appear when you click the Quicken Import or Mint Import icons. Direct connections to a credit card, checking account, and investment account as well as my test Mint import all performed without any issues.

CountAbout Tracking Transactions

Most personal finance solutions have a dashboard showing an overview of your finances, including account balances, income and expense charts, and pending actions. CountAbout recently added one. You can toggle it on and off by clicking My Account in the upper right corner.

The dashboard has five blocks of information you likely want to see when you sign in: Projected Register Balances, Transactions Pending Approval, your current Spending Plan, Recurring Transactions, and Top Spending Categories. You can add Widgets, too (more on that later).

CountAbout Approving Transactions

The site used to open to the Transactions to Approve page, which you now get to by clicking Transactions in the horizontal toolbar at the top of the page. A list of your accounts and balances is in the upper left, and the Category List and Tag List are below.

The Transactions to Approve page shows any transactions that came in since your last login and others that you haven’t approved. Each transaction takes up two lines in the register. The first displays the originating account, date, description (often the payee), amount, and category. CountAbout does a good job of assigning categories automatically. If the category is blank or incorrect, you can correct it.

The site comes with an exceptionally detailed list of categories and subcategories that often requires serious scrolling, though you can enter a search term to speed up the process. You can also split transactions among categories.

The second line contains fields for the check number, a memo, and any tags you want to assign. There are no suggested tags on the site; you create your own. The final field on this line displays five icons to make the transaction recurring, delete it, flag it, attach a file, or approve it. Once approved, it moves onto that account’s register. I like having these activity icons so handy because it makes it easy to deal with each transaction quickly.

CountAbout Managing Recurring Transactions

To create recurring transactions, you can either use an existing transaction as a base or click the Recurring tab and start from scratch. Beyond the standard transaction fields, you can opt to display these repeating transactions in either the Account Register or Transactions to Approve. This lets you specify whether you want the transaction automatically entered on the due date or placed in your transaction list for approval x days before it’s due.

Interval options are more generous than some competitors typically offer, adding unusual frequencies like every two weeks and every two months. You can request an email reminder and specify an end date, but you can only do so from the Recurring Transactions screen.

CountAbout Categorizing Transactions

Two graphical bars at the top of the screen link to additional actions. You can manually add a transaction and/or approve them all. A drop-down options list is displayed to the left of that. Here, you can hide and unhide categories and flagged transactions. And you can now set up simple categorization rules for transactions that override the default categorization. For example, if the description matches or contains x, it should be categorized as y. And if the description is difficult to understand, as text from a bank often is, you can edit it.

CountAbout Invoices

Personal finance websites don’t typically offer invoicing tools, but CountAbout supports simple invoice creation. Only the most basic fields are included, such as invoice/due date, description and tax status, category, quantity, unit price, and amount due. You can also create records for both businesses and clients, and you must fill out the forms completely to save them.

Other deficits make CountAbout’s invoicing tools less capable than other online invoicing solutions. For example, you can’t create records for products or services, so you have to type that information in every time. Although you can specify that an item should be taxed, you must manually enter a sales tax percentage in that field. Additionally, you can’t customize invoice templates. Still, most personal finance websites don’t offer basic invoicing tools, so you might consider this feature a plus, despite its limitations and cost.

CountAbout Investment Management

Investment management is out of beta, but it still isn’t particularly useful. It’s simply a table of your investment holdings. You can’t import individual transactions or securities prices, for example. You must be a Premium subscriber to import the information that’s supported.

CountAbout Creating Budgets

In addition to its original budget tool, CountAbout has added a new data entry method to its budget feature. It consists of a large table with categories running down the left side and small boxes representing each month in rows. You can enter monthly numbers that will be totaled up at the beginning of the row, or you can supply an annual figure that will be evenly divided among months. You can also add a note. 

A box off to the right of the table displays a running tally of the money you’ve received and spent, along with your annual and monthly net. If you’ve been using CountAbout already, you can use historical numbers and edit them for the new budget.

Now you have the option to use slider bars to enter your annual projected totals for each category, which are then divided evenly into 12 monthly numbers. You have to turn on this alternate method in the settings (My Account). When you do, the page displays two line graphs at the top of the screen instead of numerical data off to the side. The first line graph projects how your savings for the current budget year would grow over 40 years. The second shows what would happen if you continued to save that same amount annually for 40 years, assuming 8% growth.

The slider method doesn’t allow you to enter monthly totals that differ from each other for a given category. To do so, you have to go to My Account and change the data entry method. It doesn’t matter which approach you use as both feed into the same budget. You can flip back and forth if you choose, though this adds time to the task. 

Moving the slider to the precise number you want is difficult. The scale goes from $0 to almost $165,000 in a space of about three inches. You have to keep maneuvering the bar up and down on the scale to hit the exact number. You can click a plus or minus sign to go up or down, but only by one dollar at a time. I ended up manually entering the number in the box to save time.

CountAbout Reports and Widgets

Two types of reports are available, Widgets and standard reports. You access Widgets from a button at the bottom of the Transactions screen. It provides quick overviews in four areas: Account Balance, Category Income/Expense, Tags, and FIRE (more on that later). You select one and choose the relevant content you want included, like categories and accounts. Text and graph views are available for the first two, but tags are only available as text.

Standard reports are more complex. They require more setup and provide more meaningful output. They’re also quite customizable. The Account Report is just what it sounds like, showing balances for the accounts you select. You enter a name and date for the report and select the accounts it should encompass.

The Transaction Report is far more complex. You name it, supply a date range (or start and end date), and choose whether or not to compare actuals against your budget. Your report can be displayed in detail or in total (or both), and it can be subtotaled by income or expense. Depending on the sort field you choose (Account, Category, Date, Description, or Tag), additional fields show up in the report (Memos, Accounts, Categories, and Tags). Finally, you choose which Accounts or Categories or Tags to include.

The Description Report displays all transactions or only those you select by Description, which is usually the vendor name. You can set a start and end date, and print or export the report to CSV format. Oddly, you can’t save it like you can the other two types. 

The site’s other reports are the Comparison Report, Attachment Report, and Trend Report. They let you specify a date range and include accounts, categories, or tags for a given period. Overall, these reports are fairly customizable, but they display few columns. CountAbout’s reporting capability is fairly unusual for personal finance websites, with the exception of Quicken Deluxe, a service with robust reporting.

CountAbout added an innovative new Widget report last year. It follows the Financial Independence, Retire Early (FIRE) philosophy. FIRE is a movement that promotes extreme savings, up to 70% of your income, and frugal living that combine to help devotees retire younger than they would by following more traditional financial advice. 

The FIRE Widget doesn’t require you to put aside 70% of your income, but it’s consistent with the FIRE philosophy. It helps you visualize your spending versus the income stream you could achieve based on the withdrawal rate you choose (4% is common). The Widget is simple to set up. You select the net worth accounts and expense categories to include. The resulting line graph tracks your expenses, your expense averages, and your income in two-month increments, and shows you when you might be able to retire.

There’s one final report that doesn’t have a name, but it can be helpful. It’s a list of transactions in a particular category for a specified date range. You get it by going to the list of its categories in the left vertical pane on every page, just below the list of accounts and balances, and selecting one of them. You can add a transaction manually here and print the list. 

CountAbout CountAbout’s Mobile Apps

CountAbout’s has a mobile app for Android and iOS. Both offer an abbreviated experience, but what’s there is quite good. You can categorize and approve transactions, and add flags, tags, and attachments, but you can’t make transactions recurring. Account registers are available, as are widgets that you’ve created and a search tool. 

New features in the mobile apps include accounts, categories, tags, and budget management. The apps offer a terrific user experience that is better than the desktop’s, actually. That said, more content would be welcome.

CountAbout offers standard help tools, such as a knowledge base and support tickets, as well as two unusual ones: a change log and a screen devoted to suggestions other users have made, with the ability to vote on them and add your own.

CountAbout Don’t Count It Out

CountAbout is positioned as an alternative to Mint and Quicken because it doesn’t subject you to ads for financial products or overwhelm you with features that you may not use. Unlike Mint, though, CountAbout charges for its service, and its prices are more in line with financial apps that are far more powerful, like Quicken Deluxe. Furthermore, CountAbout has a dated interface (the company says it’s working to correct that over the next year) and budget features that support a mix of personal finance and small business categories. 

Those budget tools, invoicing capability, exceptional transaction management capabilities, and price make it a possible choice for business-focused sole proprietors as well as people tracking personal finances. But Editors’ Choice winners Mint and Quicken Deluxe earn our top spots this year because of their laser focus on personal finances, exceptional user experiences, and the financial insight they provide.

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