Maybe even more than January, this time of year is resolution time for many Americans. As we struggle with doing our taxes, we promise ourselves that next year we will keep more organized records and be more disciplined about our accounting.
Of course, if you are self-employed or a small businessperson, the burden of completing your tax paperwork this time of year is even more complex. But if you are someone who works as a contractor in the industry (such as a designer or instructor), and has less than 20 customers paying you for your work – there is actually a free solution to your accounting problems!
That solution is a little-advertised version of Quickbooks called Quickbooks Simple Start. Available for free download from the Intuit website, it is a highly simplified easy-to-use version of Quickbooks. Simple Start’s home screen displays a flow chart of where money is coming in and out of your business, to make it easy to find the function that you need to use. Simple Start also provides invoicing features and tax reports that are exportable to Turbo Tax to make completing a Schedule C or 1065 return easier.
If you have more than 20 customers (people that you work for), there is a paid version of Simple Start that lifts the 20 customers limit. The paid version of QuickBooks Simple Start 2009 has a street price of only $42.49 on Amazon (MSRP $99.99).
The one annoying limitation of Simple Start (both paid and unpaid versions) is that it doesn’t support downloading bank transaction information from your bank. For that, you need to upgrade to the Quickbooks Pro or Premier versions, which start at an MSRP of $199. (Street Prices on Amazon.com are $135 for QuickBooks Pro 2009 and $314 for QuickBooks Premier Edition 2009.) But for many people, that download capability will be all that is missing from Simple Start, and unless you make a lot of transactions on your business bank and credit card accounts, it hardly seems worth the stiff price of the upgrade for the slight convenience.
Tax time this year has made me decide that I have outgrown my Excel spreadsheets I’d been using since forming my LLC. I’ve been taking the free version of Simple Start for a spin, entering my data while doing my tax preparation. I’m having to enter my data by hand, from scratch, because Simple Start doesn’t support data import of any type. But it has been a good investment of my time – the results are balanced bank accounts and the ability to manufacture a variety of useful reports analyzing my data. My data is now in a format that allows for painless future growth, since it can be imported into other Quickbooks products if my business outgrows Simple Start (which of course is the marketing purpose behind Simple Start’s existence).
I’m having no problem learning Simple Start. It is very intuitive to use and you don’t need to know much about accounting principles. The user interface walks you through everything you need to know to do set-up, and the terminology is things we are all familiar with – write checks, record expenses, etc. I’ve actually found it much easier to use than the Quicken Home & Business version from Intuit that I previously did my accounting with before I formed an LLC for my business and required separate business & personal accounting.
You can’t do much to rescue yourself from the pain of tax time this year, but for the low, low price of…free…you can save yourself a lot of trouble next year by trying Quickbooks Simple Start!