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Background
This FAQ will describe Free/Open Source Software (F/OSS) for personal finance. Zender maintains a nice FAQ on MS Money and other threads on this forum discuss Quicken. While both of these fine personal finance packages can often be otained free after rebate, they will not be discussed here. Instead, we will talk about software which isn't only given away to everyone for $0 with no strings attached, but is also available with source code, allowing anyone in the world to contribute features and bug fixes. This thread was started after a posting I made in a thread on Money vs. Quicken. You might still be able to find useful information there, but I will try to include everything in this thread. Please feel free to ask questions in this thread--I will update this OP as needed & as time allows. If I don't think your comment warrants a mention in the OP, I will still try to respond to you.

Programs capable of importing QIF can import data from Quicken or Money or from many online banks. Programs capable of importing OFX can import data from many online banks. OFX is a newer standard that both MS and Intuit are embracing & it allows for better reconciliation. OFX is ideal for direct connect. Be aware that current support for direct downloading is poor, in part because banks don't share enough information with open source developers. The suggested way to use any personal finance software is to manually enter transactions as they occur & to verify them against statements. This verification can be done manually against paper or against manually downloaded QIF/OFX statements. To automate OFX download, see GnuCash Online Banking.

Windows users who want to try applications which aren't on there platform will not have much luck with cygwin, unless otherwise noted. Most are dependency-heavy & do not have cygwin binaries yet. You may wish to test the applications under various LiveCDs or use coLinux, which should be able to run the software listed here. Other options include dual booting or running Linux under PC virtualization software, such as VMware or Qemu. In summary: running *nix applications is, for the most part, very possible under windows. However, is beyond the scope of this FAQ.

For those unfamiliar with KDE/GNOME, these are desktop environments which run on top of X11 (a windowing system for *nix). You can run GNOME apps without needing to use GNOME as your desktop environment & you can run KDE apps without needing to use KDE as your desktop environment. You just need to load additional libraries into memory which are usually loaded by GNOME/KDE. This won't take any additional work for you, but some people choose not to mix/match apps from different environments because of the greater memory and disk-space overhead of two sets of libraries & also to improve the single look/feel of their desktop. Some other people are agnostic & will just use their favorite apps, regardless of which desktop they were built for.

Users coming from MS Money or Quicken are familiar with Single-Entry Accounting. This is "checkbook" style bookkeeping, in which you merely record transactions out of an account. Double-entry accounting is used by businesses & in software like PeachTree and QuickBooks. However, current software makes it easy to use for your personal finances as well. Each transaction is recorded in two accounts. So, rather than just saying that you charged $10 (in single-entry), you'd say that your credit card balance was decreased by $10 and some other account (such as an expense account for your gas company) increased by $10. It sounds confusing, but it allows you to do some really fundamental checks for data validity (e.g. the sum of all accounts needs to be $0. The software will do this for you & it won't take long to get used to, or even to like more (for example, it is often easier to setup finer-grained nested accounts and get reports on them than "categories" which are often used in single-entry systems).Dual-Entry Accounting
suitable for personal or business finance
GnuCash
  • Summary: Most mature and popular F/OSS application still under heavy active development: best choice for platforms that support it
  • Platforms: Windows; *nix with gtk, including OS X
  • Imports: QIF, OFX
  • Multiple Currencies: Yes
  • Investments: Yes--prices can be updated without launching the program (for example through a nightly cron)
  • Documentation: Best documentation of any personal finance software I've seen. Covers basic accounting, and an in depth tutorial of all features.


jGnash
  • Summary: Best cross-platform F/OSS finance application
  • Platform: Anything with Java 1.4.0 or higher (Windows, OS X, Linux, FreeBSD, ...)
  • Imports: QIF, GnuCash
  • Multiple Currencies: Yes
  • Investments: Yes--updates stock/bond/fund prices through yahoo.
  • Documentation: minimal


KMyMoney
  • Summary:Up-and-comer under very heavy development
  • Platforms: *nix with KDE, including OS X
  • Imports: QIF (Gnucash and OFX coming soon)
  • Multiple Currencies: Coming soon
  • Investments: Coming soon
  • Documentation: Good. Explains interface & terminology.


SQL-Ledger
  • Summary:Good web-based program for businesses
  • Platforms: Apache + Perl + postgresql (available on all platforms)
  • Imports: none
  • Multiple Currencies: no
  • Investments: no
  • Documentation: Excellent.


Single-Entry Accounting
suitable for personal finance, in the style of Money or Quicken
Grisbi
  • Summary: Best cross-platform single-entry system (GTK2 looks nice)
  • Platform: Windows, OS X, Linux, FreeBSD, Zaurus
  • Imports: QIF, OFX
  • Multiple Currencies: Yes
  • Investments: No.
  • Documentation: Pretty good if you know Frech.


Tax Preparation
Tax preparation is only recently starting to have free/open source solutions. The IRS freefile program and AARP's Tax-Aide might still be the best (easiest, most well tested/supported) ways to file your taxes gratis, but the open source apps are making impressive progress.

TaxGeek
Is probably the most polished app. It is Mozilla-based and can prepare PDF forms for you to mail in. It is basic & works on all platforms & doesn't have the "interview" of commercial apps.
Open Tax Solver
This is a slightly older app which is probably more basic than TaxGeek, but works on all platforms & can be fairly easily expanded with other tax forms. You enter amounts directly into a minimal GUI or into a raw text file. It calculates all lines in your tax form. Fewer federal schedules than TaxGeek, but can do state taxes.
Additionally, there is an Excel spreadsheet (TaxCalculator), java-script addons to the IRS forms which do calculations for you (Autotax), and other efforts.
Linksfreshmeat.net

SourceForge

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Member Summary
Most Recent Posts
Does anyone know if these come with the ability to sync with online accounts like Quicken? I know about the security ris... (more)

Leland (Dec. 24, 2007 @ 3:59p) |

I'm in the same boat. I want to download my billpay transACTIONS AND my CC purchases. OFX Connect is the protocol that... (more)

kmith (Dec. 26, 2007 @ 7:20p) |

Anyone familar with HomeBank (a former Amiga software)?

It looks promising... It claims to import OFX/QFX but no downloa... (more)

sylvan (Jan. 16, 2008 @ 12:35p) |

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Hooray - Great thread

I played around with GNUCash on OS X for a week or so. It worked fine, and the tutuorial is excellent. In the end, I stopped using it mostly because my tried and true amalgam of a PDA and a versatile note collector (sticky notes) works better for me.

noksagt,

I agree with EricGo: this is a superb thread. At this point, there are very, very few tasks for which I rely on non-Open Source software... and I use a Windows machine. Perhaps the most important of these tasks is personal finance. Here are my questions:

1. How possible is it to use GnuCash or KMyMoney with cygwin, Cooperative Linux, or Qemu?
2. How do these programs rate in terms of interface design, documentation, stability, security, and feature set, both relative to each other and relative to Quicken, MSMoney, and others that might deserve consideration, like Grisbi [open source] or Peachtree [commercial]?
3. How smooth are the direct, online interactions between these programs and banks, brokerages, etc.?
4. How smooth are the interactions between these programs and other open source software that might be used to complement the tasks they perform (such as Gnumeric, OpenOffice, and the K spreadsheet)?

I changed the format of the OP to make it more concise, allowing you to more-easily compare the applications. I will be updating this heavily in the near future.1. How possible is it to use GnuCash or KMyMoney with cygwin, Cooperative Linux, or Qemu?You'd have to compile them to use them on cygwin. This would not be trivial, especially for GnuCash. KDE has been ported to cygwin, so you might have more success. coLinux and Qemu are both quite viable options.2. How do these programs rate in terms of interface design, documentation, stability, security, and feature set, both relative to each other and relative to Quicken, MSMoney, and others that might deserve consideration, like Grisbi [open source] or Peachtree [commercial]?I will put some of these in the OP. Interface design is somewhat similar on all three & good enough on all of them that it is probably a matter of personal aesthetic. I commented on documentation briefly. They all have stable releases & any of them are ready for your personal finances.3. How smooth are the direct, online interactions between these programs and banks, brokerages, etc.?Direct connection is quite poor in all F/OSS compared to the commercial choices. I gave a link to direct connect via GnuCash (or others that support OFX). Connection is currently only to download statements & not pay bills/transfer money/etc. The number of supported US banks is also somewhat small, but the page I posted helps with that--they hacked out connection info from MS Money.4. How smooth are the interactions between these programs and other open source software that might be used to complement the tasks they perform (such as Gnumeric, OpenOffice, and the K spreadsheet)?You can usually get a spreadsheet in any of these programs. Those that use XML allow you to use XSLT to transform data into whatever you want.

More to come...

Great responses, both inline and in the edits you made to the OP. As excited as I was about seeing this topic discussed in the FW Finance forum, I'm even more excited about the direction in which you're taking it.

For the past month or so I've been working on a general OSS (and freeware) guide for MS Windows users and I've run into some of the same questions about audience and scope that seem to be arising in this FAQ. As user-friendly as Linux is becoming, it still has to develop further before it's as simple for users as OS X or MS Windows. This isn't a slight against Linux--I'm definitely rooting for it, and it does make hard tasks easier to accomplish than MS Windows or OS X--but simple things on MS Windows or OS X (installing the OS on a newer machine, installing software, running software, getting a GUI-capable program to use its GUI interface) are still significantly easier than on Linux. For that reason, Linux users tend to know much more about computers than MS Windows or OS X users--they have to in order to get things done.

Which is why I think you might want to step back and explain:

1. The advantages of a personal finance program. What is the typical user experience like? What kinds of tasks does it automate/make easier/make possible? Can it exchange data with my PDA or phone?

2. How would a typical user decide on going with a double entry vs. a single entry system?

3. Which Linux distros make the most sense for a newbie who wants to use GnuCash or KMyMoney (and perhaps experiment with Linux in general). Possible criteria: overall ease of install (maybe a Live CD, but then Live CDs don't usually allow users to save data, right?); GUI friendliness (nice desktop manager); having the target software already included in the distro, eliminating the need to install it after installing the distro; especially simple apt/rpm version/security updates; especially well integrated dual boot configuration software. Note: I've been paying close attention to MEPIS for these reasons, but there are likely other distros are making similar strides.

4. What is the path of least resistance for a Windows user who doesn't want to give up Windows but does want to run Linux software? I've had success with QEMU and could provide details, but it's still so slow that I don't think it's yet capable of winning hearts and minds. I've found coLinux so poorly documented that I haven't yet given it much of a chance, and compiling software in cygwin or MinGW is beyond my ken. Virtualization may be the way to go, perhaps in combination with coLinux, but I haven't yet found the right guide/manual.

5. Security. What risks are involved and what's the best way to mitigate the most obvious risks?

6. Data Portability. How possible is it to go from Quicken/MS Money to an OSS package and back again? What steps are needed?

The Gnome/KDE/Xfree split is unclear to me.

How tight is the program/UI connection. Does KmyMoney *have* to be run under KDE, or can a newb recompile for a different desktop ?

ABC3, thanks for your comments. They will help me improve the OP. I may not get to all of them immediately, but I will try to get to most of them eventually.but simple things on MS Windows or OS X (installing the OS on a newer machine, installing software, running software, getting a GUI-capable program to use its GUI interface) are still significantly easier than on Linux.Depending on the distro, I disagree--there are some very-easy-to-install distros (which will also give you a GUI) & apt/portage/other good package managers make software at least as easy to install & definitely easier to update. One can also buy *nix machines, but I digress...1. The advantages of a personal finance program. What is the typical user experience like? What kinds of tasks does it automate/make easier/make possible? Can it exchange data with my PDA or phone?I'll attempt to add more here, but due to the bredth of the software & the number of programs I'm reviewing, it may never be 100% satisfactory for a short FAQ.Which Linux distros make the most sense for a newbie who wants to use GnuCash or KMyMoneyThis seems beyond the scope of this article. I may provide links to a few options, but I will never go into great detail on this.maybe a Live CD, but then Live CDs don't usually allow users to save data, right?A "persistent" home directory, which is either written to the harddisk, a usb stick or some other medium isn't uncommon.4. What is the path of least resistance for a Windows user who doesn't want to give up Windows but does want to run Linux software?Also beyond the scope of the FAQ & beyond most of my experience--I don't run Windows. I would actually encourage YOU to write a FAQ on this for the Computer forum. I'd be happy to link to it or other brief how-tos in my OP.5. Security. What risks are involved and what's the best way to mitigate the most obvious risks?I may or may not discuss this.6. Data Portability. How possible is it to go from Quicken/MS Money to an OSS package and back again? What steps are needed?I will discuss export formats. Many programs can export to QIF for import into other Financial software.

Thanks again for your comments.

Noksagt, great thread. Thanks for your hard work!

The GNUcash tutorial is so good (especially on double accounting methods) that it should probably read it even if you go with another program.

IMO, Live CDs are probably the best bet for Windows users who want to sample some of these programs. Optimally the CDs would come with the packages already installed. Other Live CDs have to be installed to the HD before you install additional packages (or at least I couldn't figure out how to use apt-get / dpkg without a HD OS install). I thought it might be useful to have a list of LiveCDs that already come with these financial packages, so they can be tried out without anything "permanently" installed. I used the info at distrowatch to come up with this list (I'll try to update it when I find out what other packages are included):

These Live CD's include financial packages:

Gnoppix
- versions 0.5.4 and 0.5 have GNUcash 1.8.5

Kanotix
- versions X-2004 and 09-2004 have GNUcash 1.8.9

Morphix
- version 0.4-1 (hGUI) has GNUcash 1.8.7
- version 0.3-6 has GNUcash 1.8.2

Mandrake
- version Move has GNUcash 1.8.8

PCLinuxOS
- version P7 has GNUcash 1.8.6
- version P8 has KMyMoney 0.6.4

SUSE
- version 9.1 has GNUcash 1.8.8
- version 9.2 has GNUcash 1.8.8 and KMyMoney2 0.6.1

These Live CD's do not appear to have financial packages included, so you would have to install to HD first:
D*mn Small Linux (Debian)
Knoppix (Debian)
Luit (Debian)
Mepis (Debian)
Ubuntu Live (Debian)
Xfld (Debian)
BeatrIX (Debian)
FreeSBIE (Free BSD)
Sam (Mandrake/Xfce)
SLAX (Slackware)
Berry Linux (Fedora)

HTH!

Excellent idea for a thread. I think it's especially important to get some good Free tax software on there, I've looked around, and I haven't found anything worth using.

Of course, it probably didn't help that I got TaxCut for -$26.

Bump


bump

Thanks for this thread OP, great info.

One question: how does a non-linux person quickly extract the GNUcash docs, compressed in tar.gz format? Nothing I have on my XP install can do this. TIA.

1)The documentation is online. The Tutorial and Concepts Guide is useful to anyone needing a crash-course in dual-entry accounting (not just GnuCash users). The Help Manual is the more traditional/basic how-to get started.

2)When on windows, I use 7-Zip to decompress just about anything (including .tar.gz). The only downside is that I think you might have to extract the .tar.gz to a .tar & then extract that (so two steps). Other compression software does it in one, but 7-zip is free & does everything & is also a great compressor, so I prefer to use it.



.

Bump. Also: I will eventually add:

This is a terrific thread. After many years of on-again, off-again use of Quicken, Im prepared to get serious. I'm looking for an app that is:
o free and open-source
o runs on Microsoft Windows XP and Linux
o does dual-entry accounting
o supports automated downloads of
- my credit card transactions,
- checking accont activity
- mutual fund activity

From what I've read in this thread, jGnash is the leading candidate.
Are there any in the new list I should consider before I go full-bore on jGnash?
Bump. Also: I will eventually add:

* BulmaGes
* JCash
* JMoney
* PayThyme
* TurboCASH


kmith said: I'm looking for an app that is:
o free and open-source
o runs on Microsoft Windows XP and Linux
o does dual-entry accounting
jGnash is your best bet for the aboveo supports automated downloads of
- my credit card transactions,
- checking accont activity
- mutual fund activity
Note that it can import from QIF from your bank, but probably won't do this automatically.

Thanks for the quick response.
If the import of data from my FI won't happen automatically,
what are the steps in the manual process?

Download a QIF from your bank's website. Then, in jGnash: File->Import->QIF. Choose the QIF file. Choose the account it will act on. Optionally, edit the transactions you've imported.

Thanks for the pointer.
My FIs do export the older QIF files.
I've imported them successfully.
My test drive of jGnash continues.

I notice that jGnash doesn't print, but that's OK. There are other open source apps, such as OpenOffice, that have solved the multiplatform printing problem. OO can import a variety of file formats.

But how do I export data (such as reports) from jGnash?
I see no export function.
Exporting to spreadsheets is a core feature of personal finance apps.
Lack of export is a likely showstopper for many potential jGnash users.

jGnash can make CSV, HTML, and PDF reports and you can print them. I'll have to check on how later (I use GnuCash myself (plug: GnuCash's reporting is quite sophisticated & it can auto-download statements from a majority of the banks that MS Money can. Doesn't work on Windows, though).

Thank you so much for answering and following up.
How come GnuCash doesn't run on Windows?

GnuCash has been around for a long time. While it is still actively developed, it is a complex app that is fairly difficult to port. One problem in particular is that it uses the gtk+-1 library for the GUI. Most cross-platform apps use gtk+-2 & the two aren't compatible. GnuCash is being converted to use the newer library & when it is, one of the major barriers to getting it working on windows will be lowered.

All right, I'm making progress on my questions on jGnash.

Print is a right-click context-menu item for reports.,
Export account balances is an option on the reports pull-down menu.

I don't have enough to report, print, or export yet. I'll keep test-driving./

This app definitely needs some usability work and some documentation.

I think I have just run into a hard stop: my primary mutual fund company, Fidelity, doesn't support downloads of QIF files.
In fact, Fidelity supports only the latest three versions of Quicken. This forces users on the upgrade treadmill!

Citibank downloads and Bank of America downloads worked fine.

What's going on? Is Fidelity on the take, getting kickbacks from Quicken?

kmith said: All right, I'm making progress on my questions on jGnash.Good.This app definitely needs some usability work and some documentation.It is an active project & I'm sure they'd be receptive to your feedback.I think I have just run into a hard stop: my primary mutual fund company, Fidelity, doesn't support downloads of QIF files.
In fact, Fidelity supports only the latest three versions of Quicken. This forces users on the upgrade treadmill!

What's going on? Is Fidelity on the take, getting kickbacks from Quicken?
Intuit (makers of Quicken) wants to deprecate QIF, in favor of OFX. Some financial institutions are removing QIF so they will have less to support. Unfortunately, the only options are to use a program that can import OFX or to convert the OFX to QIF with yet another program.

noksagt said: Intuit (makers of Quicken) wants to deprecate QIF, in favor of OFX. Some financial institutions are removing QIF so they will have less to support. Unfortunately, the only options are to use a program that can import OFX or to convert the OFX to QIF with yet another program.
It's worse than that. As I understand it (feel free to correct me), the only way to get transaction dataout of Fidelity (or Vanguard) is via automated web connectivity. There is no mechanism to directly download a file, QIF QFX or OFX.

I'm not a Fidelity customer, so can't tell you for sure. However, OFX Direct Connect uses the same OFX format that some banks allow you to download. Therefore, you just need to be able to find out how to download the OFX file.

In GnuCash (which has OFX import), a favorite trick is to cron this script to automatically download an OFX periodically. They do have info for Fidelity.

This script is in Python & can be run from windows (and windows has tools to do this periodically), but I won't pretend that this is easy/user-friendly (particularly if you then have to convert to QIF for jGnash).

noksagt,
Thank you for the script. The Gnucash people should be congratulated for keeping on top of things. You should also be congratulated for researching and answering my questions. Thank you.

I have, however, reached the end of my exploration of open source personal finance applications.
There are none, unfortunately, that meet my requirements.
o Gncash doesn't run on Microoft Windows.
o jGnash won't link to Fideliy Investments.

It is with regret, therefore, that I will later today open the box of Quicken 2006 that I bought at Costco a week ago and will redeem the rebates.

Quicken comes out with new versions every year and Fidelity supports the most recent three versions.
This means that I will be looking around again in 2009. If a viable open source alternative exists that year, I'll switch. If not I'll upgrade to a current commercial personal software app that year.

Thanks for trying the F/OSS. I'm sorry that none met your needs. You might submit feature requests/progress queries on the features you need to the respective projects. Also note that Grisbi has OFX import. It is single entry, but then so is Quicken. (Unfortunately, you'd probably also have to install that python script to get your files if your financial institution won't tell you how to export OFX).

Please forgive me for asking another question. This one is off-topic.

What open source project management app do you recommend?

Requirements are:
o Runs on Microsoft Windows and Linux.
o Does PM stuff: PERT, Gantt, CPM, etc.

A want (not a must) is:
o Export reports to Open Office. Project documents would be written in OO, but Gantt charts might be included as illustrations.
o Export scheduled tasks to calendars such as Mozilla Sunbird or Yahoo Calendar.

Thanks.

kmith said: What open source project management app do you recommend?
Answering my own question, I'm currently evaluating GanttProject. Version 2 is just now being released.

Does anyone know of good free software for figuring the cost basis on stocks? It would have to be set up to handle almost any transaction you can imagine.

Here's the problem--DMom has some stocks that she's owned for up to 50 years. Mostly held in certificate form, so no broker has a history of what she personally did. Over that long period of time, things have happened, like spinoffs (sometimes to more than one company), reverse splits, selling some, giving some as a gift, and reinvesting some (but not all) dividends. I need to be able to plug in the info she has, and bring the cost basis up to date.

I had one to figure for her this year, tried to do it in Quicken, and quickly got frustrated. It was easier to do it in my own spreadsheet where I could really see what I was doing. I just downloaded a trial version of Tradetrakker, but that doesn't look perfect either. It costs $35 and doesn't even seem to cover spinoffs.

Any suggestions?

I wish I could help the folks who have questions about project management or cost bases, but...

Has anyone else tried VMWare Player? I just installed it and the Ubuntu Breezy virtual machine on a desktop running Windows XP Pro. I have a decent desktop computer, but nothing truly special: P4, 3GHz, 512MB. The exciting part: Ubuntu was *fast*--not blazing, but very acceptable, truly responsive, and also easy to use. The bad news is that it wouldn't install GnuCash, or, more precisely, I couldn't get it to install GnuCash. But I intend to ask a few questions on the VMWare/Ubuntu forums to see if I can work through the issues I'm experiencing. I'll report back once I get this working.

kmith said: I think I have just run into a hard stop: my primary mutual fund company, Fidelity, doesn't support downloads of QIF files.
In fact, Fidelity supports only the latest three versions of Quicken. This forces users on the upgrade treadmill!

Citibank downloads and Bank of America downloads worked fine.

What's going on? Is Fidelity on the take, getting kickbacks from Quicken?


Not kickbacks, no. In the Finance industry, there is so much scrutiny and regulation that any such practice would be immediately discovered and both companies fined heavily. That being said, Fidelity handles Intuit's 401K plan, and I'm sure that the companies do anything they can legally and ethically do for each other to make the relationship smoother.

Personally, I'm not a fan of Quicken or Money - I'm tempted to try one or more of these Open Source apps, but I didn't like having to micromanage account balances and such when I tried Money a few years ago. Right now I recordkeep everything in Excel. Do any of the Open Source apps listed have a rough budgeting only type interface that precludes the need for exact account balances (for example, when I buy a loaf of bread at Kroger, I don't want to have to enter that transaction or connect to my FI or even download a Quicken or Money file to keep exact balance in my software)...

ABC3 said: Has anyone else tried VMWare Player?...The bad news is that it wouldn't install GnuCash, or, more precisely, I couldn't get it to install GnuCash.I use the full version & it is quite fast. I'm not an Ubuntu user & you should be able to get help in their forums. Did you try these instructions from the Ubuntu Guide?

Skipping 57 Messages...
Anyone familar with HomeBank (a former Amiga software)?

It looks promising... It claims to import OFX/QFX but no download and no windows version. (yet?)

sdb



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