posted: Jan. 31, 2005 @ 7:32p
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 financeGnuCash
suitable for personal finance, in the style of Money or QuickenGrisbi
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.
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.