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QuickBooks Online Gets Some Mint.com Data Entry Smarts

Intuit has updated its web-based accounting software with improved online banking and income tracking features.

QuickBooks Online, the web-based version of Intuit's popular small-business accounting software, is getting an update that includes improved online banking features and income transaction tracking.

The online banking enhancements borrow technology from Mint.com, Intuit's web-based personal finance manager. QuickBooks online will now download transactions automatically every night, and assign them categories based on historical data or intelligence built in to the software.

Users can review the categorization when they log in, and (as before) override them as needed; the software will remember the approved category and use it on future transactions. Since QuickBooks Online supports transaction downloads from some 5,000 financial institutions, automatic categorization should save customers time they'd otherwise be spending on manual data entry.

A new Money Bar screen, meanwhile, uses color coding to show you the status of current income-related transactions: The color shows where the transaction is on a flow chart-like continuum that starts with estimates and invoices, and proceeds to billing and payment. QuckBooks also proposes popular context-sensitive next steps--for example, QuickBooks will suggest turning an estimate into an invoice, or sending reminders on past-due bills. The idea is to put all potential action items on one screen.

QuickBooks Online in recent years has come under pressure from a slew of web-based small business accounting services such as FreshBooks and Outright. QuickBooks Online's entry-level Simple Start version for years was free for very small businesses (defined initially by a small customer list), and longtime users are still allowed free access, but newcomers only get a one-month free trial before a $13 monthly subscription fee kicks in.

The update, which Intuit has already rolled out to some users, includes a general redesign that exposes more line items on a screen, allowing for faster eyeballing when you're scrolling through dozens of transactions. Intuit also touts improved integration with mobile QuickBooks apps and numerous third-party services.

Pricing remains stable. While the Simple Start edition offers the same core functionality as higher-end versions, it has limitations: For example, it will only download transaction data from a single financial institution, supports only one user account, and offers fewer standard reports.

The $27-a-month QuickBooks Online Essentials supports three users, adds estimate creation and other features, while QuickBooks Online Plus for $40 a month incorporates inventory management and other features (and supports up to five users). Intuit also offers versions of Essentials and Plus that bundle payroll features for an extra cost.

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