Software helps inventory what you own

Your Money

October 08, 2006|By Humberto Cruz | Humberto Cruz,Tribune media Services

The letter from the insurance company said an inspector would come to look over the house.

He did a pretty thorough job, checking the roof and foundation, the sides of the house, gutters and driveway. He found everything in order - no rotting wood surfaces or peeling paint, no cracking or crumbling of foundation walls, no water stains, mildew or mold.

I was feeling pretty smug because, by acing this free "home-care review," my homeowner's insurance premium would stay reasonably low. (If the inspection had turned up a problem and I fixed it in a timely manner, the premium wouldn't go up. Check whether your insurance company offers this inspection service.)

When I looked over a brochure with home-care tips the inspector left me, however, I realized I'd been neglecting an important task. If I had to file a claim because of a major disaster, I wouldn't have an up-to-date inventory of the contents of the home.

Two years ago, after Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne blew across Florida and did minor damage to our home, I began to update such a list but never finished. But now, spurred by the home inspection, I'm nearly done with the list, including photos of items and copies of receipts and proofs of purchase.

If you are determined, you can do this with pen, paper and camera, and maybe a copier. But if you are comfortable with computers, I recommend the Quicken Home Inventory Manager that I am using. This is a new stand-alone program by the makers of the Quicken personal finance software (list price $29.99, www.quicken.com).

In addition to insurance companies, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other government agencies urge us to maintain a record of household possessions to back up loss and damage claims. But only about 30 percent of Americans do, according to a Quicken survey.

"To stand in the rubble of what was your house and try to write down everything you owned is impossible," said Chris Repetto, a Quicken spokesman.

The problem is, compiling a list of possessions for that eventuality "is tedious and it's not something you want to think about," said David Wolbert, a Quicken executive.

The software makes the job less tedious and much faster by presenting pre-selected choices you can click on to build your list (for example, locations in the house include laundry and utility rooms and patio decks, and categories of items, such as office equipment and hobbies and crafts). You can add your own locations and categories.

My favorite feature: You can drag-and-drop images into your inventory list, such as scanned photos and receipts - up to five images per item. You can back up the information to a flash drive you can take with you, or, for a fee starting at $9.99 a year, back it up online.

"The last thing you want to do" with an inventory, Wolbert said, "is spend the effort and find can you can't access it" in a disaster or emergency.

For a more cheerful purpose, you can print reports that document everything you own (and if you kept a receipt, what you paid for it), giving you a more accurate picture of your net worth. The value of your possessions can be imported into the recently released Quicken 2007 personal finance software.

I've been a fan of personal finance software for years because it helps users get a handle on how much they are spending for what. (Again, you can do this with paper and pencil, but a computer program makes the process easier and faster.) Although the software has become increasingly sophisticated over the years, adding investment and tax-related features, its core purpose remains managing cash flow.

In that regard, the redesigned Quicken 2007 home page is much improved over the 2006 version, showing by means of side-by-side panels - labeled "+ in," "- out" and "what's left" - the money coming in, the expenses coming up, and what's likely to be left to spend or save for the month.

You can download account information from thousands of financial institutions with just one personal identification number and password.

Quicken's competitor, Microsoft Money, has made budgeting more user-friendly in its 2007 software release.

It also introduced Money Essentials, a downloadable program targeted to users who mainly want to track account balances, get a handle on their spending, and pay their bills online. Overall, I prefer the Quicken products, but all are good. Different versions and prices for the products are available at www.quicken.com and www.microsoft.com/money.

yourmoney@tribune.com

Humberto Cruz writes for Tribune Media Services.

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