With many products, two strong players fight for dominance, leaving the rest of the field far behind. With soft drinks, you either like Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO ) or Pepsi (NYSE: PEP ) -- together, they control about three-quarters of the U.S. soft-drink market. For computers, it's either Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) or a PC. And in the fight over fast-food burgers, McDonald's (NYSE: MCD ) and Burger King (NYSE: BKC ) together have more than 40,000 restaurants around the world.
The market for money-management software is no different. Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) and its Money product have had a long history of battling rival Intuit (Nasdaq: INTU ) and its Quicken software. But lately, new competitors are taking on the duopoly with interesting takes on the traditional money-management model.
The contenders for best money-management tool are:
- Microsoft Money
- Online banking systems
Sticking with the old school
Both Money and Quicken have added many features over the years. Basically, both programs let you keep track of nearly every part of your finances, from monitoring day-to-day cash management and banking transactions to overseeing your investment portfolio. They both work with many banks and brokerage firms to let you download transactions and general information on your accounts. And they both work to simplify tax preparation and provide other useful reports on your financial condition, including "what-if" scenarios that help you plan for whatever the future will bring.
Of course, your experience with Quicken or Money may vary widely depending on the version you use. Even though the software is updated annually, plenty of people have been able to rely on older versions for years.
Keeping it inside
In addition, financial institutions have figured out that providing their customers with useful money-management tools makes them less likely to jump to competitors. So most banks now offer online banking systems that let you pay bills online, track your expenses, and prepare reports on where your money goes.
Most bank systems lack many features that off-the-shelf software has. Some banks charge every month for the software they offer, and that can cost you quite a bit over time. But the features let you track your money without having to download information to a separate program.
Money management 2.0
More recently, a new group of up-and-comers has been challenging the big players by harnessing the power of the Internet. Mint.comprovides up-to-the-minute updates on banking and credit transactions to help you avoid costly overdrafts and gives instant alerts about unusual activity on your accounts. Features help you stick to your budget and keep track of bank fees and other charges. The site tracks your spending habits automatically and suggests ways you can save by switching to another financial institution.
Meanwhile, Geezeo seeks to bring the power of social networking to bear on financial management. Offering access via cell phone, Geezeo lets you manage all your financial accounts and handle your budget. But much like the Fool's discussion boards, Geezeo also makes it easy to find other people with common financial goals, so you can talk to them for advice and support.
Both Mint.com and Geezeo are free, making them an attractive alternative to Money or Quicken. Money is available for $20 to $60 depending on the version you buy; Quicken ranges from $30 to $100.
Which money-management tool do you think is best? Now's your chance to weigh in. Make your pick here and in our other Fool Award categories. After the voting closes, we'll name a winner.