Free Bookkeeping for Small Business

Last Updated Jul 7, 2009 5:31 PM EDT

Organizing financial records can be a challenge
Small businesses get lots of special tax deductions and credits--the trouble is remembering to claim them. Now there's a web site that will help--for free--by offering free bookkeeping services.

You plug in your income and expenses. The site will then estimate the amount you need to pay in taxes and keep a running tally of your profit or loss. At the end of the year, you can give the whole spread sheet to your accountant--by email even--for fast and easy tax preparation. Or, of course, you'll have the data to do your taxes yourself.

Is the software clunky or hard to use? Not at all. I started plugging in my data to test it. While it will take me some time to dig into my records to plug in everything, the test told me that the site is simple and intuitive--even for a technological neophyte like me. The founders are former executives of Intuit--the manufacturer of a variety of personal finance software tools, including QuickBooks. They've apparently figured out how to make this easy.

If you're an unintentional entrepreneur--one of the millions who were laid off in the past year, who are starting their own companies or consulting businesses to survive--trust me on this. Keeping good records is going to be your toughest challenge. Most of us throw receipts into a file folder or box all year and then do our level best to interpret what we saved once annually prior to doing our taxes. If you forget to save something--or can't figure out what it is--you lose the write-off and that costs real money. This web site actually allows you to track and label things as they arrive--in seconds--which reduces the chance that you'll lose or forget something.

What's the catch? If there is one, I can't find it.

Normally, you find the unpleasant underbelly of a deal like this in the "terms of service." Here the terms are not only reasonable, they're readable. Aside from the normal disclaimers, like they reserve the right to charge for things in the future (but you don't provide a credit card number or payment information, so you'll know about charges before they happen) and that they don't warrant a free service (Duh), they demand only that you're over the age of 13; a real live person (not a "bot") and that you act ethically and professionally. That part strikes me as a plus.

My favorite demand in their terms of service: "Any form of abuse or intimidation (written, verbal, physical, implied or otherwise) is strictly prohibited. Be nice, be professional...or be booted."

Why are they doing it? Campbell, Calif.-based Outright.com says they'll eventually start offering services for a fee--and you might like them enough by then to pay for it. But they say they plan to offer the bookkeeping service for free indefinitely.

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