The popularity of online bill paying simplifies our lives in many ways (not to mention the tree savings), but without a solid piece of mail arriving at the door, it can be tough to remember the due dates for the many bills we pay each month. While you could set up repeating reminders in iCal, and keep track of what you’ve paid on spread sheets, the developers of Chronicle promise an easier way to keep track of bills for the memory-and-math-challenged.
Unlike many other finance apps, which try to do everything from creating budgets to tracking transactions, Chronicle is dedicated solely to helping you pay the bills. Find out if this simplified approach can prevent bill-related anxiety in today’s review!
David Appleyard reviewed Chronicle 2 a few years back, but the latest version boasts new features, a redesigned interface, and has made a quick climb to the top of the financial category in the App Store. Let’s see what’s new!
The developers boast that Chronicle 4 has been completely re-written to be much faster and more user-friendly, with some much-needed new features:
You can now add tags to your bills, and use them to filter from the overview panel. Tags could be useful for things like splitting up work and home expenses, or dividing bills between two people.
Balance and Interest Rate
In addition, Chronicle now allows users to calculate the percentage of a payment that should be applied to the interest by inputting the interest rate and balance. This is an especially useful feature for those of us with less than stellar math skills.
Chronicle 4 gives you the ability to sync your bills across multiple Macs with one click, by automatically moving the database folder to your Dropbox folder. This is a handy feature if you have more than one Mac, but it would be even better if it synced to iPhone as well!
Adding Bills to Chronicle
Adding a bill to Chronicle is pretty straight-forward, you just have to select an icon, name, and date. All of the other fields are optional (you can set bills to repeat monthly, weekly, bi-monthly, quarterly or annually). There are basically two kinds of bills to add: the kind that repeats at regular intervals, or a bill with a large balance that is to be paid off incrementally. For the former, add the monthly bill amount to the “amount due,” for the latter, add the total amount due to “total balance.” You can also add a URL for bills that are paid online, so that you can get to the website you need from within Chronicle.
Once you’ve added a bill, you’re taken to the bill inspector view, where you’re given an overview of when the next payment is, the amount due, payment history, and then statistics displaying either the remaining balance or a comparison between this year and last year.
The payment history graph is pretty useful for fluctuating bills like phone bills, while the pie chart is really useful for larger bills being paid off. It doesn’t really seem practical to display a comparison between this year and last year as a pie chart, as one isn’t really understood as a fraction of another. Perhaps a bar graph would be more effective.
When you’re ready to record a bill payment, you can select “Log Payment” and enter the details or attach a receipt. Once you’ve paid a bill, it gets added to the “all payments” list, where it can be edited by double-clicking.
The overview screen displays a list of your bills and shows the average amount paid each payment date as well as the remaining balance for larger bills. The “Month at a Glance” screen displays a handy calendar which shows each bill as an icon with a monthly summary of what has been paid, what is due, and a list of bills due soon.
At the bottom, Chronicle displays your monthly income as you enter it and subtracts what you’ve paid so far this month. I don’t really bother with this feature, because a lot of my expenses aren’t bills that I’d track in Chronicle, so the “remaining balance” line isn’t meaningful to me.
When you add a bill to Chronicle, it adds each due date to iCal in a new calendar called “Chronicle.” Chronicle also adds iCal reminders up to 7 days before bill due dates.
What Chronicle is Good For
Chronicle is very useful for keeping track of regular monthly bills, especially if you need to be reminded each month. It’s also handy in helping you get a quick overview of all your recurring expenses, and an understanding of how individual bills have increased or decreased. If you’re paying off a bill in increments it also offers an easy graphical representation of your progress.
What it Doesn’t Do
If you’re a religious iCal user that doesn’t have a whole lot of difficulty keeping track of monthly bills, you might not find that Chronicle adds much functionality; the graphing features are nice, but not very flexible or powerful. Chronicle isn’t a complete financial management application, for something more fully featured, check out apps like iBank or Money. However, a lot of people (myself included) find that these apps require too much input and attention to be effective.
There’s a lot more Chronicle could do, like graphing all bills together, or allowing more flexibility with the way data is displayed. Chronicle does what it claims to do well, and it’s definitely a useful application for anyone that needs help keeping track of their bills.
Is it worth $15? Well I guess that depends on how much help you need. Personally, I think I can keep track of bills using iCal and my GTD app-of-the-week (or just wait for email reminders), but I don’t pay a lot of separate bills each month. If you own a house, a car, or just generally have a lot of bills to pay off and keep track of, I highly recommend Chronicle, and $15 will probably pay for itself if you haven’t been paying your bills on time. However, if you need more powerful report and record-keeping functionality, there are a lot of other apps out there that offer more complete feature sets (generally for a higher price).
How do you keep track of your bill payments? Do you think an app like Chronicle is necessary, or is it just another dressed-up spreadsheet?