At $369 for a single user ($669 for three licenses, and $899 for five), Sage 50 Complete Accounting 2013 isn't the cheapest way to keep your small business's books. But if you are well versed in accounting practices and want to implement your own preferences where choices are available, Sage 50 Complete provides all the controls you could wish for.
Even if you've never studied accounting but are eager to learn, Sage 50 may be worthwhile for its extensive documentation and tutorials. They won't turn you into a CPA, but they can help you learn a lot of the basics.
A descendent of the package formerly known as Peachtree Complete, Sage 50 Complete 2013 comes with its own database, which can make installation tricky: My first attempt to install the program was cut short by firewall issues that Sage acknowledges in its help pages (and offers workarounds for). In my case, installing several Windows updates appeared to solve the problem, but your mileage may vary.
Once installed, Sage 50 Complete immediately displays its serious accounting credentials in a setup wizard that asks questions you don't get from some competitors--for example, whether you want to post transactions in real time or in batches, and whether you prefer to use cash or accrual accounting (with cash, you record transactions as you receive payments or spend money; with accrual, you record sales whether you've received payment or not, and you record expenditures as you commit to them).
Once setup is complete, you see a pleasing interface with lots of useful navigation aides. The first screen to appear is one of several general-topic pages that show a collection of related tasks in flowchart format, or simply display information. The Business Status page, for example, assembles an overview of your finances that uses widgetlike boxes to show your year-to-date revenue, key account balances, a list of bills you owe, a list of customers who owe you money, and a pie chart showing aged receivables--balances due based on how long they've been owed. You can customize the page by adding or removing these widgets.
Other general topic pages (accessible by clicking on entries in a left navigation bar) cover customers and sales; vendors and purchases; employees and payroll, banking, and system settings--and you can make any one of them the default start screen. Underneath the topic page tabs, Sage also puts a customizable shortcut list in the nav bar to help you jump immediately to a specific ledger or task from any category. The default list includes links for creating an invoice, entering received payments, paying bills, viewing customer and vendor lists, searching for a specific transaction, and making a general journal entry.
Since its Peachtree days, Sage 50 has earned a reputation for superior inventory management features, and rightly so. It's the only one of the top desktop packages we looked at to offer the full range of cost-basis options for evaluating inventory: average cost, Last In First Out (LIFO), First In First Out (FIFO). In contrast, QuickBooks Pro 2012 supports only the average-cost method.
The 2013 edition expands the inventory analysis capabilities of Sage Business Intelligence, the tool that integrates with Microsoft Excel (2003 or later) to move data into spreadsheets for advanced forecasting and other tasks. The new template joins an already impressive collection of templates, all customizable and easy to link to Sage 50 data.
Other innovations include the ability to reconcile accounts (by changing back entries) without having to change accounting periods; the ability to deactivate multiple vendor records based on a cutoff date for activity (previously you had to get rid of one record at a time); and improved batch check-printing for Accounts Payable and Payroll (you can now print long descriptions on a blank sheet of paper, and the program can eliminate numbers for voided checks), which helps you avoid wasting preprinted checks.
On the downside, Sage has made it more difficult to manage payroll without enrolling in one of its subscription-based payroll add-on services. Previously, you could manually update tax tables and then run payroll calculations in the program. Now, without a service, you must perform payroll calculations outside of the program and import the results--a time-consuming workaround, to say the least. The cheapest payroll service (which generates W2 forms at year's end but doesn't support e-filing) costs $270 for the 2013 fiscal year; alternatively, you can pay $380 to cover the rest of this year and next year. Either way, this expense practically doubles the cost of the software.
This review is part of a roundup of accounting software. You can read the introduction to the story and find links to the other products we reviewed here.
Sage 50 also comes up a bit short for people who want to switch from another program. Basically, you have to export your data to an Excel spreadsheet and then link fields manually to their Sage 50 equivalents to do any kind of data import -tasks that might discourage prospective QuickBooks refugees. The UK edition of Sage 50 also offers a companion iOS app.
If you're in charge of a growing business and aren't afraid to hear or learn accounting jargon that may stand you in good stead going forward, Sage 50 Complete Accounting 2013's power and versatility make it worth its admittedly high cost.