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New BillMinder a paid upgrade, but worth the money

Return7 released version 3.0 of its popular BillMinder app on Tuesday, now a completely revamped program. As such, Return7 decided to switch its users over to a separate app -- BillMinder 3 -- which requires users to pay to "upgrade" to the latest version. While the out-of-pocket expense (US$1.99) isn't much, it's a move that hasn't been that popular in the past -- think Tweetie in the pre-Twitter days.

Amro Mousa, co-founder of Return7 told me today that BillMinder 3 isn't simply an upgrade. The company rewrote the entire app from scratch and no code or art is shared with the original app, which is still available via iTunes. The original BillMinder app received more than 25 updates during its lifetime, including the upgrade to version 2.0. He acknowledged that there has been some grumbling over repurchasing the app.

"Most software companies don't give away new major versions for free. Why aren't folks angry when they buy a new version of OS X, iLife or Aperture? Since we prefer to continue existing, we're charging for 3.0. Obviously that means we need to provide value in the new version for people to want to buy it," Mousa said.

While we didn't review the original BillMinder, we have taken a look at BillMinder 3. The app does exactly what its title implies -- it reminds you when a bill is due and how much it is. A lot of banks have included software through their websites to handle this sort of thing, but not all of them have dedicated iOS apps or will push notifications to your iPhone. It's also useful if you have separate bills going to different bank accounts like I do. Click on to see how the app works.


Set up

When you enter the app for the first time, you get the option of signing up for an account that will back up your data to Return7's servers. From there, you can enter in an account. The home screen features what bills are due and any that are past due. You can customize it a bit further to say when and about how much a bill is, along with recurrence patterns and categories -- though the categories are a bit limited at the moment. This is useful for bills that are only due every few months or once a year, thus fall off your radar until right before they're due.

Banking Info

There's a number of other small features to refine this app and make it pretty useful. You can add the website, contact number and account number for each bill, then passcode all of it to protect your information. The app also utilizes AirPrint to print out reports, and it provides local notifications at set intervals to remind you to pay a bill.

Bills

You have an option to set repeating accounts and non-repeating accounts. The repeating accounts option is good for bills that stay the same each month no matter what -- think rent/mortgage, student loans and car payments. For accounts that tend to fluctuate in due dates and amounts like utilities, use the non-repeating account option under the "repeats" toggle when creating an account.

For accounts like credit cards, which tend to have the same due date but fluctuating amounts, make sure to select the repeating option and put "unknown amount" for the amount due. Each month you can edit the single occurrence of the bill and put in the amount once you know it.

Final thoughts

BillMinder 3 is very useful for pulling together a lot of little bits of financial information, having it in one spot and making sure you paid this bill out of that account. It's good for poking at you to remember that you've paid a bill. However, it does require some input from the user. You need to input your information, which can take some time depending on the number of bills you have. You also can't pay said bill from within the app. It's up to you to click through to your bank or bill site and schedule a payment. I did have some issues with the app crashing, mostly with syncing and when paging through the calendar. Mousa told me that the next update is almost ready with translation for five languages and a few improvements, so hopefully that will take care of the issue.

If you have an established bill-reminder system in place, BillMinder 3 might not be for you. But if you need a nudge or two to remember to even look to see if you got a bill that month, then this is a good app to have.

For current users who are satisfied with the product, they can stick with the original BillMinder, but it won't receive any further development. However, for less than the cost of a combo at most fast food joints, it's worth paying for the upgrade and supporting the developers at Return7. Quite a bit of expense goes into developing an app, and paying for such a major upgrade and continued development is worth every penny of the $1.99 and then some.

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