Saturday, December 12, 2009

A Favorite Product: NeatReceipts

NeatReceipts scanner

The following is a guest post from reader Loren from Columbus, Ohio.

If you wanted to design a special hell just for me, forget about fire and brimstone. Just put me in a room sorting receipts for all of eternity.

That’s why I took a chance on NeatReceipts. I’m self-employed, and I need to keep track of everything I spend. The receipts pile up, and around tax time I try to sort them out — after I’ve forgotten what they were for. NeatReceipts helps a lot.

The basic package (available for either PC or Mac) includes a USB scanner and software to read and sort the scanned receipts. (You can use any scanner, but the NeatReceipts scanner is faster than a flatbed scanner for the average paper tape-sized receipt.) The scanner is small, about 1”x2”x10”. Place a receipt in its slot, and it pulls it through and records the scan in your NeatReceipts database, where it immediately begins OCR (optical character recognition). If the scan is clear, it will read and categorize it. The program saves both the original scan, and the character data.

OCR is still an inexact process, and many receipts are faint, or pocket-worn, or have hand-written characters (like an added tip). Still, I’m amazed at how often NeatReceipts gets it right. Occasionally you’ll need to do some editing, especially with a badly crumpled receipt. You’ll also have to select the category in which you’re keeping a particular receipt, since the program has no way of knowing how you’ll want to use the data. (Though it tries: it scans for words like “restaurant.” Or if you place a receipt in a category — a hotel receipt in the travel category, for example — the program will continue to use that category for that business name.) You can also manually split receipts into different categories.

The program will also accept digital receipts — a Priceline airline ticket receipted by e-mail, for example. And, you can scan business cards and other documents.

The package isn’t perfect. The program could more intuitive: while it has self-sorting “smart collections,” they’re not easy to set up or edit. The miniature scanner sometimes has a hard time grabbing a worn receipt. If the business has used a decorative font or logo, it won’t read the company name.

Still, I’d recommend it for people like me, who hate these kinds of detail tasks. Now I come in at the end of the day, immediately scan my receipts, and toss the paper copies.

PS: NeatReceipts sometimes runs pretty good promotional sales. Watch for them.


Cynthia Friedlob said...

Only one word of caution for those of us who rely on digital files: back-up!

Mike said...

I tried it for a while. It does pretty good. But for me it takes more time to scan and edit than it does to file the paper receipts.

I second the idea: Backup! Regularly (at least weekly) and on multiple media. Hard drives are guaranteed to fail, and usually fail at inconvenient times.

Jeri Dansky said...

Mike and Cynthia: Thanks for mentioning how critical backups are!

Mike: Thanks for sharing your experience. It's useful to have different perspectives.