Law of Physics limits credit card data storage to three months

As one year passes and the new one begins, Mary and I are trying to figure out how to track credit card expenses. I want to avoid having to type all the transactions into Quicken.

Last night I finally figured out how to transfer credit card transaction data from my Credit Union’s (City County Federal) online system to Quicken 98 (within Classic on my OS X Mac). (I’ll post the details of how I did that below.) That’s a huge step.

But I’m behind in tracking statements and needed data back through September. That’s four statements back and the system only gives me three.

Sigh. I called the Credit Union to complain. Three statements is basically three months and not much of a history. I wanted to know who decided this arbitrary limit and I was hoping they might have access to a digital version that they could share with me.

Ah ha. The limit’s not imposed by my CU. In fact, if they want to delve beyond three statements, they have to go to CD backup disks. They can’t share those discs with me because it contains multiple users’ data.

The CU told me to talk to PSCU Financial Services about it. They run the back-end services for credit unions. (PSCU stands for “Payment Processing Services for Credit Unions, I was told.)

I called and talked to Kevin at PSCU. He told me it’s a system limit of some kind, and told me this in a way that made it sound like a law of physics (The Three-Month Statement Barrier?). I just said they need to buy more hard drives and storage is cheap these days.

The reality is more complex, of course. Lana at my CU, who handles the Visa department, said that it’s in the works to provide a longer historical range. All the CUs want it. But there is a monolithic software application on the back-end and it’s going to take a while.

I suggested that besides just talking to CUs, she also talk to users like me about how we want to use and view our data. I’d like to be able to categorize online and sort in different ways. I’d like to get some charts illustrating spending habits. And I’d like an XML feed of all the data so I can do whatever I want with it and take it with me if I move to another bank or credit card vendor.

Let’s file this under Vendor Relationship Management with a tip of the hat to Doc Searls.

The Details of How I Did It

As promised, the details on how I moved the credit card data download file into Quicken 98 running on my OS X Mac via Classic.

First, PSCU offers a QIF (or Quicken Interchange Format) file. So if you don’t have access to that, check this page and maybe you can format a text file to be a QIF file. Good luck.

Second, download the .QIF file and if it comes over as “.qif” change it to “.QIF”. (I don’t really know if this matters or not but I may have read it somewhere.)

At this point, Quicken can’t see the file on my system. I think it may be due to some of the file conversion settings that are default in OS 9 Classic. I went to change this — there’s a control panel called File Exchange or something — but Classic doesn’t allow you to use that particular control panel. At this point, I thought my quest had ended and it would be back to typing the data. Read on…

Third, open the .QIF file in a text editor (as it is a text file). I used BBEdit. I assume TextEdit will work (make sure you are working with text and not RTF). “Save as…” a text file with the .QIF extension. Quicken can see this file.

Fourth, open the Quicken 98, open the account that you wish to import to, and go to the File menu and select “Import.” You should see the file. Select and import. You may get an error right at the start about having a problem with something or other but there is a “Continue” button that will allow the import to go on.

The data is ugly and won’t have any categories, of course. Payee names are in all-caps and truncated to fit the field in Quicken. The memo field has some ID transaction number. (Maybe they can make the data prettier when they upgrade the system.)

You can enter categories quickly without touching the mouse. Enter the category, press the Enter key twice to accept it and move to the next transaction, then press the down arrow key twice to place the cursor in the next category field. Make sure auto-complete is on in your prefs so you don’t have to type the whole category name.

That does it for this post. Happy New Year!

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