I travel. A lot. While I’m sure that some of you reading this travel more than I, by then end of 2008 I fully expect to have covered well over 75,000 airline miles this year. The fact that I’m writing this review from the comfort of my townhome is, well, rare? Most of the reviews that I write both for Gear Diary and Clinton Fitch (Dot) Com! are written from hotel rooms… but I digress. You get the point.
As you can imagine, with as much travel as I do, receipts – and more specifically receipt management – can be quite a challenge. In the multiple years of business travel I have experienced, I have tried just about every method you can think of to try to keep track of receipts. Like most of you, I have to submit receipts when I submit weekly expense reports. That’s find and dandy right up until you have been on the road for 3 straight weeks in 6 cities (real trip, February 2007 – Minneapolis, Chicago, New York, Houston and Oklahoma City) and you are trying to keep track of about 50 pieces of paper! That is where the Neat Receipts scanner comes in handy. With Neat Receipts you scan your reciepts using a self-feeding wand scanner which stores, organizes and creates PDF files of your reciepts. Further, you can export your receipts to Microsoft Word or Excel, giving you the ultimate flexibility to meet your companies receipt requirements. All of this in a small, slim package that easily fits into a travel computer bag. If you are a road warrior who is receipt management challenged, the Neat Receipts scanner could prove to be a real life saver.
Neat Receipts Professional software requires that your Windows PC be running Windows XP (SP2) or Windows Vista although the 64-bit versions of either Operating System are not supported. Additionally, if you are using Service Pack 3 for Windows XP, you will need to download a new installer from the Neat Receipts website to install the required drivers and software. In addition, your PC must have at least 1GB of RAM and 1GB of hard disk space for the installer. The database that the installer creates can scale up to an impressive 40GB in storage space which, according to Neat Receipts, is approximately 1.5 million receipts! It is important to note that you must install the software prior to connecting the Neat Receipt scanner to your PC so it can function correctly. In the Neat Receipt box itself you will find the install CD-ROM, USB cable, Desktop stand as well as a wall mount bracket, a calibrating sheet to calibrate the scanner and a cleaning sheet to clean it.
After installing the required software and opening the Neat Receipts application, you will see that is intuitive and clearly laid out. On the left-hand side will be the scanned receipts you are viewing. If you do not have any receipts scanned or selected you will see a graphic of the Neat Receipt scanner. The top of the main display is the folder listing. These folders are how your various receipts are stored, keeping things neat (pun fully intended) and organzied. You have several options on the folders including things such as business documents, expense reports and so forth. Depending on what you choose, the various fields that can fill out will change. It is not required that you create a folder for your receipts but it will make it much easier to keep yourself organized, especially if you have a lot of receipts. The middle of the main display is the listing of your receipts in a particular folder. From here you can see the various receipts, organize them and indicate which ones are things that you should be reimbursed on by your company. This is particularly handy if you have an Expense report folder set up as it will keep track of the amounts for you automatically. I will discuss the scanning of receipts a bit later in the review. Finally, the bottom of the display shows various bits of information regarding receipts and your user profile. I will also cover this in more detail later in the review.
Scanning a receipt or document into Neat Receipts Professional is very easy. All you have to do is put the receipt face down into the scanner and press either the Scan or PDF button. Likewise you can also click the appropriate buttons in the software itself or by going to the Scan menu. Once the receipt is scanned, the software’s true power is displayed. After scanning, the reciept is optically analysized for information such as the vendor, the tax, pricing and other information. This saves a tremendous amount of time as you don’t have to enter in the information yourself. I found this feature to be amazingly accurate – somewhere well above 95% in my un-scientific but heavy useage during this review. The only trouble it seemed to have was on script writing but even then it was pretty darn good. I have used many scanners and OCR (Optical Character Recognition) applications in the past but I have never seen anything close to the intelligence of the Neat Receipts Professional software. It is simply stunning and shaves significant time off of categorizing receipts.
By default the receipt will be scanned in as an image. One of the real beauties of Neat Receipts however is that you can export it to just about anything. The most common function – and one I personally use – is the PDF converter. This allows me to convert a receipt image – or a group of receipts – to a single PDF file which I can then attach to my electronic expense reports. Likewise you can send your receipt images to Excel (which will create a simple expense report for you as well), CSV, RTF, HTML or to a digital image such as a JPEG file. Additionally, you can also create Intuit Quicken or Microsoft Money files which you can import into those applications as well. Given this wide range of applications that you can import expense data to, Neat Receipts should fit the bill no matter your company’s expense report requirements.
The way that the Neat Receipts interface is set up, it is very easy to see at a glance your various files and folders. However, if you need to do a quick search for a receipt you can use the Fast Find feature. This allows you to find the last receipt you entered into Neat Receipts or the last 5, 10 or 15. It’s handy if you have a host of receipts. Likewise, you can use the search function at the top of the interface to put in name and find the associated receipt(s) for that item.
Another nice feature of Neat Receipts Professional is the Report tool. This tool allows you to create either a based on folder or receipt information and generate the reports based on client, location, project or vendor or how the items was purchased. I equate the report function that that in Quicken. It works quite well and provides you a simple and easy way to see where your money is being spent. The advantage to generating the reports here in Neat Receipts over a finanacial application is that you will not have to filter results as much given Neat Receipts will likely be the single storehouse for your business expenses.
While my review has focused on the receipt management aspect of Neat Receipts Professional, I should say a bit about the other functions of the software. In addition to receipts, you can scan in documents, business cards and generate tax related reports (based on your receipts). All of these various applets inside the application allow you to manage other information electronically instead of keeping up with various bits of paper. In particular I have found the business card scanner to be quite handy. Using the same OCR technology as the receipts applet, the business card scanner will allow identify the name, address, phone numbers and other information about the contact from the business card. Additionally you can scan the front and back of cards to complete the information about that contact. For example, my Spanlink Communications business cards have the company address on the back of the card, not on the front. Neat Receipts can put the two sides “together” to collect the needed information about me. It’s, erm, neat!
It is hard to explain how much better Neat Receipts Professional has made my ability to effectively store, archive and submit expense report receipts. No longer am I trudging through a mound of paper at the end of the week hoping to remember what is what. Now, each night while I’m on the road, I scan in my receipts for that day. It simplifies things throughout my trips and when I’m submitting my expense reports. Having used it for several months now there is no way I could go back to not having it.
The Neat Receipts Professional software and wand scanner sells for $179.95 and is available through Neat Receipts directly or other online retailers. Neat Receipts provides you a 30-day return policy as well so you can try it and make sure you like it in that time. For those who frequently travel through Dallas/Fort Worth International airport (DFW) or Chicago O’Hare (ORD), you will find Neat Receipts kiosks in various terminals (DFW has one in Terminal C and D) so you can see it in action right there in the place that leads you to needing it most – your business trip!
What I Like
Easy to use application
OCR functionality – the best I’ve ever seen!
Quick scanning function
What I Don’t Like
Nothing – It works and is a life saver!