Besides rearing three rowdy (I mean precious) children, I am an independent contractor. What does that mean? I fat-finger expenses into Microsoft Excel and store piles of receipts, reports, business cards, and 1099s, just so I can claim my earnings/losses.At the beginning of each year, I start formulating my spreadsheet and calculate my profit/gains. If I need to recall a paycheck, I just quickly reference my spreadsheet. But, if I need the actual receipt, I gotta dig through piles of paper.
To make my life easier, Judie discovered the NeatReceipts Scanalizer while attending Showstoppers at CES, and passed it my way for review.
When unboxing this tiny little gem, I was quickly impressed with the sleek design. Unlike traditional scanners, it is not a huge flatbed taking up precious office space.? Instead, it weighs less than a pound and measures 10.8? x 1.6? x 1.3?.
Even more convenient is the accompanying holder, allowing me to store the scanalizer upright.? It is powered by a USB cord, so there is no adding to the spiderweb of power cords at my desk.? But, more importantly, it allows me to take it on trips and use it on a laptop.
photo courtesy of NeatReceipts
After noticing all these things, I uploaded the software to a compatible operating system.? ?At this time, NeatReceipts is only compatible to Microsoft Windows XP and 2000.? Plans are in place to be Vista complaint by March 1, 2007.? From start to finish, the software download took 40 minutes.? It also took 44 seconds until program start up and occurs with each launch.? I asked Neat Receipts contact Jeff Vogel about it and here is what he wrote:
?Each time you launch the software, it launches the MSDE database (Microsoft SQL Desktop Engine) ? that?s likely what is taking a while to launch.? We had previously left the database running even when you?re not using NeatReceipts, but that tends to slow down your machine?s overall performance.? Taking the extra few seconds at startup (and closing the database when you?re done with NeatReceipts) was the lesser of 2 evils.???
I kept that in mind throughout the last few weeks of using the program.? Most of the time, I got around the wait factor by starting NeatReceipts, then gathering my documents to scan. ?Once I started scanning, I fell for this little scanalizer.? It automatically analyzes my receipt and extracts most of the pertinent information. Take this example of how a business card is analyzed (courtesy of neatreceipts.com):
For a scanned business card, NeatReceipts can recognize the name of the business, contact name, address, and phone number.? The recognition comes from the Optical Character Recognition (OCR), which is a database of over 1,500 common businesses.? If the business is not recognized by the OCR, Neat Receipts will attempt to recall the information for your next scan.? In addition, Mr. Vogel advised OCR updates are approximately every 6 months, so the database continuously grows.??
After easily testing the business cards, I moved onto the receipts and documents.? This is where I hit a few bumps with extracting the correct information.? If I scanned a dining or gas station receipt (like the one below), the scanalizer quickly grabbed the vendor, payment type, date, taxes paid, and total purchase.? (HINT:? The tax paid could be a useful tool with the new IRS sales tax deduction!)
When I used receipts in a complex format, the scanalizer grabbed the wrong information.? It would either grab a zip code, employee number, or date for the dollar value.? In this example, the receipt total is $19.71 with $0.84 paid in tax.? The scanalizer totaled the purchase as $61.00 and did not list the sales tax.? But, where did it get $61.00?? All I could determine was that the scanner added up multiple numbers from the receipts to reach that amount.? Another option was that it possibly pulled the listed time.
The spreadsheet can be easily altered to the correct values.? By simply clicking on the spreadsheet, I quickly changed and added information.? Overall, I was still inputting less than I would into my Excel spreadsheet and my records were more organized.? It is a good thing anytime?my receipts are?stored alongside the database…no more paper cuts from digging in the files!
An impressive feature when scanning receipts was how fast and clear the scans were. ?I had a crumpled, carbon copy of a receipt that was barely legible.? I was merely testing to see how a crumpled paper would work with the scanner.? With a little nudge, the receipt was easily processed. ?To my surprise, NeatReceipts automatically enhanced my receipt and made it legible. ??
I also liked being able to import pictures of my receipts into the program.? In the past, I have taken pictures of my receipts and downloaded them.? I imported these pictures into NeatReceipts and the OCR almost always recognized the values.? If there was too much room along the edge or the picture was not a straight shot of the picture, it could not recognize the values.? But, I would not expect it to make up for my poor camera work!
The next feature to highlight is how NeatReceipts generates reports. By taking the time to scan and edit your receipt database, you could generate multiple report types.What you do is click on reports on the top tab.? When the window pops up, you can click on the tax report you need generated. For this example, I clicked on charitable donations, selected the folders to use, and specified a date range. The report was quickly generated and listed my scanned receipts.
Another way to generate reports is by exporting your receipts to Outlook, Quicken, Excel, Money, etc. I requested an export of my receipts to Excel and got this generated in less than 7 seconds.
It is a complete invoice ready to submit to my employer, the IRS, or for my records.? Since the data is completely transferred, it could still be manipulated within Excel and adapted to my needs.Now, let?s take a look at the document handling.? If I needed to scan a multi-page document, I would use my flatbed over NeatReceipts.? This is merely so I could toss the documents in the tray and walk-away from the scanner.?NeatReceipts allows a multi-page document, but you need to feed the documents individually.?Even though it cannot handle multiple pages, it handles documents of all sizes.? It can scan odd-shaped checks, any item up to 8?? wide, and any document up to 14? long.?
Another point was just how clear and fast the documents were scanned.?My flatbed requires a long startup, plus an initial scan to detect the length of the document.? Since NeatReceipts is so compact, it determines the length as it is scanned.? I can also place multiple receipts next to each other and scan them.? The OCR will not be able to decipher the difference, but again, I just changed the values to fit my needs and saved time downloading them at once.?Overall, I was impressed with NeatReceipts and have selected it as my default scanner. ??
I am not completely ready to donate my flatbed, but that is due to how often I scan multiple documents.? Also, please know this review is just the beginning of what NeatReceipts can do.? Every day I used it, I found a new feature?to make my life easier.? I have no doubt that when I file my 2007 taxes, it will be with more organization and with neat receipts.
The NeatReceipts Scanalizer is available from the manufacturer as well as other retailers.
What I Like: Fast and High-resolution scanning; Compact size and USB connector; Multi-purpose use (business cards, documents, receipts); Variety of report options; Reduces data entry; Paperless account of expenses; Compiles sales tax to deduct on your taxes; Online tech support and live chat
What Needs Improvement: OCR does not always read receipts;?Not compatible?with Vista, Windows 98, or Windows ME; Slow initial start-up, due to MSDE; Ability to feed multiple documents