Automatically assign regular payees to a category

It has been a pet peeve for two decades now that when I download check transactions from my bank they are assigned to a random category, which periodically changes over the years (right now they are all assigned as "legal fees", for a long time they were "house cleaning". Each month I type in the missing payee and then have to edit the category field for each transaction. It would be delightful if, for example, each month's check to the trash folks could be assigned to my "Utilities: trash" category as soon as I type in the name of the trash hauler without a separate operation to edit the category.

Similarly every month there are multiple electronic transfers that come through as "uncategorized"; each month I have to edit them to put them in the correct category. Would it be too much to have the program automatically put my Blue Cross payment into "medical Insurance" without my intervention? (in these cases it fills in the Payee correctly) The last 100 repeats of exactly the same edit should be enough to train even the slowest AI. Some transactions do get correctly categorized, the logic of which ones do and which don't is an utter mystery.

Yes, I know checks are so 20th century, but I'm afraid I'm not going to get my wife to transition in this lifetime.
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  • jacobs
    jacobs SuperUser, Mac Beta Beta
    edited January 2021
    The complaint you have was addressed when Quicken Mac gained functionality for QuickFill rules. Creating a QuickFill rule does exactly what you want: allow you to create a rule for Blue Cross that uses the category you want it to. Have you tried creating any QuickFill rules for any of your Payees?

    If not, I suggest a good place to start on this issue is actually in Quicken Help. Go to Help > Quicken Help and click on Basics > QuickFill Rules. If you have questions, post back here.
    Quicken Mac Subscription • Quicken user since 1993
  • rwiegand
    rwiegand Member ✭✭
    Thanks for that. I'd been checking that box as I remember to, I guess I think computers should be smarter enough to learn stuff like that.

    Now I've found some recent "upgrade" has introduced a whole slew of new categories and the program is semi-randomly assigning my expenses to those new categories (often with names nearly identical to ones I already had) rather than the ones I've been using for 20 years now. It's taken me weeks to understand why my category searches had become sporadic. I've managed to figure out how to delete all those new, redundant categories, move all the transactions, and now to manually reassign the auto fill for each.

    It's wonderful to finally see some upgrades to this program, but some of the changes are just brain dead. (how hard would it have been for the program to ask "would you like to create 40-50 brand new categories that largely duplicate the ones you've already been using?" before just doing so and starting to use them?)
  • jacobs
    jacobs SuperUser, Mac Beta Beta
    @rwiegand  I am not aware of any recent updates which created new categories. I think the default categories in Quicken Mac are the same as they have been since the modern program debuted more than six years ago. Did you recently migrate to Quicken Mac from either Quicken 2007 for Mac or Quicken Windows? I believe each of those programs has their own default set of categories. I know that when I moved from Quicken 2007, I had some new categories which overlapped with ones which were either defaults in Quicken 2007 or ones I had manually created over two decades of using it.
    How hard would it have been for the program to ask "would you like to create 40-50 brand new categories that largely duplicate the ones you've already been using?"
    Rather hard, actually. ;) Had they done this, it would have required people moving to Quicken to go through every category to say "leave alone" or choose to merge with another. For some people with many dozens or hundreds of categories, this would have been an annoying and time-consuming process. And it would have been expecting people to decide, before seeing them, whether Quicken's default categories were better or worse than what they had been using.

    Perhaps more importantly, if Quicken didn't have any default categories, then it couldn't do auto-categorization. I have an old category called Dining with several sub-categories for Meals Out, Take-out Meals, etc. Quicken Mac has a Food & Dining category, with sub-categories for Restaurants, Fast Food, etc. If you go to McDonald's, Quicken's auto-categorization service knows to select Food & Dining:Fast Food as a category. If Quicken didn't have default categories, it would have no idea where to map McDonald's into my categories (for instance, Dining:Take-Out Meals), so many people would find a lot of their transactions initially Uncategorized. (And until last year, there were no QuickFill rules, so this would have been a big problem.)

    So for those reasons, and perhaps others, users coming from other versions of Quicken inherit a new group of default categories. For many users, some of those new categories will have the same name as before, so there are no duplicates or conflicts. For the others, it's left to users to simplify the categories if they wish to. And fortunately, it's not too difficult to do so. It sounds like you've figured out how to do most of this, but in case there are some hidden tricks you haven't discovered, or for others reading this thread…

    First, you can delete unused categories you don't want or need. When you open the Categories window, if you don't see a column called Status, Control-Click on the heading of any of the columns, ad from the pop-up menu, check Status. This allows you to see at a glance which Categories are used for one or more transactions (blank in the Status column), which ones are Unused and able to be deleted at the click of a button, and which are special categories Required by Quicken Mac. You can probably delete many of the Unused categories if you find no need for them.

    Next, you easily can Merge categories which are duplicates from different eras/versions of the program. As long as one of the categories isn't required, you can Shift-click on two or more categories, click the Merge button, select which of the categories you want to be the surviving name, and they'll be merged into one, updating all existing transactions and QuickFill Rules.

    Things to know about category merging:
    • You can only merge things at the same level. So you can merge two or more sub-categories of one category, but you can't merge a sub-category with a main category.
    • You can't merge a sub-category of one category with a sub-category of another category.
    • In order to deal with sub-categories like these you wish to merge, you can move a sub-category out from under its main category by dragging it in the list until you see a line for it above the main category. Once sub-categories are at the main category level, you can easily merge them. Alternatively, you can drag a sub-category of one category under the name of a different category to move which category the sub-category is under.
    • You can merge two or any number of main categories (or sub-categories of one category) in one operation: select all the ones you want to merge by Shift-clicking them, click the Merge button, and in the dialog box, be sure to specify which of them you want all the others merged into.
    • You can't do any merging with any of Quicken's Required categories or sub-categories.
    Just like tweaking the set-up of your register columns, defining reports, setting up a budget, cleaning up categories and setting up QuickFill rules is a start-up issue for new users of the modern Quicken Mac. The program doesn't prevent you from jumping in and getting started, but you may want to spend awhile arranging things the way you want them. And fortunately, just like tweaking column settings in register, once you do your category clean-up, it's done and you don't have to deal with it again.

    Hope that helps a bit.
    Quicken Mac Subscription • Quicken user since 1993
  • rwiegand
    rwiegand Member ✭✭
    Yes, I moved over from the Windoze version, which I used for decades. Quicken was the last reason I kept a Windows instance alive. Happy to be rid of it. I understand what you say, but I think being granted a choice to adopt a bunch of new categories or at least a warning that they were going to be added would have made my life a lot easier! Having it happen in the background is bad enough, having items that were previously auto-assigned to a category now shunted somewhere else just seems like a poor job of porting the Windows version over.
  • jacobs
    jacobs SuperUser, Mac Beta Beta
    @rwiegand  You're right that there's no documentation or explanation in the program about the import from Windows to Mac. Most things just work, fortunately, but there are some unexpected gotcha's that you just discover by using it. (I came from the old Mac version, Quicken 2007, which has many of the same issues moving to Quicken Mac as Quicken Windows users encounter.)

    In general, the program should have left most of your existing categories alone. The only place I'm aware of where the 2007 Mac import changed anything was the investment categories -- and it mapped everything correctly to the default investment categories in Quicken Mac. Otherwise, it leaves it up to the user to change their old categories to the different ones in Quicken Mac's default, or to continue using them and ignore -- or delete -- the default ones in Quicken Mac.

    The auto-categorization for downloads follows a strict mapping in the download servers run by Intuit, so they have to be mapped to categories Quicken Mac knows exist. You then have the choice of adapting Quicken's default categories so the auto-categorization will work going forward, or using your own categories which will break auto-categorization. If you allow Quicken Mac to create QuickFill rules for your transactions, and edit them as necessary to utilize the categories you prefer, after that period of tweaking, it should put things in the category you prefer without a lot of work on on ongoing basis.
    Quicken Mac Subscription • Quicken user since 1993