Q: I have just purchased Quicken 2004 and I have started getting all of my credit card balances online. I’m also paying my credit card bills and other bills electronically.

When I get a payment notification by email, should I print it out for my records, or is downloading the account information to Quicken enough?

I am scared about losing the paper trail, and possibly damaging my credit by not keeping my books balanced.

A: I get all of my credit card statements online, too. Until you’re feeling comfortable with the program, I’d download the information into Quicken and also print a copy of the record so you can make sure the download of information has posted correctly.

I’d do this for about 6 months, until you’re confident that the records are downloading correctly.

The best way to check, of course, is to reconcile your credit card statements at the end of each month. Since you’re just starting out on Quicken, it should be easy to do. Simply follow the directions when you hit the reconcile in the banking section.

Also, when you pay bills online, you won’t have a check number to input into your system. I usually type in epay for the check number. This allows me to find my credit card payments rather easily.

Good luck with the program, and congratulations on taking such a positive step for your finances this year.

Q: Have you heard of Carlton H. Sheets, the real estate investor who is a millionaire? Would you recommend his approach to real estate investing? Have you tried this method for your real estate success?

A: Carlton Sheets has been around for a very long time, at least as long as I have been writing about real estate, which is just over 15 years.

I’m not really sure what method he advocates, however, since I refuse to pay the hundreds of dollars he asks for the program he advertises on his infomercial. I have read his book, and have found others to be both easier to understand and filled with more interesting techniques for making money in investment real estate. For more information on Carlton Sheets, simply go to Google.com and type in his name.

If you’re interested in buying property with nothing down, and then flipping it to make a profit, there are a number of good books to read.

You might try any of Robert Shemin’s books, including Secrets of a Millionaire Real Estate Investor, Secrets of a Millionaire Real Estate Landlord, and his newest book, Secrets of Buying and Selling Real Estate without Using Your Own Money.

Another great author is Robert Irwin, who has written more than 50 books on this, and related, topics.

As for putting nothing down, it can work out okay for investment property, but if you want to have positive cash flow, you’ll really have to get a great deal.

Q: Is it better to handle your own escrow account or let the Mortgage Company handle your escrow?

A: I think it’s better to be in control of your own cash all the time. So, I prefer to escrow my own money for my real estate tax bill and pay my own insurance premium. That way, I earn the interest on my money, and I know for sure that the tax bill has been paid.

But a lot of people see it differently. They prefer to pay a mortgage company to do this for them because this way, the money really gets set aside, and they don’t have to scramble when the tax bill arrives.

(I think these folks are people who also prefer to overpay Uncle Sam so they get a “refund” in the Spring.)

You should do what works best for you. But remember, the responsibility for getting your real estate taxes paid is ultimately on your shoulders. If you choose to have the mortgage company escrow the taxes, be sure to get a duplicate copy of the bill sent to you and then check to be sure the taxes have been paid.

Jan. 19, 2009.