How do you repair errors in your QuickBooks data file?

If you've got a small business odds are very high that you use Intuit's QuickBooks for your accounting. You may have figured out by now that things go wrong with QuickBooks now and then. On occasion, they go wrong to the point of corrupting your database.

You might not be able to open your company file. Perhaps QuickBooks says it's "Not a QuickBooks data file or is damaged", perhaps along with a helpful code like "(-6189, -83)."

Some data corruptions don't show up with error messages, and you may only find them with a verify operation. It's a good idea to run a prophylactic verify now and then. Some errors show up in subtle and sinister ways, like your balance sheet not balancing. In the event of an error you should try to verify your data. If there are errors it may help to rebuild the database.

If the company file is on a network share, you must do the verify and rebuild on the computer designated as the datafile server. You see specious errors if you try to verify across the network. (In fact, you see errors if you try to do a backup, portable file, or accountant's copy over the network as well.)

One more thing: QuickBooks 2011 R4 introduced a bug that made verify fail even if the file was fine. Intuit has released Update R5, and it fixes the bug. To see what update version you're running, open QB and press F2. The version and update data is on the top left of the Information window.

There are cases where the automated Rebuild utility can't do the job. In such cases there are services available on the web that can attempt to fix your database. I recently had the need to do this for a client. Intuit has such a service with two options: Standard ($250) and Express ($750).

Standard puts you at the back of the line, and Intuit will get to you when it gets to you; I've heard that a week is a typical time frame, but it depends on how busy Intuit is and how many people pay for the Express service. That's because people who pay Express go to the front of the line (presumably behind everyone who paid for Express before they did). So Express service can be very fast or not; it depends. And it's not just a matter of speed; If you continue to work in QuickBooks after submitting the file you will have to merge any new transactions into the fixed database, and this can't be done without using more third-party software.

Intuit can't and doesn't guarantee that they can recover all your data. Their fees include a $75 non-refundable data analysis fee, but if they can't recover your data you are only charged the $75.

There are many 3rd party services for QuickBooks data file repair as well. I chose one recommended by a friend, who said it has a good reputation in the QuickBooks community. QuickBooksUsers.com also has two service levels: Standard ($295) and Expedited ($425). The site claims turnaround for Standard is "about 2 business days" and "guaranteed satisfaction, or no charge." Expedited service is performed "[g]uaranteed turnaround overnight or over a weekend."

The company was basically pleasant to deal with. We uploaded our database Friday at 5 p.m. and got a notice that the repaired database was available for download Saturday at 11 p.m. The company returned the file as a QuickBooks portable file with the Admin password reset to blank. I restored it with the Restore a Portable File command. I then did the prudent thing, which is to do a Verify and was crestfallen at the error that stopped the process at around 60 percent.

It turned out that the error wasn't really anything the repair people could have fixed on their own. It appeared to be related to links to files outside of the company file and which we didn't send in for the repair service. No biggie though: one QuickBooks repair operation and the problem was gone.

Of course, even if this particular service is impressive, it's hard to walk away feeling good any more than you can feel good about having your transmission rebuilt well and quickly. It's still just money out of your pocket. But it's good to know about these services because, as I said, things go wrong with QuickBooks, and problems with it can grind your business to a halt.

Larry SeltzerLarry Seltzer is a freelance writer and consultant, dealing mostly with security matters. He has written recently for Infoworld, eWEEK, Dr. Dobb's Journal, and is a Contibuting Editor at PC Magazine and author of their Security Watch blog. He has also written for Symantec Authentication (formerly VeriSign) and Lumension's Intelligent Whitelisting site.

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