Do you still keep your business accounts in a ledger book? Is it because you never found software that runs your business the way you do? Is it because you found some good software that was priced way over your head? Or is it because you tried some years ago, with frustrating or disastrous results?

Try again. We've found some good, cheap programs that record your bills and pay them, send invoices and statements and keep running inventories tied to order fulfillment. They also print balance sheets, budgets and other financials that look the way you like to see them.They're so sensibly put together, you don't need to be an accountant (or even a bookkeeper) to understand them. They're so easy to use, there's little learning time. And if you need help from the manufacturer, it's generally free.

We've tested some new programs for IBM compatibles and some for Macintosh. In upcoming columns we'll review P&L and three Macintosh programs. This week let's look at IBM-compatible Pacioli 2000, whose developer, J.M. Hurtado, also designed DacEasy. Hurtado sold DacEasy in 1987 and started a company to make computer training videos. In 1989, Hurtado says, he took "everything wrong with Dac-Easy and fixed it in Pacioli." Named after the father of double-entry bookkeeping, it's priced at a rock-bottom $50. We tested version 1.02.

Pacioli is, not surprisingly, a double-entry system. But it's organized the way we all do business - by tasks. Journals and ledgers were a good way to organize books kept on paper. But they're artificial, awkward and hindering on a computer.

Here, you make purchases and write checks, stock goods and sell them, and so on. All the best new accounting programs use this approach. If your company provides services instead of or as well as products, Pacioli inventories them, too.

Double-entry bookkeeping on paper makes you write everything twice, showing where the money comes from and where it goes to. Pacioli uses the computer's ability to find data stored anywhere and copy it. When you buy or sell, the computer enters the second side of the ledger wherever you tell it to.

Unusual transactions, such as moving money between bank accounts, need more of an assist. But clear help screens help us enter debits and credits correctly. In addition, there's Pacioli's small manual, which is better than the many thick looseleafs that come with some five-thousand-dollar accounting programs.

The manual explains basic rules of bookkeeping. An appendix walks you through tricky transactions such as depositing loans or stockholder investments. The index is poor, but we hope version 2 will fix that. A $7.50 training video is also available plus free unlimited phone support.

While the program seems tiny, it can hold 299 separate companies. You can assign up to nine password levels to prevent employees' seeing, adding to or changing certain data. You can secure each individual task. That's powerful passwording! It's written to run on any size network, but here, go slow. Like all first versions of software, bugs (mostly in network data-sharing) are still being found and fixed.

You can use letters or numbers for account and product codes, or names like Telephone and Supplies. There's room for 10 alphanumeric characters for accounts and 13 for products. You can set up five levels of subaccount, keeping separate figures for divisions, departments and sites.

A chart of accounts comes set up. You can use it or start from scratch. The manual explains what each account is for and suggests modifications. (Nonetheless, it'salways a good idea to ask your accountant's help setting up books.) You can keep three years' worth of accounts open, or formally close every month. You can't reopen closed periods, but can add a 37th `adjusting' month. Unlike older accounting programs, Pacioli doesn't erase transaction details when you close. You can always get historic data in print or onscreen.

You can add a new account or product while entering an order or check. That's very handy. Once you set up tables and percentages, Pacioli automatically figures terms, discounts and sales taxes.

You can select from five inventory costing systems: FIFO, LIFO, averaging, standard cost and last purchase price. Pacioli handles open-invoice and balance-forward receivables. It creates this year's budget automatically from last year's actuals. You can make any changes you'd like.

Many business management reports come set up, including unusual ones like a Statement of Sources and Uses of Money. There's a plainEnglish report generator to modify them and add many more.

Pacioli's payroll module is sold separately because it was ready after the rest of the program. It costs $7.50! It comes with tax withholding tables for the IRS and all 50 states. Employee records can store previous titles and salaries, suspension dates and a lot more.

You can enter employees in up to 999 departments and pay by salary, hourly or piece rate. You can set up once, as recurring entries, salaries that don't vary from week to week. After that, you pay just by calling up the entry and hitting an "OK" button.

Many businesses have other monthly transactions (such as rent) that don't vary. Some programs let you set these up as recurring entries, too. Unfortunately, Pacioli can't do that. Maybe next version.

It also can't rebuild data files that get damaged if a system crashes, something expensive programs do. Instead, you're reminded to back up files and given easy access to the MS-DOS command.

A worse drawback is that, while Pacioli needs 640K RAM to run (as well as a 10-meg hard disk), it can't use extended or expanded memory.

You may have to unload all your favorite pop-up programs to run it.

Find out! There's a 90-day money-back guarantee. If you can't get the program locally yet, phone M-USA at (800) 345-4243.