Best Free Accounting Software Programs for 2023
This article is part of a larger series on Accounting Software.
Sole proprietors and freelancers can often use free accounting software to track income and expenses to file tax returns. The best free accounting software should include the ability to track all income and expenses, import bank account transactions, and produce basic financial reports like profit and loss, balance sheets, and cash flow reports.
Here are our top five recommendations for the best free accounting software for small businesses:
- Wave: Best overall free accounting software
- Zoho Books Free: Best for freelancers and businesses with less than $50,000 in revenue
- ZipBooks: Best for creating and sending unlimited invoices
- GnuCash: Best open-source desktop accounting software
- NCH Express Accounts: Best desktop accounting software for businesses with five or fewer employees
Free Plan Limitations
Scalable, Such as Availability of Premium Plans
Standout Free Features
Only for businesses with less than $50,000 in revenue; only one user
Only one user
Only one user
Desktop only (Windows, Linux, and Mac)
Limited to companies with five employees
Desktop only (Windows and Mac)
Retailers need accounting software that tracks their cost of goods sold (COGS), which the free cloud-based software on our list won’t do. We highly recommend any business with significant inventory spend the money to subscribe to QuickBooks Online Plus for high-quality inventory accounting in easy-to-use software. You can check out our best small business accounting software, which have some advanced accounting features like inventory management.
Wave: Best Overall Free Accounting Software
- Free accounting and invoicing
- Easy to set up
- Vendor bills and customer invoices can be created and tracked easily
- Offers bookkeeping assistance for a fee
- Bank reconciliations don't work if there are checks written that have not cleared the bank
- Very limited mobile app functionality
- Cannot track project profitability
- Bookkeeping support through Wave Advisor at $149 per month
- Assisted payroll services through Wave Payroll for $35 per month for tax service states and $20 per month for self-service states
- Recurring invoices
- Autofill items into invoices and bills
- Sales tax tracking
The free features that we like the most are the following:
- Unlimited user access: Wave lets you add as many users and companies as needed for free. Most free bookkeeping software include only one user, and you’ll have to upgrade to a paid plan to add multiple users.
- Managing unpaid bills: A/P is Wave’s strongest feature. It makes it easy for users to track bills, purchases, and vendors. You can also enter bills and expenses without paying.
- Invoicing: Despite being free, Wave is good at invoicing. You can customize invoices in different ways, such as choosing from various templates, including your logo, and adding a personalized message.
Wave has a very minimalistic dashboard, which includes different tabs, such as launchpad, sales and payments, purchases, accounting, and banking. As you scroll down, you’ll see charts displaying a summary of your income and expenses, invoices and bills payable, an expense breakdown, and other important information about your business.
Wave is a totally free software with no higher premium plans. Therefore, it is not a scalable solution for growing businesses. If you envision your business to grow in the near future, we recommend choosing paid accounting software like QuickBooks Online. For only $30 per month for one user, you get the most basic bookkeeping functions you’ll ever need as a startup.
Zoho Books: Best for Businesses With Less Than $50,000 in Revenue
- Free plan for businesses with less than $50,000 in annual revenue
- Competitive features at an affordable price
- Can reconcile bank accounts even when checks are outstanding
- Capable mobile app
- Free plan is only for a single user
- Billing, inventory, and project accounting is available only in the Professional and Premium plans
- Custom reports and budgeting is available only in the Professional Plan
- Manage up to 1,000 invoices per year
- Online and offline payments
- Recurring invoices
- Mileage and expense tracking
- Bank and credit card statement imports
- Payment gateways through PayPal and Stripe
Here are the free features that you’ll get from Zoho Books’ free plan:
- Invoice customization: Zoho Books’ invoice customization feature is commendable. Users can manipulate the look and feel of the invoices—you can add a logo, change the template, colors, and font styles, and add a personalized message after the invoice.
- Mobile app: Zoho Books’ mobile app is the best among all the programs we’ve reviewed. It is helpful for doing regular tasks like sending invoices, entering bills, and receiving payments. Users can also view reports, track time, and categorize bank feed expenses on the mobile app.
- Zoho integrations: The free version can be integrated with other Zoho apps, including Zoho CRM, Zoho People, Zoho Expense, and Zoho Inventory.
Zoho Books’ dashboard includes a list of your bank and credit card accounts and a summary of your financial transactions, including your total payables and receivables, cash flow, income and expenses, and projects.
Zoho Books’ free version has a $50,000 annual revenue limit. If your small business is not yet on that level, you may stay in the free plan. However, Zoho Books is scalable and very flexible. We highly recommend it if you want to start free and stay in one accounting software provider.
The monthly pricing per organization of Zoho Books’s paid tiers are as follows:
- Standard: $20 per month for up to three users; can send up to 5,000 invoices per year
- Professional: $50 per month for up to five users; unlimited invoices
- Premium: $70 per month for up to 10 users; unlimited invoices
- Elite: $150 per month for up to 10 users; unlimited invoices
- Ultimate: $275 per month for up to 15 users; unlimited invoices
- Additional users: $3 per user, per month
- Receipts scanning: $10 for 50 scans per month
- Snail mail credits for sending invoices: $2 per credit
ZipBooks: Best for Creating & Sending Unlimited Invoices
- Unlimited invoices are very easy to create and track
- Easy to use, even for nonaccountants
- Able to attach receipts to transactions
- Unlimited customers and vendors
- No mobile app
- Can only connect one bank or credit card account
- Cannot import transactions from comma-separated values (CSV) or spreadsheet files
- No inventory tracking features
- Unlimited invoicing to unlimited customers
- Payment gateways from PayPal or Stripe
- Account for value-added tax (VAT), taxes, and invoice discounts
- Multicurrency invoicing
- Track vendor and customer details
The best features of ZipBooks Free are:
- Invoicing: ZipBooks’ invoicing screen is very user-friendly, even for non-accountants. It has readily available templates that you can customize in a few seconds.
- Assisted bookkeeping option: If you want a personal bookkeeper to handle bookkeeping and assist in preparing tax filings, ZipBooks offers a bookkeeping plan that includes the ZipBooks software for free.
ZipBooks’ dashboard is the first thing you’ll see when you log into your account. It gives you quick access to its most commonly used features, such as invoicing, transactions, contacts, and payroll.
ZipBooks is also a scalable option on this list—but it’s not as scalable as Zoho Books. Upgrading to ZipBooks Sophisticated can give you advanced accounting features, though not as advanced as Zoho Books Ultimate. We recommend choosing ZipBooks over Zoho Books if there’s no need for advanced accounting features like advanced analytics, multi currency handling, and real-time reporting.
The paid plans of ZipBooks are as follows:
- Smarter: $15 for five users
- Sophisticated: $35 for unlimited users
Are you unsure between ZipBooks and Wave? Read our ZipBooks vs Wave comparison to learn which free accounting software is more suitable for your needs.
GnuCash: Best Open-Source Accounting Software
- Outstanding cash management and amortization features
- Free and customizable
- No internet connection required
- Requires programming expertise to modify or enhance the source code
- No option to remotely share data with another user
- Very hard to use
- Customer support is software manual only
- Checkbook-style register for recording cash, check, and credit card transactions
- Transaction scheduling
- Customizable reports for profit and loss (P&L) statements, balance sheets, portfolio valuations, and cash flow
- Multicurrency accounting
- Stocks and mutual fund accounting
The best free features we like from GnuCash are as follows:
- Open source: Because it’s open-source software, programmers can modify or enhance the source code to strengthen the security or improve functionality. Since the source code is readily available, GnuCash can be redesigned to be a powerful accounting system that’s customized to your needs.
- Cash and amortization tracking: You can track your cash flow easily, reconcile your accounts, and even connect your bank account. GnuCash’s amortization features help you segregate your long-term loan payments into interest and principal, so you can see how much is deducted from the principal and how much interest you have paid.
GnuCash has a spreadsheet-like dashboard, which shows a list of your accounts and income and expenses. The dashboard looks a bit outdated, and it may be difficult to navigate, especially if you’re used to cloud-based software.
GnuCash is an open source accounting software that can be modified by altering its source code. This software is scalable up to a certain extent, but we believe that small businesses will find it difficult. Since altering its source codes requires an IT expert, the cost of modifying or upgrading GnuCash’s codes weighs more than the benefits it has to offer. Hence, we recommend choosing scalable free accounting software in this guide, like ZipBooks and Zoho Books.
NCH Express Accounts: Best Free Desktop Accounting Software for Businesses With 5 or Fewer Users
- Reconcile bank and credit card accounts even when timing differences exist
- Free for companies with fewer than five users
- Easy to use considering it’s a traditional accounting software program
- Cannot establish a live connection with your bank or credit card account
- Remote access to your program requires configuration of your firewall and router
- No mobile app
- Steep learning curve for non-accountants
- Sales and A/R management and reporting
- Basic financial statements and other specific financial reports like sales by customer report, sales by salesperson report, and many more
- Purchases and A/P management and reporting
- Check creation and printing
- Purchase order creation
The best free features of NCH Express are as follows:
- Bank reconciliation: NCH Express Accounts, one of our best bank reconciliation software, offers a convenient bank reconciliation feature—you can add or edit transactions easily without leaving the reconciliation.
- Intuitive workflow diagram: NCH Express Accounts provides a workflow diagram within each accounting function that helps users understand the accounting cycle within the area and shows them where they should enter transactions.
When you log into your account, you’ll see a traditional dashboard with a workflow diagram. We are unimpressed with it, as the small fonts can be hard to read.
NCH Express Accounts is, by default, a paid software. However, it has free software for businesses with five or fewer users. If you expect the number of employees to grow in the coming months, we recommend buying the paid versions for ease of use.
The paid plans of NCH Express Accounts are as follows:
- Express Accounts Plus: $129 one-time payment
- Express Accounts Basic: $99 one-time payment
- Express Invoice Plus: $139 one-time payment
- Inventoria Corporate Edition: $195 one-time payment
- Reflect CRM Plus: $35 one-time payment
Microsoft Excel is a helpful tool to supplement your free accounting software by providing some of the missing accounting functions. Read our article on how to use Excel for accounting to learn how to track invoices, bills, COGS, and inventory costs. Plus, you get a free downloadable template.
How We Evaluated Free Accounting Software
We evaluated the best free accounting software in terms of general features and whether they have the basic functions of paid solutions, such as bank feeds and bank reconciliations. Finally, we assessed the platforms based on pricing, ease of use, and our own expert evaluation.
40% of Overall Score
We considered the software’s general accounting features, banking, A/P, A/R, tax, and reporting features. Since we were evaluating free applications, we gave higher points to products that offered premium accounting features. Moreover, we looked into whether or not they contained at least the basic features needed in small business accounting.
5% of Overall Score
Inventory accounting appears to be an elusive feature in most free accounting software. If you need inventory accounting, we recommend going with a paid accounting program. Hence, we gave inventory a light weight. We evaluated the software’s ability to track inventory costs and stock levels. More importantly, we took into consideration whether the software could automatically track the COGS and compute the cost of ending inventory.
5% of Overall Score
Just like inventory accounting, project accounting is an elusive feature. Project accounting is essential for service-based businesses looking for a free accounting software product. That’s why we evaluated the software’s ability to do more than just bill clients and create estimates.
25% of Overall Score
Most users looking for a free accounting software service intend to self-manage the books. For ease of use, we gave higher scores to products that are easy for non-accountants to use. We also considered accessible customer service and support networks.
5% of Overall Score
A mobile app should help on-the-go users keep their books organized. It should let users send invoices, send payments, receive payments, and enter bills. We also like to see advanced features, like viewing reports and recording time worked.
20% of Overall Score
We considered user ratings in the evaluation of free accounting software. User reviews have a large percentage because we want to take into account the feedback of actual software users. Since these platforms are free, there is an abundance of reviews from users who have tried the software.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
When do I use free accounting software?
If you are a budget-conscious small business or freelancer and only need simple accounting, like income and expense tracking and invoicing, then you should consider free accounting software. Don’t use free tools if you buy and sell goods as you’ll need to calculate your COGS by hand.
How do I choose the best free accounting software?
When looking for the best free accounting software, determine the features you need. Do you require an invoicing solution? Do you have multiple users? Do you want the ability to manage projects? Figure out which functions are important to you and find out which programs offer those. Other factors you should consider include ease of use, customer support, and user reviews.
What are the important features of free accounting software?
Small businesses should look for essential features, such as income and expense tracking, invoicing, and reporting. Also, check if the software has a free mobile accounting app—which is important in today’s digital age. We recommend Zoho Books’ mobile app because it allows you to perform many basic functions, such as sending invoices, recording bills, accepting payments, and recording time worked.
Wave is the overall best free accounting software for small businesses because it has no limitations, unlike other free options. Both ZipBooks and Zoho Books have great free plans but are limited only to a single user. Moreover, Zoho Books sets a $50,000 annual revenue limit to qualify for the free plan. We recommend choosing either one if you have plans to scale in the near future.
If you’re looking for accounting software with all the accounting features you’ll ever need, we recommend checking out QuickBooks Online Plus.