Solid payroll services typically help businesses pay employees correctly, manage tax withholdings, and ensure deductions are withheld accordingly (for benefit premiums, retirement savings, etc.). When choosing a provider, note that there is no single best payroll service—the nuances of your business largely determine what’s best for you.
Our top picks all reflect affordable cost and ease of use as priorities, but what makes them stand out from those on other review sites is the criteria used to rank them. As a payroll expert with years of accounting and finance experience, I evaluated each payroll service among dozens of providers using specific criteria that can only be determined using real-world business experience and software or service testing.
Top Online Payroll Service Picks for 2021
There are numerous payroll services for you to choose from—we have buyer’s guides for the most common business setups. And below, we’ve compiled a list of providers that ranked No. 1 at least once.
Ranked by Payroll Experts as No. 1 in Each Category
Still unsure which buyer’s guide or payroll service is right for you? Take our two-minute quiz below.
Answer a few questions about your business and we'll give you personalized product match
Gusto ranks well among our payroll buyer’s guides—even after earning Best Overall in six (five shown above), it still earned its way into at least the top six to eight providers of many others. It’s a great payroll service for small businesses in general because its features are pretty well-rounded; you can run payroll an unlimited number of times, offer health insurance and benefits, and receive HR support. Gusto is also affordable (plus it offers a free trial) and provides full-service payroll in all of its plans, meaning taxes and paychecks are both calculated and paid (plus taxes are filed).
QuickBooks Payroll ranks well in our payroll buyer’s guides—currently holding three No. 1 spots. What many users like about QuickBooks Payroll is the variety of products it offers. On the one hand, it has four full-service payroll plans, similar to Gusto, that help users manage their payroll entirely online. However, it also offers products for specific niches like accounting firms, self-employed individuals, and so on.
Its online payroll products are part of a larger set of Intuit products that integrate seamlessly; since many small businesses start out using QuickBooks for accounting, adding payroll is usually the logical next step. It’s also affordable and offers a free trial.
Although ADP Run only ranks No. 1 for construction companies, it ranks pretty high in several other payroll and HR buyer’s guides, including our best payroll software and best international payroll services guides. It’s fit for small businesses that have more than a handful of employees—plans range from payroll to a combination of payroll and HR (recruiting, background checks, and even consulting are available) but especially for growing companies. It has numerous products beyond ADP Run that make it easy for businesses that plan to grow over the years to transition easily, even a PEO.
Types of Online Payroll Services We Evaluated
Just to be clear, we evaluated four kinds of outsourced payroll services: full-service payroll providers, online payroll software (some require you to have more payroll training than others), HR payroll software (some are considered HRISes), and professional employer organizations (PEOs).
Types of Payroll Services
Full-service Payroll Solution
Online Payroll Software
HR Payroll Software
Professional Employer Organization
Software allows users to run payroll in-house
Experts are on call to help and walk-through tasks
Some; Basic/bare-bones DIY software usually doesn’t
Owns HR administration
Files and pays taxes
Some; Free software may not
When it comes to choosing the best payroll service for your business, you have multiple options. Making the right decision for your business depends on your immediate needs and your growth plans. For additional resources to help you make the best choice for your business, we have payroll software reviews and payroll articles comparing many of these providers side by side. You could also choose to hire a local bookkeeping or accounting service to do your payroll; it’ll likely be more expensive than some of the options we reviewed, but if you value face-to-face service, it could be worth it.