Online payroll software makes it easy to calculate wages, pay employees via direct deposit and file taxes. We looked at the most popular options and rising stars and decided to review Gusto, Intuit QuickBooks Payroll and Patriot Payroll. These companies covered the range of options for small businesses in terms of ease of use, features, and price.
Best Payroll Software For Small Businesses: Gusto
We recommend Gusto as the best payroll software for small businesses because it includes full tax support at a lower cost that Intuit QuickBooks Payroll and is competitively priced overall. It’s also one of the easiest payroll software to use, with many convenient tools like self-onboarding, benefits management, and their top-rated customer service.
Gusto vs Intuit QuickBooks Payroll vs Patriot Payroll Summary Table
|Best For||Best overall for small business||Businesses that already use QuickBooks accounting software||Most affordable option|
|Pricing as Reviewed|
|$39/month plus $6/month per employee or contractor||$60/month plus $5/month per employee or contractor*||$10/month plus $2/month per additional employee|
|Ease of Setup/Use|
|1099 Support||Included||Yes, for an extra $16/ contractor per year||Yes, for an extra $7.50/month|
|Federal and State Payroll Taxes||Gusto handles all payroll taxes for you||Intuit QuickBooks Payroll will fill out tax forms, but you need to submit them (full tax service available for higher price)||Patriot Payroll will fill out tax forms, but you need to submit them (full tax service available for higher price)|
|QuickBooks, Xero, FreshBooks, TSheets, and more||QuickBooks||None|
|Phone, email, and chat support, from 6am - 5pm PST||Phone and email support, from 9am - 9pm EST||Phone and live chat support, from 8am - 5pm EST|
*Price promotions are regularly offered
Best Payroll Software for Small Businesses: Gusto
We recommend Gusto as the best payroll software for small businesses because of its ease of use and the service that Gusto provides for a competitive price. Setup is well organized and simply explained, and to help save time you can invite your employees to enter their personal information — such as their SSN, tax withholding preferences, benefits, etc. — themselves. Once the initial setup is complete, you can automate your payroll so that your employees receive their paychecks at regular intervals via direct deposit without any additional work on your end.
All payroll taxes are filed and paid for you, so there’s no worrying about filling out forms or sending checks. Comparable full service programs like Intuit QuickBooks Payroll Full Service start at $105/month compared to $45/month for Gusto for their base packages and one employee.
Gusto is also a growing benefits management platform. You can purchase workers compensation insurance, set up 401K retirement plans, or create tuition savings plans directly through the program. Health benefits are available in 17 states, with more coming soon. They also offer more advanced HR tools, certified HR advisory services, and benefits such as HSAs, FSAs, and commuter.
Finally, Gusto offers more integrations with third-party accounting apps, such as QuickBooks Xero, and FreshBooks, than both Intuit QuickBooks Payroll and Patriot Payroll. However, because Intuit QuickBooks Payroll and QuickBooks accounting both fall under the same suite of software, their integration is more seamless than Gusto’s and efficiencies can come from familiarity with them.
Best Payroll Software for QuickBooks Integration: Intuit QuickBooks Payroll
In the past, we have recommended Intuit QuickBooks Payroll if you needed certain advanced features such as multiple pay schedules, accruing paid time off, or splitting direct deposit between multiple bank accounts. The primary reason to choose Intuit QuickBooks Payroll used to be to save money on these advanced features. In particular, bundling enhanced payroll with QuickBooks is only $60/month plus $5/month per employee (price promotions are regularly offered).
However, since Gusto now offers all of these features, the scenarios to choose Intuit QuickBooks Payroll are a bit less common.
One significant benefit to Intuit QuickBooks Payroll is that it integrates seamlessly with QuickBooks, the world’s leading accounting software for small businesses. If you already use QuickBooks, you may be more comfortable with using their payroll service as well rather than learning an entirely new system. Gusto integrates with QuickBooks as well, but a third-party integration can’t compare to two software within the same suite as with Intuit.
However, be aware that enhanced payroll doesn’t manage payroll taxes or W2s on your behalf. Intuit QuickBooks Payroll’s Full Service Payroll will, but this starts at $100/month plus $5/month per employee. Because Gusto includes this for $39/month plus $6/month per employee, it is the more affordable option for the equivalent features.
Best Affordable Payroll Software: Patriot Payroll Software
Patriot Payroll software is for businesses that would like a more affordable option and don’t mind a little more manual work. Starting at $10/month, you can run payroll just as you can with Intuit QuickBooks Payroll or Gusto. The main missing feature is tax support – Patriot Payroll will calculate your federal and state tax liabilities, but you’ll need to file and pay these yourself. There is a full tax service available as an upgrade, but at $25/month plus $4/month per employee, it’s only a little cheaper than Gusto at $39/month plus $6/month per employee — and Gusto is the better software that gives you more tools for the price.
Patriot Payroll’s payroll software is a little more difficult to use than Gusto’s, but you get setup help over the phone or via live chat. You can even email your data to Patriot Payroll’s support team and have them manually import it into your new account.
Also, curiously, Patriot Payroll is one of the few payroll software not to offer a mobile app.
In-Depth Review: Gusto vs Intuit QuickBooks Payroll vs Patriot Payroll Software
Of our three payroll programs we evaluated, Patriot Payroll is generally the least expensive (unless you have several 1099 contractors). However, while price is important, it’s also important to weigh what that includes, which we outline below.
Gusto initially appears to be the most expensive, but this is because they don’t offer a basic edition with limited features — there are no tiers of service, only one package that’s inclusive of all features. The equivalent package to Gusto’s service level from Intuit QuickBooks Payroll (which files and pays taxes on your behalf) would cost $125/month for five employees. For Patriot Payroll, the equivalent package is $41 (with add-on charges for some optional features).
Gusto comes in one edition, which includes the full set of features that most small business owners are looking for, including tax support and 1099 and payments. The base price is $39/month plus $6/month per employee or contractor.
Intuit QuickBooks Payroll offers multiple tiers of service, which are grouped by whether you want to run your payroll yourself or you would like the software to run it for you. Here is a comparison of those options.
First, if you choose to run your payroll yourself:
|Simple Start with Enhanced Payroll||Essentials with Enhanced Payroll||Plus with Enhanced Payroll|
|Price||$45/month plus $5/month per employee||$60/month plus $5/month per employee||$75/month plus $5/month per employee|
And if you would like the software to run your payroll for you:
|Simple Start with Full Service Payroll||Essentials with Full Service Payroll||Plus with Full Service Payroll|
|Price||$100/month plus $5/month per employee||$115/month plus $5/month per employee||$130/month plus $5/month per employee|
Intuit QuickBooks Payroll Enhanced is $60/month plus $5/month for each employee or contractor you want on payroll. However, you’ll also have to pay extra to file 1099s at the end of the year with a one-time payment of $16/contractor.
‘Enhanced’ is one of three payroll packages offered by Intuit QuickBooks Payroll. There’s a more basic package that starts at $45/month plus $5/employee, but it doesn’t give you any help on payroll taxes or creating W2s, which most small business owners will want. There’s also a premium ‘Full Service’ package that begins at $100/month plus $5/employee. All taxes, W2s and even submitting payroll are handled for you.
We feel that the ‘Enhanced’ package of the Intuit QuickBooks Payroll group is the best value since it’s largely automated (W2s and payroll tax forms are filled out for you, you just need to submit them). However, if you do really want a service that will handle taxes and submit payroll automatically, then Gusto can do this for a lower price than Intuit QuickBooks Payroll Full Service.
Patriot Payroll offers two tiers of service — basic and full service. Here’s how they compare.
|Price||$10/month plus $2/month per employee||$25/month plus $4/month per employee|
With Patriot Payroll, full service payroll starts at $25/month for one employee plus $4/month for each additional employee. This includes 1099s. This is a great price for a system that files taxes and issues W2 for you. However, if you’re willing to spend in this range, you should consider the relatively minimal additional cost for Gusto. Patriot Payroll doesn’t have nearly the same user-friendliness, nor do they offer benefits, accrued vacation time, or running payroll on auto-pilot, among other features.
Time and attendance is an optional add-on from Patriot Payroll that starts at $5/month plus $1/month for each employee. Patriot also offers HR software for an additional $4/month plus $1/month for each employee; however, the HR software add on basically functions as electronic file storage for you. Calling it HR software is a bit of a misnomer, in our opinion, particularly when compared to actual HR software.
Ease of Setup and Use
Setting up your payroll software can be a time consuming and challenging process regardless of which solution you choose. However, all three of the software we reviewed made efforts to ease the burden on your business in different ways, from intuitive user interfaces to exceptional customer support.
Gusto delivers the most modern and intuitive user interface of the three software we reviewed. Setup is assisted by an eight-step guided process and you can chat with Gusto’s customer support team via a live chat function within the system.
But the most notable feature of Gusto’s setup process is that you can invite your employees to enter their personal information themselves, such as their SSN, contact information, and tax withholding preferences. This “self-onboarding” can save you significant time and effort.
Intuit QuickBooks Payroll assists you in the setup process by including a number of tutorials for each step in their comprehensive online knowledge base. And if you’re already a QuickBooks user for accounting purposes, you can easily migrate any data over and integrate the two.
Once set up, Intuit QuickBooks Payroll allows for a high level of customization. You can turn different features on and off depending on whether or not you use them, which helps to clean up the interface to only include those features you’ll need. Intuit QuickBooks Payroll defaults to the most commonly used features, but every business is unique.
Accounting and payroll software are naturally complex, but Intuit QuickBooks Payroll effectively layers their interface to ease navigation. Tabs and icons are clearly displayed and labelled, and navigation dynamically updates to reflect the section you’re working within.
The setup process for Patriot Payroll can be time consuming as it requires a number of steps up front, such as entering the pay history for each of your employees and finding your company’s unemployment insurance tax rate. Time commitment aside, the process is relatively simple otherwise; however, there’s no option for your employees to add their personal information themselves like they can with Gusto.
Patriot Payroll does offer comprehensive customer support, including the option to send them your company’s data for them to enter for you.
Once Patriot Payroll is set up and operational, navigating the software can be somewhat cumbersome due to its dated user interface. This is an area where Gusto excels, and Intuit QuickBooks Payroll is an improvement on Patriot Payroll as well.
Features & Integrations
All three software deliver a basic suite of features that help you to manage payroll for your business. They each offer additional features that help to differentiate them from each other, but here’s some of what they have in common:
- Calculate an employee’s gross pay for a pay cycle based on hours worked or salary and any bonuses
- Calculate their paycheck after deducting for withholdings, payroll taxes, and other deductions
- Pay employees via direct deposit or print checks for them
- Pay contractors and print year end 1099 forms
- Create and print year end tax forms for employees and government agencies, such as W-2s, W-3s, Form 940, and 1099s
- Calculate employment related payments to government agencies
- Calculate payments due for state and federal unemployment insurance
Advanced features include tax-filing service, paid time off tracking, and integrations with third-party accounting and time tracking software. Of the three software, Intuit QuickBooks Payroll and Gusto offer the widest range of features while Patriot Payroll Payroll is relatively basic.
Gusto has several handy features that are designed to make payroll easier for you. Employee self-service onboarding allows employees to enter their personal information, such as their SSN, tax withholding preferences, and benefits plans themselves without any hassle to you.
You can also run payroll on “auto-pilot,” which means Gusto will automatically process and direct deposit paychecks every regular pay period. You only have to log in if pay information, such as hours worked or commission earned, needs to be changed.
Like Intuit QuickBooks Payroll, Gusto also has the ability to manage paid time off, such as sick or vacation days. You can allocate a number of days to each employee or accrue days over time.
Gusto is also growing a benefits management program. They make it easy to purchase 401k retirement plans for $8/month per employee, 529 plans (tuition savings plans) for $6/month per employee, and workers compensation insurance.
In California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Washington, users can even purchase health insurance. Employees have access to a self-service portal to choose and manage their health plans.
Intuit QuickBooks Payroll used to have a leg up with certain advanced features. You could set up multiple pay schedules, direct deposit into two separate accounts for one employee, manage sick/vacation days and accrue paid time off over time. However, Gusto has also added each one of these features, so the two are now about equivalent.
Intuit QuickBooks Payroll does still have some unique features: Poster Compliance service gets you copies of all the necessary federal and state labor posters for an additional $70-$88/year. There’s also a tight integration with Intuit QuickBooks Payroll’s other leading program: QuickBooks. However, they don’t offer any other third-party integrations.
Patriot Payroll is a bit of an à la carte service — meaning, you can pick and choose add ons to customize the software to your specific needs. This includes time and attendance tracking, accounting, HR tools, and more. Unfortunately, we found them all to be quite basic. For example, attendance tracking can’t accrue paid time off nor can it “communicate” with the payroll tab – when you mark vacation days on payroll, it won’t subtract them on the attendance tab. In our opinion, payroll is the best part of Patriot Payroll and is the only feature worth spending money on.
All three payroll software offer phone support during regular or extended business hours. Based on user reviews and our own experience, we found Gusto and Patriot Payroll to have the best customer service while Intuit QuickBooks Payroll is mixed.
All Payroll Software Options for Small Businesses
We recognize that there are many payroll software companies out there, and here’s a look at the best of some of our research from around the web:
|Gusto||Gusto offers the best combination of features and price for small businesses|
|Intuit QuickBooks Payroll||Intuit QuickBooks Payroll connects with QuickBooks very easily and can be a comfortable option for QuickBooks users|
|Patriot Payroll Software||If you want to put in some effort, Patriot Payroll is inexpensive and can get your payroll done|
|Justworks||Justworks provides an excellent, affordable PEO option for small businesses|
|ADP||If you used ADP at another business, then you might consider paying for ADP for your own|
|Paychex||Similar to ADP, prior Paychex users might find it easier to use Paychex than a new system|
|Zenefits||Zenefits benefits customers may find their new payroll add-on to be a logical option|
|Xero||Xero is accounting software that also has a free, but basic, payroll option|
The Bottom Line
Payroll software helps to make what would otherwise be a time consuming and complicated process more efficient and economical. Based on our reviews, Gusto offers the best combination of features that can automate as much of the process for you as possible, as well as simplify those that it doesn’t, at a competitive price. For these reasons, Gusto is our recommendation for the best payroll software for 2017.