The best free payroll software for small business owners can calculate pay for hourly and salary workers, handle tax calculations and deductions, and print checks and pay stubs. Some of the systems even file taxes and offer direct deposits. We examined several free payroll services in this guide and narrowed them down to our top five recommendations.
- TimeTrex: Best overall free payroll software for small businesses and those looking for payroll with time tracking and scheduling solutions
- Payroll4Free.com: Best for companies with 25 or fewer employees that want the option of add-on payroll tax filings
- HR.my: Best for startups needing a free multilingual platform with basic HR and payroll tools
- eSmart Paycheck: Best for one-time or infrequent paycheck creation
- ExcelPayroll: Best free software for payroll that runs on Excel
QuickBooks Payroll is a great option for businesses that have many different types of employees due to its versatility, ease of use, and wide variety of features.
QuickBooks Payroll is a great option for businesses that have many different types of employees due to its versatility, ease of use, and wide variety of features.
Top Free Payroll Software Compared
Employees in Free Plan
Files and Pays Taxes
Free Time Tracking and Scheduling
Live phone support
Up to 25
Unlimited, but input individually
Up to 50 active
Note: When to Consider Paid Payroll Software
Paid payroll software comes with a wider range of solutions and services to further streamline and automate processes, like automatic payroll tax table updates, compliance support, and access to benefits plans you can offer employees. Most also file and pay federal, state, and local taxes for you. If you need more payroll software options, check out our buyer’s guide on the best payroll software for small businesses for some reasonably priced options. Top on that list is Gusto, an all-in-one and easy-to-use payroll and HR solution.
TimeTrex: Best Overall Free Payroll Software
- Lacks transparent pricing; details about the free option and paid plans are difficult to find on its website
- Doesn’t handle payroll tax filings; only generates tax forms
- Has features that aren’t intuitive and look somewhat dated
- User dashboard looks cluttered and confusing
What We Like
TimeTrex is our top-recommended free payroll software for a small business because it includes time tracking, scheduling, paid time off (PTO) monitoring, and HR management solutions that you can access at no cost. You even get an online time clock that lets your employees clock in/out through web browsers. However, it does not file payroll taxes—consider Payroll4Free if this is something you need (although it does charge a nominal fee).
Scoring an overall rating of 4.06 out of 5, TimeTrex earned perfect marks in pricing and the highest scores in popularity and payment features. However, the fact that it does not file taxes hurt its score there. Users and our experts also found it less intuitive than others on our list. Like all free options on our list, its integration capability is limited.
TimeTrex Paid Plans
The free plan includes time and attendance, scheduling, leave management, HRM tools, and payroll. If you need more, then it offers several paid plans—but you’ll have to call for more details on its pricing.
- Professional Plan: Includes the mobile app and face recognition time clock, and customer support by phone, chat, or email
- Corporate Plan: Adds job costing, GEO fencing, document management, and invoicing
- Enterprise Plan: Adds expense tracking and recruitment and applicant tracking
TimeTrex also offers installation support and initial setup support for new users for a fee.
Since Our Last Update:
TimeTrex has added EEO reports and more options for pay stub information like accrued balances and YTD totals. It’s also improved its search box to support wild cards and exact-quote matches.
- Feature-rich free tier: Even at its free level, TimeTrex grants you access to several integrated solutions designed to help you manage your workforce. You get online tools to create schedules, capture clock-ins/outs, track attendance, monitor PTO, pay employees, conduct performance reviews, and record staff information in a centralized database. This is more than what Payroll4Free.com offers (it doesn’t have free HR tools) and what HR.my provides as part of its forever-free solution (it doesn’t have performance reviews).
- Online time tracking: TimeTrex has robust time tracking capabilities—making it one of our best time and attendance software for a small business to use. Its web browser-based time clock allows you to turn computers into employee time tracking devices. Payroll4Free, by contrast, will integrate with a separate time clock.
- Pay processing: You can cover all day-to-day payroll basics, like automatic tax calculations and custom deductions, such as garnishments, PTO accruals, and benefits. It also offers electronic pay stubs, free direct deposit for small businesses, and paychecks that you can print in several formats.
- Third-party software integrations: TimeTrex seamlessly integrates with other programs for payroll like QuickBooks, ADP, Paychex, Ceridian, and Sage. Note that HR.my doesn’t have this functionality, while Payroll4Free.com has limited options and connects with other software through payroll data exports and time data imports.
- Custom reporting: Aside from standard payroll, HR, and employee reports, TimeTrex has built-in templates that you can customize.
Payroll4Free: Best for Companies With 25 or Fewer Employees Wanting an Add-on Payroll Tax Filing Option
- Limited system compatibility (Windows only)
- Payroll software comes with ads; interface looks outdated
- New user sign up process isn’t straightforward; requires several forms and documents to create account
What We Like
Payroll4Free is an excellent free payroll service for small businesses with 25 or fewer employees that want a paid add-on for payroll tax services and direct deposit. Its average user is a business with under five employees—and it says that with paid add-ons, clients spend an average of $15 per employee per month.
It calculates payroll and taxes, tracks PTO accruals, prints paychecks, and provides free direct deposits if you use your own bank. The software can also handle year-end tax reports (W-2s and 1099s), providing you with pre-formatted forms to send to the government. You can pay to have Payroll4Free file tax forms for you.
In our evaluation, Payroll4Free earned a score of 3.54 out of 5. It would have ranked higher if it didn’t have a 25-employee limit—the others handle unlimited employees—and if it offered direct deposits and tax filings for free. Plus, its average user rating on third-party review sites (like G2 and Capterra) is 3.3 out of 5 as of this writing. Some users even said that its platform is unintuitive, often taking extra steps to complete what a paid program can do in a single click. They also don’t appreciate the ads that appear while using the tool.
Payroll4Free Paid Plan
Become a shareholder: Payroll4Free is seeking investors through Wefunder, and offers free payroll tax services for the life of your business for an investment of $1,250. This, of course, also comes with shares in the company.
Payroll4Free does have a paid payroll processing plan for $35 per posting for groups of 25 employees (after your first 25). This fee applies only for the months you exceed 25 employees, making it a good choice if you have seasonal highs and lows. In addition, it has multiple add-on fees. Check the full fee schedule on its website.
The most important add-ons are below:
- Payroll tax payments and filings: $25 monthly
- Direct deposit transfers using Payroll4Free’s bank account: $25 monthly*
- Bundle payroll tax and direct deposit services: $30 monthly
- Live training: $50 per hour
- Employee data setup or reprocessing: $50 per hour**
*Direct deposit services require a security deposit equal to the highest estimated net payroll you plan to process in a seven-day period.
- Pay processing: Like the others on our list, you can calculate payroll and taxes for 1099 and W2 employees, but it also integrates with time clocks (something eSmart Paychecks cannot). Unlike HR.my and TimeTrex, it charges you if you want to use them for Direct Deposit or provides a free ACH file so you can use your own bank free instead. It allows you to track PTO time on the system and will take that into consideration when calculating payroll.
- Check printing setup assistance: If you prefer to pay employees via checks, Payroll4Free.com can help set up its software to add any data you want to appear on the check. You won’t get the said free service with both HR.my and TimeTrex, although eSmart Paycheck does have a simple check setup.
- Employee Portal: Unlike eSmart Paycheck and ExcelPayroll, Payroll4free has an employee portal where they can check accrued PTO, see and print pay stubs and W2/1099 forms, and update personal information.
- Access to payroll and tax experts: Aside from unlimited customer support, Payroll4Free.com has a team of experienced payroll and tax specialists that you can contact if you have queries or need payroll advice. It also has paid training and setup services. However, it doesn’t have the community forum that TimeTrex and HR.my offer, which allows you to get input from other business owners and HR professionals.
- Custom reporting: You get custom and detailed reports, enabling you to stay up-to-date with payroll information, tax details, PTO accruals, and employee deductions.
HR.my: Best for Startups Needing Multilingual Software With Basic HR & Payroll Tools
- Doesn’t file and pay payroll taxes
- User guide isn’t robust
- Lacks phone support
- Sponsorship ads appear on the dashboard and its other online tools
What We Like
HR.my is a free multilingual HR software that is crowd-funded and includes small business payroll software free. The company works with those interested in translating the software into additional languages. As of this writing, it has 66 language options—more than the free solutions we reviewed, including most paid payroll software. It has basic payroll and HR features (such as employee information management, time tracking, and expense claims) that you can use for free.
Overall, it earned 3.48 out of 5 in our evaluation, with perfect marks in pricing. What pulled its score down is the lack of custom reporting and payroll tax filing services. It also doesn’t offer phone support or have a support team. If you need help with a feature, you can visit its community forum and access its online user guide—which is more of an FAQ page, but with limited information.
HR.my Paid Plan
While HR.my offers HR and small business payroll software free with 6GB of storage, it also has a sponsorship program. For $5 monthly, you get ad-free web accounts, early access to new features, additional online storage, 7GB of cloud storage, and extra “HR Role” user seats.
- Payroll processing that includes expenses: HR.my’s payroll tools are designed to simplify and automate employee pay processing. It has automatic pay runs and payslips, lets you import time, accounts for leave, and even includes employee expenses.
- Employee portal: While TimeTrex has an employee portal as well, we liked HR.my’s because it also allows for expense management, including uploading receipts via mobile. Employees can also manage documents and forms, view past and future PTO, and of course, see pay information.
- Cloud-based and mobile-accessible: HR.my is the only payroll software free both on the cloud and on mobile on our list. Payroll4Free and eSmart lack mobile apps, while TimeTrex’s free Community Edition must be downloaded.
- Multilingual platform: While its default language is English, you can change HR.my directly from the system to any of 66 languages, like Chinese, Korean, French, Spanish, Japanese, and Vietnamese. TimeTrex has some additional languages, but many have been discontinued because of a lack of upkeep.
- Feature-rich free HR solution: HR.my doesn’t only provide free payroll tools—you also get time tracking, PTO management, and even incident reporting tools. It sets alerts for important events like expiring contracts or work visas, probation or performance reviews, and even employee anniversaries (which can affect pay scale).
eSmart Paycheck: Best for Short-term or Single Use
- Does not save information—must recreate each paycheck
- No reports
- Does not file taxes
- No Direct Deposit capability
What We Like
If you only have a couple of employees or need to cut a quick payroll check, then eSmart Paycheck’s paycheck calculator is a free and easy way to do it. Unlike the others on our list, eSmart’s interface is right on the website; just fill out the information, and it can create a pay stub or paycheck that can print on regular paper or blank payroll checks. It’s easy to use; you can add deductions as needed, and it will adjust taxes accordingly.
eSmart Paycheck earned 2.34 out of 5 on our evaluation. It lacked reports and user reviews, although it is recommended by many business magazines. It does not provide a file you can use for direct deposit, although you can take the information manually and print the pay stub. While it calculates taxes, it does not file them for you. Overall, it’s easy to use but best for very small businesses or the occasional paycheck.
eSmart Paycheck Paid Plans
eSmart’s free plan is limited to creating and printing a single paycheck or pay stub at a time. If you wish to have paid payroll services, they offer annual subscriptions based on the number of employees you have. These run $75 to $450 a year and include:
- Unlimited paycheck preparation
- Payroll tax calculations
- Printing checks and pay stubs
- Printing and filing tax forms
It also offers these add-ons:
- Depositing federal taxes automatically: $35
- Depositing state taxes as applicable: $30
- Printing state payroll forms: $20 per type
- E-filing state payroll forms as applicable: $20
- E-filing W-2 to states, as applicable: $20 + $2 per form
- Print and mail W-2: $2 per form
eSmart Paychex Features
- Simplicity: Compared to the others on our list, eSmart Paycheck’s free plan is the simplest of all. It is designed to let you create and print a single paycheck. You put in the information, and it does the calculations.
- Easy to customize: If you need to add a deduction, garnishment, bonus, or expense, it’s as simple as adding a line in the appropriate section. eSmart will ask you whether it’s taxable and make calculations accordingly. You can also set the pay cycle from weekly to annually as needed.
- Print checks or stubs: You have the option of printing a simple pay stub (to use the information for Direct Deposit and to give to your employee), printing a check on blank paper, or using a company-printed paycheck.
ExcelPayroll: Best for Excel Users
- Up to 50 employees only
- Sets default limits to some entries, like hourly must be $7.50/employee
- Does not work with current versions of Windows or Excel
- No tax filing services; must pay for state tax schedules
What We Like
If your needs are basic and you’re comfortable with Excel, then ExcelPayroll is a great alternative. Like the others on our list, it lets you put in salary, hourly, and other compensation information; figures out taxes; and prints up paychecks, pay stubs, and tax documents.
ExcelPayroll earned 2.3 out of 5 upon evaluation. Like eSmart Paycheck, it does not have the many HR tools, time clocks, and extras that the top three on our list offer. You need to input a lot of information manually, and it creates the calculations. However, what we found more problematic is that the software is severely dated: ExcelPayroll only runs on PC Excel 2007, Excel 2010, or Excel 2013. Microsoft Windows 10, Excel 2016, Office 365, or later may block the macro or VBA code. To run it, you may need to set your computer to trust the program or downgrade to Excel 2007 or 2010.
Want up-to-date templates? We also have Excel templates for payroll that you can download for free. Check out our guide of free payroll templates, including tips on how to use them.
ExcelPayroll Paid Plan
ExcelPayroll has no paid plan; it is completely free to use and will update with federal tax schedules. However, state tax tables run $50 to $100.
- Powerful processing: ExcelPayroll lets you add employee profiles, put in the salary or hourly and timecard information, deductions, etc., and it can calculate the payroll for multiple pay periods as needed. It handles payroll on a per-employee basis but can do it in batches as well as redo previous payrolls—something Payroll4Free may charge you for.
- Employee profiles: It can store up to 1,000 employee profiles, although it will only calculate 50 active employees; this is good for seasonal workers. Profiles include contact information, payment information, deductions, and tax information.
- Paycheck printing: Like eSmart Paycheck, ExcelPayroll only prints checks. However, it is not tied to a particular period, so you can print a check whenever you need to. It can collate payment information for Direct Deposit, like Payroll4Free does.
- Time card: While ExcelPayroll does not integrate with time clocks, it does have a timecard feature where you can input hours, and it will do the calculations accordingly.
How We Evaluated
We started our research with six providers that offer free payroll services for small businesses rather than merely free trials. Then, we examined the features and ease of use, focusing on paycheck processing and tax preparation. To view our full evaluation criteria, click through the tabs in the box below.
20% of Overall Score
We specifically chose payroll services with free payroll functions. However, we favored those that cover unlimited employees and offered basic HR functions on a forever-free plan.
10% of Overall Score
We considered online user reviews from third-party sites (like G2 and Capterra) based on a 5-star scale, wherein any option with an average of 4+ stars is ideal.
10% of Overall Score
We gave points based on the reports available and whether you could customize them.
35% of Overall Score
Having free direct deposits to pay employees is preferred, followed by the capability to run payroll on mobile, and calculate and file federal, local, and state taxes. We also considered other tax and payroll functions, such as year-end reporting and multiple employee payment options.
25% of Overall Score
Free is no good if you have to fight the program. We looked for software with an intuitive interface, checked how easy it was to learn, and compared support options. We also considered whether it integrates with other programs or at least allowed CSV file downloads.
How to Choose a Free Payroll Software
If you’re looking for free software for payroll, check for the exceptions where they may charge you. Some providers may have employee limits, while others include only basic tools in their free plans. Carefully look through the free software providers’ pricing pages and FAQs, as you may end up having to pay for additional employee seats and add-on solutions or services.
Next, consider your business’ payroll needs and assess if the free software has the essential features you need to compliantly and accurately pay employees. For example, the free software should be able to calculate employee payments, deductions, and taxes. Downloadable reports should also be available so you can use those to comply with tax filing requirements and track payroll data.
Lastly, check user reviews from online software review sites. Find out whether the software providers’ customers are happy with their service and the system in general. User reviews also provide helpful insights about the software’s ease of use, customer support quality, and if there are features that don’t work well or are glitchy.
If you need help selecting from our list of the best free payroll services, follow our step-by-step guide on choosing payroll services.
Free Payroll Software Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Running payroll can be a complicated process, as it requires several documents and tools to ensure that you pay employees accurately and on time. The most common requirements that a small business will need include an employer identification number (EIN) and a bank account with sufficient funds to pay employees (either through direct deposits or check payments).
You also need to understand payroll compliance regulations, such as the required tax payments at all levels (federal, state, and local) and the payroll tax forms you need to submit. In addition, knowing common payroll terminologies (such as garnishments, gross and net pay, fringe benefits, and pay periods) will help you avoid potential pay errors.
If you’re new to processing employee payments, you can attend payroll training to familiarize yourself with how to run payroll, including labor laws and state guidelines. You can also hire a payroll accountant to handle your pay runs or invest in a payroll system like TimeTrex, Gusto, and the other providers we mentioned in this guide.
First, check federal and state laws, as some states may have payday schedules for specific types of employees. Next, take a look at the payroll frequencies that best fit your business and workers—the most common options are biweekly, weekly, semimonthly, and monthly.
It is also important to set up a payroll calendar and identify the different pay periods so you know when to start calculating payroll and when employees should expect to receive their pay. For example, hourly workers paid on a biweekly basis will receive their pay every two weeks, whereas employees on a semimonthly payroll will get their salaries every 15th and end of the month.
Paying independent contractors is simpler compared to paying employees because you’re not required to withhold taxes and pay taxes for contract workers. Given that contractors are not your employees, you also don’t have to include them in your company’s benefits plan (such as retirement and health insurance).
In terms of W-2 vs 1099 reporting, you don’t have to file year-end tax forms for independent contractors—they are responsible for paying and filing their own payroll taxes. However, as an employer, you should prepare 1099-NEC forms for your contractors to show how much each worker earned for the calendar year.
Employee payroll, on the other hand, requires you to deduct income taxes, garnishments, Medicare, Social Security, and benefits premiums (if you offer employee benefits), among others. You also have to remit tax payments and submit quarterly and annual tax forms to government agencies.
Getting the cheapest payroll software for small business owners may be one of the criteria that budget-friendly users are looking for, but it’s also important to determine whether it can handle all of your pay processing and basic HR needs.
For small businesses, consider online payroll tools that can calculate overtime, wages, taxes, and deductions (like benefits and insurance premiums). Plus, it should have the capability to generate required reports (such as tax forms) and can help you comply with federal regulations. Providers that can remit payroll taxes and file tax reports for you are preferred, especially if you don’t want to handle tax filings yourself.
For companies that employ hourly staff, look for payroll systems that have time-tracking tools to capture employee clock-ins/outs. If it doesn’t have this feature built-in, check if it can connect with a time and attendance solution (like Homebase and Clockify), as this integration allows you to easily import time data into payroll for pay processing. It also removes the need to manually track employee attendance using timesheet templates and then having to input the summarized work hours directly into payroll.
While taking stock of the payroll features you need is essential, it is equally important to consider the size of your company, your budget, and the type of employees you have. Businesses in certain industries may even need specific functionalities, such as tip reporting and commission payments for restaurants and retail shops. Also, choose payroll software that is flexible enough to scale with your business and handle your additional HR needs (like recruiting and performance review tools), especially if you have plans to grow.
Processing employee payments yourself may save you money since you don’t have to pay a software provider or a payroll accountant to handle it—but we only recommended it to business owners who only have a handful of employees. It’s also important that you’re well-versed in how to run payroll and have no problems managing payroll taxes yourself. This includes remitting tax payments and filing the required tax forms to the applicable government agencies.
While the free payroll software on our list are great options, you can manually calculate payroll with a calculator or use Excel to compute all earnings and deductions. There are also online payroll calculators you can use, but you have to input the salary information one employee at a time in order to get each worker’s net pay. eSmart Paycheck is one. Plus, these online calculators can’t store salary data, which means you have to separately track and save all computations and payments for payroll tax processing.
Businesses that are on a tight budget or have limited payroll needs may find free payroll software as a way to save time and help prevent mistakes that can cost money and even legal problems. The free payroll services on our list offer online tools to make your pay processing tasks easier.
Overall, we found TimeTrex to be the best free payroll software because of its wide range of useful features that include tax calculations, automatic pay runs, and free direct deposits. Its free version provides you with efficient payroll and HR tools, while its paid tiers offer even more HR functions. Sign up for a TimeTrex plan today.