QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Desktop are small business accounting software that differ in features and data accessibility. QuickBooks Desktop is ideal for businesses that sell products or need to do the bookkeeping for more than one company. In contrast, QuickBooks Online is best for service-based businesses that don’t spend much time in the office and need access to their data from a mobile device.
We recommend QuickBooks Online over QuickBooks Desktop because it is easy to set up and use. You can access your data 24/7 from any device with an internet connection, so you’re not tied down to a desktop computer. Sign up for your QuickBooks Online account, and you can save up to 50% off.
QuickBooks Online vs QuickBooks Desktop
QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Desktop are both outstanding small business accounting software. However, there are important differences, and most people have a pretty strong preference for one over the other. Which one is right for your business will depend upon your personal preferences and accounting needs.
Installs on computer
Requires internet connection
No need for internet connection
Access from the internet on any device
Access from devices with the program loaded and access to the data
Monthly fee starting at $25
1-time fee starting at $299, or
$199 / year with Plus subscription
Single Company per license
Unlimited Companies per license
QuickBooks Desktop can be either purchased for a one-time fee or purchased via the Desktop Plus subscription. For an annual fee, the Desktop Plus subscription provides some features that once belonged only to QuickBooks Online. However, Online is still the only QuickBooks product that can be accessed online from any computer or device.
When to Consider QuickBooks Online
QuickBooks Online is the ideal solution if you run a service-based business that does not need advanced inventory tracking options or does not have complex invoicing requirements. It’s also the best option for companies that want access from multiple devices, have more than one person who needs access, and desires data changes to be immediately stored in the cloud.
You should ultimately consider QuickBooks Online if you to:
- Provide access to other users from any location: QuickBooks Online allows you to set up a user ID and password for each person who needs to access your data from wherever they are located. QuickBooks Desktop can only be accessed from computers with the program installed and data file stored or networked.
- Use any device to enter transactions: QuickBooks Online does not require software installation. Therefore, you can open a web browser from your mobile device, PC, or Mac and log into your account to immediately access your data. QuickBooks Desktop requires a PC with the program installed.
- Get automatic, real-time updates: As you make changes to your data, QuickBooks Online updates automatically. This happens in real-time, even when multiple users are in your QuickBooks file. QuickBooks Desktop can only be accessed by one user unless multiple licenses are purchased and the data file shared via a network.
If you are a service-based business and need accounting access for people in multiple locations across multiple PCs and devices, then you should choose QuickBooks Online.
When to Consider QuickBooks Desktop
QuickBooks Desktop is generally the best solution if you own a product-based business that has complex inventory tracking needs, or you fall into one of the five industries that QuickBooks Premier comes in. The industry-specific desktop versions include a customized chart of accounts, lists, products, and services for each industry. QuickBooks Desktop is also a good solution if you are doing the accounting for several companies.
You should ultimately consider QuickBooks Desktop if you want:
- Multiple inventory tracking options: QuickBooks Desktop offers two methods for tracking inventory—average cost and first in first out (FIFO). Average cost is available when you purchase the Advanced Inventory add-on module. QuickBooks Online only allows inventory tracking using the FIFO method.
- Batch invoicing: QuickBooks Desktop has batch invoicing capability. You can invoice multiple clients at the same time if the type of service and total charges are the same. For instance, if you charge multiple clients a fixed monthly fee for services or rent.
- Industry-specific versions: QuickBooks Desktop offers industry-specific features for businesses in one of the following industries: general business, contracting, manufacturing and wholesale, professional services, retail, or nonprofit. QuickBooks Online does not offer industry-specific features.
- Multiple companies: A single QuickBooks Desktop license can be used to keep the books for multiple companies. QuickBooks Online requires a separate subscription for each company.
If you have complex inventory needs, operate in an industry with a designated desktop version, or need to account for the activities of multiple businesses, then you should go with QuickBooks Desktop.
When to Consider QuickBooks Desktop Plus
QuickBooks Desktop Plus provides the desktop software, but for an annual subscription vs a one-time purchase. QuickBooks Desktop Plus is ideal for small business owners who prefer Desktop but also want online backups and annual upgrades to the latest editions. Annual Plus subscriptions add these features while also providing unlimited customer service.
Here are the additional features included with the Plus subscription that improve upon QuickBooks Desktop:
- Unlimited customer support: Desktop Plus includes unlimited customer support via both chat and telephone. Desktop purchasers get only 30 days of customer support included with their purchase.
- Online backups: Desktop Plus subscribers receive online backups of their data while Desktop purchasers are responsible for backing up their data.
- Annual upgrades: With Desktop Plus, you receive upgrades to new editions as they become available. Desktop purchasers must generally purchase a new edition every three years as that is how long QuickBooks supports their old editions.
The annual plus subscription is less expensive than purchasing QuickBooks Desktop as a one-time purchase. For instance, QuickBooks Premier can be purchased for $499.95 vs a subscription to QuickBooks Premier Plus for $299.95 per year. If you plan on upgrading your desktop software every year, then you should choose the Plus subscription.
QuickBooks Online vs Desktop vs Desktop Plus Summary Table
Starting at $299
Starting at $199/year
Software install required
Automatic online backup and data protection
Access from multiple platforms
Access data from multiple locations
Available with purchase of hosting services
Available with purchase of hosting services
Unlimited free technical support
60-day money-back guarantee
30-day risk-free trial
Sample Company File Test Drive
Multiple Inventory Tracking Options
Weighted average or FIFO (with purchase of Advanced Inventory module)
Weighted average or FIFO (with purchase of Advanced Inventory module)
Is QuickBooks Online or QuickBooks Desktop Best for You?
QuickBooks Online vs Desktop Primary Differences
There are a few features that QuickBooks Online includes and QuickBooks Desktop lacks, like unlimited free technical support (unless you purchase the desktop Plus subscription). In addition, QuickBooks Desktop has a few features that QuickBooks Online does not, like batch invoicing and multiple inventory valuation methods.
QuickBooks Online Features
There are several features that QuickBooks Online has that you won’t find in QuickBooks Desktop. For example, QuickBooks Online has automatic online backups, the ability to access your data from any platform like Windows or iOS, and unlimited free tech support are just a few.
Here are four features of QuickBooks Online that aren’t available with a one-time purchase of QuickBooks Desktop.
1. Automatic Online Backup and Protection
QuickBooks Online data is backed up automatically and secured by Intuit’s servers. This means that you don’t have to worry about whether your data is protected if your computer gets stolen or malfunctions. The data is not stored on your computer.
2. Access Data Anytime From Multiple Platforms
QuickBooks Online data can be accessed 24/7 from a PC, Mac, or mobile device. Since all of your data is in the cloud, all you need is an internet connection and a user ID and password.
3. Unlimited Free Technical Support
With QuickBooks Online, you can contact technical support as much as you like at no additional charge. Unlike Desktop, tech support is included in all QuickBooks Online pricing plans.
4. Automatic Access to the Latest Version of QuickBooks
With QuickBooks Online, you have immediate access to the latest version of the software. This means that any new features and improvements do not require an upgrade like the desktop product. Instead, you log into your account to access the most up-to-date version of QuickBooks Online.
QuickBooks Desktop Features
QuickBooks Desktop has a few advantages over QuickBooks Online. Namely, QuickBooks Desktop can handle multiple companies and provides multiple sample files, additional inventory options, batch invoicing, and industry-specific versions.
Here are five features that QuickBooks Desktop has are not available with QuickBooks Online.
1. Unlimited Companies
QuickBooks Desktop can be used for multiple companies. QuickBooks Online requires a separate subscription for each set of company books.
2. Sample Company Files
Included with QuickBooks Desktop are several sample company files from multiple industries. You can use these sample files to practice or experiment without using your own company data.
3. Multiple Inventory Tracking Options
Unlike QuickBooks Online, QuickBooks Desktop offers two options for tracking inventory: the average cost method and the FIFO method. The average cost method is available when you purchase the Advanced Inventory add-on module. The average cost is most common in the manufacturing, agriculture, and oil and gas industries, where it is difficult to determine when individual units entered the inventory.
4. Batch Invoicing
QuickBooks Desktop has batch invoicing capability. This feature allows you to invoice multiple customers at the same time. QuickBooks Online does not currently offer this feature.
5. Industry-specific Versions Available
In addition to offering features for general business, QuickBooks Desktop offers industry-specific features for businesses that fall into the following industries: construction, manufacturing and wholesale, professional services, retail, and nonprofit. QuickBooks Online does not offer industry-specific features.
QuickBooks Desktop Plus Features
QuickBooks Desktop Plus is an annual subscription to the QuickBooks Desktop software that replaces the one-time purchase cost. The software is identical, but the Plus subscription provides additional benefits to the user. These additional features negate some of the primary benefits of QuickBooks Online over QuickBooks Desktop.
Here are four features of the QuickBooks Desktop Plus subscription.
1. Unlimited Customer Support
Unlike a one-time purchase of QuickBooks Desktop, the purchase of QuickBooks Desktop through the annual Plus subscription includes unlimited customer support.
2. Online Data Backup
QuickBooks Desktop Plus includes an online data backup option. Without the Plus subscription, QuickBooks Desktop users must back up their data to their own networks or computers.
3. Annual upgrades to the newest software
QuickBooks Desktop Plus subscriptions include an automatic upgrade each year to the latest version of the QuickBooks Desktop software. Without a Plus subscription, QuickBooks Desktop users must purchase the new version for full price if they want to upgrade. Users generally must upgrade their desktop software every three years when Intuit stops supporting the older version.
QuickBooks Online vs QuickBooks Desktop Pricing
QuickBooks Online is a monthly subscription that runs between $25 to $150. QuickBooks Desktop is a one-time cost of $299 for Pro and $499 for Premier or $1,155 per year for Enterprise. QuickBooks Desktop Plus offers the same Pro and Premier desktop software for a subscription of $199 per year for Pro Plus and $299 per year for Premier Plus and includes unlimited customer support.
QuickBooks Online Product Comparison Chart
Monthly retail cost
Maximum number of users
Smart reporting powered by Fathom
Custom user permissions
Dedicated success manager
Training for staff
QuickBooks Online is purchased as a monthly subscription. As you can see from the chart, the four plans differ not only in retail cost and number of users but also in the following key areas:
- Accounts payable: The ability to enter and pay bills is not available with Simple Start but is offered in the other three plans.
- Inventory: Tracking and managing inventory is only available in the online Plus subscription. It is not available for Simple Start or Essentials.
- Smart reporting: This tool allows you to generate reports on key performance indicators for cash flow, profitability, and other areas of your business. It is only available in QuickBooks Online Advanced.
- Accelerated invoicing: The Advanced plan automatically imports hundreds of customer invoices as opposed to manually keying them in. No other QuickBooks Online product has this feature.
- Customer user permissions: You can control what users can view sensitive data, such as bank account information, when you purchase Advanced.
- Dedicated success manager: QuickBooks Online Advanced includes a dedicated point of contact who can assist you with questions and give you access to other resources you may need.
- Training for staff: Advanced also includes self-paced training materials to help get your staff up to speed on how to use QuickBooks.
QuickBooks Desktop Product Comparison Chart
Number of users
Business plan with QuickBooks data
*Note: If you purchase QuickBooks Desktop for a one-time fee, you will also need to purchase an upgrade at least every three years to continue using QuickBooks support, Intuit Payroll, and Intuit Merchant Services. The Plus subscription includes annual upgrades to the new version.
QuickBooks Mac and Pro offer similar features. The primary differences between them are the maximum number of users and the platform that they operate on. QuickBooks Pro operates on PCs and QuickBooks Mac operates on Apple computers. I recommend these two products to most small business owners who want a desktop program and do not operate in one of the industries covered by Desktop Premier.
One major difference between QuickBooks Pro, Premier, and Enterprise is that the latter two offer industry-specific features that are not available in other versions. Businesses in the following industries should purchase QuickBooks Desktop Premier or Enterprise:
- General business
- Manufacturing & wholesale
- Professional services
Additionally, Enterprise allows up to 30 users, which makes it suitable for medium-sized or fast-growing small businesses in these and other industries.
If you are currently using QuickBooks Mac and looking to switch to QuickBooks Online, you should compare QuickBooks Online products to determine which is right for you. Online QuickBooks reviews are another good source to help you decide which product makes the most sense for your business.
Ease of Setup: QuickBooks Online vs QuickBooks Desktop
One of the great things about QuickBooks—both Desktop and Online—is you don’t have to be an accountant to set up or use the program. This process should take no more than 20 minutes for either program, provided you don’t have any historical information to bring over.
The setup process for both QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Desktop requires you to provide key company information and has the option to connect your bank account to QuickBooks. Connecting your bank account to QuickBooks allows you to import your bank transactions automatically.
The steps below show how to set up your company and connect your bank account to QuickBooks.
Setting Up Your Company
The company file setup process is the same for both QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Desktop. The express setup takes about five to 10 minutes and requires some basic company information. The more in-depth setup may take one to two hours, depending on whether or not you are bringing data over from another accounting system. You may even need step-by-step instructions when you’re converting from QuickBooks Desktop to QuickBooks Online.
In addition to providing basic company information, you need to answer a few questions about how you manage your business. I recommend you spend the extra time upfront and complete the in-depth setup process because it provides you with a more customized company file that can better meet your specific business needs.
Importing Your Bank Account Transactions to QuickBooks
Once you have completed the initial setup, both QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Desktop allow you to download your banking transactions from your bank’s website directly into your QuickBooks account. In my experience, this process is much quicker to do in the Online product than it is in the Desktop version.
Ease of Use: QuickBooks Online vs QuickBooks Desktop
Both QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Desktop are very user-friendly. Prior to 2013, I would not have said that about QuickBooks Desktop. In 2013, however, there were some major changes to the QuickBooks Desktop interface, which made it much more user-friendly than it had been in previous versions.
All transactions in QuickBooks Online can be initiated from the Quick Create menu. The Quick Create menu in QuickBooks Online is divided into four sections:
Transactions in QuickBooks Desktop can be initiated from the company homepage. QuickBooks Desktop’s homepage is also separated into four sections, but includes a graphical representation of the workflow:
There is some terminology to learn if you have never used QuickBooks, but you will likely get up to speed quickly on either product that you choose. If switching from one to the other, the terminology should go smoothly since it is mostly the same. Navigating, on the other hand, is very different, so you may have a bit of a learning curve if you decide to switch from Desktop to Online or vice versa.
QuickBooks Desktop vs Online Customer Support
If you need help with QuickBooks Online or Desktop, there are several options from which to choose. You can access a knowledge base and video tutorials available within the software. With Online or Desktop Plus, unlimited chat, and telephone support are included in your monthly fee.
QuickBooks In-product Help
Both QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Desktop have great in-product help. After clicking the help menu, you may type your question using natural language. The program will search QuickBooks’ vast database of answers to provide you with the top few choices. This is a great resource for learning common tasks such as entering bills, printing checks, or emailing invoices.
Be sure to check out the free QuickBooks Online tutorials produced by Fit Small Business. This is a free course that includes both video and written step-by-step instructions. Best of all, the tutorials are completely free.
QuickBooks Phone & Chat Support
Phone and chat support are available for both QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Desktop. Support for Online is always free. If you purchase Desktop for a one-time fee, support is only free for the first 30 days. If you subscribe to Desktop through the Plus option, unlimited telephone support is included.
A drawback to the telephone support can be long wait times. Sometimes, however, the wait will be worth talking to somebody. Other times, you can have your question answered quickly in a chat session that generally has a shorter wait time. Listed below are a couple of situations to help you determine whether to use chat support or telephone support:
- Error messages: If you’ve encountered an error message that is preventing you from using your QuickBooks file, then I would call the support line for assistance. They may be able to remote view your screen to troubleshoot the issue.
- Billing and licensing questions: Straightforward billing questions can be answered through chat, but if you paid for products that you can’t access, give them a call. Intuit, including both QuickBooks and TurboTax, track everything by email address, and if you’ve purchased various products or add-ons using different email addresses, things can get confusing.
- “How to” questions: If you can’t find a particular screen or function in QuickBooks, a chat agent can quickly point you to the right place.
- Recurring questions: If you struggle with a particular task that only occurs maybe once a quarter, chatting with an agent has the distinct advantage of producing a written transcript of the chat session. Before closing the chatbox, copy and paste the discussion into a document you can save. Then, you can answer your own question next time it comes up.
QuickBooks Online vs Desktop: Which QuickBooks Do I Need?
There has been and continues to be a debate as to whether or not the cloud version of QuickBooks is better than the desktop version. The desktop version has been around since the 1990s, long before software over the internet was common, and it currently has a few more features and better functionality when you compare it to the online version.
However, new features are being added to the online version constantly, plus there are features available in the Online version that are not available in Desktop. This includes giving access to multiple users so they can access your data from anywhere in the world.
Another issue business owners often face is whether their accountants and bookkeepers use QuickBooks Online. Not all have chosen to embrace the online version, and that can make their jobs more difficult. If you believe the online version is best for you and your company, I recommend finding an accountant or bookkeeper who has experience with the new technology.
This article doesn’t cover all of the options available to you. Freelancers, for example, may find QuickBooks Self-Employed to be a better fit. Other business owners may want to consider some of the best QuickBooks alternatives on the market before they settle on their accounting software.
Ultimately, the answer to which QuickBooks you need boils down to which version is going to serve the needs of your business best. If you can run your business using QuickBooks Online, then that is the version we recommend.
When to Use a QuickBooks Competitor Software
While QuickBooks is the accounting software we recommend to most small businesses, it may not be right for everyone. If you’re concerned about price or have a specific need, there are several accounting software options that can fulfill industry-specific requirements, handle heavy invoicing, or allow you to manage accounts payable.
If you can’t afford QuickBooks, there are free accounting software options available. Be sure to select accounting software that has basic bookkeeping features like invoicing customers and paying bills. If you need a feature and the software doesn’t have the functionality, you should consider looking at other accounting software options that are affordable and can meet your business needs.
A freelancer who doesn’t need all of the bells and whistles many accounting software products include may want to focus on the best invoicing software instead. If that describes you, then look for software that lets you create custom invoices and has tools to help you get paid faster.
You can also find accounting software that is customized to meet the needs of your specific industry. If you run a nonprofit organization, own a restaurant, or are in real estate, choosing an accounting software tailored to your industry may save you time in the long run.
What a QuickBooks ProAdvisor Is & How to Find One
Certified QuickBooks ProAdvisors are accounting professionals who are certified in one or more QuickBooks products. There are separate certifications for online and desktop, so be sure to choose a ProAdvisor certified for the software you use.
Keep in mind, ProAdvisors are not Intuit employees. They are independent contractors generally charge $25 per hour and up for their services. The more education and experience they have, the more they will charge.
With that in mind, I recommend hiring a ProAdvisor for the following types of services:
- Reviewing your company file set up prior to entering transactions
- Face-to-face training on how to use QuickBooks properly
- Performing periodic reviews of your financial statements; set this up on a monthly or quarterly basis
Our article on how to find a QuickBooks ProAdvisor offers tips on what to look for when hiring a QuickBooks Pro. Whether you go with the online version or the desktop version, it’s important to find a certified QuickBooks Pro so that you can be confident your books are in the hands of an expert.
The easiest way to find a QuickBooks ProAdvisor is to use the QuickBooks accountant directory. This site will provide a list of the QuickBooks products that the ProAdvisor is certified in, how long he or she has been in practice, and customer reviews.
QuickBooks Online vs Desktop Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
In this section, we have included answers to the most frequently asked questions about QuickBooks Online vs Desktop.
Can QuickBooks Online be converted to Desktop?
You can convert QuickBooks Online to desktop. To do so, you will need to contact the Intuit customer support team to get the ball rolling. First, log into your QuickBooks Online account and navigate to the Help menu. The telephone number and an option to chat with support are available.
Can you use QuickBooks Online and Desktop?
You cannot use QuickBooks Online and Desktop to keep track of your business. They are on two different platforms and do not integrate with each other. Therefore, you will have to choose between QuickBooks Online or QuickBooks Desktop.
How much does QuickBooks Online cost per month?
QuickBooks Online comes in four versions: Simple Start, Essentials, Plus, and Advanced. Simple Start is $25 per month, Essentials is $40 per month, Plus is $70 per month, and Advanced is $150 per month. Check out our QuickBooks Online comparison guide to learn more about the cost and features of all the QuickBooks Online products
Whether you decide to purchase QuickBooks Desktop for its use with multiple companies or QuickBooks Online for its remote access, you won’t regret it. If you decide to go with QuickBooks Online, get up to speed quickly by taking our free QuickBooks course to learn how to set things up.
Sign up for a free 30-day trial of QuickBooks Online so that you can take advantage of all of the great features we have discussed like access to your data from any mobile device, unlimited customer support, and automatic backup and protection of your data.