QuickBooks Online vs Desktop: Which Is Right for You in 2023?
This article is part of a larger series on Accounting Software.
Both QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Desktop are on our list of the best small business accounting software, but QuickBooks Online has the advantage of being more accessible and easier to use. While QuickBooks Desktop can be suitable for some companies, such as those requiring industry-specific features, QuickBooks Online is designed to be an all-around option for most businesses, especially those who need the convenience of cloud-based software.
QuickBooks Online vs Desktop at a Glance
$30 to $200 per month
$549.99 to $1,410 per year for one user
From $45 per month plus $5 per employee
From $50 per month plus $5 per employee
Number of Users Included
1 to 25
Maximum Users Allowed
More than 750 integrations, sales tax calculation based on customer’s address, income, and expense tracking by location
Free multicompany support, industry-specific editions (Premier and Enterprise), advanced inventory management, and estimated vs actual costs tracking
Small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) needing a cloud-based solution
Users wanting to manage the books of multiple companies and those in specialized industries, like manufacturing and retail
Ease of Sharing
Invite accountant to access books directly via the cloud
Create an Accountant’s Copy
Overall Ease of Use
Has a user-friendly interface but may require you to know the accounting basics; our free QuickBooks Online tutorials can help you get started
Is user-friendly, but we recommend working closely with an experienced bookkeeper
Phone support (callback only), live chat, chatbot, and self-help guides
Phone support (callback only) chatbot, live chat, and free training resources
When To Use
- Greater accessibility: QuickBooks Online is a cloud-based software—meaning you can access your accounting files from anywhere at any time with an internet connection. Meanwhile, QuickBooks Desktop is limited to the computer on which it is installed. This makes QuickBooks Online a better choice for companies with distributed teams and remote accountants.
- Real-time file sharing and collaboration: QuickBooks Online allows you and your accountant to work on different aspects of the financial data simultaneously. With QuickBooks Desktop, you have to create an Accountant’s Copy, send it to your accountant, and then wait for them to make changes and send it back to you. While this is acceptable, it’s time-consuming and inefficient. Also, changes made by your accountant are not reflected in your data until the Accountant’s Copy is merged back into the original file.
- Affordable for multiple users: QuickBooks Online offers different pricing plans, and each plan allows multiple users to access the software at the same time. For example, the Plus plan allows up to five users. Meanwhile, QuickBooks Desktop requires a separate license for each user, which can quickly become expensive if you need multiple people to access the software. Each license allows only one user to access the software at a time.
- Excellent invoicing features: As our overall best invoicing software, QuickBooks Online lets you create professional-looking invoices by adding your logo, choosing fonts and colors, and creating custom fields. QuickBooks Desktop has fewer customization options, so your invoices may look more generic and less professional. Also, QuickBooks Online calculates sales tax rates automatically to apply to an invoice based on your customer’s location. With QuickBooks Desktop, you have to calculate sales tax manually.
- Strong focus on ecommerce integration: QuickBooks Online integrates seamlessly with many ecommerce platforms and has a robust inventory management feature, making it our top-recommended ecommerce accounting software.
Read our detailed review of QuickBooks Online to discover other reasons why it’s preferred by most businesses.
- Managing books across multiple businesses: QuickBooks Desktop, our leading multicompany accounting software, allows you to manage the books for an unlimited number of companies as long as you don’t need consolidated financial statements.
- Businesses that need intensive inventory accounting: Both Online and Desktop offer inventory accounting, but Desktop has more in-depth inventory management tools. For instance, it allows manufacturing companies to track their products using inventory parts and assemblies.
- Users who want desktop software: If you want access to your accounting program without an internet connection, QuickBooks Desktop is more suitable for you.
- Specialized industries: QuickBooks Desktop Premier includes five industry-specific editions. You may learn more about each via our:
- Farmers and ranchers working with an internal bookkeeper: Farmers with in-house bookkeepers can use QuickBooks Desktop to create cost centers and track income and expenses by class and location to monitor the profitability of their farm better. QuickBooks Desktop is our top-recommended farm accounting software.
- Tracking fixed assets: If you upgrade to QuickBooks Premier Accountant or Enterprise, you’ll get access to QuickBooks Desktop’s built-in fixed asset manager. It allows you to track fixed assets, such as buildings, machinery, equipment, and land, and record and calculate book depreciation on your assets.
Find more to love about QuickBooks Desktop by checking out our:
- Full-featured mobile accounting: QuickBooks Online has a capable mobile application, but it’s not as powerful as the Zoho Books mobile app. Zoho Books lets you record bills and bill payments and enter time worked, then assign it to a project or customer, which are things you can’t do in the QuickBooks Online mobile app. For more insights, see our Zoho Books review.
- Businesses that need free software: QuickBooks Online and Desktop are among the most powerful small business accounting software programs, but they’re also among the most expensive. If you’re a very small business that’s starting out, you can save money by using free accounting software like Wave. Check out our review of Wave to learn more.
- Self-employed professionals and solopreneurs: If you are a freelancer, independent contractor, or sole proprietor and don’t have any employees, then QuickBooks Self-Employed may be a better fit. It allows you to track your income and expenses, manage taxes, and prepare for tax time without the need for advanced features like inventory tracking or complex financial reporting. While sometimes shown as a QuickBooks Online version, it’s actually built on a different platform that makes it quite a bit different. It’s not as powerful as QuickBooks Online, but it’s generally easier to use. Head to our QuickBooks Self-Employed review to learn more about its features, or read our QuickBooks Online vs. Self-Employed comparison guide to see how the two programs differ.
- Independent bookkeepers and accountants who manage QuickBooks Online clients: Accounting professionals who manage QuickBooks Online clients should consider QuickBooks Online Accountant. It includes accountant-only tools to help you better manage your clients, including the ability to write off invoices and reclassify transactions. Learn more in our detailed QuickBooks Online Accountant review.
- Accountants who serve QuickBooks Desktop clients: If your client uses QuickBooks Desktop Pro or Premier, you’ll need QuickBooks Accountant Desktop to access their files in the form of an Accountant’s Copy. We discussed the program in greater detail in our QuickBooks Accountant Desktop review. You may also explore our QuickBooks Premier vs. Accountant review to learn more about their differences, including how the Accountant’s Copy works across the two programs.
QuickBooks Online and Desktop are both part of the QuickBooks accounting suite. Read our article on what QuickBooks is and what it does to learn what general accounting features you can expect from QuickBooks Online and Desktop. To help you get the most out of QuickBooks, check out our guide to the best QuickBooks training courses.
QuickBooks Online vs Desktop Similarities & Differences
- Income and expense tracking
- Bank reconciliation
- Accounts payable (A/P)
- Invoicing and estimates
- Sales tax management
- Inventory management
- Project accounting
- Mobile applications
- Tax support
- Assisted bookkeeping
- Payroll add-ons
- Third-party integrations
- Cloud accessibility
- Multiple user access (depending on your subscription)
- Batch invoicing
- Mileage tracking
- Sales tax calculation based on customer’s address
- Invoicing in multiple languages
- Industry-specific editions and reports
- Unlimited companies for no additional cost
- Estimated vs actual project costs comparison
- Inventory assembly management
- Advanced pricing rules
Both QuickBooks Online and Desktop are on our list of the best small business accounting software. QuickBooks Online is our top recommendation, while QuickBooks Desktop is our leading desktop accounting program.
Fit Small Business Case Study
Based on the results of our internal case study (shown in the image below), there are some significant differences between QuickBooks Online and Desktop. For example, Online Plus scores less in project accounting because you cannot compare estimated to actual project costs, whereas with Desktop Premier, you can compare your estimated costs to your actual expenses and revenue.
QuickBooks Online also wins in mobile accounting. The QuickBooks Desktop app is limited to capturing and uploading requests, while QuickBooks Online’s app lets you do more, such as invoicing, accepting online payments, and assigning expenses to projects or customers.
QuickBooks Online vs QuickBooks Desktop Case Study
Touch the graph above to interact Click on the graphs above to interact
QuickBooks Online Plus $85 per month
QuickBooks Desktop Premier $799 per yea
Case study results for QuickBooks Online Plus vs Desktop Premier
QuickBooks Online vs Desktop: Pricing
$30 (Simple Start)
Number of Users Included
1 (Simple Start)
Maximum Number of Users Allowed*
1 (Simple Start)
30-day Free Trial
60-day Money-back Guarantee
*All users are included in the price of each QuickBooks Online tier. However, for each QuickBooks Desktop plan, only one user is included, which means you have to pay a fee for each extra seat.
QuickBooks Online offers four plans, each with a set number of users while QuickBooks Desktop is available as a yearly subscription with an additional cost per user. QuickBooks Online’s pricing structure is a better choice since you can find a plan based on the number of users you have without paying an additional fee. It’s ideal for businesses that can’t afford expensive annual subscriptions.
If you’re interested in QuickBooks Online, you should check out our QuickBooks Online versions comparison to help you decide which is best for you. If you prefer QuickBooks Desktop, read our comparison of QuickBooks Desktop products to help you pick the right solution.
QuickBooks Online vs Desktop: Features
Send & Track Invoices
Track Income & Expenses
Reconcile Bank & Credit Card Accounts
Manage Unpaid Bills
Manage & Track Sales Taxes
Capture & Organize Receipts
Track Project Profitability
Capture & Organize Receipts
Determine Sales Tax Rates Based on Customer’s Address
Compare Estimated vs Actual Project Costs
Manage Unlimited Companies for Free
Create Inventory Assemblies
Apply Advanced Pricing Rules
Get Industry-specific Editions
QuickBooks Online has a slight advantage over QuickBooks Desktop in terms of invoicing because of its ability to calculate sales taxes automatically to apply to an invoice based on the customer address. This feature is particularly useful if you sell and ship products out of your state. Both programs allow you to create and send invoices to clients, but QuickBooks Online’s invoices are more professional-looking and have more room for customizations. Also, QuickBooks Online’s invoicing feature is more intuitive than Desktop, so if you’re planning to self-manage your books, we recommend QuickBooks Online.
Both platforms have great project accounting features, including the ability to create projects, assign income and expenses wages to a project, and convert estimates to invoices once approved. However, QuickBooks Desktop is better as it allows you to set up cost estimates for projects and then compare them to actual expenses.
When you create a new project in QuickBooks Desktop, you can enter estimated costs for various expenses, such as labor, materials, and equipment. As the project progresses, you can track the actual costs for each expense and compare them to the estimated costs to see how the project is performing financially. This allows you to identify areas where you may be overspending or underbudgeting and make adjustments to your project plan accordingly.
While QuickBooks Online also offers project management features, it doesn’t have the same level of depth and customization options as QuickBooks Desktop when it comes to project accounting.
One of the advantages of QuickBooks Desktop over QuickBooks Online is the availability of five industry-specific editions—manufacturing and distribution, professional services, contractors, retailers, and nonprofits. These versions, available in Premier and Enterprise, provide custom-tailored features and reports based on the unique needs of their industry.
For instance, the Manufacturing and Wholesale Edition has custom reports that are unavailable in the other editions, such as Inventory Valuation Summary, Sales by Item Summary, and Purchase by Item Summary.
QuickBooks Online beats QuickBooks Desktop in mobile accounting. As one of our best mobile accounting apps, the QuickBooks Online mobile app lets you perform many accounting tasks, like sending invoices, accepting payments online, and viewing financial reports from your mobile devices. The QuickBooks Desktop mobile app is very limited as it only allows you to capture expense receipts. If you want to perform bookkeeping from anywhere, we strongly recommend QuickBooks Online’s mobile app.
If you have employees, you can add QuickBooks Payroll to your QuickBooks Online account for as little as $45 per month plus $5 per employee. QuickBooks Payroll allows you to pay your employees by checks or direct deposits, e-file and e-pay taxes, print and e-File W-2 Forms at year-end, and more.
Meanwhile, QuickBooks Premier has three payroll options with prices that start at $50 per month plus $5 per employee. If you want to save yourself from the hassle of filing and paying taxes, you may upgrade to QuickBooks Desktop Assisted Payroll for $109 per month, plus $2 per employee.
If you need more automation features through integration with third-party tools, QuickBooks Online is the clear choice as it connects to more than 750 third-party integrations. QuickBooks Desktop has only a few integrations available and most are focused on eCommerce. Recently, it integrated with Webgility, an ecommerce bookkeeping provider, which boosts its inventory features across various platforms, like Amazon, WooCommerce, BigCommerce, and eBay:
- QuickBooks Online: PayPal, Square, SOS Inventory, Fathom, WooCommerce, Shopify, and more
- QuickBooks Desktop: Webgility, Gusto, and Microsoft 365, plus a few others
In addition to third-party integrations, QuickBooks Online integrates with native products, such as QuickBooks Payments, QuickBooks Payroll, and QuickBooks Time (formerly TSheets). QuickBooks Desktop can be integrated with QuickBooks Desktop Payroll and QuickBooks Time.
If you need more personalized support for your bookkeeping, QuickBooks Online might be a better choice since you can subscribe to QuickBooks Live for support. Users needing professional bookkeeping assistance can purchase an add-on called QuickBooks Live Bookkeeping, which connects you to a team of certified bookkeeping professionals for real-time support through video chat. Your dedicated bookkeeper will manage your books and provide month-end reports.
Alternatively, you can hire a QuickBooks ProAdvisor to help with your bookkeeping needs. To help you get started, we prepared a guide on how to find a QuickBooks ProAdvisor. Meanwhile, if you or your accountant wants to become a ProAdvisor to demonstrate expertise in QuickBooks, read our article on how to become a QuickBooks ProAdvisor.
While both QuickBooks Online and Desktop are supported by a large network of ProAdvisors, it’s much easier to share your books with your ProAdvisor using QuickBooks Online. Getting assistance with your Desktop bookkeeping is difficult since you must save an Accountant’s Copy of your company file and send it to your ProAdvisor. Also, QuickBooks Online integrates with some third-party assisted bookkeeping platforms, including:
- QuickBooks Live
- Merritt Bookkeeping
QuickBooks Online vs Desktop: Ease of Use
Requires Installation & Setup
5 to 10 minutes
5 to 10 minutes
Send invitation through email
Must make an Accountant’s Copy
Overall Ease of Use
QuickBooks Online is generally easier to use than QuickBooks Desktop as it has a more streamlined user interface. QuickBooks Online files are also easier to share because you only need to invite a ProAdvisor to your company file, and they’ll have 24/7 access to your books.
With QuickBooks Desktop, you must make an Accountant’s Copy of your data file and send it to your ProAdvisor. The copy will allow you to continue to work on transactions in the current period while your accountant makes adjustments to past periods. It’s an acceptable system but isn’t nearly as convenient as sharing your books through QuickBooks Online.
QuickBooks Online is also easier to navigate than QuickBooks Desktop. Customer, vendor, and account details can be viewed by clicking on the left menu bar. For instance, customer details, including what they owe you, can be viewed by clicking on Sales and then Customers. All transactions in QuickBooks Online can be initiated by clicking the + New button above the left menu bar and selecting from the menu of transactions.
QuickBooks Desktop offers a multitude of ways to navigate, but the easiest way for beginners is through the home page. Vendor, customer, or employee details can be viewed by clicking on the appropriate tab, while transactions can be initiated by clicking on the corresponding icon.
The home page displays the most essential functions, including Vendors, Customers, Employees, and Banking. Each function includes respective icons that allow you to access and perform certain transactions easily, such as Enter Bills for vendors, Create Invoices for customers, and Enter Time for employees.
QuickBooks Online vs Desktop: Customer Support
Unlimited Customer Support
Access to a Large Network of QuickBooks ProAdvisors
Access to the Priority Circle Loyalty Program
QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Desktop offer the same customer service options. Both even give you access to many independent QuickBooks ProAdvisors whom you can hire to help you get started and keep things in order.
If you need personalized customer support, you can upgrade to QuickBooks Online Advanced or QuickBooks Enterprise. Doing so grants you access to the Priority Circle loyalty program, including a dedicated account team, free on-demand training, and premium care from QuickBooks experts.
QuickBooks Online vs Desktop: User Reviews
Many users like that QuickBooks Online has plenty of accounting features and is easy to use. One user noted that it’s easy to add vendors and customers and share files with their bookkeepers, while another commented that the bank account reconciliation and invoicing features are excellent. However, some complained that QuickBooks Online can’t manage multiple companies in a single account and that it lacks enhanced inventory features, such as assembly management.
Meanwhile, QuickBooks Desktop gets more praise for strong functionality, such as inventory accounting and the ability to generate advanced reports. One user is happy that they can set up different reports so that they can see what and who needs to be paid easily. Those who have left negative reviews dislike that it doesn’t offer many third-party integration options.
We compiled QuickBooks Desktop vs Online ratings from popular review websites.
4 out of 5 based on over 3,000 reviews
4.3 out of 5 based on around 1,700 reviews
4.33 out of 5 based on around 6,000 reviews
4.37 out of 5 based on over 1,700 reviews
Google Play (for Mobile App)
3.9 out of 5 based on over 50,000 reviews
3.2 out of 5 based on around 130 reviews
App Store (for Mobile App)
4.7 out of 5 based on over 158,000 reviews
1.8 out of 5 based on about 70 reviews
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
QuickBooks Online offers many advantages over QuickBooks Desktop, such as cloud accessibility, more convenient file sharing and collaboration, scalable plans with varying features, and a functional mobile app.
QuickBooks Desktop is preferable for companies that want to manage their books without an internet connection. It’s also a better option for businesses requiring complex inventory accounting features.
QuickBooks Online is cheaper than QuickBooks Desktop if you have many employees who’ll be using the program. For instance, QuickBooks Online Plus only costs $85 per month for up to five users as opposed to Desktop’s Premier, which costs $799 for only one user. If you want five users, you’ll pay around $2,000 per year.
Yes, and you can learn it from our tutorial on how to convert QuickBooks Desktop to QuickBooks Online.
Yes, you can, but the process is a bit tedious. You need to manually export your files from QuickBooks Online by clicking on the gear icon and selecting Export data. You’ll then need to import your files to QuickBooks Desktop through the File menu.
Every business is unique, and there may be instances where QuickBooks Desktop may be a better fit. For example, it may be more suitable for businesses with complex inventory management needs or those wanting offline access to their financial data. However, QuickBooks Online is the better choice for most companies, especially those with remote accountants and multiple employees.