QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Desktop are small business accounting software that differ in three key areas: pricing, features and data accessibility. Currently, QuickBooks Desktop has more features than Online, but QuickBooks Online has features not available in Desktop. Every QuickBooks Online pricing tier includes unlimited customer support and 24/7/365 access to your data whereas desktop requires you to purchase this service separately.
We recommend QuickBooks Online over Desktop because of its ease of use and the ability to access your data 24/7/365 from any device with an internet connection. Sign up for your QuickBooks Online account, and you can save up to 50 percent off.
QuickBooks Online vs. QuickBooks Desktop
|QuickBooks Online||QuickBooks Desktop|
|No installation||Installs on computer|
|Requires internet connection||No need for internet connection|
|Access from any device||Can only use from 1 device|
|Monthly fee||One-time fee|
|Get started with QuickBooks Online||Get started with QuickBooks Desktop|
Now, let’s explore these differences to help you determine which product will work best for your small business.
When to Consider QuickBooks Online
QuickBooks Online is your ideal solution if you are a service-based business that does not need inventory tracking options or does not have complicated invoicing requirements. QuickBooks Online is also the best option for companies that want access from multiple devices and have more than one person who needs access or those that desire automatic updates from the cloud.
You should ultimately consider QuickBooks Online if you want the following:
- Ability to give your accountant or other users access 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.
- Ability to enter transactions using a mobile device, PC or Mac: QuickBooks Online does not require software installation. Therefore, you can open up a web browser from your mobile device, PC or Mac and log right into your account to quickly access your data.
- Automatic, real-time updates: As you make changes to your data, QuickBooks Online updates automatically. Whether there is one person in the QuickBooks file or multiple users, changes are updated in real-time.
If you could benefit from giving other users access to your data, the ability to access your data from any mobile device with real-time updates, then you should sign up for QuickBooks Online and take advantage of up to a 50 percent discount.
When to Consider QuickBooks Desktop
QuickBooks Desktop is generally the best solution if you are a product-based business that has complicated inventory tracking needs or you fall into one of the five industries that QuickBooks Premier comes in. The industry-specific desktop versions include customized QuickBooks chart of accounts lists and products and services lists for contractors, manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers and more. Keep in mind that the desktop version can only be accessed from one device.
You should ultimately consider QuickBooks Desktop if you want the following:
- Multiple inventory tracking options: QuickBooks Desktop offers two options for tracking inventory — the average cost method or the First In First Out (FIFO) method, which 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. When the amount and type of service you are billing multiple clients are the same, this feature allows you to invoice them all at the same time.
- Industry-specific versions: QuickBooks Desktop offers industry-specific features for businesses that fall into one of the following industries: General Business, Contractor, Manufacturing & Wholesale, Professional Services, Retail and Nonprofit. QuickBooks Online does not offer industry-specific features.
If you have complicated inventory needs or you provide professional services or are a contractor, manufacturer, retailer or nonprofit organization, then you should go with QuickBooks Desktop. Sign up for QuickBooks Desktop to take advantage of special promotions offered only to FitSmallBusiness readers.
QuickBooks Online vs. QuickBooks Desktop Summary Table
|Software Install Required|
|Automatic Online Backup and Protection of Your Data|
|Access Data From Multiple Platforms|
|Access Data From Anywhere at Anytime|
|Unlimited Free Technical Support|
|Automatic Access to the Latest Version of QuickBooks|
|60-day Money-back Guarantee|
|30-day Risk-free Trial Available|
|Sample Company File Test Drive Available|
|Multiple Inventory Tracking Options|
QuickBooks Desktop vs. QuickBooks Online Primary Differences
There are a few features that QuickBooks Online has and QuickBooks Desktop does not like unlimited free technical support. In addition, QuickBooks Desktop has a few features that QuickBooks Online does not, like batch invoicing and multiple inventory valuation methods.
What QuickBooks Online Has That QuickBooks Desktop Does Not Have
1. Automatic Online Backup and Protection
QuickBooks Online data is automatically backed up 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, it is not stored on your computer.
2. Access Data Anytime from Multiple Platforms
QuickBooks Online data can be accessed 24/7/365 from a PC and Mac. 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 automatically.
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 requires. Instead, you log into your account to access the most up-to-date version of QuickBooks Online.
5. Sample Company File Test Drive
With QuickBooks Online, you’ll get access to a sample QuickBooks Online company file that already has QuickBooks data in it. You are able to navigate through the program and practice entering transactions.
6. Multiple Inventory Tracking Options
QuickBooks Online allows inventory tracking using the FIFO method only. If you need to use another inventory method, you will have to go with QuickBooks Desktop.
What QuickBooks Desktop Has That QuickBooks Online Does Not Have
1. Software Installation
Unlike QuickBooks Online, QuickBooks Desktop requires you to download software onto your computer, which also means that you are not able to access the program when you are not at your desk.
2. Manual Backup and Protection
QuickBooks Desktop data is not backed up automatically like QuickBooks Online. You will need to create a backup plan and set it up on your own, or you could upgrade to a QuickBooks Desktop plan that includes automatic backups and unlimited support for an annual fee of $299.95.
3. Access Data from One Platform
With QuickBooks Desktop, you can only access your data from the computer that you installed the software on, either PC or Mac. If you want the ability to access your data from anywhere like you can with QuickBooks Online, you can add on the Hosting Services that QuickBooks offers. Pricing varies so you will need to contact QuickBooks directly for a quote.
4. Paid Technical Support
QuickBooks Desktop support is free for the first 30 days after you install the software. After 30 days, you can upgrade to a QuickBooks Desktop plan that includes unlimited support and automatic backups for an annual fee of $299.95.
5. Paid Upgrades
QuickBooks Desktop requires that you purchase the latest version of the software to gain access to new product features. Pricing will vary based on what version of QuickBooks Desktop you have, generally starting at $299.95.
6. Sample Company Files
Within QuickBooks Desktop, there are several sample company files for multiple industries. Like QuickBooks Online, you can practice entering transactions without using your own company file.
7. Multiple Inventory Tracking Options
Unlike QuickBooks Online, QuickBooks Desktop offers two options for tracking inventory: the average cost method or the FIFO method (FIFO method available when you purchase the Advanced Inventory add-on module.).
8. 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.
9. Industry-Specific Versions Available
QuickBooks Desktop offers industry-specific features for businesses that fall into one of the following industries: General Business, Contractor, Manufacturing & Wholesale, Professional Services, Retail & Nonprofit. QuickBooks Online does not offer industry-specific features.
QuickBooks Online vs. QuickBooks Desktop Pricing
QuickBooks Online is a monthly subscription that runs between $20 to $60, whereas QuickBooks Desktop is a one-time cost between $299 to $1,100. At first glance, you might think QuickBooks Online costs more than QuickBooks Desktop, However, remember that you always have access to the latest features of QuickBooks Online without upgrading; to access new desktop features you must pay to upgrade your software.
QuickBooks Online Product Comparison Chart
|Monthly Retail Cost|
|Number of Users|
QuickBooks Online is not like QuickBooks Desktop where you make a one-time payment in full for the product. As you can see from the chart, the three 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 only available with the Essentials and the Plus subscriptions. It is not available with Simple Start.
- Inventory: Tracking and managing inventory is only available in the Plus subscription. It is not available for Simple Start or Essentials.
QuickBooks Desktop Product Comparison Chart
|Number of Users|
|Create Business Plan Using Your QuickBooks Data|
*Note: Although QuickBooks Desktop is a one-time purchase, you will need to purchase an upgrade at least every 3 years to continue using QuickBooks support, Intuit Payroll and Intuit Merchant Services.
QuickBooks Premier and Enterprise offer industry-specific versions of QuickBooks. Enterprise allows you to include up to 30 users, which makes it suitable for medium-sized or fast-growing small businesses. If your business falls into one of the following industries, you should consider purchasing one of these QuickBooks Desktop products in order to take advantage of the industry-specific features that are not available in QuickBooks Pro or QuickBooks Mac:
- General Business
- Manufacturing & Wholesale
- Professional Services
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 — Pro operates on PC and Mac operates on Mac. I recommend these two products to most small businesses because when compared to similar products you can’t beat the features these products offer for the price. Unfortunately, Intuit has decided to discontinue QuickBooks Mac, which we will discuss next.
Discontinuation of QuickBooks Mac Desktop
Intuit has recently decided to discontinue QuickBooks Mac but will continue to support the 2016 version through May 31, 2019. If you are currently using QuickBooks Mac, we recommend you consider switching to QuickBooks Online. If you need inventory and 1099 tracking, go with QuickBooks Online Plus; otherwise, go with QuickBooks Online Essentials. Check out QuickBooks Online Comparison to learn more about the features included in each subscription.
Don’t wait until Intuit stops supporting QuickBooks Mac, go ahead and make the switch to QuickBooks Online so you can take advantage of all the great features we have discussed. You can get up to a 50 percent discount off your paid subscription.
Ease of Setup: QuickBooks Online vs. QuickBooks Desktop
One of the great things about QuickBooks (both Desktop and Online) is that you don’t have to be an accountant in order to set up or use the program. Whether you are using QuickBooks Online or QuickBooks Desktop, this process should take no more than 20 minutes to complete; 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 as well as the option to connect your bank account to QuickBooks:
Setting Up Your Company
The company file setup process is basically the same for both QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Desktop. The express setup takes about 5 to 10 minutes and requires just some basic company information. The more in-depth setup may take about 1 to 2 hours, depending on whether or not you are bringing data over from another accounting system. If you’re converting from QuickBooks Desktop to QuickBooks Online, check out our step-by-step guide.
In addition to providing basic company information, you will need to answer a few questions about how you will manage your business. I recommend you spend the few extra minutes up front and complete the in-depth setup process. The more in-depth setup process will provide you with a more customized company file setup that will 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. However, in 2013 there were some major changes to the QuickBooks Desktop interface which made it much more user-friendly than it had been in previous versions. This was partly due to the fact that the online version was a much cleaner, easier program to navigate, and Intuit decided to apply some of those same features to its legacy desktop product.
If you are currently using QuickBooks Desktop, the same QuickBooks terminology will translate to QuickBooks Online. However, you will have a bit of a learning curve when it comes to navigating within the program since it is very different from QuickBooks Desktop. If you have never used QuickBooks, you will most likely get up-to-speed pretty quickly on either product that you choose.
QuickBooks Desktop vs. QuickBooks Online Customer Support
QuickBooks In-product Help
In-product help options are resources available within both QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Desktop under the Help menu:
- Knowledgebase (help menu): This is one of my favorite resources because it’s the quickest way to get answers to questions like, “How do I enter a check?” or “How do I create an invoice?”
- Video tutorials: A library of videos that you can access from the Help menu. These videos provide a quick way to visualize step-by-step how to do something in QuickBooks. They typically run between 1 to 10 minutes long.
Be sure to check out 39 Free QuickBooks Online Tutorials by FitSmallBusiness. This is a free course that includes both video and written step-by-step instructions. Best of all, it’s free.
QuickBooks Phone & Chat Support
Phone/chat support is available for both QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Desktop. Unfortunately, the quality of support that you receive may not always be good. I have had better results with chat support than I have with telephone support. In addition, support for Online is always free. Desktop support is only free for the first 30 days. After 30 days, you will have to purchase one of the support plan packages.
Here are a couple of situations to help you determine whether to use chat support or telephone support:
- 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
- If you’ve got a billing question, then I would use chat support
How to Get Started with QuickBooks Online
I recommend trying out QuickBooks Online before you buy it, you’ve got a couple of options:
1. Go for a Test Drive
This will give you access to a sample company file that already has QuickBooks data in it. You can navigate around the program and practice entering transactions like invoices and checks. Once you close out of the file, it does not save your work. Access the test drive and follow the on-screen instructions.
2. Sign Up for a 30-day Risk-free Trial
A free trial (sign up here) will allow you to:
- Create your company file using your own data
- Access all of the features available
- After 30 days, you can subscribe by simply providing your billing information
- If you decide not to subscribe, you will have read-only access to your data for 90 days after the trial period has ended.
Since QuickBooks Online is a cloud-based product, there is no software to install. If you don’t need to take it for a test drive and you are ready to get started with QuickBooks Online, you can get up to 50% off of a paid subscription. To get your business up and running quickly, check out our free QuickBooks Course. It includes step by step instructions to help you get your business set up in no time.
How to Get Started with QuickBooks Desktop
QuickBooks Desktop does offer a free trial option. Unlike QuickBooks Online, which is cloud-based software that does not have to be installed, QuickBooks Desktop must be installed on your computer in order to use it. You can sign up here to download a full version of QuickBooks Enterprise for 30 days. Remember, if you do purchase QuickBooks Desktop or QuickBooks Online and decide later that it is not the right solution for you, there is a 60-day money-back guarantee.
QuickBooks Online vs. Desktop: Which QuickBooks Do I Need
There has been (and continues to be) 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. Currently, QuickBooks Desktop has a few more features and functionality when you compare it to the online version.
However, new features are constantly being added to the online version and there are features available in online that are not available in desktop, like giving access to multiple users so they can access your data from anywhere in the world.
Unfortunately, many bookkeepers and certified public accountants have chosen not to embrace the online version. In my opinion, this is a mistake. As a result, many small businesses that recognize the fact that the cloud is the future, not only for QuickBooks but for most software used in business like Microsoft Office, are having to replace their accountant or bookkeeper.
The answer to which QuickBooks you need boils down to what version of QuickBooks 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.
If you are a freelancer, then QuickBooks Self-Employed might be a better fit for you. Finally, if you are looking for other great accounting software options, check out our Best QuickBooks Alternatives guide.
What a QuickBooks ProAdvisor Is & How to Find One
Certified QuickBooks ProAdvisors are accounting professionals who have certified in one or more QuickBooks products. There are a number of ProAdvisors who do not like the QuickBooks Online product and, therefore, do not support it. You will find more ProAdvisors that are certified in the QuickBooks Desktop product line than QuickBooks Online.
ProAdvisors are not Intuit employees. They are independent contractors and depending on experience, will 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:
- To review your company file setup prior to entering transactions
- To provide face-to-face training on how to use QuickBooks properly
- To perform a periodic review of your financial statements. I recommend you set this up on a monthly or quarterly basis
Check out how to find a QuickBooks ProAdvisor for 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 QuickBooks Pro who is certified in QuickBooks 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 Find A ProAdvisor directory. This site will provide information such as the QuickBooks products the ProAdvisor is certified in as well as how long they have had their practice and customer reviews.
The Bottom Line
Whether you decide to purchase QuickBooks Desktop for its extensive inventory tracking capabilities or QuickBooks Online for its ease of use, 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.