ADP vs Paychex Payroll 2021

We spent a dozen hours carefully digging for the subtle differences that differentiate these two highly competitive and similarly featured payroll services.
Best value
Paychex
Paychex
3.6 out of 5 stars
3.6
Starting from
$39 + $5/employee, monthly
  • Icon Pros  Dark
    Stronger payroll focus
  • Icon Pros  Dark
    Easy to use
  • Icon Pros  Dark
    Superb customer service
Best for growth
ADP
ADP
3.5 out of 5 stars
3.5
Contact for quote
  • Icon Pros  Dark
    Broad HR solutions
  • Icon Pros  Dark
    Advanced analytics
  • Icon Pros  Dark
    Over 600 third-party add-ons

Both ADP and Paychex serve up alluring small-business payroll services. But although the two competitors may seem interchangeable, their nuances reveal substantial differences.

For starters, ADP is better if you have deep pockets and a successful, rapidly growing business. In a single word, it’s complex.

On the other hand, Paychex keenly targets the needs of little organizations. However, there are few expansion opportunities beyond payroll and some human resource (HR) tools. Simply put, it’s simpler.

Let’s dive deeper into which payroll service is best for your small business.

Compare ADP and Paychex's payroll features and pricing

Brand
Starting price (monthly)
Full-service tax filing included
Time tracking
Analytics
Learn more
ADP

ADP

Contact for quote
Icon Yes  DarkYes, for an add’l charge
Icon Yes  DarkYes, included free
Rich and complex
Paychex

Paychex

$39.00 + $5.00/employee
Icon Yes  DarkYes, for an add'l charge
Icon Yes  DarkYes, for an add'l charge
Limited

Data as of 10/19/21. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.

Best mobile app: ADP

Both Paychex and ADP include richly featured mobile apps targeting employers and staffers alike.

However, ADP wins the mobile experience game thanks to its Roll by ADP payroll service. This standalone paycheck cutting solution is a simple, budget-friendly means to cut paychecks on Android and iOS. You don’t need any other ADP subscriptions to use it, and it only costs $17 flat plus $5 an employee per month.

Don’t drool too much over this low price, though. The app is remarkably limited, with many of ADP’s greatest features absent. For example, Roll doesn’t include any meaningful analytics, nor does it support HR functions. It’s strictly a basic way to pay your people via a mobile device—nothing more.

Still, it’s the perfect option for business owners that otherwise find ADP too complex or expensive. And since Paychex and ADP are otherwise neck and neck with their primary mobile applications, Roll is the tie-breaker that Paychex has yet to conquer.

Best analytics: ADP

If richly detailed graphs and fascinating numbers give you an adrenaline rush, then look no further.

That’s because ADP’s DataCloud analytics tool is perhaps one of the most powerful reporting gadgets we’ve seen. Not only can it produce an array of colorful charts and graphs, but it analyzes nearly every data point imaginable.

Here are just some of the pieces of information that are available in reports:

  • Employee longevity
  • Compensation
  • Hiring trends and predictions
  • Staff performance and productivity
  • Worker absences, paid hours, and time-off behaviors

There is a plethora of other figures ready for analysis as well.

And although Paychex also offers analytical tools, ADP’s depth and breadth take number crunching to the next level. This assertion is especially true since you can compare your business’s data to that of other ADP clients.

For example, you can measure up your employees’ compensation to the aggregate salary data pulled from other players in your industry. And since ADP has close to 40% more clients globally than Paychex,1,2 you’ll inherently generate more comprehensive insights.

Best customer support: Paychex

Both Paychex and ADP brag about 24/7/365 customer service.

However, Paychex wins this race thanks to its unique support features:

  • Free one-on-one professional-led setup
  • Entirely US-based support team
  • Phone and chat support for employees

Plus, all Paychex subscriptions can tap into support from HR professionals for an additional fee. This helps mitigate the lack of an in-house admin team, which is a common characteristic of resource-strapped small businesses.

And sure, ADP similarly offers premium HR support. But this perk is only extended to clients with either 50 or more workers, or top-tier subscription plans. As a result, Paychex is the clear champion for businesses of all sizes, while ADP falls short in serving littler entities.

Best for small budgets: Paychex

Say you’re a locally owned business with two dozen employees or fewer. You don’t want to spend a ton of cash to get payroll done, and you don’t dream of building an empire either.

In modest situations like this, Paychex is the far better option. That’s because the payroll service delivers many subtle but highly valuable advantages specifically tailored to little budgets.

For example, Paychex’s Pre-Check feature grants employees access to their projected pay stub information well in advance of payday. This allows workers to raise issues and ask questions before paychecks are finalized—a boon for thinly staffed businesses that have little room for error.

Paychex’s other specially tailored small-business tools include:

  • Automatic pay garnishment processing
  • “Paychex Promise” no-fee 7-day payroll loans
  • Performance management
  • Compensation analysis
  • Employer tax credit recommendations

For comparison, ADP either lacks these perks or restricts them to top-tier plans targeting massive workforces. For example, performance management tools are only on ADP’s high-end Performance Plus plan for businesses with over 50 staffers. And interest-free payroll loans are absent altogether.

Bottom line, Paychex’s valuable touches truly feel tailored to small business pain points, making it our pick for budget-conscious organizations.

Best for international businesses: Paychex

Hiring workers in other countries is tricky given differing labor laws, benefits administration companies, and other challenges. Because of these complexities, many payroll software titles simply won’t touch employees outside of the United States.

But thanks to a partnership with worldwide talent sourcing firm Globalization Partners, Paychex offers international payroll support to all clients, regardless of size. For comparison, ADP only serves up this crossborder perk to businesses with over 1,000 employees.

And not only is payroll supported, but Paychex also handles the entire spectrum of human resource responsibilities for international workers. This includes hiring, taxation, benefits administration, and other duties.

As a result, Paychex is the clear choice to scale your business beyond borders, regardless of your current workforce size.

Best Small Business Payroll Software
Gusto
Best overall
4 out of 5 stars
4.0
Paychex
Best for growth
4 out of 5 stars
4.0
OnPay
Best for new employers
4 out of 5 stars
4.0
ADP
Best Payroll + HR packages
3.5 out of 5 stars
3.5
SurePayroll
Best customer service
3.4 out of 5 stars
3.4
Learn more about our top brands.

Best third-party integrations: ADP

Paychex seems like it would win this category with its over 190 officially sponsored third-party integrations. ADP, on the other hand, only sports about four dozen sanctioned connections.

However, the latter closes this gap via its ADP Marketplace that boasts over 600 add-ons. With so much selection, you’ll likely find a perfect link with, say, your low-key neighborhood credit union that other payroll services overlook. This allows you to morph ADP into a data powerhouse that gives you a bird’s-eye view of the many elements of your business.

Now, that’s not to say that every marketplace gizmo is promising. Each add-on has user reviews and star ratings, with many poorly rated or unranked altogether.

Plus, a substantial number of those 600-plus extensions aren’t free. Unsurprisingly, you’ll need deep pockets to fully take advantage (doesn’t that sound so on-brand of ADP?).

Tired of payroll? Gusto handles payroll taxes and more

With unlimited payroll runs and automatic tax filing, Gusto helps small-business owners worry less about payroll and put more time into growing their business.

  • Get automatic payroll tax filing, including end-of-year tax forms
  • Manage workers compensation insurance
  • Track paid time off, sick leave, and holiday pay

The takeaway

ADP is better for businesses that are both flush with cash and bursting with solid, long-term growth plans. The platform is complex but comprehensive, with analytics sure to impress data lovers everywhere. Expect every extra feature to come with a premium price tag, though.

Meanwhile, Paychex is ideal for modest entities looking to keep people paid, while allowing some room for expansion. What it lacks in power is made up for in small-business value and simplicity. We particularly love the platform’s fee-free 7-day payroll loans that ADP simply doesn’t offer.

Want a more simple and affordable payroll service? Check out our picks for the best Paychex payroll alternatives and competitors.

Related content

Need help choosing a small business payroll service?

ADP vs. Paychex

Are ADP and Paychex the same?

No, ADP and Paychex are independent payroll services. ADP specializes in larger businesses and corporations. Paychex exclusively focuses on smaller entities.

ADP is better if you have a big budget, ambitious growth plans, and a craving for complex functions.

Meanwhile, Paychex is ideal if you want to get small business payroll done in as straightforward a manner as possible. You can still add on additional services though, such as retirement plans and timekeeping.

What are some payroll options other than ADP or Paychex?

If both ADP and Paychex equally feel too complex, then we’d recommend considering more modest, user-friendly options. Some examples are Gusto, QuickBooks Payroll, and Patriot Software.

These comparatively lesser-known titles emphasize simple user interfaces, affordable and fully transparent pricing, and full-service tax filing that’s often included free of charge.

How much does Paychex cost per month?

Paychex only reveals that its entry-level plan, called Flex Essentials, costs $39 flat plus $5 per employee monthly. All other subscription options and optional add-ons hide behind opaque pricing that requires contact with a sales agent. This makes it difficult to shop around when searching for the best small business payroll service.

Our methodology

We honed in on each brand’s keen understanding of small business pain points, in addition to an emphasis on certain qualities:

  • Ease of use
  • Expansion opportunities
  • Customer support availability
  • Employee benefits administration tools
  • Value for each subscription tier

Disclaimer

At Business.org, our research is meant to offer general product and service recommendations. We don't guarantee that our suggestions will work best for each individual or business, so consider your unique needs when choosing products and services.

Sources

  1. Paychex. “About Paychex.” Accessed October 20, 2021.
  2. ADP. “Corporate Overview.” Accessed October 20, 2021.
Ian Agar
Written by
Ian Agar
Ian covers human resource administration at Business.org. His expertise stems from his four years as a military HR generalist in the U.S. Coast Guard, where he held the title of yeoman and became an Oracle Peoplesoft maestro. Ian also owned an ecommerce small business for over three years and holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology. He was previously a venture capital reporter at PitchBook Data, and his work can be seen on Seeking Alpha, The Motley Fool, and Yahoo! Finance.
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