The 6 Best Free Payroll Software for Small Businesses in 2021

To find the best free payroll solutions for small businesses, Business.org considered each provider’s features, including time-tracking integration, employee pay options, and access to year-end tax forms. We also looked at each brand’s customer support, online security, and accounting integrations.
Best overall
Payroll4Free
Payroll4Free
3.9 out of 5 stars
3.9
Starting from
$0.00
  • Icon Pros  Dark
    Free for up to 25 payees
  • Icon Pros  Dark
    Year-end tax form access
  • Icon Pros  Dark
    Direct deposit or paper checks
Best time tracking
TimeTrex
TimeTrex
3.4 out of 5 stars
3.4
Starting from
$0.00
  • Icon Pros  Dark
    Unlimited payees
  • Icon Pros  Dark
    Year-end tax form access
  • Icon Pros  Dark
    Direct deposit or paper checks
Best for international businesses
HR.my
HR.my
2.9 out of 5 stars
2.9
Starting from
$0.00
  • Icon Pros  Dark
    Unlimited payees
  • Icon Cons  Dark
    No year-end tax forms
  • Icon Cons  Dark
    No direct deposit or check printing
Best calculator-only
eSmart Paycheck
eSmart Paycheck
2.9 out of 5 stars
2.9
Starting from
$0.00
  • Icon Pros  Dark
    Unlimited calculations
  • Icon Cons  Dark
    No year-end tax forms
  • Icon Pros  Dark
    Paper check printing
Best for Excel users
Microsoft Excel
ExcelPayroll
3 out of 5 stars
3.0
Starting from
$0.00
  • Icon Pros  Dark
    Unlimited payees
  • Icon Pros  Dark
    Year-end tax form access
  • Icon Pros  Dark
    Paper check printing

Data as of 9/07/21. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.

The bottom line: As one of the most fully featured free payroll programs for small businesses, Payroll4Free is our top free software recommendation. If you’re fine with open-sourced software, TimeTrex Community Edition offers nearly as many features as Payroll4Free with stellar time-tracking integration.

HR.my’s free payroll app and availability in 65+ languages make it a good fit for international businesses. If you’re already using Microsoft Office Suite, ExcelPayroll integrates seamlessly with your existing payroll software. Finally, if you need just a calculator with paycheck-printing capabilities, try eSmart Paycheck for businesses with no more than 10 employees.

Keep reading for more info on the year's best free payroll software for small-business owners.

Best free small business payroll software

Compare the best free payroll software features

Payroll provider
Number of payees
Pre-filled year-end tax forms
Direct deposit
Learn more
Payroll4Free

Payroll4Free

Up to 25
Icon Check  DarkYes
Icon Check  DarkYes
TimeTrex

TimeTrex

Unlimited
Icon Check  DarkYes
Icon Check  DarkYes
HR.my

HR.my

Unlimited
Icon Close  DarkNo
Icon Close  DarkNo
eSmart Paycheck

eSmart Paycheck

Unlimited
Icon Close  DarkNo
Icon Close  DarkNo
Microsoft Excel

ExcelPayroll

Unlimited
Icon Close  DarkNo
Icon Close  DarkNo

Data as of 9/24/21. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.

Is free payroll software right for your business?

Payroll is complex, and it only gets more complex the more employees you have. Payroll mistakes can have huge financial consequences not just for your employees but for your business, especially once the IRS gets involved. Plus, as your workforce grows, you’ll need more sophisticated software that exceeds what most free payroll services provide.

That’s why we and most of our top free payroll picks tend to recommend free software only to businesses with 10 or fewer employees. (The main exception is Payroll4Free, which supports payroll for up to 25 employees and has many features that are similar to some paid self-service payroll providers.)

If you do choose free payroll software, make sure to keep detailed financial records (which you can do for free with free accounting software) and to double- and triple-check your paycheck and tax calculations. While this is good advice in general, it’s particularly crucial in this no-cost software genre since most free payroll services do not offer any calculation accuracy guarantees. This means you’re on your own if Uncle Sam busts down your door with a nasty tax bill in hand.

Ultimately, if you’d prefer not to take chances, most paid payroll providers offer free trials. This means you can always give premium software a go and cancel if you find it doesn’t meet your needs.​ In particular, ADP has a three-month-long free trial, SurePayroll has a two-month free trial, and Gusto has a one-month free trial.

Oh, and if you’re interested, we also offer a few free payroll aids:

Payroll4Free: Best overall

Best overall free payroll software
Payroll4Free
Payroll4Free
3.9 out of 5 stars
3.9
  • How it's free: In-software ads, paid plan options
  • Check
    Employee self-service portal and payslip access
  • Check
    Pre-filled end-of-year tax forms
  • Check
    Direct deposit and paycheck printing
  • Check
    PTO and vacation time tracking

Payroll4Free is a master in the free payroll software genre. For one thing, it’s chock-full of functions that are often enjoyed only in premium, top-tier platforms. Some of these perks include:

  • Paycheck calculations
  • 1099 contract and W-2 employee payments
  • Direct deposit and paper check options
  • Federal, state, and local payroll tax calculations
  • Pre-filled tax form access
  • Reports on taxes, benefits, payroll statistics, and more
  • Employee self-service portal
  • Paid time off, vacation, and sick time accruals
  • Accounting software integration, including QuickBooks

Payroll4Free’s reporting and paid time off (PTO) tracking features are particularly impressive. (Even many paid providers don’t include those features with their cheapest plans.) And while Payroll4Free can’t file your payroll taxes for free, it calculates payroll tax deductions and autofills the tax forms. You have to do the actual filing, but form filling is easily the most time-intensive part of the process.

Don’t worry though if you’d prefer to let someone else handle taxes: the company offers full-service tax filing for a below-average $15 monthly fee.

Now that you know the good stuff, here’s the catch. The platform is barebones, so most of the features mentioned above require patience and some basic administrative knowledge. Afterall, the title’s made for getting the job done at no cost, so you get what you pay for when it comes to user-friendliness and visual allure.

That leads to our next point. Payroll4Free is only gratis because it's loaded with advertisements. This might feel distracting and cumbersome, although this marathon of marketing doesn’t fundamentally alter your payroll process.

TimeTrex: Best time tracking

Best time tracking software
TimeTrex
TimeTrex
3.4 out of 5 stars
3.4
  • How it's free: Open-source software
  • Check
    Employee self-service portal and payslip access
  • Check
    Pre-filled end-of-year tax forms
  • Check
    Direct deposit and paycheck printing
  • Check
    PTO and vacation time tracking

Developers in 50 countries volunteer their time and expertise to keep the open-source TimeTrex Community Edition up and running. Thanks to this global effort, you can score these nifty perks at no charge:

  • Paycheck calculations, including taxes, wage garnishments, and other deductions
  • Direct deposit and paper checks
  • Easy-to-generate tax forms, including forms W-2, W-3, 940, 941, and 1099
  • Employee access to electronic pay stubs
  • Integration with other payroll software, including QuickBooks, Paychex, ADP, and SurePayroll

The suite’s parent company, TimeTrex, offers time-tracking software that’s also included free on the Community Edition. But employees can clock in only online, and they can’t use the mobile app that comes with TimeTrex’s paid plans. Still, the time and attendance tracking syncs automatically with your payroll software, which makes paycheck calculation a breeze.

Best for international businesses: HR.my

Best for global ventures
HR.my
HR.my
2.9 out of 5 stars
2.9
  • How it's free: Crowdfunding, in-app ads
  • Check
    Employee self-service portal and payslip access
  • Check
    Paycheck printing (no direct deposit)
  • Check
    PTO and vacation time tracking
  • X
    No pre-filled end-of-year tax forms

Unlike the majority of payroll software—both free and paid—HR.my's payroll software is available in 65 different languages. Beyond its multiple tongues, the title serves up comprehensive payroll-processing features that compare to both TimeTrex’s and Payroll4Free’s. Some noteworthy perks include:

  • PTO management
  • Attendance management and time clock integration
  • Automatically generated payslips
  • Multiple pay schedules, including weekly, biweekly, semi-monthly, and monthly
  • Leave approval
  • Unlimited users, including employees and managers
  • Unlimited employee web accounts for pay stub access and PTO requests
  • Mobile payroll app (Android and iOS) for employers and employees

There are some downsides, though. First, every language translation except for English and Chinese relies entirely on Google Translate with no human oversight. This makes the translation quality hit or miss.

Also, HR.my is based in Malaysia, which could be a problem for US-based customers who need customer service support during regular business hours. Plus, HR.my’s site is the sparsest we’ve reviewed. It lists a lot of features and includes a handy user guide for getting started, but we're a little wary of its lack of product details.

Best calculator-only: eSmart Paycheck

Best calculator-only software
eSmart Paycheck
eSmart Paycheck
2.9 out of 5 stars
2.9
  • How it's free: Paid payroll plan options
  • Check
    Payslip printing (no employee self-service access)
  • Check
    Paycheck printing (no direct deposit)
  • X
    No pre-filled end-of-year tax forms
  • X
    No PTO or vacation time tracking

eSmart Paycheck isn’t a comprehensive online payroll software solution. Instead, the platform primarily calculates your employees’ net pay, including the amount of taxes to withhold for all 50 US states. It also prints payroll checks and generates pay stubs for free.

However, most other functions cost cold hard cash. This includes access to a library of pre-populated tax forms. As a result, if you want to stick only to freebies, you’ll have to manually transfer the platform’s calculations to your own paperwork stored elsewhere.

Also, eSmart Paycheck doesn’t save your payroll data or help you track year-to-date payroll taxes. With all of these limitations in mind, the title works best for small-business owners who want an easier way to make free pay stubs online and quickly print real payroll checks.

Best for Office 360 users: ExcelPayroll

Best for Microsoft Office users
Microsoft Excel
ExcelPayroll
3 out of 5 stars
3.0
  • X
    How it's free: Integrates with paid Excel software
  • Check
    Payslip printing (no employee self-service access)
  • Check
    Paycheck printing (no direct deposit)
  • Check
    Pre-filled end-of-year tax forms
  • X
    Limited PTO or vacation time tracking

ExcelPayroll is a free third-party payroll software and pay stub creator that integrates directly with Microsoft Excel’s spreadsheet software. Along with calculating paycheck amounts and payroll tax withholdings, ExcelPayroll lets you tackle these tasks in Excel:

  • Creating pre-filled tax forms, including W-2s
  • Printing checks
  • Generating workers compensation reports
  • Logging bookkeeping journal entries

Keep in mind that although ExcelPayroll is free, Excel itself isn’t. The Microsoft Office suite (known as Office 365) now operates largely as a cloud-based service instead of desktop software. This means you’ll have to pay a monthly fee to use it, instead of a one-time upfront charge.

Still, Microsoft Office 365 is worth considering since it starts at an affordable $5 monthly fee and includes PowerPoint and Word, as well.

Megaphone
More spreadsheet-based payroll options

If ExcelPayroll has too many features for you, we recommend downloading one of Microsoft’s free payroll templates instead. Or, if you want a truly free spreadsheet option, both Google Sheets and Smartsheet have free customizable payroll templates. Note that the best free payroll templates also help you make pay stubs online for free.

Honorable mentions

Comparing other top free payroll software and services

Brand name
Number of payees
Pre-filled end-of-year tax forms
Direct deposit
Learn more
Logo for paycheck manager

Paycheck Manager

Unlimited
Icon No  DarkNo
Icon No  DarkNo

Data as of 9/07/21. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.

Paycheck Manager

Best calculator-only runner-up
Logo for paycheck manager
Paycheck Manager
2.8 out of 5 stars
2.8
  • How it's free: Paid options
  • Check
    Payslip printing (no employee self-service access)
  • Check
    Paycheck printing (no direct deposit)
  • X
    No pre-filled end-of-year tax forms
  • X
    No PTO or vacation time tracking

Want another easy, streamlined option for payroll calculation only? Like eSmart Paycheck, Paycheck Manager’s free calculator lets you calculate an employee’s net salary, then print paychecks and create pay stubs. If Paycheck Manager’s calculator seems too complex, you can use its simple calculator to make basic tax estimates. Want to save your payroll calculator data, access payroll reports, and offer pay stubs? Paycheck Manager’s paid plan costs $5 a month after a three-month free trial.

Unlike eSmart Paycheck, Paycheck Manager doesn’t offer a different calculator for each state. Otherwise, the two are about the same—neither is a full payroll management system, but if you need the simplest possible payroll module, either calculator should suit.

Indeed, the platform also offers a modest array of payroll services beyond just a calculator. However, these extra functions are only free for the first three months. Beyond this initial period, it costs $5 monthly, which is still far cheaper than most other software options.

Bell
Additional payroll calculator options

Looking for a completely streamlined, straightforward, and free solution? Our simple payroll calculators can help you calculate salaries, taxes, and other withholding amounts: 

Low-cost alternatives

If you don’t love any of our recommendations, a cost-effective payroll solution can still help you save money on payroll. Our favorite cheap payroll plan is Patriot Software’s, which costs just $10 a month for self-service payroll. And if you only pay contractors, both Square Payroll and Gusto offer contractor-only plans with no monthly base fee.

Most affordable self-service payroll: Patriot Software

Most affordable self-service payroll
Patriot Software
Patriot
4 out of 5 stars
4.0
  • Check
    Starting at $10.00/mo. + $4.00/mo./payee
  • Check
    Employee self-service portal and payslip access
  • Check
    Pre-filled end-of-year tax forms
  • Check
    Direct deposit and paycheck printing
  • Check
    PTO and vacation time tracking

Data as of 9/07/21. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.

Patriot Software’s Basic Payroll plan starts at $10 a month plus $4 per month per payee (including contractors and W-2 employees). The self-service plan doesn’t include automatic tax filing, but it does include direct deposit, unlimited customizable payroll runs, W-2 forms, employee pay stub access, and free payroll setup if you’re switching providers.

Interested in more than payroll calculations? At $30 a month plus $4 per payee, Patriot is also one of the cheapest full-service payroll providers. With the $30 plan, Patriot calculates tax withholding and automatically remits federal, state, and local taxes along with all end-of-year tax forms.

You’ll only get a good deal if you pay staffers in one state, though. That’s because automated tax filing for each additional US state costs $12 a piece, which can quickly send costs skyrocketing. Instead, we’d recommend Gusto, which includes all 50 states for free.

Best for paying contractors only: Square Payroll

Best for contractor-only payroll
Square
Square
3.9 out of 5 stars
3.9
  • Check
    Starting at $5.00/mo./contractor
  • Check
    End-of-year 1099 forms
  • Check
    Direct deposit and paycheck printing

Data as of 9/07/21. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.

Square Payroll’s contractor-only plan doesn’t require a base monthly fee. Instead, you just pay $5 per month for each contractor you pay. If you work with contractors seasonally, you can put your account on hold at any time and resume paying contractors once work rolls around again. Square also mails end-of-year 1099 tax forms at no extra cost.

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

Payroll4Free is our top free software recommendation. But if you’re fine with open-sourced software, then TimeTrex Community Edition offers nearly as many features as Payroll4Free with stellar time-tracking integration.

For those with international operations, HR.my’s free payroll app and availability in 65+ languages make it a good fit. If you’re already using Microsoft Office 365, ExcelPayroll integrates seamlessly with your existing payroll software. Finally, if you need just a calculator with paycheck-printing capabilities, try eSmart Paycheck.

Remember, compared to paid online payroll software, free payroll software has key downsides, especially its lack of automated payroll tax filing and guaranteed tax compliance. But if you can't (or don't want to) shell out a wad of cash just yet, then these online payroll services may cut your wallet some slack.

Need more payroll options? Find affordable paid alternatives in our review of the year’s best payroll software for small businesses.

Related reading

Free payroll software FAQ

What is the best free payroll software?

Payroll4Free is a comprehensive, secure, and user-friendly free payroll solution for small businesses. It offers far more features than other free competitors, including payroll tax calculation and pre-filled tax forms. And it's free for up to 25 employees, which can save small-business owners a big chunk of cash on payroll processing.

But just because Payroll4Free is the best free payroll service doesn't necessarily mean it's the best for you. If you need only a payroll calculator, for instance, Payroll4Free might have too many features for your needs. Instead, try eSmart Paycheck, Paycheck Manager, or one of our own free payroll calculators—we have one for salaried employees and one for hourly employees.

What is the easiest payroll software to use?

In terms of free payroll service providers, Payroll4Free is the easiest, most user-friendly choice. Its interface is up to date, especially when compared to those of other free payroll companies. It also saves your employee information to make repeat calculations easier. While all payroll software requires a learning curve, Payroll4Free's is about as flat a curve as you could ask for.

On the other hand, when it comes to paid payroll services, we think Gusto, Zenefits, and Patriot Software are three (of many) incredibly easy-to-use choices. Each option boasts an abundance of educational resources that make payroll and personnel administration a breeze, regardless of your technical background. Plus, each one serves up elaborate, US-based customer service, full-service payroll by default, and personalized initial setup, among other user-friendly benefits.

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.

How can I do payroll without software?

If you have ten or fewer employees, you can download a payroll template to use with spreadsheet software. Excel and Google Sheets are the most popular choices, though only Google Sheets is truly free—Excel costs a monthly fee. (Most of our recommended payroll templates also double as free pay stub creators.)

You can also use one of our payroll calculators to make sure you're withholding the right amount in payroll taxes.

Our methodology

To choose the best free payroll software providers, we looked at a few key categories, weighted equally:

  • Pricing, including if the software was truly free, how and why it was free, and whether it offered paid plan options
  • Payroll features, including tax calculation, direct deposit, employee self-service, free check stubs, and end-of-year tax forms
  • Customer service, including phone support, email support, and online guides
  • Trustworthiness, including online security, customer guarantees, transparency, data storage, and data encryption

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.

Kylie McQuarrie
Written by
Kylie McQuarrie
Kylie McQuarrie has been writing for and about small businesses since 2014. Prior to writing full-time, she worked with a variety of small-business owners (from freelance writers to real-estate solopreneurs), which gave her a front-row look at small-business owners' struggles, frustrations, and successes. Currently, she’s Business.org’s accounting and payroll staff writer. Her work has been featured on SCORE.org, G2, and Fairygodboss, among others.
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