The Best Free Payroll Software for Small Businesses in 2023

To find the best free payroll for small businesses, we looked at employee pay options, time-tracking integrations, and year-end tax forms.

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Is free payroll software right for you? Free payroll software is much simpler than payroll options like Gusto and SurePayroll. It doesn't have the same customer support, employee benefits, security, or ease of use. You can check out paid payroll options—including affordable payroll solutions with lengthy free trials—on our review of the year's best small-business payroll software.

The bottom line: As one of the most fully featured free payroll programs for small businesses, Payroll4Free is our top free payroll software recommendation.

Additionally, TimeTrex Community Edition offers nearly as many features as Payroll4Free with great time-tracking.’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 is a cost-effective pick. And finally, if you need just a calculator with paycheck-printing capabilities, try eSmart Paycheck.

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

Featured partner offers
Best budget pick
Starts at
$19.99 +$4.00/payee
Get Two Months Freeon Surepayroll's website
Best user experience
Quickbooks Payroll
Starts at
$22.50* + $5.00/payee
Get 50% Off for 3 Monthson Quickbooks's website
Most affordable self-service
Patriot Software
Starts at
$17.00 + $4.00/payee
Start Your 30-day Free Trialon Patriot's website

Data as of 3/28/23. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.
*Sales price—50% off for three months

Compare the best free payroll software features

Payroll provider
Number of payees
Pre-filled year-end tax forms
Direct deposit
Free time-tracking or payroll app
Learn more
Up to 25
Icon Check  DarkYes
Icon Check  DarkYes
Icon No  DarkNo
Icon Check  DarkYes
Icon Check  DarkYes
Icon No  DarkNo
Icon Close  DarkNo
Icon Close  DarkNo
Icon Yes  DarkYes
Icon Close  DarkNo
Icon Close  DarkNo
Icon No  DarkNo
Icon Yes  DarkYes
Icon Close  DarkNo
Icon No  DarkNo

Data as of 3/28/23. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.

Payroll4Free: Best overall

Payroll4Free is easily the best free payroll software for businesses with fewer than 25 employees.

Most importantly, Payroll4Free has more payroll features than any other free payroll provider:

  • Federal, state, and local payroll tax calculations
  • Pre-filled tax form access
  • Basic payroll reports 
  • Employee self-service portal
  • Paid time off, vacation, and sick time accruals

Along with calculating employee paychecks on a variety of payroll schedules, Payroll4Free calculates payroll taxes, then autofills the tax forms for you. (And if you'd rather not deal with filing payroll taxes at all, Payroll4Free charges $15 a month to take care of it for you—which is less per month than most paid payroll software.) 

Unfortunately, Payroll4Free doesn't have a free mobile payroll app. If you want to run payroll on the go, you'll probably need a provider with a solid payroll app like SurePayroll or Paychex, . Plus, you can only run Payroll4Free on a Windows operating system—you can use Payroll4Free on a Mac, but only if the Mac is running on Windows software.

Finally, Payroll4Free has one crucial hidden fee: if you run direct deposit through Payroll4Free's bank instead of your own bank, you'll be charged $15 a month.

On a similar note...

Find the best payroll software

See's top picks for the best payroll software of 2023.

Dive deeper into payroll:

TimeTrex: Best time tracking

TimeTrex's free open-source payroll software is perfect for business owners who want smooth time-tracking integration with basic payroll features.

Those basic features include paycheck calculations, direct deposit options, tax form generation, and employee access to paystubs. TimeTrex also syncs nicely with other payroll providers, including ADP and QuickBooks Payroll. If you want to use TimeTrex 's open-source payroll software o track your employees' hours for free, it's easy to sync that data with some of the most popular online payroll software in the world. 

TimeTrex has some paid plan options that aren't open source, but unlike Payroll4Free, TimeTrex doesn't have clear, transparent pricing on its site. Plus (and this is true of Payroll4Free as well), TimeTrex's interface is serviceable—but that's about all it is. If you want payroll with an easy setup and low software learning curve, a paid payroll provider like Patriot, QuickBooks, ADP, or SurePayroll will work better for you than open-source free payroll from TimeTrex. Best for global businesses

If your global company works with international contractors, is one of the easiest payroll providers to use.

Unlike the majority of payroll software—both free and paid—'s payroll software is available in 65 different languages. (Rippling also processes payroll internationally, but it starts at $8 per employee.)

Like Payroll4Free and TimeTrex, includes PTO management, attendance and time tracking, and payslip generation. Employees can also request leave and clock in and out using's free payroll app.

However, isn't based in the US, which means the company isn't required to comply with US labor laws. Like most free payroll services, doesn't have a dedicated customer service team. And while the online payroll service has a handful of HR features (such as leave tracking), it doesn't have the robust human resource management bigger companies need to support payroll.

eSmart Paycheck: Best calculator-only software

eSmart Paycheck offers two plans: a paid plan with basic payroll features and a free paycheck calculator.

With the free option, you can calculate your employees' gross wages, then deduct taxes and other withholdings to get the right net pay amount.

You can't use data from the calculator to autofill tax forms or submit money for direct deposit, but you can use it to print paychecks and payslips. In other words, if you're fine handling taxes on your own and don't need direct deposit access, eSmart Paycheck can help.

However, eSmart Paycheck's free plan doesn't give you access to pre-filled tax forms. You’ll have to manually transfer the platform’s calculations to your own tax paperwork. 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 company works best for small-business owners who want an easier way to calculate net pay, create free pay stubs online, and quickly print real payroll checks.

ExcelPayroll: Best for Office 365 users

ExcelPayroll is a free third-party payroll software and pay stub creator that integrates directly with Microsoft Excel’s spreadsheet software.

Basically, it's a free payroll template, and like other payroll templates, it lets you calculate paycheck amounts and payroll tax withholdings. You can also use an ExcelPayroll template to perform these payroll tasks:

  • 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) 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 Wordas well.

Best free trials for payroll software

Using entirely free payroll software isn't the only way to pay your employees at no cost. Plenty of payroll companies offer free trials—some for as long as two or three months. If you haven't found your perfect payroll solution in the free options above, we recommend trying any of these great payroll tools for a free test drive:

  • SurePayroll is one of the (maybe even the) most affordable payroll service providers, and it also offers one of the best free trials. You can try SurePayroll's easy-to-use, comprehensive software for two entire months.
  • Paychex is SurePayroll's parent company, and it offers slightly more comprehensive payroll than SurePayroll at a higher price. Like SurePayroll, though, you can try Paychex free for two months.
  • ADP is one of the more expensive payroll providers on our list of payroll software options, but its three free months let you take advantage of its thorough payroll and HR tools at no cost.
  • Gusto is our favorite payroll provider for most small businesses. You don't have to pay for Gusto until your first payroll run, so it's free to set up the software and see if it meets your needs (or not) without paying a cent.
  • QuickBooks Payroll gives new users two ways to save: you can choose from a 30-day free trial or opt for 70% off for three months, which brings the software's starting price down to just $13.50.
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Low-cost payroll alternatives

Payroll is both complicated and crucial—getting it wrong creates problems for your employees and can get your business in trouble with the IRS. As a result, the free payroll and paycheck software we listed above are the only truly free payroll services we feel comfortable recommending.

However, we can recommend some low-cost payroll solutions. While these payroll options aren't free, some of them offer up to three months free. If none of the options we presented above seem like a good fit for you, one of these cheap payroll services could work instead.

Compare the best low-cost payroll alternatives

Payroll provider
Free trial
Starting monthly base price
Starting monthly price per payee
Time-tracking and payroll app
Get started
2 mos.$19.99$4.00
Icon Yes  DarkYes
30 days$17.00$4.00
Icon Yes  DarkYes
30 days$0.00*$5.00
Icon Yes  DarkYes
3 mos.$59.00$4.00
Icon Yes  DarkYes

Data as of 3/28/23. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.
*Base price waived for contractor plan only. Monthly price for W-2 and contractor plan starts at $30/mo.

SurePayroll: Most affordable payroll software program

Our budget pick
Starts at
$19.99 + $4.00/payee
  • pro
    Two months free
  • pro
    Employee self-service portal for paystub access
  • pro
    Direct deposit
  • pro
    Optional full-service plan with automatic payroll tax filing

Data as of 3/28/23. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.

SurePayroll costs a monthly fee—but at just $19.99, SurePayroll remains one of the cheapest payroll providers you can find. Patriot Payroll is a few dollars cheaper, but in our opinion, SurePayroll's additional features make that extra $2 a month absolutely worth it. 

What are those features exactly? With SurePayroll's self-service plan, you get two-day direct deposit, automatic payroll tax calculations, pre-filled tax forms, and HR add-ons likes workers compensation insurance and health benefit administration. The full-service plan, which costs $29.99 a month and $5 per payee, adds automatic state, local, and federal tax filing, including end-of-year tax-form filing.

pro Low starting price
pro Two-month free trial
pro Self-service and full-service plans
pro Built-in benefits administration
con Recent customer service complaints
con Direct deposit only (no check printing)

Patriot Payroll: Most affordable payroll software program runner-up

Most affordable self-service payroll
Patriot Software
Starts at
$17.00 + $4.00/payee
  • pro
    30-day free trial
  • pro
    Employee self-service portal and payslip access
  • pro
    Pre-filled end-of-year tax forms
  • pro
    Direct deposit and paycheck printing

Data as of 3/28/23. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.

Patriot Payroll's Basic Payroll plan starts at $17 a month plus $4 per month per payee. The self-service plan doesn’t include automatic tax filing, but it does include direct deposit, unlimited customizable payroll runs, W-2 forms, and employee pay stub access.

If you're interested in more than just payroll calculations, you can try Patriot's full-service plan. At $30 a month plus $5 per payee, it's still one of the cheapest full-service payroll providers. 

Bear in mind, though, that Patriot lacks the built-in HR features you'll get with SurePayroll or Gusto. You can add basic HR administration and time-tracking for an extra fee per payee, but you can't add any healthcare benefits. Workers comp is the only option—and it's important, sure, but it's not the only benefit most employers need.

pro Free trial and low starting price
pro Employee self-service for easy paycheck and paystub access
pro Direct deposit
con No HR benefits administration
con Additional fee for basic HR features

Square Payroll: Best for paying contractors only

Best for contractor-only payroll
Starts at
  • pro
    30-day free trial
  • pro
    End-of-year 1099 forms
  • pro
    Direct deposit, paycheck printing, and Cash App payments

Data as of 3/28/23. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.
*Base price waived for contractor plan only. Monthly price for W-2 and contractor plan starts at $30/mo.

Square Payroll’s contractor-only plan doesn’t have 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.

If you pay contractors and W-2 employees (or W-2 employees only), Square Payroll's starting monthly cost is a reasonable $30 plus $5 per payee—the same base price as Patriot's full-service plan and just a dollar extra per payee.

pro No base fee for contractor-only plans
pro Workers comp insurance
pro Integration with other Square products
con Basic HR features only

Get a personalized payroll quote

Don't love any of the payroll software we've reviewed here? Enter some basic information of your business and payroll needs—we'll send you up to five payroll quotes customized to your unique business situation.

More free payroll tools

Don't need a complete payroll solution? One of these free tools might help.

Free payroll calculators

A simple payroll calculator can help you calculate salaries, taxes, and other withholding amounts: 

Free payroll and check-printing spreadsheet templates

If you're doing payroll by hand using free spreadsheet software like Google Sheets or paying a low monthly fee for Microsoft Excel, you can format a spreadsheet yourself—or you can save yourself some time and effort by downloading a payroll template.

Most payroll spreadsheet templates double as free payroll check-printing software. You can use a payroll template to create and print pay stubs and generate checks that you can print directly from your computer.

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,’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.

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

Most of the best online payroll software options include a free app with their plans. For instance, ADP, SurePayroll, Paychex, and QuickBooks Payroll have apps for employees plus a separate payroll app for employers to process payroll on the go. 

However, most completely free payroll software don't include payroll apps. For instance, Payroll4Free and eSmart Paycheck are only available via web browser. does offer an employee-facing payroll app, but it doesn't have a corresponding app for employers.

If you want to run payroll by hand at no cost, spreadsheet software like Google Sheets is your best option. A free payroll template with pre-filled cell formulas let you easily calculate paycheck amounts and payroll taxes. Most payroll templates also let you print checks and paystubs for employees. 

Before you can start processing payroll, though, you have to complete some important steps. Our guide to running payroll yourself can help you get started on tasks like applying for an EIN and collecting the right tax documentation from your employees.

Whether you're using payroll software or spreadsheet to process payroll, there are three steps to setting up payroll for the first time: 

  • Collecting the right documents from your employees
  • Entering employee salaries or hours worked for the pay period
  • Calculating and withholding payroll taxes, then correctly remitting them to the right agencies

Read through our in-depth explanation to learn more about setting up a payroll service

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.

Our methodology

To find and rank 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.


At, 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
Former staff writer Kylie McQuarrie has been writing for and about small businesses since 2014. Her work has been featured on, G2, and Fairygodboss, among others. She's worked closely with small-business owners in every industry—from freelance writing to real-estate startups—which has given her a front-row look at small-business owners' struggles, frustrations, and successes.
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