The 10 Best Payroll Software for Small Businesses 2022

We reviewed dozens of top payroll software solutions to bring you the ten best. To rate each payroll software program, we assessed payroll and HR features, ease of use, price, plan scalability, and customer service reviews.
Best overall
Gusto
Gusto
4 out of 5 stars
4.0
Starting from
$39.00/mo. + $6.00/payee
  • Icon Pros  Dark
    Expansive employee benefits
  • Icon Pros  Dark
    Free multi-state payroll
  • Icon Pros  Dark
    No fees for automatic tax-form filing
Best for growth
Paychex
Paychex
4 out of 5 stars
4.0
Starting from
$39.00/mo. + $5.00/payee
  • Icon Pros  Dark
    Employee benefits (addt’l. fee)
  • Icon Pros  Dark
    Multi-state payroll (addt’l. fee)
  • Icon Cons  Dark
    Addt’l. fees for tax-form filing
Best value for price
OnPay
OnPay
4 out of 5 stars
4.0
Starting from
$36.00/mo. + $4.00/payee
  • Icon Pros  Dark
    Expansive employee benefits
  • Icon Pros  Dark
    Free multi-state payroll
  • Icon Pros  Dark
    No fees for automatic tax-form filing
Best HR add-ons
ADP
RUN Powered by ADP
3.5 out of 5 stars
3.5
Contact for quote
  • Icon Pros  Dark
    Employee benefits (addt’l. fee)
  • Icon Pros  Dark
    Multi-state payroll (addt’l. fee)
  • Icon Cons  Dark
    Addt’l. fees for tax-form filing
Most user friendly
Quickbooks
QuickBooks Payroll
4 out of 5 stars
4.0
Starting from
$45.00/mo. + $4.00/payee
  • Icon Pros  Dark
    Employee benefits (addt’l. fee)
  • Icon Pros  Dark
    Multi-state payroll (addt’l. fee)
  • Icon Pros  Dark
    No fees for automatic tax-form filing (full-service plan only)

Data as of 4/12/22. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.

We are committed to sharing unbiased reviews. Some of the links on our site are from our partners who compensate us. Read our editorial guidelines and advertising disclosure.

The bottom line: In our opinion, the best payroll software for many small businesses is Gusto. With comprehensive payroll features, automated payroll tax administration, and scalable plans, Gusto works nicely for small and midsize businesses in many industries.

But even though we love Gusto, it’s not the only payroll software on the market. We also recommend Paychex and ADP for more thorough HR management, OnPay for comprehensive-but-affordable payroll, and QuickBooks Payroll for user-friendly software with easy accounting integration.


Our top-rated payroll software: Gusto

Gusto’s friendly design and full-service payroll system with HR features make it the best overall payroll software provider.


Compare the best payroll software costs and features

Provider
Starting monthly base price
Monthly fee per employee
Free year-end tax filing
Get started
Gusto

Gusto

$39.00

$6.00

Icon Yes  Dark

Yes

Paychex

Paychex

$39.00$5.00
Icon No  DarkAdditional fee
OnPay

OnPay

$36.00

$4.00

Icon Yes  Dark

Yes

ADP

ADP

Contact for quote

Contact for quote

Icon No  DarkAdditional fee
Quickbooks

QuickBooks Payroll

$45.00

$4.00

Icon Yes  DarkYes

Data as of 4/12/22. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.

What should you look for in payroll software?

The best payroll software for you depends in large part on your company’s HR and payroll needs—but what does that mean in practice? We recommend taking these four steps to start:

  • First, look at price. Remember, you need to asses not just the base price, but also the additional price per employee. Decide upfront how much you can and are willing to spend on payroll system software.
  • Second, examine features. Do you need payroll features only, or do you prefer a combined HR and payroll software solution?
  • Third, determine how much time and effort you want to (and can) spend on payroll. For instance, are you okay paying less for software and filing taxes yourself? Then you'll likely be fine with cheaper self-service payroll software. If you'd prefer a system that takes care of everything with minimal effort on your part, a pricier but more comprehensive full-service payroll plan is a better solution for you. 
  • Fourth, check out each payroll program’s customer service reputation, tax guarantees (your payroll provider should pay IRS fines if it makes any payroll tax errors), and user reviews.

For more guidance, read our in-depth article on how to find the right payroll management solution. And if you want to learn more about payroll processes generally before signing up for a provider, our Ultimate Payroll Guide can get you started.

Gusto is the best overall payroll software provider for small businesses

Best overall payroll provider
Gusto
4 out of 5 stars
4.0
Starts at
$39.00 + $6.00/payee
  • Check
    Automatic payroll tax administration
  • Check
    Affordable insurance options (in-house brokers)
  • Check
    Two-day direct deposit

Data as of 4/12/22. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.

The heartily named Gusto is our favorite payroll software for small businesses. Its beautifully designed, full-service payroll system includes plenty of payroll and HR features:

  • Automatic local, state, and federal payroll tax filing
  • Automatic end-of-year tax-form filing, including W-2s and 1099s
  • Automatic state new-hire form filing
  • Health benefits administration and workers compensation administration
  • Employee benefit options like HSAs, FSAs, commuter benefits, and college savings plans
  • Employee self-service portal for pay stub, direct deposit, and W-2 access

Even better, Gusto includes these features for free when many payroll providers charge extra. For instance, Gusto’s in-house insurance brokers ensure that if you sign up for employee medical insurance and workers compensation insurance through Gusto, you’ll pay the premium only.

In contrast, ADP, which outsources its insurance integrations, charges an extra fee on top of the premium. Ditto Paychex, which does have an in-house insurance team but still charges extra for insurance add-ons. ADP also charges extra for end-of-year tax-form filings. Gusto doesn’t.

Pin
Gusto's Contractor plan

If you hire contractors instead of working with a full-time team of employees, choose Gusto’s Contractor plan, which has no monthly base cost. You pay only $6 per month per payee.

Gusto's customer service reviews took a hit during the COVID-19 pandemic. Fortunately, according to reviewers, Gusto's customer service has steadily improved over the course of 2022. For instance, in March 2022, Gusto's rating on consumer review site Trustpilot was just 2.6 out of 5. But as of April 2022, the rating was up to a much more encouraging 3.2.1 We're pleased to note that current user reviews call out helpful tech support, though a few customers are still dealing with tax-filing issues.

Additionally, while Gusto has more employee add-ons than many other online payroll systems, it’s not a total HR management solution. Our Gusto HR review can tell you more, but if you need more than the most basic HR, you’ll want to look elsewhere—like Paychex.

Pros
Pro Bullet Unique employee benefit options
Pro Bullet No extra fee for payroll tax filing
Pro Bullet No extra fee for insurance add-ons
Cons
Con Bullet Third-party customer service based outside the US
Con Bullet High monthly per-payee fee
Con Bullet Limited HR management and administration

Paychex is the best payroll company for growing businesses

Best for growth
Paychex
4 out of 5 stars
4.0
Starts at
$39.00 + $5.00/payee
  • Check
    Automatic payroll tax administration (additional fee may apply)
  • Check
    Workers compensation and health insurance add-ons (additional fee applies)
  • Check
    Direct deposit, check, and debit card payment options

Data as of 4/12/22. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.

Does your business need thorough HR assistance without full-on HR outsourcing? Paychex Flex combines cloud-based payroll management and human resources software for small and midsize businesses that want thorough, affordable HR management.

All Paychex payroll programs include new-hire state reporting, payroll tax filing, and an employee financial wellness program. And with three customizable packages, Paychex is one of the most scalable payroll options on our list. Growing businesses won’t have to look elsewhere for plans that support additional employees—growth is built into Paychex’s model.

Info
Paychex's payroll app for employers

If you frequently run payroll on the go, Paychex might be the best small-business payroll software for you. Only a few payroll providers offer employer-facing mobile payroll apps. Of the five or so that do, Paychex’s is easily the best: the Paychex Flex app has 4.8 stars (out of five) on Apple’s App Store and 4.3 on Google Play.2,3 

Even though Paychex’s cheapest plan has a lower per-employee fee than Gusto, Paychex’s add-on fees can dramatically increase your monthly payroll costs. Unlike Gusto and other top payroll options, Paychex may charge additional fees for payroll tax administration, time and attendance software integration, accounting software integration, and workers comp and employee benefits administration. With all the extra fees, Paychex is better suited to midsize businesses that care more about built-in scalability than cost.

Pros
Pro Bullet Combined HR and payroll plans
Pro Bullet Affordable starting per-payee price
Pro Bullet Customizable plans for growing businesses
Cons
Con Bullet Additional fees for payroll tax administration
Con Bullet Additional fees for third-party software integration
Con Bullet Pricier plans with limited pricing transparency

OnPay's payroll software has the best value for price

Best value full-service payroll software
OnPay
4 out of 5 stars
4.0
Starts at
$36.00 + $4.00/payee
  • Check
    Automatic payroll tax administration
  • Check
    Affordable insurance add-ons (in-house brokers)
  • Check
    Direct deposit, check, and debit card payment options

Data as of 4/12/22. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.

OnPay's payroll software program offers more value for its price than any other payroll provider on our list. Yes, its base price and per-payee fee are notably low—though not as low as Patriot's or SurePayroll's. However, OnPay is much more comprehensive than either of those two options, especially in terms of HR: 

  • Medical and dental insurance plans (all 50 states)
  • Vision, disability, and life insurance add-ons
  • Workers compensation plans
  • Custom PTO policy creation with built-in automatic accrual tracking and approval
  • Detailed, customizable organization charts
  • ACA compliance plus dedicated COVID-19 business assistance and resources
  • Thorough HR resource library

That's even more than you get with Gusto's Complete plan—but at a much more reasonable $4 per payee (Gusto charges $12 for nearly identical services). Thanks to OnPay's in-house team of insurance brokers, you pay just the premium with no integration fees. And just like Gusto, OnPay can help you find unique employee perks like education savings plans, commuter benefits, and even fertility benefits—a rarity among payroll providers.

Other notable OnPay benefits? OnPay tailors its payroll services to certain industries (farming and nonprofits, among others) at no additional cost. And if you recently hired your first employee and are still a little unclear on the payroll process, OnPay is a fantastic fit. Its interface is extremely intuitive, and its experts set up your software for free before talking you through your first payroll run.

While we love OnPay (as do its users), it’s not the best fit for businesses that want more perks and support as they grow. The base price ($36) and per-employee price ($4) never change—but neither do the features. If you’re hoping for scalable, comprehensive HR packages, you might consider Paychex or Gusto instead.

Pros
Pro Bullet Extremely affordable full-service payroll
Pro Bullet Comprehensive payroll tax administration at no additional cost
Pro Bullet Solid employee benefits and insurance options
Cons
Con Bullet One plan only (limited scalability)

ADP is the best payroll and HR provider

Best payroll with HR add-ons
ADP
3.5 out of 5 stars
3.5
Contact for quote
  • Check
    Automatic payroll tax administration (additional fee for some services)
  • Check
    Workers compensation and health insurance add-ons (additional fee)
  • Check
    Direct deposit, check, and debit card payment options

Data as of 4/12/22. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.

ADP is the biggest name in the world of PEOs, or professional employer organizations. But if your business isn't big enough to warrant a PEO, RUN Powered by ADP distills ADP’s decades of HR expertise into an easy online payroll service with thorough HR add-ons.

All of ADP’s payroll plans include direct deposit, automatic payroll tax filing, and W-2 submissions. It also goes heavy on the HR help. Even the cheapest plan, Core Payroll, includes HR perks like employee onboarding, health care compliance forms, and a regular HR checkup. And if you want more than the HR basics to support your growing team, ADP’s more expensive plans include employee background checks, ZipRecruiter assistance, and dedicated HR assistance.

In contrast to Gusto, OnPay, and QuickBooks Payroll, some of ADP’s basic payroll services cost extra, namely W-2 form filing. So how much does ADP payroll cost? Unfortunately, we don’t know, since ADP doesn’t list its payroll cost online. You have to contact the company directly to get a quote—useful if you want to build a custom package, but less useful if you’d rather not deal with a pushy sales rep.

Pros
Pro Bullet Dedicated HR and payroll assistance
Pro Bullet Multiple customizable plans
Pro Bullet Heavy focus on human resources support
Cons
Con Bullet Additional fee for payroll tax administration
Con Bullet Additional fee for insurance add-ons
Con Bullet No transparent pricing

QuickBooks Payroll is the most user-friendly payroll software

Most user-friendly interface
Quickbooks
4 out of 5 stars
4.0
Starts at
$45.00 + $4.00/payee
  • Check
    Automatic payroll tax administration
  • Check
    Health insurance add-ons (no workers comp add-on with cheapest plan)
  • Check
    Next-day direct deposit

Data as of 4/12/22. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.

QuickBooks Online, known best for its high-quality accounting software, also offers three full-service payroll plans—and they're some of the best payroll systems you can find. The cheapest starts at $45 a month and includes automatic payroll runs, employee health care options, next-day direct deposit, and 1099 contractor management.

That starting base price looks high, but the cheapest plan's per-employee fee is just $4 per payee per month. Thanks to that lower fee, Intuit QuickBooks Payroll actually has one of the lowest payroll starting prices on our list, as long as you have more than one employee. 

But its best feature might be its ease of use. QuickBooks Payroll’s interface has next to no learning curve, and its well-reviewed employer-facing mobile app makes on-the-go payroll easier. Plus, syncing QuickBooks Payroll with your existing QuickBooks Online account doesn't cost anything—which instantly sets Intuit QuickBooks Payroll apart from providers like Paychex, ADP, and SurePayroll, which charge an extra monthly fee for accounting software integration. 

Unfortunately, while you’ll enjoy full-service payroll management with every QuickBooks Payroll plan, only the two more expensive plans include workers compensation insurance options, mobile time tracking, and HR support.

Pros
Pro Bullet Affordable starting per-payee price
Pro Bullet User-friendly interface with straightforward QuickBooks Online integration
Pro Bullet No additional fee for payroll tax administration
Cons
Con Bullet No workers comp insurance options with cheapest plan
Con Bullet Additional fee for insurance add-ons
Still not sure?

More payroll software solutions for small businesses

We gave you our top recommendations above, but the payroll software market is a crowded one. Here are more small-business payroll solutions worth considering.

Compare top payroll features: Honorable mentions

Provider
Starting monthly base price
Monthly fee per employee
Free year-end tax-form filing
Get started
Rippling logo

Rippling

$35.00$8.00
Icon Yes  DarkYes
SurePayroll

SurePayroll

$19.99$4.00
Icon Yes  DarkYes (full-service plan only)
Square

Square

$0.00*$5.00
Icon Yes  DarkYes
Patriot Software

Patriot

$10.00$4.00
Icon Yes  DarkYes (full-service plan only)
Wave Payroll logo

Wave Payroll

$20.00$6.00
Icon Yes  DarkYes (full-service plan only)

Data as of 4/12/22. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.
*Monthly base price waived with contractor-only plan only. Employee payroll plan starting at $35.00/mo. + $5.00/payee/mo.

Rippling is best for international payroll

Best international contractor payroll
Rippling logo
Rippling
Starts at
$35.00 + $8.00/payee
  • Check
    Automatic payroll tax filing and legal compliance
  • Check
    Global payroll for international companies
  • Check
    Comprehensive employee management

Data as of 4/12/22. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.

If your business is based in the US and you want to pay employees in Canada and Indonesia, Rippling should be one of your top picks. Why? Because Rippling the only payroll system on our list that offers international payroll processing

Rippling's national and international payroll features include direct deposit and payroll tax administration. You can also use Rippling to track PTO, have employees clock in and out, and generate customized reports that break down expenses by time worked.

You can use Rippling payroll on its own, but to get the most out of Rippling, you'll want its comprehensive employee management platform. Price-wise, it's fairly comparable to Gusto: the cheapest Rippling plan has a slightly lower base fee and a slightly higher pre-user fee than Gusto.

But for that price, you get thorough benefits management, time and attendance tracking, and app consolidation for employees. And again, Rippling's add-on talent management is a bit pricy—but it's still one of the best online payroll software for international employers.

SurePayroll has the best payroll customer service

Best customer support
SurePayroll
3.4 out of 5 stars
3.4
Starts at
$19.99 + $4.00/payee
  • Check
    Automatic payroll tax administration
  • Check
    Workers compensation and health insurance add-ons (additional fee)
  • Check
    Two-day direct deposit (full-service plan only)

Data as of 4/12/22. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.

SurePayroll’s customer service, affordable self-service, and easy HR add-ons make it a good payroll option for small-business owners with just one or two employees.

With self-service online payroll software starting at $19.99 a month and full-service software starting at $29.99 a month, SurePayroll is one of the most affordable payroll systems in our top 10. Its extended customer service hours on weekdays and Saturdays are perfect if you want (nearly) round-the-clock assistance for payroll problems, which can cause major issues for your employees if they aren’t resolved ASAP.

SurePayroll is cheap, but it has a few additional costs. For instance, multi-state payroll tax filing costs an extra $9.99 a month. And SurePayroll lacks the expansive employee benefits, scalable plans, and HR perks you’ll get with Gusto or Paychex—another reason it works best for the smallest of small businesses. If you have just a few employees and want to offer good benefits without going all-in on expensive add-ons, SurePayroll’s online payroll system could work well for you.

Pros
Pro Bullet Affordable full- and self-service plans
Pro Bullet Extended customer service hours
Pro Bullet Affordable insurance add-ons
Cons
Con Bullet Limited scalability
Con Bullet Limited employee benefits
Con Bullet Limited HR assistance

Square Payroll is the best payroll for contract work

Best contractor-only payroll
Square
3.9 out of 5 stars
3.9
Starts at
$5.00/contractor*
  • Check
    Automatic payroll tax administration
  • Check
    Health insurance add-ons
  • Check
    Direct deposit, Cash App, and check payment options

Data as of 4/12/22. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.
*Monthly base price waived with contractor-only plan only. Employee plans start at $35.00 per month.

Do you only employ freelancers and other 1099 contractors? Square Payroll’s contractor-only plan skips the typical monthly base fee. Instead, you pay just $5 per month per payee with unlimited payroll runs.

If you employ a mix of 1099 workers and W-2 employees, Square Payroll’s base fee is a perfectly reasonable $35 a month. And since Square Payroll includes multi-state payroll at no additional cost, it’s even cheaper than SurePayroll if you have two or three W-2 employees working in separate states.

However, Square Payroll has some of the same drawbacks as other single-plan payroll providers. If you’re planning to hire more workers and expand locations, Square is probably too simple for your business’s future needs. A payroll provider with scalable plans, thorough employee benefits, and HR add-ons could work better.

Pros
Pro Bullet No base for contractor-only plans
Pro Bullet Low per-payee price
Pro Bullet Easy integration with Square suite of products
Cons
Con Bullet Limited HR administration
Con Bullet One plan only (limited scalability)

Patriot is the most affordable self-service payroll

Most affordable self-service plans
Patriot Software
4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5
Starts at
$10.00 + $4.00/payee
  • Check
    Automatic payroll tax administration (full-service plan only)
  • Check
    Workers compensation add-on (no employee health benefits)
  • Check
    Direct deposit and paper check payment options

Data as of 4/12/22. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.

If payroll pricing is your top priority, we can’t recommend Patriot Payroll highly enough. With a monthly base price of just $10 plus $4 per employee, Patriot Payroll’s self-service plan is easily one of the cheapest out there. If you want a few more features, you can add HR assistance starting at $6 a month and time and attendance integration at the same price.

On top of its $10 basic payroll price, Patriot's payroll software offers super affordable add-ons, including HR assistance for $4 per month and time and attendance tracking for $5 per month. If you want the full-service option, the cost bumps up to a $30 base price, which still makes Patriot Payroll one of our cheapest recommendations.

Pros
Pro Bullet Extremely affordable self-service plans
Pro Bullet Affordable HR add-ons
Pro Bullet Responsive customer service
Cons
Con Bullet Limited HR administration
Con Bullet Two plans only (limited scalability)

Wave Payroll is the cheapest payroll + accounting software solution

Best accounting and payroll integration
Wave Payroll logo
3.1 out of 5 stars
3.1
Starts at
$20.00 + $6.00/payee
  • Check
    Automatic payroll tax administration (full-service plan only)
  • Check
    Workers comp add-on (no employee health benefits)
  • Check
    Direct deposit only

Data as of 4/12/22. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.

Wave Payroll honestly doesn’t have much to set it apart. Its $20 self-service plan has all the basics, including self-service employee portals, contractor payments, and direct deposit. And its $35 full-service plan (currently available in 14 states) includes federal, state, and local payroll tax filing plus end-of-year tax forms.

So if Wave Payroll is so basic, why do we recommend it? Because Wave Accounting, Wave Payroll’s sister product, is a completely free accounting solution. (In our opinion, it’s the best free accounting solution for many small businesses.) For now, Wave Accounting only syncs with Wave Payroll—so if you’re already benefiting from Wave Accounting’s free software and just hired an employee, Wave Payroll is a perfectly serviceable, affordable payroll system.

If you aren’t using Wave’s accounting program, though, most of the other picks on this list will give you more payroll and HR features for less.

Pros
Pro Bullet Straightforward integration with Wave's free accounting software
Pro Bullet Affordable starting price
Pro Bullet No additional charge for payroll tax administration (full-service plan only)
Cons
Con Bullet Basic HR features only
Con Bullet Limited third-party integrations
Con Bullet One plan only (limited scalability)

The takeaway

Unless you can afford to pay an in-house bookkeeper, we recommend most small businesses use software for payroll so they can pay employees and calculate tax deductions. The right payroll software provider should remove much of the hassle, cost, and risk from managing payroll and free you up to do what you’d rather be doing: growing a successful business.

Still wondering which of our top payroll software options is right for you? Here's a quick recap:

  • For all-in-one automatic payroll with built-in HR tools, it’s hard to beat Gusto.
  • For ease of use, affordability, and useful benefits for business owners with one or more employees, we recommend OnPay.
  • If you own a midsize business and need more comprehensive HR management, ADP or Paychex could fit nicely.
  • If you want affordable payroll that syncs with popular accounting software, we recommend QuickBooks Payroll.

Looking for great accounting software to complement your new small-business payroll application? We can help: read through our list of the year’s best accounting software for small businesses.

Related reading

Sources
1. Trustpilot, “Gusto.” Accessed April 12, 2022.
2. App Store, “Paychex Flex on the App Store.” Accessed April 12, 2022.
3. Google Play, “Paychex Flex—Apps on Google Play.” Accessed April 12, 2022.

Payroll software FAQ

What is the easiest way for small businesses to run payroll?

The easiest way to run payroll for your small business is to invest in a full-service payroll solution. With this type of software, you'll enter your employees' information, such as salary rate and tax status, and a few business details, such as your company's pay schedule. Once you've finished the initial setup, payroll is as easy as pressing "run payroll" once a pay period—or you can choose payroll software like Gusto with an autopilot feature that processes payroll for you automatically on a preset schedule.

As for the easiest payroll software to use, we recommend QuickBooks Payroll or OnPay. QuickBooks Payroll syncs with QuickBooks Online, one of the most popular accounting solutions in the world. If you already use QuickBooks Online, QuickBooks Payroll's familiar interface and automatic integration will help you get used to the world of payroll. We also love OnPay's user-friendly interface, but we especially like that OnPay's experts will set up the software for you for free, which means you don't have to deal with data entry yourself.

What is the best payroll software for small businesses?

In our opinion, Gusto offers the best small-business payroll features for your buck. Starting at $39 a month plus $6 per person paid, Gusto calculates and files your payroll taxes. It also submits your end-of-year tax paperwork at no additional cost, which HR-first providers like ADP and Paychex don’t. Gusto also has more versatile employee benefits than most payroll providers, and its online payroll service is popular enough to sync with most accounting software options.

However, the best small-business payroll software for you depends on your business’s needs, including how many people you pay and what benefits you want to add. If you want thorough human resource management, you might want to try a provider like Paychex or ADP. If you’re looking to save money, Patriot Software’s $10 self-service plan might be the best payroll solution for you. Before you commit to a payroll plan, thoroughly assess your own needs and make sure they mesh with your preferred plan.

Still not sure which payroll platform to pick? Get more in-depth guidance by reading our article on how to find payroll software that meets your needs.

Is there free payroll software?

Yes, but free payroll options are pretty limited. In our opinion, the best free payroll software is Payroll4Free, which lets you run payroll for up to 25 employees. There are also a handful of other trustworthy choices out there. And if you’re not sold on software, you can always try a free payroll software alternative, such as free payroll calculators and payroll templates.

In general, though, we don't recommend free payroll management software for employers with more than one or two employees (unless you’re using Payroll4Free). Paying your employees the right amount—and withholding the right amount in payroll taxes and other wage deductions—is a big, complicated issue. Paid payroll software companies are often more secure, effective, and trustworthy than free payroll management systems.

Of course, that doesn’t mean you can’t find cheap payroll processing software. Of all the options listed here, our favorite cheap payroll program is Patriot, a self-service payroll platform starting at $14 a month for one employee. (Its full-service payroll program starts at $35 a month for one employee.) UZIO offers similar payroll pricing for its full-service plan, and Wave Payroll’s $26 payroll service isn’t bad either.

Can you use Excel to run small-business payroll?

Yes, you can use an Excel template for basic payroll calculations. If you’re interested, we have a list of the best free payroll templates you can use to calculate payroll by hand. Using Excel, Google Sheets, or a free payroll program is undoubtedly the cheapest way to process payroll.

However, we recommend using spreadsheet software in combination with a payroll calculator and only if you have 15 or fewer employees. (You should also be super confident in your document organization skills.) While spreadsheets can help you calculate payroll taxes, they can’t guarantee that those calculations are accurate. If you can afford it, we recommend using cheap self-service plans from payroll providers like Wave, SurePayroll, or Patriot Software. All three options give you a solid organizational system, accurate tax calculations, and accounting software integration to make bank reconciliation super easy.

What's the best payroll software for accountants?

QuickBooks Payroll, OnPay, and Gusto are three of the top payroll software systems for accountants. But most of the programs on our payroll software list should work just as well for accountants (and other payroll professionals) who work with small businesses as they do for small-business owners themselves.

Our advice? If you’re an accountant looking for small-business payroll platforms, make sure the online payroll processing software you’re looking into includes a page specifically for accountants. (OnPay has a pretty thorough page for accountants, and so does QuickBooks Payroll.)

Our brand ranking methodology

To generate our star ratings and rank payroll software, we looked at 20 of the most popular payroll programs in the US. We then assessed those programs in five key areas:

  • Pricing, such as the balance between cost and features, additional fees, and more
  • Payroll and HR features, such as employee benefits options, automatic payroll tax filing, tax compliance, workers compensation insurance integration, and more
  • Scalability, such as the number of plans and payroll features
  • Customer service, including customer service hours, overall company reputation, user reviews, and more
  • Ease of use, including mobile payroll app access, employe self-service features, interface, learning curve, and more

We also weighed our own expert opinion when deciding which payroll features and HR software factors to prioritize. Please note that star ratings are reviewed frequently and are subject to change.

States with the best (and worst) pay in 2020

If you want to make a good living—and we're pretty sure you do—it isn't just the amount you make that matters. It's also where in the United States you make that money. Sure, California's median salary is higher than Wyoming's, but Californians have to work around 68 hours to afford one month's rent on a one-bedroom apartment. Meanwhile, Wyomingans work 30 hours to afford rent, which means they have 38 more work hours than Californians to spend (or save) on something other than housing.

In the midst of this pandemic, making sure your salary goes as far as possible matters more than ever. Now isn't exactly the greatest time to pull up stakes and move from one of the best states to get paid to one of the worst. Curious to know where your state falls in the ranking? Check out our results below.

 

Methodology

For this year’s state rankings, we looked at each state’s median hourly wage as recorded by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. We then used info on apartmentlist.com to determine the median cost of a one-bedroom apartment in each state.

After calculating how many hours you’d need to work at the median salary to make the median rent, we ranked the states (plus the District of Columbia) in order of working hours required for rent. Both data points come from May 2019, which makes our data blissfully pre-COVID. We’re interested in seeing how COVID impacts these numbers in next year’s report.

Key findings

The Aloha State is gorgeous, but island life comes at a steep price: in Hawaii, you have to work over 68 hours to make rent for a one-bedroom apartment. Compare that hourly rate to North Dakota, the best state to get paid, where you can afford a one-bedroom apartment after just 27 hours of work.

Besides pinpointing the best and worst states, we found a few other interesting facts:

  • A whopping 6 of the top 10 worst states to get paid in are on the East Coast. (Yikes.)
  • In contrast, with the exception of Kentucky, all of the 10 best states to get paid are in the West or Midwest.
  • Just two Southern states made the bottom 10: Florida and Virginia. If you want to live in the South, you'll get much more bang for your buck in Kentucky.
  • California is the second-worst state in which to get paid, but Oregon and Washington both escaped our bottom 10. If you want to live in a coastal state, we recommend the good old PNW.
  • People in the 10 best states have to dedicate less than one week's full-time salary to paying rent. In contrast, people in the 10 most expensive states dedicate closer to a week and a half of full-time salary to rent a one-bedroom apartment.

Top 10 states with the best pay

Rank
State
Median yearly wage
Median monthly rent for 1 BR apartment
Hours of work to afford apartment

1

North Dakota

$42,510

$571

27.9

2

Wyoming

$41,650

$614

30.7

3

Iowa

$38,280

$603

32.8

4

South Dakota

$34,750

$567

33.9

5

Oklahoma

$35,730

$600

34.9

6

Montana

$36,420

$618

35.3

7

Nebraska

$38,390

$653

35.4

8

Kentucky

$35,540

$605

35.4

9

Ohio

$38,560

$661

35.7

10

Arkansas

$32,940

$574

36.2

Bottom 10 states with the worst pay

Rank
State
Median yearly wage
Median monthly rent for 1 BR apartment
Hours of work to afford apartment

1

Hawaii

$44,400

$1,456

68.2

2

California

$44,180

$1,442

67.9

3

New Jersey

$45,000

$1,254

57.9

4

New York

$46,680

$1,285

57.3

5

Maryland

$45,970

$1,263

57.1

6

Florida

$35,850

$975

56.6

7

Massachusetts

$50,200

$1,313

54.4

8

Virginia

$42,220

$1,065

52.5

9

New Hampshire

$41,490

$1,036

51.9

10

Delaware

$40,900

$1,003

51

Salaries aren't everything

It's great to bring home a nice check at the end of the day, but especially these days, it's even better to have as much leftover cash as possible after paying rent. Before setting your sights on the highest-paying job in your field, take a look at where you're living: a lower salary in the right state might prove more valuable overall.

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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