Gusto Payroll Review 2020

Gusto (formerly ZenPayroll) offers three payroll plans and an easy-to-use interface. While Gusto’s add-on benefits plans are available in only select states, its payroll service beats out some of the biggest names in the business. It’s easily one of the best payroll services for small businesses of all types.
Best overall
  • Check
    Affordable full-service plans
  • Check
    Unlimited payroll runs, including off-cycle runs
  • Check
    Benefit add-ons in some states
  • X
    PTO integration limited to more expensive plans

You know the up-and-comers who appear out of left field, upending the status quo and toppling tried-and-true winners? The totally unpredictable wins, like the US hockey team beating the USSR in 1980, Tom Brady taking the Patriots to the Super Bowl in 2001, or then-unknown Abraham Lincoln winning the presidency in 1860?

In the world of payroll software, that totally unpredictable winner is Gusto.

Gusto (previously known as ZenPayroll) has been around only since 2011, but its easy-to-use online payroll software rivals QuickBooks’—which is pretty amazing, especially considering that QuickBooks has had decades to reach the top. In fact, we’ve been so consistently impressed with Gusto’s ease of use and cost effectiveness that we awarded it “best overall” in our review of the best payroll software for small businesses.

Like any dark-horse candidate, Gusto’s payroll services have their share of flaws. But with unlimited payroll runs, automatic payroll tax filing, and flexible payroll schedules, Gusto is a great fit for small businesses in every industry. Keep reading our Gusto payroll review to see if your business is one of them.

Gusto plans and pricing

Plan name
Starting base price
Additional price per employee
Learn more




Automated tax filing, employee self-service, workers compensation




Core + time tracking, PTO policies, employee directory, onboarding




Complete + comprehensive HR support

Data effective 6/15/20. At publishing time, pricing and features are current but are subject to change. Offers may not be available in all areas.

Gusto’s automation takes payroll off your plate

Gusto functions on a simple premise: when your employees are happy, your business is better equipped for growth. And one of the best ways to help employees stay jazzed about their jobs is to pay them the correct amount—on time, in the method they prefer, and with the right amount deducted so they don’t have to scramble to make income tax payments at the end of the year.

How does Gusto make sure your employees are satisfied with your business’s pay processes? By automating as many payroll tasks as possible to drastically reduce the chance of human error:

  • Automatic state, local, and federal payroll tax filing
  • Automatic W-2 and 1099 form filing
  • Automatic new hire reporting
  • Automatic payroll runs
  • Automatic child support garnishments (not available in South Carolina)

Worried you won’t remember to run payroll on time? Set up automatic payroll processing so your employees get punctual pay without you lifting a finger. Nervous about distributing child support wage garnishments to the right parties? Gusto makes sure it happens. Not sure how to juggle hourly and salaried employees working on different pay schedules? Customize payroll runs to your team’s needs.

Of course, Gusto payroll services aim to make you happy too. With a clear interface, affordable pricing, and a full spectrum of tax filing assistance, Gusto ensures you have more time for your business while worrying less about potential payroll (and payroll tax) mistakes.

Heads-up: Gusto and Xero

Xero is one of our favorite accounting software providers—it’s great for invoicing, and its plans start at a smooth $9 a month. Xero Payroll is a feature in a handful of countries, like New Zealand and Australia, but if you live and work in the US, Xero partners with Gusto to bring you a well-rounded accounting and payroll experience.

Unfortunately, you don’t save money on either service if you add Gusto to your Xero plan. But you will get a big convenience boost. If you sign up for Gusto through Xero, you can access both accounts through your Xero login. And Gusto payroll syncs perfectly with the “Bill” feature on Xero so you can easily balance accounts and track employee pay.

Gusto payroll pros and cons

Pro Heading
Pro Bullet Automatic payroll taxes form filing, including W-2, 1099, 940, and 941 tax forms
Pro Bullet Unlimited payroll runs, including off-cycle runs
Pro Bullet Employee benefit add-ons, including 401(k) options and commuter benefits
Con Heading
Con Bullet Health benefits that are limited to 26 states and Washington, DC
Con Bullet PTO integration available only with more expensive plans

Gusto pros

Gusto does more than offer affordable plans and smooth automation. Here are a few of Gusto’s other features that make it well worth your while.

Tax form filing

Gusto automatically files way more tax forms on your behalf than a lot of other providers. The company covers the basics, like W-2 forms and 1099 forms (a lot of payroll companies charge extra for 1099 form filing, QuickBooks Self Service included). But they also automatically file crucial but complicated tax forms like these:

  • Form 940, which reports on all payments relating to the Federal Unemployment Tax Act
  • Form 941, which reports on tax withheld and paid by the employer for Medicare and Social Security taxes
  • Form 8974, which businesses must file if they want to qualify for the Federal Research & Development Tax Credit
  • Tax forms unique to your state
Unlimited payroll runs

Most—though not all—payroll software solutions let you make unlimited payroll runs, which means you can process payroll as frequently as you need to instead of being limited to just four runs a month. But Gusto also lets you run unlimited off-cycle or bonus payrolls. Basically, that means if an employee earns a bonus and you want to pay it out (with the right deductions) before the next scheduled payroll, you can, with no financial penalties.

Employee benefits

If you want to minimize premium-deduction hassle to make employee benefits administration easier, you can work with Gusto’s insurance brokers to find medical, vision, and dental plans that integrate with Gusto’s software. Gusto also has your back if you want to offer benefits that make your company more competitive, including 401(k) options, commuter benefits, life insurance, and college savings plans.

Unfortunately, Gusto’s benefits options aren’t available in every state. That’s an issue we’ll talk about next, along with a few other key drawbacks. But bear in mind that Gusto’s other benefits add-ons are more widely available than its health insurance benefits. You can set up 529 College Savings plans through Gusto’s partners in every state. You can also get workers comp plans in states that require businesses to have private insurance policies (hint: that’s most states).

Gusto cons

Gusto’s benefits add-ons aren’t available everywhere, so if you want health benefits bundled with payroll, you could be out of luck.

Heads-up: Health benefits availability

Your small business can find medical, dental, vision, life, and disability insurance through Gusto if you live in one of these areas:

Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, DC, Washington, Wisconsin

Do you have employees in multiple states? As long as the state you’re based in has Gusto coverage options, you should be able to offer health insurance options for all of your employees, though you’ll need to check with a Gusto representative for specific details and restrictions.

Another drawback? On the Core plan, paid time off won’t automatically sync with your payroll. You can’t integrate your PTO policies with your payroll unless you sign up for the Complete plan.

Finally, Gusto doesn’t advertise a 100% tax-filing guarantee policy. With a tax-filing guarantee, a payroll company promises that they’ll deal with any tax entity (like the IRS) that comes after your business for tax errors, as long as the tax errors were the software company’s fault. Weirdly, Gusto does have a policy—you can find it in their terms of service agreement—but they don’t advertise it up front, which feels a little fishy.

Gusto plans

Helpful hint: Pricing

No matter which payroll software provider you choose, remember that you’ll pay both the monthly base cost and a monthly fee for each employee on your payroll. Before you choose a plan, multiply the cost per employee by the number of employees you have, and then add that number to the monthly base fee to get a better look at how much you’ll spend on payroll each month:

Core base cost + 1 employee = $45/mo.
Complete base cost + 1 employee = $51/mo.
Concierge base cost + 1 employee = $161/mo.


We already talked about how Gusto automates payroll so you can focus on your business (and your employees’ happiness). But along with payroll processing, you get these features with Gusto too:

  • Support for multiple pay schedules
  • Employee reimbursement
  • Easy-to-understand user interface
  • Employee self-service portal
  • PTO (paid time off) policy creation
  • Gusto payroll app (iOS and Android, employee self-service only)
  • Compliance assistance, including help with nondiscrimination testing, COBRA, and benefits-related regulations
  • Easy integration with accounting software like QuickBooks, Xero, and FreshBooks
  • Easy integration with time-tracking software like TSheets, Homebase, and eBillity Time Tracker

The Core plan charges you $6 per month per employee, which is a little steeper than QuickBooks or Payroll by Wave—both charge $4 per employee. Still, $6 isn’t bad for all the employee perks Gusto includes with its cheapest plan, including easy employee reimbursement and off-cycle payroll runs.


Gusto’s Core plan works perfectly for most small businesses. But if your worker base is growing and you need more robust HR assistance, you should probably upgrade to the Complete plan—which, unfortunately, is quite a bit more expensive.

Even though the Complete plan’s base price is $39 (the same as the Core plan’s), the fee per employee doubles to $12 per person. For that extra money, you get features like employee onboarding, time tracking (though without the features of more intensive software specifically for time tracking), and an employee directory. You can send offer letters, grant more administration privileges to managers, create employee surveys, and automatically sync PTO requests and holiday pay to payroll.

If we’re being frank, those benefits aren’t quite enough to compensate for the $12-per-employee fee. But if you have fewer than 100 employees, need some extra HR help, and don’t want to either create an HR department or outsource human resources entirely, Gusto’s software can help you strike a balance while you continue planning for growth.

Heads-up: Tax credits

Heads-up: Tax credits

Own a restaurant or coffee shop? Gusto’s software can adjust your employees’ wages to account for tips so your business meets the FLSA tip credit minimum wage requirement. Gusto will also send you an end-of-year report if you qualify for the FICA tip credit, a restaurant-specific tax incentive.

And if your business qualifies for the Federal R&D tax credit, which benefits small and midsize businesses that invest in research and development (R&D), Gusto has your back when you file a claim for the credit.


Gusto’s Concierge plan is the only one we don’t recommend to most small businesses: it’s much better suited to midsize to large companies that need fully developed HR support and have the budget to back it up. (At $149 a month and $12 per employee, the Concierge plan definitely doesn’t come cheap.)

Still, if you’re not quite large enough to warrant a full-blown human resources department but want more than the Complete plan can offer, Gusto Concierge can help you out with these key tasks:

  • Thorough HR compliance assistance
  • Compliance updates
  • Employee handbooks
  • Dedicated Gusto support team

Just like the Complete plan, the Concierge plan doesn’t necessarily pack a wallop, especially not at that price. But if you worry a lot about compliance and could benefit from a dedicated team of experts, plus a direct line to customer service, Concierge might do it for you.

Gusto's Contractor plan
Do you work with 1099 contractors rather than W-2 employees? With Gusto's Contractor plan, you don't have to pay a monthly base fee: you'll pay $6 per contractor paid per month. That's it.
Find Your Money—and Keep More of It

With plans starting at $15 a month, FreshBooks is well-suited for freelancers, solopreneurs, and small-business owners alike.

  • Track time and expenses
  • Create custom invoices
  • Accept online payments


Do I have to wait until the end of the year to switch payroll providers?

Nope! You can switch to or from a payroll provider like Gusto any time. You can usually switch health benefit providers without coverage gaps too, though you’ll want to check with Gusto if you plan to switch from your current health care provider to one brokered through Gusto.

Can accountants use Gusto?

Gusto was created primarily for small-business owners, but it also offers special plans for accountants who manage small businesses’ finances. Accountants can choose from four Gusto plans that vary based on how many clients they have. Every Gusto accounting plan comes with a month-long free trial and a dedicated advisor.

If you aren’t an accountant but are looking for one, Gusto offers a list of accountants and bookkeepers who partner with Gusto and offer their services to small businesses specifically.

Is Gusto full service or self service?

All of Gusto’s payroll plans are full-service plans, which means Gusto handles tax-related payroll services for you. With self-service plans, you have to file income taxes and year-end tax forms on your own. You also have to do a lot more hands-on work to make paycheck deductions and distribute them to the right parties (for instance, to an employee’s health care company or child support recipient).

How does Gusto compare to QuickBooks Payroll?

Honestly? For most businesses, Gusto is both more affordable and more comprehensive than QuickBooks Payroll.

QuickBooks’ cheapest payroll plan, Core, includes automatic payroll tax filing, just like Gusto. However, it starts at $45 a month—more expensive than Gusto—and it lacks some of Gusto’s key features. Specifically, even with its $39 plan, Gusto lets you create PTO policies and add workers compensation administration. It also gives your employees access to their own profiles so they can check paystubs and tax withholdings.

Gusto also integrates fairly seamlessly with both QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Desktop. Unless your brand loyalty to QuickBooks and Intuit runs deep, you’ll get more bang for your buck if you simply integrate Gusto with QuickBooks.

The takeaway

Gusto’s affordability and simplicity make it an excellent choice for small businesses—especially its cost-effective Core plan, which has enough features to turn payroll from a gale to a breeze. If you have fewer than 100 employees, love a low-grade learning curve, and are more than ready to put tax form filing on someone else’s shoulders, a one-month free trial from Gusto could be the next payroll step you’ve been looking for.

Not sure if Gusto is the right fit for you? Find payroll options that go beyond software on our list of the year’s best payroll companies.


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.

4. Google Play, “QuickBooks Payroll for Employers
5. Better Business Bureau, “Intuit, Inc.

Kylie McQuarrie
Written by
Kylie McQuarrie
Kylie spent two of the last four years writing for and with small-business owners—from dentists in Australia to plumbers in the Midwest. She spent the other two writing in depth about internet and security. She’s passionate about reading, hiking, and dedicating every spare second to writing for fun (at lunch, between meetings, on the train, before breakfast . . . ). Her content helps small-business owners tackle the logistics of running a business so they can focus more on their passions too.
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