With unlimited payroll runs, automatic payroll tax filing, and workers comp administration, Gusto is a great fit for small businesses in every industry. 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. Wondering if Gusto could work for you too? Check out our Gusto payroll review to learn more.
Gusto Payroll Review 2021
While Gusto is no longer offering 50% off its cheapest plan, it is offering one month free for new customers. We updated our pricing information to match.
To help small-business owners during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, Gusto has lowered its starting price by 50%. Now, Gusto's Core plan starts at $19 a month (plus $6 per payee per month) for the first six months. And if you work with 1099 contractors instead of W-2 employees, Gusto's Contractor plan has a $0 base cost—you'll just pay $6 per month per contractor paid.
Gusto plans and pricing 2021
Starting base price
Additional price per employee
|Basic||$19.00/mo.||$6.00/payee||Automatic payroll filing, employee self-service, workers compensation administration||View Plan|
Automated tax filing, employee self-service, workers compensation
Core + time tracking, PTO policies, employee directory, onboarding
Complete + comprehensive HR support
Data effective 11/24/20. 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, previously known as ZenPayroll, has been around only since 2011, but its easy-to-use online payroll software is easily one of the best out there. Gusto offers way more features than the competition, and automates nearly all of them to save you as much time and hassle as possible:
- 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)
Gusto’s clear interface, affordable pricing, and full spectrum of tax filing assistance also ensure you have more time for your business while worrying less about potential payroll (and payroll tax) mistakes.
Xero is one of our favorite accounting software providers—it’s great for invoicing, and its plans start at a smooth $11 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, Gusto's cost stays the same if you bundle with Xero, but you will get a big convenience boost. Sign up for Gusto through Xero means you can access both accounts through your Xero login. And Gusto payroll syncs perfectly with Xero's billing feature so you can easily balance accounts and track employee pay.
Gusto payroll pros and cons
Gusto offers more than affordable plans and smooth automation; several other features make it well worth your while.
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
Many—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 one or two 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 pay period, you can, with no financial penalties.
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.
While Gusto’s health plans aren’t available in every state, its other benefits generally are. For instance, 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).
It's notoriously hard to find well-reviewed accounting and payroll software, but Gusto bucks the trend. On the review site Trustpilot, Gusto averages around four stars from over 1,100 reviewers.1 And on Trustradius, another review site, it scores 8.8 out of 10.2 Compare that to QuickBooks, which gets 2 stars on Trustpilot with such glowing reviews as "this service sucks," and you can see why we're impressed.3
Users also tend to praise Gusto's customer service even though they're available only on weekdays from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Pacific time. And again, in the age-old comparison of Gusto vs. Intuit QuickBooks, QuickBooks has substantially lower ratings even though they have longer service hours. In this case, at least, quality definitely trumps quantity.
Gusto’s benefit add-ons are available most places, but not everywhere. Depending on where you live, if you want to bundle Gusto health plans with payroll, you could be out of luck.
Your small business can find medical, dental, vision, life, and disability insurance through Gusto if you work in one of 38 states or Washington, DC. 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, while Gusto has a 100% tax-filing guarantee policy, they don't explicitly advertise that policy. Not sure what that guarantee is? With a tax-filing guarantee, a payroll company promises that they’ll deal with any tax entity (namely the IRS) that comes after your business for tax errors, as long as the tax errors were the software company’s fault. We're relieved Gusto outlines the policy in its terms of service agreement—we absolutely couldn't endorse Gusto otherwise—but we wish the company was more upfront about it.
Gusto's pricing and plans
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:
Basic base cost + 1 employee = $25/mo.
Core base cost + 1 employee = $45/mo.
Complete base cost + 1 employee = $51/mo.
Concierge base cost + 1 employee = $161/mo.
Gusto Basic is Gusto's newest, cheapest plan, geared towards businesses with just one or two employees. Price-wise, the plan can't be beat: at $19 a month, it's about the same as SurePayroll's self-service plan . . . but Gusto Basic plan is full-service, meaning Gusto calculates and files your payroll taxes. It also includes some key features that even the smallest of small teams need, like workers comp administration and PTO policy creation.
However, Gusto Basic is still in beta-testing mode, so be prepared to encounter some glitches and bugs. If you're not willing to risk a botched payroll run, we recommend skipping this plan until it's more established. The plan also lacks two-day direct deposit and accounting software integration. Instead, you're stuck with four-day direct deposit and miss out on automatic payroll runs, health insurance add-ons, and time tracking.
Still, $19 a month is quite literally the cheapest full-service payroll plan out there. If you're looking to save some money on payroll (especially during the COVID crisis, which has hit small-business owners hard), we say to give Gusto Basic a go.
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's Core plan on up:
- Support for multiple pay schedules
- Employee reimbursement
- Easy-to-understand user interface
- Employee self-service portal
- PTO (paid time off) policy creation
- 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 SurePayroll. Still, $6 isn’t bad for all the employee perks Gusto includes with its three standard plans, 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.
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.
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
How much does Gusto cost?
Gusto payroll costs $25 a month if you choose the Basic plan and have just one employee. Gusto's next-cheapest plan, Core, starts at $39 a month plus $6 per payee, and the cost goes up from there. If you're paying contractors only, you can skip the monthly base fee—Gusto's contractor plan costs $6 per contractor paid per month.
Do I have to wait until the end of the year to switch payroll providers?
No. 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 a Gusto-brokered health plan.
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?
For most businesses, Gusto is more affordable, more comprehensive, and more trustworthy 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 Gusto’s $39 plan, you can create PTO policies and add workers compensation administration; QuickBooks Payroll doesn't. Most importantly, though, QuickBooks Payroll lacks a tax filing guarantee. That means that if QuickBooks makes a mistake filing your taxes, you're on the hook for any penalties and fines—even though the mistake wasn't your fault.
Gusto does include an industry-standard tax filing guarantee, meaning as long as the mistake was Gusto's, not yours, Gusto takes the hit instead of you. Oddly, Gusto doesn't advertise its guarantee upfront, but you'll find it in the fine print. In contrast, you won't find the equivalent anywhere in QuickBooks' terms and conditions.
And if you already use QuickBooks Online, good news: Gusto integrates 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.
Does Gusto have a payroll app?
Unfortunately, Gusto still doesn't have a payroll app, which makes it harder for employers to run payroll on the go. However, since Gusto is a cloud-based payroll service, you can access your Gusto dashboard from any web-enabled device—the platform will just look a little more awkward than it would on a Gusto payroll app.
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 your next step in running payroll stress-free.
Not sure if Gusto's payroll service is the right fit for you? Explore other payroll processing options on our list of the year’s best payroll companies.
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.