Gusto vs. Paychex Payroll 2021

We spent over a dozen hours intimately understanding how Gusto and Paychex each excel—and fall short—when it comes to serving small businesses at all stages of growth and funding.
Most affordable
Gusto
Gusto
4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6
Starting price:
$39 + $6/employee
/mo
  • Icon Pros  Dark
    Beautiful user interface
  • Icon Pros  Dark
    In-house insurance brokers
  • Icon Pros  Dark
    Supports all 50 US states on every plan
Best for growth
Paychex
Paychex
4 out of 5 stars
4.0
Starting price:
$39 + $5/employee
/mo
  • Icon Pros  Dark
    Growth-oriented suite
  • Icon Pros  Dark
    Fee-free 7-day payroll loans
  • Icon Pros  Dark
    24/7 support

Both Gusto and Paychex are worthy contenders in the small-business payroll game.

However, the differences lie in each title’s approach to long-term growth and simplicity. Gusto consistently wins among competitors for its colorful, beginner-friendly user interface and educational resources. Plus, it’s far more affordable than Paychex. But the platform falls short in its long-term value beyond payroll.

Paychex, on the other hand, is a champion for its scalability. Plus, it uniquely offers interest- and fee-free 7-day payroll loans via its Paychex Promise program. The title certainly isn’t the most intuitive, however, and it requires deep pockets for anything but the most basic functions.

Let’s dig deeper into which title is best for your small business.

Compare Gusto and Paychex features and pricing

Brand
Starting price, monthly
All 50 states supported
Full-service payroll tax filing
Customer service hours
Garnishments supported
Get Started
GustoGusto
$39 + $6/employee
Icon Yes  DarkYes
Icon Yes  DarkYes
Limited, Monday to Friday
Icon Yes  DarkYes
PaychexPaychex
$39 + $5/employee
For add’l fees
For add’l fees
24/7/365
Only on Flex Enterprise plan

Data effective 8/3/21. At publishing time, pricing and features are current but are subject to change. Offers may not be available in all areas.

Best for unpredictable businesses: Paychex

We get it—sometimes  you breathe a sigh of relief after barely making payroll. This is pretty common among smaller businesses and volatile operations, such as seasonal retailers and invoice-centric entities.

Luckily, the Paychex payroll software alleviates financial pickles with its Promise service that fronts you the funds needed to pay employees. You then have seven calendar days to pay it back sans fees or penalties. We haven’t seen a similar offering among close competitors, so this is a pretty sweet perk that could break a tie with Gusto.

There are some catches, though. Paychex must consider your business “eligible,” which involves opaque criteria that only the company knows. Plus, the service costs $99 annually, although your first three months are free. Finally, you’ll need to alert Paychex well in advance to use the feature, so it’s only handy when you can predict a financial shortcoming a week or more ahead of time.

Best for growth: Paychex

Without a doubt, Paychex takes the cake if you have major hoop dreams for your business. That’s because the company offers plenty of substantial tools beyond its core payroll service, all backed by 24/7/365 customer service based in the US.

As for nifty tools, Paychex boasts a full-fledged HR offering, time-tracking software, and in-house insurance products galore. This is in addition to the company’s full-service   and employee recruiting  services available for additional fees (Gusto offers no comparable services).

Plus, Paychex regularly wins praise for reportedly handling the most 401(k) retirement plans of any US-based provider. This is quite a desirable trait if social proof and an established track record tug at your heartstrings.

Gusto, on the other hand, sports limited customer support hours Monday through Friday. It also provides few human resource features and outsources many worker benefits, including 401(k) plans, to third-party providers.

These limitations might not pose an issue for smaller entities just craving a quick fix to their administrative needs. However, growing businesses with a more refined palate should opt for Paychex instead.

Most affordable: Gusto

Now that we’ve discussed some of Gusto’s weaknesses, let’s examine one of its chief strengths: affordability.

Gusto makes its entire pricing scheme crystal clear, which is a boon for budget-conscious small businesses pursuing the best deal.

We love that Gusto’s full-service tax filing is included complimentary on all plans. Other freebies in all subscriptions include:

  • Unlimited payroll runs
  • Support for all 50 US states
  • No administrative fees on workers compensation plans
  • Employee paycheck loans and cash management tools via the Wallet app
  • Unemployment insurance and garnishment support

By comparison, Paychex hides most of its pricing but still reveals  it either omits or charges extra for all of the above items. And although its entry-level plan starts at a dollar less than Gusto per employee, that’s misleading in light of these hidden fees.

In fact, ballooning costs and overcharges are some of Paychex’s most common indictments from users, contributing to an approximate two out of five-star rating on both Trustpilot and the Better Business Bureau.1,2

Best user experience: Gusto

As we touched on above, Gusto’s a visual marvel. Its largely jargon-free interface is accented with playful colors, social media-like themes, and helpful explanations at every corner. This makes it a walk in the park to use no matter a person’s technical background.

This novice-friendly approach extends further, though. The Gusto Blog , also known as Talk Shop, is a treasure chest bursting with gentle tutorials, advice columns, and news articles covering the world of pay and personnel. If you manage to read every piece of content, we bet you’d feel like an HR whiz even if you’ve never cut a paycheck in your life.

And to make things easy, Gusto also boasts:

  • Full-service initial setup on Concierge subscriptions or if your business has over 10 employees
  • Automated handling of pay garnishments and unemployment insurance issues
  • Unlimited support from certified HR professionals (on Concierge)
  • Automatic hands-free payroll runs

Meanwhile, as you can probably guess, Paychex either doesn’t offer these perks or charges extra. This further solidifies Gusto as your friendly neighborhood payroll provider that anyone can easily master.

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

Gusto vs. Paychex payroll FAQ

Which is better: Gusto or Paychex?

Both solutions target different needs. Gusto offers a more simple and visually stunning platform, complete with fully transparent pricing and plenty of educational resources. With this in mind, we’d recommend it for more modest businesses still learning the complex world of payroll.

Paychex, on the other hand, is more complex and incorporates plenty of power and expansion opportunities. The company also offers an elaborate human resource administration platform and a wide array of in-house insurance solutions. It’s more for maturing businesses that know exactly what they need in a pay and personnel administration suite. Its hidden fees require a generous budget, though.

Best Small Business Payroll Software
Gusto
Best overall
ADP
Best HR add-ons
Paychex
Best reporting
OnPay
Simplest setup
SurePayroll
Best customer service
Learn more about our top brands.

Is Gusto a good payroll company?

The Gusto payroll software is superb for small businesses needing a modest, beginner-friendly solution. That’s because the platform delivers a beautiful user interface and a bevy of educational resources sure to demystify the world of paycheck cutting. Plus, the title automatically files federal, state, and some local taxes, which liberates you from this time-consuming, headache-inducing duty.

However, if you’d rather have a more robust solution that can grow parallel to your business, Gusto will likely fall short. As a result, we’d instead recommend elaborate titles like Paychex or ADP, just to name two.

How much does Paychex cost per month?

The Paychex payroll service starts at $39 flat plus $5 per employee monthly for its entry-level plan, called Go. But nearly everything else the company offers hides behind opaque pricing, making it hard to assess the overall value for the money.

One expense that is indeed disclosed is the Paychex Promise feature at $99 annually. This perk covers an entire payroll run and grants you seven calendar days to repay without fees or interest.

How much does Gusto cost per month?

Gusto starts at $39 flat plus $6 per worker, monthly. The plan’s top tier, called Concierge, costs $149 plus $12 an employee each month. All subscriptions include free automated tax filing along with payroll support across all 50 US states. Only Concierge has unlimited support from certified human resource professionals, however.

The takeaway

Gusto is best for modest small businesses needing an affordable solution that’s super easy to learn and use. Also, every subscription plan includes full-service tax filing and support for all 50 states, all at no extra charge. While this is a sweet deal for little entities, the title will eventually show its limitations as your business matures and spawns sophisticated needs.

Paychex, on the other hand, already has growing horsepower-hungry clients in mind. Its payroll service easily expands to incorporate an elaborate human resources platform and plenty of in-house employee benefits options, to name two growth avenues. Plus, Paychex uniquely offers interest- and fee-free payroll loans for up to seven days. Deep pockets are required though, since opaque pricing and a tsunami of hidden fees effectively lock out budget-minded organizations.

Want a standalone human resource solution? Then check out the top human resource software titles for small businesses.

Related content

Methodology

We spent over a dozen hours carefully analyzing each software title’s suitability for small businesses, with a focus on (not an exhaustive list):

  • Pricing (or a lack of cost information)
  • Functionality
  • Required learning curve
  • Expandability
  • Geographic support for all 50 states

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.

Sources

  1. Trustpilot, “Paychex Reviews.” Accessed August 5, 2021.
  2. Better Business Bureau, “Paychex, Inc.” Accessed August 5, 2021.
Ian Agar
Written by
Ian Agar
Ian covers human resource administration at Business.org. His expertise stems from his four years as a military HR generalist in the U.S. Coast Guard, where he held the title of yeoman and became an Oracle Peoplesoft maestro. Ian also owned an ecommerce small business for over three years and holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology. He was previously a venture capital reporter at PitchBook Data, and his work can be seen on Seeking Alpha, The Motley Fool, and Yahoo! Finance.
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