Best Paychex Payroll Alternatives and Competitors 2021

We analyzed over 15 small-business payroll services side by side to discover only the top alternatives to Paychex that are ideal for your small business.
Best overall
Patriot Software
Patriot Software
4 out of 5 stars
4.0
Starting at
$10 + $4/employee
/mo
  • Icon Pros  Dark
    Comprehensive payroll features
  • Icon Pros  Dark
    Excellent customer service
Best for HR
Zenefits
Zenefits
4 out of 5 stars
4.0
Starting at
$14/employee
/mo
  • Icon Pros  Dark
    Valuable HR and payroll combo
  • Icon Pros  Dark
    Elaborate HR support
Best for farmers and nonprofits
OnPay
OnPay
4 out of 5 stars
4.0
Starting at
$36 + $4/employee
/mo
  • Icon Pros  Dark
    Industry-tailored
  • Icon Pros  Dark
    All 50 states included
Most affordable
Payroll4Free
Payroll4Free
4 out of 5 stars
4.0
Starting at
$0.00
  • Icon Pros  Dark
    Truly free
  • Icon Pros  Dark
    Easy to use
Best for growth
ADP
RUN Powered by ADP
4 out of 5 stars
4.0
Custom pricing
  • Icon Pros  Dark
    Comprehensive administration solutions
  • Icon Pros  Dark
    Long-term value

Data effective 8/09/21. At publishing time, pricing and features are current but are subject to change. Offers may not be available in all areas.

The Paychex payroll service is a significant player in the small-business world. However, the platform’s complexity, opaque pricing, and hidden fees aren’t for everyone.

As a result, we’ve dug deep to unearth the best payroll software titles to consider when you’re looking for companies like Paychex. One of our favorites is Zenefits, which is perfect for people craving a user-friendly solution for both payroll and human resource needs. Meanwhile, Payroll4Free is a truly free, albeit severely limited, option for tiny budgets.

Let’s discover your match made in paycheck heaven.

Compare Paychex payroll alternatives and competitors

Brand
Starting price (monthly)
Cost per additional US state (flat, monthly)
Human resources functions
Get Started
Patriot Software

Patriot Software

$10 + $4.00/employee$12Limited
ZenefitsZenefits
$14/employeeFreeFull-featured
OnPayOnPay
$36 + $4/employeeFreeFull-featured
Payroll4FreePayroll4Free
$0Free for manual tax filing; $15 for full-serviceLimited
ADPRUN Powered by ADP
CustomCustomFull-featured

Data effective 8/09/21. At publishing time, pricing and features are current but are subject to change. Offers may not be available in all areas.

Full-service payroll considerations

When shopping for the best payroll service for small businesses, you’ll hear the term “full-service payroll” mentioned plenty. This phrase refers to a software title automatically filing federal, state, and sometimes local payroll taxes for you. This might include hands-free year-end tax reporting and new-hire paperwork transmittal, as well.

We’d recommend opting for full-service payroll if you can afford it. That’s because—let’s face it—most people don’t like doing taxes. However, this automated feature is often pricey. For example, Patriot Software and others often charge an additional $2 0 or more a month for full-service convenience. This is sometimes in addition to increased per-worker costs that can quickly add up.

Full-service on Patriot is $30/month base, while their manual tax filing plan is only $10 base (plus per-employee costs).

Best overall: Patriot Software

Patriot Software
Patriot Software
4 out of 5 stars
4.0
  • Starting at $10.00 plus $4/employee, monthly
  • Check
    Comprehensive payroll features
  • Check
    Excellent customer service
  • Check
    Family-owned business

Data effective 8/09/21. At publishing time, pricing and features are current but are subject to change. Offers may not be available in all areas.

Patriot Software shines as an exceptionally affordable full-service payroll solution. That’s because the title offers top-notch features similar to competitors like QuickBooks Payroll but with a price tag around 3 0% lower.

The catch? You’ll only save money if you operate in one US state. Each additional state costs $12 monthly, which can add up quickly. For comparison, close adversary Gusto includes all 50 states free on every plan.

But if this geographic limitation is no issue, then Patriot Software is alluring thanks to its intuitive user interface and comprehensiveness. For example, the title gives users unlimited payroll runs, next-day pay via wire transfer, and hands-free annual W-2 and W-3 filing. These perks are in addition to a mastery of the basics, such as detailed reports, multiple hourly rates, and streamlined payroll approval in as little as three mouse clicks.

Also, the platform’s internet-based approach means you don’t need to download any software. This allows you to cut paychecks on the go from virtually anywhere in the world, provided you can connect to the world wide web. 

There are some drawbacks, though. The software title doesn’t automatically submit any paycheck deductions to government agencies and others. This means you’ll have to spend time manually sending off wage garnishments, child support payments, and more.

Plus, there’s no international support whatsoever—not even for one-time contractor payments. As a result, you’ll need to make these international payments using a different service, such as PayPal.

Pros
Pro Bullet Thorough payroll features
Pro Bullet Excellent US-based customer service
Pro Bullet Lower price than many competitors
Cons
Con Bullet Limited human resources (HR) functions
Con Bullet No international support, even for contractors
Con Bullet No automatic deduction transfers

Best for HR: Zenefits

Best human resource features
Zenefits
Zenefits
4 out of 5 stars
4.0
  • Starting at $14/employee/month
  • Check
    All-in-one HR and payroll package
  • Check
    Gorgeous user interface
  • Check
    Full-featured

Data effective 8/09/21. At publishing time, pricing and features are current but are subject to change. Offers may not be available in all areas.

Doing more with less is often the name of the game for budget-conscious small businesses. If you can relate, then Zenefits’ payroll and HR combo is a smashing way to kill two birds with one stone (figuratively, of course) .

You’ll bag the whole nine yards of classic personnel administration, ranging from onboarding to 401(k) plan oversight. Plus, you’ll also score full-service payroll that’s chock-full of features comparable to standalone titles, such as Gusto and Patriot Software.

Indeed, this marriage of people and paychecks isn’t unique to Zenefits. But the title makes it special via its playful, user-friendly interface that welcomes novices and professionals alike. This ease makes it particularly appealing to small-business owners who don’t have a background in HR management. Plus, this graceful approach to personnel administration makes it easier to tackle a more complex software suite down the road, perhaps as your business grows rapidly.

Keep in mind that Zenefits is only suitable if you need an HR solution. That’s because the payroll solution simply isn’t available on its own. Not to worry, though—we gave Zenefits a four out of five-star rating, so it’s certainly a worthy investment.

Pros
Pro Bullet Full HR suite
Pro Bullet Beautiful, user-friendly interface
Pro Bullet Advanced payroll features
Cons
Con Bullet Payroll requires HR subscription
Con Bullet Pricey
Con Bullet No employee recruiting tools

Best for agriculture and nonprofits: OnPay

Best farmer and nonprofit options
OnPay
OnPay
4 out of 5 stars
4.0
  • Starting at $36 flat plus $4/employee, monthly
  • Check
    Industry-specific support
  • Check
    All US states included free
  • Check
    Full-service tax filing

Data effective 8/09/21. At publishing time, pricing and features are current but are subject to change. Offers may not be available in all areas.

Not every payroll solution adequately serves complex industries and operations. Luckily, OnPay delivers a much-needed lifeline for some of these often shut-out organizations.

For starters, the full-service payroll platform supports all 50 US states and Washington, DC, at no extra charge. Many competitors levy $12 extra per state, so this is a crucial money saver if your business extends across continental borders.

But OnPay’s true magic shines with its handling of farmers, nonprofits, and religious organizations. For agricultural businesses, there is full support for H-2A workers and automatic filing of IRS form 943. Plus, there’s no cost to keep seasonal laborers on the books. Instead, you’re only charged when you actively pay these helping hands. 

Oh, and when you need to focus on making money to fund wages, you’ll enjoy an officially e ndorsed integration with FCSAmerica’s Magnify financial analysis software. We've seen no other payroll software that offers this direct connection, making OnPay uniquely suited for farmers.

This level of tailored support also extends to religious organizations and nonprofits. These entities can easily arrange parsonage allowances, the Federal Unemployment Tax Act (FUTA) exemptions, and other special considerations. For comparison, many payroll competitors, such as Payroll4Free, overlook these nuances, which makes it difficult to properly balance the books.

A massive downside to OnPay is its lack of user-friendly training. Notably absent are elaborate guides, walkthroughs, videos, and helpful blogs, which are par for the course in competitors like Gusto. As a result, you’re mostly on your own to master the platform, although US-based phone support is offered Monday through Friday.

Pros
Pro Bullet Industry-tailored payroll and tax items
Pro Bullet Affordable
Pro Bullet All US states included for free
Cons
Con Bullet Minimal training materials
Con Bullet Limited customer service options
Con Bullet No household employee support

Most affordable: Payroll4Free

Best for tight budgets
Payroll4Free
Payroll4Free
4 out of 5 stars
4.0
  • Starting at $0/mo.
  • Check
    Free
  • Check
    Minimalist and simple
  • Check
    Full-service tax filing available for a lower-than-average fee

Data effective 8/09/21. At publishing time, pricing and features are current but are subject to change. Offers may not be available in all areas.

Let’s be clear: Payroll4Free is as basic as it gets, and it’s only free for entities with 25 or fewer workers. Also, you’ll have to endure plenty of in-app advertising and possible one-off f ees, such as a $10 charge for deposit receipts. With this in mind, we’d only recommend the platform for the tightest budgets or for new businesses still finding their footing.

Still, the partially   platform is quite impressive for the money (or lack thereof). It covers all the essentials of a bona fide payroll service, such as direct deposit, 1099 contractor payments, and time off balance tracking. You can also utilize a third-party integration with QuickBooks, although there are no other integrations.

You’ll have to manually remit all taxes and deductions though, including garnishments and benefits. If you’d rather not do this, the company offers full-service tax filing for only $15 flat per month. This is a steal of a deal that’s at least half the price of other services, most of which also charge per employee.

With a starting cost of a whopping zero dollars, Payroll4Free is a handy, albeit minimalist, option that gets the job done.

Pros
Pro Bullet Free
Pro Bullet Simple and easy-to-use
Pro Bullet Full-service option available (paid)
Cons
Con Bullet Minimal functionality
Con Bullet No long-term value
Con Bullet Only one integration (QuickBooks)

Best for growth: RUN Powered by ADP

Ideal for long-term expansion
ADP
RUN Powered by ADP
4 out of 5 stars
4.0
  • Custom pricing
  • Check
    Most comprehensive vendor
  • Check
    Globally recognized brand

Data effective 8/09/21. At publishing time, pricing and features are current but are subject to change. Offers may not be available in all areas.

You’re probably already familiar with ADP. But you might now realize how suitable it is for small businesses, despite the company’s historical prevalence among large organizations.

We think RUN Powered by ADP (shortened to “RUN”) payroll service is a commanding alternative to Paychex with comparable power and long-term value. Even if you only have a few employees, RUN still offers a customized full-service payroll option that you can expand and downsize as needed. Down the line, you could latch on to the company’s numerous other solutions, such as HR software, retirement plan administration, and recruiting tools.

Plus, you’ll get peace of mind since the New Jersey-based company promises to pay all fees and interest on the off chance their tax calculations are erroneous.

While this all sounds swell, you’ll need a solid budget to afford ADP. That’s because the company conceals its pricing behind subjective quote requests, similar to Paychex. This lack of transparency makes it hard to ensure you’re getting the best deal, both initially and in the long run.

You’ll also need to factor in activation fees and costs to file tax documents, along with charges for just about every add-on as your business grows. Even templates for commonly used forms, such as onboarding documents, are locked behind a p aywall that requires a top-tier subscription.

Finally, the platform focuses on complexity more than user-friendliness. There are guides available, but they are highly technical in nature and require at least a basic understanding of personnel administration. This knowledge expectation means you’ll need patience and time to overcome the title’s steep learning curve.

Pros
Pro Bullet Reputable, world-famous brand
Pro Bullet Comprehensive and full-featured
Pro Bullet In-house insurance options
Cons
Con Bullet Steep learning curve
Con Bullet Unclear pricing
Con Bullet Hidden fees

The takeaway

Patriot Software is our best overall alternative to the Paychex payroll software. If you’re on a tight budget though, Payroll4Free.com offers a truly free but incredibly basic solution.

Farmers, nonprofits, and religious organizations are well taken care of with OnPay.

Meanwhile, Zenefits offers a harmonious marriage between human resource administration and payroll functions.

Ultimately, when you’re ready to grow massively, RUN Powered by ADP is the best option for long-term expansion.

Need something even more budget-friendly? Check out our picks for the best free payroll software for small businesses.

Related content

Paychex alternatives and competitors FAQ

Who are Paychex’s competitors?

The closest competitors to Paychex are Gusto, QuickBooks Payroll, and ADP. These three payroll software companies target small businesses, offer full-service tax filing, and start at $30 to $60 monthly plus a few dollars per employee.

Is Paychex a good company?

Paychex is a good small business payroll service. We recently gave it a 3.6-star rating (out of 5 stars possible). We love the company’s comprehensiveness and advanced analytics. However, we dinged its rating because of its opaque pricing that includes hidden fees and high costs.

What is the best payroll service for small businesses?

This depends on your business’s growth trajectory and your budget. If you have fewer than 50 employees with no substantial growth plans, then we think Zenefits and Patriot Software are two of the best payroll software companies for small businesses.

However, if you have major hoop dreams that involve plenty of hiring and geographic expansion, then ADP and Paychex are just two options suited for growth.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Payroll4Free is a free payroll service that sticks to minimalistic simplicity. It’s a zero-cost option for tiny budgets that don’t mind the platform’s heavy advertising.

Methodology

We researched over 15 payroll software titles and narrowed them down based on these and other aspects:

  • Comprehensiveness
  • Affordability
  • Value for the money
  • Full-service payroll capabilities
  • Support for all 50 US 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. Payroll4Free.com, “FAQ.” Accessed August 10, 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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