QuickBooks Online vs. QuickBooks Desktop

QuickBooks is Intuit's popular business accounting software, and it comes in two flavors: QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Desktop. Below, we cover both of these options and how they differ.
Best for most small businesses
quick books online logo
QuickBooks Online
3.9 out of 5 stars
3.9
Starting from
$30.00/mo.
  • pro
    Month-to-month plans
  • pro
    Fully featured mobile app
  • pro
    Scalable plan options
  • con
    Limited reporting with cheaper plans
Best for industry-specific reports
quick books desk top logo
QuickBooks Desktop
3.6 out of 5 stars
3.6
Starting from
$349.99/yr.
  • pro
    Easier offline access
  • pro
    Industry-specific software options
  • con
    Limited mobile access
  • con
    Less flexible than cloud-based plans

Data as of 8/3/22. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.

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QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Desktop are two solid accounting products from Intuit. While both software types have plenty of perks, QuickBooks Online is a more flexible, affordable, and scalable option for most small-business owners. (Intuit itself encourages customers to switch from QuickBooks Desktop to QuickBooks Online.) However, QuickBooks Desktop can work for bigger businesses that need industry-specific software or for small businesses with limited internet access.

QuickBooks Online vs. Desktop table of contents

QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Desktop starting plans and prices

Product
Starting price
Software type
Software-specific features
Get started
$30.00/mo.Cloud-basedAutomatic data backups, account access from any web-enabled device, mobile accounting app
quick books desk top logo

QuickBooks Desktop Pro Plus

$349.99/yr.Desktop-based100+ detailed reports, automatic customer payment reminders, inventory tracking

Data as of 8/3/22. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.

QuickBooks Online: Best for most small businesses

QuickBooks Online
Quickbooks
QuickBooks Online
Starts at
$30.00/mo.
  • pro
    Flexible cloud-based software
  • pro
    User limit built into each plan
  • pro
    Month-to-month payment subscriptions
  • pro
    Four easily scalable plans

Data as of 8/3/22. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.

QuickBooks Online features

QuickBooks Online has been part of the Intuit accounting software family for a few decades now. Since QuickBooks Online is browser-based, not desktop-based, you can log on to your Quickbooks Online account from any web-enabled device with a sturdy internet connection.

So what can you do with your cloud-based accounting service? Plenty. QuickBooks Online’s small-business accounting plans start at $15 a month and include a slew of solid features:

  • Income and expense tracking
  • 1099 contractor management
  • Estimates and invoicing
  • Receipt scanning and organization
  • Online payment acceptance
  • Mileage tracking for work travel
  • Integration with cloud-based third-party apps, including ecommerce apps like Shopify

QuickBooks Online’s heftier plans add midsize business–friendly features like the following:

  • Bill pay
  • Time and project tracking
  • Inventory management
  • Additional automation
  • Multiple users (up to 25)
    Additional customer support (including live software trainings)

QuickBooks Online pros and cons

Pros
pro Multiple plans to accommodate growing businesses
pro Well-reviewed mobile accounting app
pro User-friendly web-based interface with low software learning curve
Cons
con Higher starting price than some cloud-based accounting companies
con Poor customer service reputation (for Intuit generally)

Since QuickBooks Online offers four cloud-based plans, it easily grows with your business. As you hire more employees or bring on more customers, you can scale up your software to match. And if you manage your business from multiple locations, you’ll want QuickBooks Online over Desktop. Only QuickBooks Online includes free access to a comprehensive version of the QuickBooks mobile accounting app, which is one of the best apps in the accounting sphere.

Unfortunately, QuickBooks Online generally costs more than most other cloud-based accounting solutions: at $30 a month, its entry-level plan is $15 more than FreshBooks, $18 more than Xero, and $30 more than Zoho Books. If cost is your primary concern, we recommend looking at an accounting option other than QuickBooks.

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QuickBooks Desktop: Best for industry-specific reporting

QuickBooks Desktop
quick books desk top logo
QuickBooks Desktop
Starts at
$349.99/yr.
  • pro
    Dependable locally downloaded, desktop-based software
  • pro
    Multiple software versions for different industries
  • con
    Additional user fee
  • con
    Extra fees for cloud hosting, data backups, and more

Data as of 8/3/22. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.

QuickBooks Desktop features

Like QuickBooks Online, QuickBooks Desktop Pro Plus offers these key accounting features:

  • Invoicing
  • Income and expense tracking
  • Sales tax tracking

Unlike QuickBooks Online, Desktop Pro includes built-in inventory management. And if data analysis is an important part of growing your business, QuickBooks Desktop is a solid pick. It includes 100+ reports, while QuickBooks Online Simple Start includes around 40. The Desktop Premier edition escalates to 150+ reports, including industry-specific reports for general contractors, manufacturers and wholesalers, nonprofits, and retailers.

QuickBooks Desktop pros and cons

Pros
pro No internet connection required for some tasks and data access
pro Hundreds of industry-specific reports
pro Job costing and sales order generation
Cons
con Just one plan for Mac users
con Extra cost for key services
con Very high learning curve for everyone except accountants

QuickBooks Desktop isn’t cloud based, so you can only access it from the computer you installed the software on. That feature comes in handy if you have limited internet access, but it isn’t right for business owners who do most of their accounting on the go. The QuickBooks Desktop version of the mobile app is also incredibly limited in scope—you can use it to scan receipts only. (And for what it's worth, the app is very poorly reviewed by its very limited number of both iOS and Android users.)

We also don’t recommend QuickBooks Desktop to Mac users, since there’s just one desktop-based plan for Mac users. This plan, QuickBooks Desktop for Mac, has the same features as QuickBooks Desktop Pro Plus, the most basic desktop-based plan. In other words, Mac users can't scale up their software from one plan to the next as they add software users. 

However, if you’re not a Mac user, you can choose from all three QuickBooks Desktop  plans. The QuickBooks Desktop Premier Plus plan is particularly useful for business that want industry-specific features. Most notably, Premier Plus has 150+ customizable reports for nonprofits, general contractors, and retailers.

QuickBooks Online vs. Desktop pricing

QuickBooks Online's month-to-month subscription service starts at $30 a month (totaling $360 a year). Or, to save money, you can try QuickBooks’ typical offer of 50% off for three months (though choosing the discount waives your free trial).

QuickBooks Desktop's plans start at $349.99 per year. In the past, customers could choose between annually renewing plans and single-purchase software with a license that stayed valid for three years. But the one-time-payment option was discontinued in 2021. If you purchased a Desktop Pro plan in 2021, your software will still work until 2024—but new customers who bought the 2022 software version can only choose annual subscriptions.

QuickBooks Online plans and pricing

Plan name
Starting price
Number of users
Key features
Get started
Simple Start$30.00/mo.1 user + accountant accessInvoicing, mileage tracking, expense categorization
Essentials$55.00/mo.3 users + accountant accessSimple Start + bill management and time tracking
Plus$85.00/mo.5 users + accountant accessEssentials + inventory tracking, time tracking, project management
Advanced$200.00/mo.25 users + accountant accessPlus + batch invoicing, enhanced customization and automation, company data restoration

Data as of 8/3/22. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.

With QuickBooks Online, user limits are built into each plan. For instance, if you choose the Simple Start plan, you're the only person who can use the software—apart from your accountant, with whom you can share your business's account at no additional cost. 

The maximum amount of users you can have with a QuickBooks Online subscription is 25 (plus an accountant). If you need more users than that, you can contact QuickBooks Online's customer support to see if you can create a custom plan with custom user access. Otherwise, you'll need QuickBooks Desktop Enterprise, which supports up to 40 users.

Info
What is QuickBooks Self-Employed?

QuickBooks Self-Employed is a QuickBooks Online product for contractors and freelancers, specifically for those who do not have separate business and personal financial accounts. It starts at $30 a month and includes basic features only, such as mileage tracking and invoicing. 

QuickBooks Desktop plans and pricing

Plan name
Starting price
Number of users
Key features
Get started
Pro Plus$349.99/yr.Up to 3 (addt'l fee)Bill payment, vendor management, invoices, inventory management
Premier Plus$549.99/yr.Up to 5 (addt'l fee) Industry-specific reports, sales orders, cost tracking
Enterprise 21.0$1,340.00/yr.Up to 40 (addt'l fee)Additional data storage, 200+ customizable reports, customized user roles, priority customer service

Data as of 8/3/22. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.

Like QuickBooks Online, QuickBooks Desktop limits your user number by plan. Unlike QuickBooks Online, each additional QuickBooks Desktop user costs extra. Exactly how high that cost is depends on the plan you choose: for Desktop Pro Plus, you can add two users for $200 per year each. And with Desktop Premier Plus, your four additional users cost an annual fee of $300 each.

In contrast, QuickBooks Enterprise is sold in user-based increments. Different software packages include licenses for 1 to 10 users, up to 20 users, up to 30 users, and up to 40 users.

Speaking of extra fees, QuickBooks Desktop also charges for e-commerce app integration, invoice-based payment acceptance, and online data hosting. If you choose QuickBooks Desktop Pro Plus, you'll also need to pay extra if you want to access customer service via live chat. Notably, only QuickBooks Desktop Enterprise includes 24/7 customer service. Pro Plus and Premier Plus limit customer service hours to just 12 hours a day, weekdays only.

QuickBooks Online vs. Desktop features

Want a more in-depth, side-by-side comparison? Let’s look at where QuickBooks Online and Desktop differ.

QuickBooks Desktop vs. Online top feature comparison

Feature
QuickBooks Online Simple Start
QuickBooks Desktop Pro 2022
Invoices
Icon Check  DarkYes
Icon Check  DarkYes
Mileage tracking
Icon Check  DarkYes
Icon Check  DarkYes
Sales tax tracking
Icon Check  DarkYes
Icon Check  DarkYes
Income and expense tracking
Icon Check  DarkYes
Icon Check  DarkYes
Automatic software updates
Icon Check  DarkYes
Icon No  DarkAdditional cost
Automatic data backups
Icon Check  DarkYes
Icon No  DarkAdditional cost
Mobile accounting app
Icon Check  DarkYes
Icon No  DarkNo
Cloud access (data hosting)
Icon Check  DarkYes
Icon No  DarkAdditional cost
Customer service
Icon Check  DarkYes
Icon No  DarkAdditional cost
Job costing
Icon No  DarkNo
Icon Check  DarkYes
Sales order generation
Icon No  DarkNo
Icon Check  DarkYes
Third-party app integration
Icon Check  DarkYes
Icon Check  DarkYes
Mac and PC compatibility
Icon Check  DarkYes
Icon No  DarkMac users limited to one plan only

Data as of 8/3/22. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.

Software type

QuickBooks Online is cloud based, which means you can access your QuickBooks account anywhere you have the internet and an internet-enabled device. QuickBooks Desktop is desktop based, meaning you’ll buy a hard copy of QuickBooks’ software, then download that software once onto a single device.

If your home or office has a slow or unpredictable internet connection, QuickBooks Desktop can ensure you can reach most of your data even if the internet goes down overnight. The downside to locally stored data, though, is that you can only access it from where it’s stored. You can pay extra (or upgrade to a pricier plan) to get data hosting through QuickBooks, which will let you access some financial information—though not all of it—on a different device.

Interface and dashboard

QuickBooks Online is highly user friendly with a low learning curve. The dashboard is super intuitive with large, easy-to-understand charts, and the mobile app is similarly easy to use.

In contrast, QuickBooks Desktop’s interface was built with accountants in mind. Instead of showing clear images of your cash balance, outstanding invoices, and upcoming bills like the QuickBooks Online dash, the desktop version’s dash is a flowing series of connected folders and files. Unless you’re an accountant, the learning curve will likely be a little higher for you than it would with QuickBooks Online.  

The takeaway

QuickBooks Desktop still has a place in the accounting software industry. It’s an especially good choice for small-business owners without a consistent internet connection and big businesses with complex, industry-specific financial needs. But for most small-business owners in most industries, QuickBooks Online has better automation, better access, and a better price point.

Still not sure which accounting software to try? You can download a 30-day trial version of QuickBooks Desktop Enterprise only—both the Premier Plus and Pro Plus plans come with a 60-day money-back guarantee, but no free trial. Alternatively, you can sign up for a free 30-day trial with QuickBooks Online. Just know that doing so waives your option to get 50% off your QuickBooks Online subscription for your first three months.

If neither version of QuickBooks fits your business’s accounting needs, don’t worry: you have dozens of other options. We review several of them in our piece on the year’s best QuickBooks alternatives.

Related reading

QuickBooks Online vs. Desktop FAQ

Is QuickBooks Online better than Desktop?

For many small-business owners, most of the time, QuickBooks Online works better than QuickBooks Desktop. It’s more affordable, easier to share with your accountant or other financial stakeholders, and offers better invoicing than its locally installed counterpart.

However, if you own a big business, prefer locally stored software, or want industry-specific reports, QuickBooks Desktop could be a better fit for your business.

Can you use both QuickBooks Online and Desktop?

No. You can use either QuickBooks Online or QuickBooks Desktop, but not both. You can, however, switch your business’s account from QuickBooks Desktop to QuickBooks Online without losing your data. Check out QuickBooks’ guide if you want to get started.

Is QuickBooks Desktop going away?

For now, no. QuickBooks might encourage its users to switch from QuickBooks Desktop to Online, but it hasn’t issued any statements about discontinuing Desktop entirely. But based on the tech industry’s growing emphasis on cloud storage over local storage, it’s hard to imagine that downloadable programs like QuickBooks Desktop will still be relevant a decade down the road.

Do you have to buy QuickBooks Desktop every year?

Yes. All QuickBooks Desktop plans require an annual subscription with one key exception: QuickBooks Enterprise Diamond, the heftiest enterprise-level desktop plan, is a month-to-month subscription. 

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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