QuickBooks Online vs. QuickBooks Desktop

What is QuickBooks? It's Intuit's popular business accounting software, and it comes in two flavors: QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Desktop. We'll cover both of these options and how they differ below.
Best for most small businesses
quick books online logo
  • Icon Pros  Dark
    Affordable month-to-month plans
  • Icon Pros  Dark
    Fully featured mobile app
  • Icon Pros  Dark
    Scalable plans for growing businesses
  • Icon Cons  Dark
    Limited reporting with cheaper plans
Best for industry-specific reports
quick books desk top logo
  • Icon Pros  Dark
    Easier offline access
  • Icon Pros  Dark
    Industry-specific software options
  • Icon Cons  Dark
    Limited mobile access
  • Icon Cons  Dark
    Less flexible than cloud-based plans

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 and QuickBooks Desktop starting plans and prices

Plan name
Starting price
Software type
Software-specific features
Learn more
QuickBooks Online Simple Start$25.00/mo.CloudAutomatic data backups, account access from any web-enabled device, mobile accounting app
QuickBooks Desktop Pro 2021$399.99 (one-time payment)Desktop100+ detailed reports, automatic customer payment reminders, inventory tracking

Data effective 1/29/21. At publishing time, pricing and features are current but are subject to change. Offers may not be available in all areas.

QuickBooks Online: Best for most small businesses

quick books online logo

Want software that expands alongside your business? If you outgrow your current QuickBooks Online plan, you can easily transition into a bigger, better plan. And since QuickBooks Online is cloud-based, your team can access it on the go—your financial data is always right at your fingertips.

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 $25 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)
Best Small Business Accounting Software
Best overall
Best invoicing
Most user-friendly
Most affordable
Zoho Books
Best automation
Learn more about our top brands.

QuickBooks Online pros and cons

Pro Bullet Multiple plans to accommodate growing businesses
Pro Bullet Well-reviewed mobile accounting app
Pro Bullet User-friendly web-based interface with low software learning curve
Con Bullet Higher starting price than some cloud-based accounting companies
Con Bullet 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 the QuickBooks mobile accounting app, which is truly one of the best apps in the accounting sphere.

Unfortunately, QuickBooks Online costs more than most other cloud-based accounting solutions: at $25 a month, it’s $10 more than FreshBooks, $14 more than Xero, and $10 more than Zoho Books. FreshBooks and Xero, in particular, have at least as many features as QuickBooks Online. If cost is your primary concern, we recommend looking at an accounting option other than QuickBooks.

QuickBooks Desktop: Best for industry-specific reporting

quick books desk top logo

If you want industry-specific accounting features or lack a stable internet connection, QuickBooks Desktop’s locally installed software might suit you better than QuickBooks Online.

QuickBooks Desktop features

Like QuickBooks Online, Desktop Pro 2021 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

Pro Bullet No internet connection required for some tasks and data access
Pro Bullet Hundreds of industry-specific reports
Pro Bullet Job costing and sales order generation
Con Bullet Just one plan for Mac users
Con Bullet Extra cost for key services
Con Bullet 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. (While you can download a QuickBooks Desktop computer app, there isn’t a QuickBooks Desktop mobile accounting app.)

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, which is the most basic desktop-based plan.

However, if you’re not a Mac user, you can scale up to QuickBooks Desktop Premier. This plan’s excellent industry-specific features include 150+ customizable reports that are tailored towards nonprofits, general contractors, and retailers.

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

QuickBooks Online vs. Desktop pricing

How much is QuickBooks software? It depends on which plan you pick. QuickBooks Online starts at $25 a month, which totals about $300 a year. QuickBooks Desktop Pro 2021 costs a one-time fee of $399.99 per user. The software will last three years, after which point you’ll need to purchase a new version of the software. Alternatively, you can purchase QuickBooks Premier Pro Plus, which starts at $299.99 per user per year.

QuickBooks Online pricing structure

QuickBooks Online is a month-to-month subscription service. Alternatively, you can pay annually to save 10%.

QuickBooks Online plans and pricing 2021

Plan name
Starting price
Number of users
Key features
Learn more
Simple Start$25.00/mo.1 userInvoicing, mileage tracking, expense categorization
Plus$70.00/mo.5 usersSimple Start + inventory tracking, time tracking, project management
Advanced$150.00/mo.25 usersPlus + batch invoicing, enhanced customization and automation, company data restoration

Data effective 1/29/21. At publishing time, pricing and features are current but are subject to change. Offers may not be available in all areas.

QuickBooks Desktop pricing structure

With QuickBooks Desktop, you have two options: a one-time software purchase or an annual subscription. QuickBooks Desktop for Mac 2021, Desktop Pro 2021, and Desktop Premier 2021 cost a one-time fee, and the software is good for three years. After that, Intuit no longer supports the product, and you’ll need to purchase the newest software version.

All of QuickBooks Desktop’s Plus plans cost an annual subscription fee. Unlike the basic QuickBooks Pro and QuickBooks Premier plans, the Plus plans include customer service, automatic data backups, automatic software updates, and access to a receipt-scanning mobile app.

QuickBooks Desktop plans and pricing 2021

Plan name
Starting price
Number of users
Key features
Learn more
Mac 2021$399.99 (one-time fee)1 to 3Performance tracking, finance organization, inventory management
Pro 2021$399.99 (one-time fee)1 to 3Performance tracking, finance organization, inventory management
Premier 2021$649.99 (one-time fee)1 to 5Industry-specific reports, sales orders, inventory tracking
Pro Plus 2021$299.99/yr.1 to 5Pro 2021 + customer support, automatic data backups, mobile receipt-scanning app
Premier Plus 2021$499.99/yr.1 to 5Premier 2021 + customer support, automatic data backups, mobile receipt-scanning app
Enterprise 21.0$1,213.00/yr.Up to 40Premier Plus 2021 + additional storage space, customizable reports, advanced inventory, advanced user permissions

Data effective 1/29/21. At publishing time, pricing and features are current but are subject to change. Offers may not be available in all areas.

Additional fees

As mentioned above, certain features that are bundled into QuickBooks Online and Desktop Plus plans cost extra:

  • Cloud-based storage and data hosting: $44 to $200 per user per month
  • Automatic data backups: $9.95 per user per month
  • Customer service: $299.99 per user per year

Plus, depending on your bank, you might have to pay an additional fee to sync your bank transaction records with your QuickBooks Desktop Pro or QuickBooks Desktop Premier account. And don’t forget that each user needs to purchase their own copy of the software.

QuickBooks Online vs. Desktop features

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

Features comparison chart

QuickBooks Online Simple Start
QuickBooks Desktop Pro 2021
InvoicesIcon Check  Dark
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Mileage trackingIcon Check  Dark
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Sales tax trackingIcon Check  Dark
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Income and expense trackingIcon Check  Dark
Icon Check  Dark
Automatic software updatesIcon Check  Dark
Additional cost
Automatic data backupsIcon Check  Dark
Additional cost
Mobile accounting appIcon Check  Dark
Icon Close  Dark
Cloud access (data hosting)Icon Check  Dark
Additional cost
Customer serviceIcon Check  Dark
Additional cost
Job costingIcon Close  Dark
Icon Check  Dark
Sales order generationIcon Close  Dark
Icon Check  Dark
Third-party app integrationIcon Check  Dark
Icon Check  Dark
Mac and PC compatibilityIcon Check  Dark
Mac users limited to one plan only

Data effective 1/29/21. At publishing time, pricing and features are current but are subject to change. Offers may not be available in all areas.

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 is, of course, that you can’t access it anywhere but where it’s stored. You can pay extra (or upgrade to a pricier annual 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. In an increasingly image-heavy, mobile-based world, the QuickBooks Desktop interface feels clunky and outdated. Unless you’re an accountant, the learning curve is incredibly high.

Customer service

Another huge difference between QuickBooks Desktop and Online? QuickBooks Desktop Pro doesn’t include customer service. If you want tech support, you’ll either have to pay $299.99 for an annual customer care plan or switch to Pro Plus or Premier Plus. Meanwhile, QuickBooks Online users can access customer service over the phone or online.

QuickBooks Online vs. Desktop FAQ

Is QuickBooks Online better than Desktop?

For most small-business owners, most of the time, QuickBooks Online is 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?

If you purchase QuickBooks Desktop Pro Plus or Premier Plus, then yes, you’ll need to re-purchase your license to use the software every year. But if you purchase QuickBooks Desktop Pro 2021 or Premier 2021 instead, you’ll pay a one-time fee for a hard copy of the software that you can install on one device.

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? Download a 30-day trial version of QuickBooks Desktop before purchasing the desktop version, or sign up for a free trial with QuickBooks Online.

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

Related reading


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 is an accounting writer for Business.org. 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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