QuickBooks Online Payroll Review 2019

With more than two million customers worldwide, QuickBooks Online is one of the most popular accounting services for small businesses.1 But is QuickBooks Online’s payroll service as effective as its accounting software? Business.org finds out.

Most User-Friendly
4.2 out of overall
Unlimited payroll runs in every state
Self-service and full-service options
Higher prices than competitors

There are a few unchanging truths in the world of accounting: two plus two always equals four, taxes are complicated, and QuickBooks by Intuit is one of the best accounting software out there.

But Intuit offers more than its QuickBooks Desktop or QuickBooks Online accounting software—there’s also Intuit’s payroll software, QuickBooks Payroll, which integrates specifically with QuickBooks Online. Its self-service and full-service payroll plans target small and midsize businesses that don’t have the time (or energy) to deal with pay-related hassles.

QuickBooks Payroll isn’t quite as well known as QuickBooks Online, but its user base grows year by year. In 2017, the number of QuickBooks Payroll users grew by 17%, and the software has only become more popular since then.2 However, QuickBooks’ payroll service has some of the same drawbacks as its accounting software counterpart—especially in terms of price.

Plan nameStarting pricePrice per employeeQuickBooks Online accessAutomatic tax filingLearn more
Self Service Payroll$35/mo.$4NoNoView Plan
Self Service Payroll with QuickBooks*$60/mo.$4YesNoView Plan
Full Service Payroll$80/mo.$4NoYesView Plan
Full Service Payroll with QuickBooks*$100/mo.$4YesYesView Plan
Data effective 9/12/2019. At publishing time, pricing and features are current but are subject to change. Offers may not be available in all areas.
*Refers to bundling with QuickBooks Simple Start. Pricing varies with QuickBooks plan chosen, including Simple Start, Essentials, Plus, and Advanced.

QuickBooks Payroll is best for existing Intuit customers

QuickBooks’ payroll software has a lot of perks. It allows you to make unlimited payroll runs, simplifies 24-hour direct deposit, and helps you deal with pesky end-of-year tax forms. But its main perk? It integrates seamlessly with QuickBooks Online, one of the most popular pieces of accounting software in the world.

If you already use QuickBooks Online, love the interface, and just hired your first employee, adding a QuickBooks Payroll plan to your accounting software subscription just makes sense. Plus, when you’re dealing with something as complicated as payroll, it helps to use an interface you already know and love with next to no learning curve—you have enough to deal with as it is.

QuickBooks Online Payroll plans: Self service and full service

Unlike many other cloud-based payroll software, like Paychex Flex or RUN Powered by ADP, QuickBooks Payroll offers only two plans: QuickBooks Self Service and QuickBooks Full Service.

What type of payroll do you need?

Self-service payroll software runs the numbers, showing you how much to withhold from each employee paycheck. Self-service payroll plans usually include direct deposit or other paycheck options, but they don’t include automatic tax filing.

Full-service payroll software does everything self-service payroll does and then some—specifically, automatic tax filing. Since the payroll provider tackles everything tax-related, it assumes all liability for any tax errors.

You can purchase a QuickBooks Payroll plan as a stand-alone service, bundle it with your existing QuickBooks Online plan, or sign up for both at once. FYI, if you use QuickBooks Desktop, you have a completely different set of payroll options—Self Service Payroll and Full Service Payroll don’t sync with Intuit’s desktop version. You can learn more about QuickBooks Desktop payroll options further down.

QuickBooks Self Service

QuickBooks’ self-service payroll plan is much more affordable than its full-service plan. It won’t file payroll taxes for you, but it will let you perform the most crucial payroll tasks:

  • Perform unlimited payroll runs.
  • Pay both W-2 employees and 1099 contractors.
  • Calculate payroll tax deductions, wage garnishments, and other withholdings.
  • Get automated state and federal tax deadline reminders.
  • Let employees access pay stubs through the employee self-service portal.
  • Set up 24-hour direct deposit.
  • Pay employees using paper checks or direct deposit.

Plus, while filing taxes yourself might seem scary, it’s a lot less intimidating if you use QuickBooks Payroll with QuickBooks Online—you can enroll for e-filing with the federal and state government using your QuickBooks software. We’re talking about taxes here, so it’s not a complication-free process, but the QuickBooks Online help forum can get you started. You can also access customer support for Intuit’s online payroll software over the phone, via chat, or via email.

Bear in mind that with QuickBooks Payroll Self Service, you can add up to only 50 employees. If you employ more than 50 people, you should either opt for QuickBooks Payroll Full Service or look for another payroll provider—your business is big enough to merit additional payroll help.

Definition: Payroll run

A “payroll run,” or “pay run,” might be a confusing noun phrase the first time you encounter it, but don’t worry—it simply refers to the process of running payroll. You initiate a payroll run every time you want to pay your employees. When payroll software offers “unlimited payroll runs,” that means you aren’t restricted to running payroll, say, just four times a month. You can start payroll runs as frequently as you need to without being charged extra by your payroll service.

QuickBooks Full Service

QuickBooks Payroll Self Service gets the job done—it’s affordable, streamlined, and great for small businesses with a handful of employees. But if you want the really good features (e.g., tax help), you’ll have to sign up for QuickBooks Full Service Payroll:

  • Automatic payroll tax filing
  • Guaranteed tax filing accuracy with a 100% Penalty-Free Guarantee
  • 24-hour direct deposit plus no fee for same-day direct deposit
  • Free W-2 form filing at the end of the year
  • Customized pay period settings

If you choose the full-service monthly payroll subscription, a QuickBooks professional will help you with payroll setup. You can start your first payroll run knowing you’ve already worked out the kinks.

So is full-service payroll really worth the increased price? Honestly, if you don’t want to spend time or money deducting payroll taxes and filing them on your own, then yes—full-service payroll is absolutely the way to go.

Plus, the more numbers you have to run, the higher the chance of a potential tax error (and, in turn, the chance of incurring a hefty fine). But thanks to QuickBooks’ no-penalty guarantee, if something goes wrong with your taxes, QuickBooks deals with the IRS for you and pays any penalties.

QuickBooks Online Payroll pros and cons

  • Easy syncing with QuickBooks accounting
  • Beautiful, easy-to-use interface
  • Comprehensive full-service payroll
  • Higher prices than many competitors
  • Fewer HR, time-tracking, and benefits features

Intuit got to the top by offering reliable, straightforward, easy-to-use accounting software that can adapt to any small business’s needs—boutiques, marketing teams, family restaurants, and even accounting and bookkeeping firms. (Thanks to the cloud, accountants can securely access their clients’ payroll info with minimal hassle.)

Intuit’s online payroll software has the same strengths as its online accounting software, but be warned: it also shares the accounting software’s weaknesses, which we’ll explore in more detail further down.

QuickBooks Payroll pros

QuickBooks scores big on user friendliness—the software’s point is to simplify accounting for non-accountants. It doesn’t matter how good (or . . . bad) you are at math: every small-business owner, from a freelance copywriter to a neighborhood grocer, can adjust to QuickBooks Online’s platform without much stress, and the same holds true for QuickBooks Payroll.

If you’re already using QuickBooks Online to calculate expenses, generate invoices, run reports, produce financial statements, and accept payments, setting up payroll for QuickBooks is the next logical move. If you choose the self-service plan, payroll numbers will automatically sync with your QuickBooks Online account, making e-filing taxes about as easy as possible.

And if paying employees anytime, anywhere is important to you—say, you travel a lot for work and aren’t always in the office—QuickBooks Payroll’s mobile app works for both Android and iOS.

Finally (and most importantly!), QuickBooks Payroll, especially QuickBooks Payroll Full Service, is a pretty robust plan. It has enough features to dramatically simplify your life . . . or at least your tax life, which is a pretty big slice of life when you’re a small-business owner.

QuickBooks Payroll cons

QuickBooks Payroll tackles a lot of what you can throw at it, but the help doesn’t come cheap. QuickBooks’ self-service payroll starts at $35 per month, while full-service payroll starts at $80.

Not sure how that compares to other products on the market? Gusto is one of QuickBooks’ biggest competitors, and all of its plans offer full-service payroll. Even the cheapest, the Core plan, starts at $39 per month and comes with all the tax-filing features QuickBooks Self Service lacks. Gusto does charge two dollars more per employee ($6 compared to QuickBooks Payroll’s $4). But $2 doesn’t seem like much when you consider that QuickBooks by Intuit’s full-service payroll costs more than double Gusto’s.

Free trial or discount

QuickBooks offers frequent sales on its products with even further reduced prices over holidays, like Labor Day. With most promotions, you can save up to 60% for three months, depending on the payroll plan you choose. However, if you opt for the three-month discount, you won’t get your 30-day free trial: it’s one or the other with QuickBooks, not both.

Then there’s the issue of customer service. For one thing, QuickBooks Payroll’s app is much more highly reviewed on the Apple Store than Google Play, with 4.2 stars out of 5 on the Apple Store as compared to 3.4 stars out of 5 on Google Play.3,4 Android users report issues accessing their data and getting helpful follow-up from QuickBooks’ customer service department.

Android users aren’t the only ones upset with QuickBooks’ customer service, though. Even though Intuit has an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau (BBB), customers have logged more than 1,300 complaints against Intuit through the BBB.5 Most users complain of slow, unhelpful phone support—a huge frustration when a software problem keeps you from paying employees on time.

And if you need comprehensive HR and employee-benefit features on top of regular payroll functions like tax filing and direct deposit, you might want to look elsewhere. QuickBooks Payroll does offer a few add-ons, like TSheets time tracking and workers compensation insurance. But if your business is big enough to require bigger benefits and more HR help, you’ll probably want to look elsewhere, such as Paychex.

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QuickBooks Desktop Payroll

A lot of small-business owners use QuickBooks Online rather than QuickBooks Desktop, in part because the desktop version requires a high one-time fee instead of a month-by-month subscription. If you use Intuit’s desktop software, you still have payroll options, but they’re a lot different from the QuickBooks Online payroll plans.

Plan nameStarting costAdditional cost per employeeSelf service or full serviceLearn more
Basic Payroll$29/mo.$2Self serviceView Plan
Enhanced Payroll$45/mo.$2Self serviceView Plan
Assisted Payroll$109/mo.$2Full serviceView Plan
Data effective 9/12/2019. At publishing time, pricing and features are current but are subject to change. Offers may not be available in all areas.

With all three plans, you can pay W-2 employees via direct deposit or basic check. You’ll also get free end-of-year tax help, even with the two self-service plans. However, you can only pay your 1099 employees if you get the QuickBooks Enhanced or QuickBooks Assisted Payroll plans. And only Enhanced and Assisted include automatic W-2 form filing and access to basic tax forms.

In other words . . . we can’t really say that these plans pack a punch. The QuickBooks Basic Payroll plan is especially weak; any self-service payroll plan worth its salt should include at least a few basic payroll forms and let you pay both W-2 and 1099 workers. Assisted Payroll does have helpful features, including job costing and round-the-clock support, but it’s pretty pricey.

QuickBooks Desktop Payroll pros and cons

If you use QuickBooks Desktop, any of these plans will integrate easily with your existing accounting software, but that’s the only real reason to subscribe to one. If you have to choose a payroll plan to pair with your existing desktop software, we recommend QuickBooks Enhanced Payroll—QuickBooks Basic Payroll isn’t worth your while.

We recommend that you choose QuickBooks Assisted Payroll only if you already use QuickBooks Enterprise or a similarly large desktop program to support your midsize to large business; this hefty plan isn’t targeted at small-business owners.

The takeaway

If you’re already a QuickBooks Online or Intuit customer, adding QuickBooks Payroll is about as hassle-free as you can get—and when you’re new to the world of payroll, every eliminated hassle counts for a lot.

Looking for more payroll software options? If QuickBooks isn’t a good fit for you, check out our page comparing payroll software to find a payroll plan that is.

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.

1. QuickBooks, “QBO Surpasses 2 Million Global Customer Milestone
2. QuickBooks, “QBO Surpasses 2 Million Global Customer Milestone
3. Apple Store, “QuickBooks Payroll
4. Google Play, “QuickBooks Payroll for Employers
5. Better Business Bureau, “Intuit, Inc.