QuickBooks Online Payroll Review 2020
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.
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 name||Price per employee||Price per employee||Payroll processing time||Tax penalty guarantee||Learn more|
|Core||$45/mo.||$4||Next day||No||View Plan|
|Premium||$75/mo.||$8||Same day||No||View Plan|
|Elite||$125/mo.||$10||Same day||Yes||View Plan|
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
Until recently, QuickBooks Payroll offered only two plans: QuickBooks Self Service and QuickBooks Full Service. Now, though, you can choose from three payroll plans: Core, Premium, and Elite. All three plans include unlimited payroll runs. They’re also full-service plans, which means QuickBooks will automatically deduct payroll taxes and e-file them on your behalf.
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.
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—these three payroll options don’t sync with Intuit’s desktop version. You can learn more about QuickBooks Desktop payroll options further down.
Core, starting at $45 a month, helps small-business owners manage payroll basics:
- Automatic end-of-year tax form filing
- Automatic federal and state payroll tax filing
- Employee self-service for accessing W-2 forms, PTO accruals, and pay stubs
- Wage garnishment and deduction management
- Automatic payroll runs (if all employees are salaried and use direct deposit)
- Health benefits through SimplyInsured (not available in DC, VT, and HI)
- Next-day direct deposit
Pay special attention to that final bullet point: not all basic payroll plans include access to reports, but QuickBooks has always been at the top of the reporting game. Even with Core, you can see multiple payroll reports, including contractor payment history and bank transactions.
Core isn’t as comprehensive as some other basic payroll plans, including Gusto’s Core plan, which starts at $39 and includes features like workers compensation coverage. But QuickBooks’ cost-per-employee fee is just $4 with Core (that’s $2 cheaper than Gusto), so if you have only a handful of employees, you could end up saving more with QuickBooks than with Gusto.
QuickBooks Payroll’s Premium plan gets you all of Core’s features plus some key additions:
- Expanded user access and permissions (so you can save time by delegating tasks to managers)
- Easy time tracking through TSheets, a mobile app for employees to clock in and out anywhere
- Expert setup review, meaning a QuickBooks expert will review your information for accuracy after you set up your account
- HR support center access
Note that to get expert help setting up your account, you must directly request it for QuickBooks. They won’t throw the service in unless you ask, so make sure to do so, especially if you’re importing employee information from your old payroll provider.
Premium also bumps up next-day direct deposit to same-day direct deposit, which means you can run payroll later in the week without worrying that your employees won’t get paid on time.
The Premium plan starts at $75 and doubles Core’s per-employee price to $8. At this price, Premium makes the most sense for midsize business owners . . . but the $8 additional cost is much higher than most other payroll providers charge for their mid-tier payroll services. Still, if you think that’s expensive, check out the Elite plan, which (in our opinion) is out of range for most small and midsize businesses.
Elite starts at a whopping $125 a month and an extra $10 per payee. It comes with a personal HR advisor, time tracking, and additional customer service. Most importantly, though, it’s the only QuickBooks Online Payroll plan to include a tax penalty guarantee. With QuickBooks’ guarantee, they’ll pay up to $25,000 a year plus interest if you incur any IRS fines. QuickBooks will also intervene in any payroll tax filing issues, dealing directly with the IRS on your behalf.
Sounds great, right? It definitely is—but a lot of services offer a tax penalty guarantee for plans that cost substantially less than $125 a month plus $10 per employee. The fact that QuickBooks offers the guarantee with only their most expensive plan (a plan that doesn’t have many extra services to warrant the cost), is both strange and frustrating.
Our take? Core and Premium have some perks, especially for existing QuickBooks users, but stay away from QuickBooks Elite. Plenty of other payroll services will give you HR help and a tax penalty guarantee for way less than $125 a month.
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
- Tax penalty guarantee with only most expensive plan
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, even the least expensive plan, is pretty robust. It has enough features to dramatically simplify your life . . . or at least your tax life, which is a 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’ payroll starts at $45 per month, and its most expensive plan starts at $125.
Not sure how that compares to other products on the market? Gusto is one of QuickBooks’ biggest competitors; Gusto’s Core plan starts at $39 per month and comes with workers compensation and HR features QuickBooks lacks. Gusto does charge two dollars more per employee ($6 compared to QuickBooks Payroll’s $4), so if you don’t have many employees and don’t need much HR help, QuickBooks could be the better choice—but for most small businesses, Gusto does more for less.
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.
- No contracts or commitments
- Full-picture visibility into your business’s finances
- Results-oriented approach to support growth
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 name||Starting cost||Additional cost per employee||Self service or full service||Learn more|
|Basic Payroll||$29/mo.||$2||Self service||View Plan|
|Enhanced Payroll||$45/mo.||$2||Self service||View Plan|
|Assisted Payroll||$109/mo.||$2||Full service||View Plan|
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 pay your 1099 employees only 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.
Our recommendation for QuickBooks Desktop payroll
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.
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.”