QuickBooks Online Payroll Review 2021

Like QuickBooks' accounting software, QuickBooks Online Payroll is user-friendly with a solid mobile app to match. But since its tax penalty guarantee comes with the most expensive plan only, QuickBooks Payroll is too risky for most small businesses.
Most user-friendly
2.5 out of 5 stars
  • Check
    Unlimited payroll runs in every state
  • Check
    Three full-service payroll options
  • X
    Higher prices than competitors
  • X
    Tax penalty guarantee with priciest plan only

Intuit offers more than its QuickBooks Desktop or QuickBooks Online accounting software—there’s also Intuit’s payroll software, QuickBooks Payroll, which integrates flawlessly with QuickBooks Online. Its payroll plans target small and midsize businesses that don’t have the time (or energy) to deal with pay-related hassles. However, QuickBooks’ payroll service has some of the same drawbacks as its accounting software counterpart—especially in terms of price.

QuickBooks Online Payroll pricing and plans 2021

Plan name
Price per month
Price per employee
Payroll processing time
Tax penalty guarantee
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Data effective 3/11/21. At publishing time, pricing and features are current but are subject to change. Offers may not be available in all areas.

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

QuickBooks offers three full-service 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.

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.

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
  • Reporting

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:

  • 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.

Best Small Business Payroll Software
Best overall
Best HR add-ons
Best reporting
Simplest setup
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Learn more about our top brands.


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

Pro Bullet Easy syncing with QuickBooks accounting
Pro Bullet Beautiful, easy-to-use interface
Pro Bullet Comprehensive full-service payroll
Con Bullet Higher prices than many competitors
Con Bullet Fewer HR, time-tracking, and benefits features
Con Bullet 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 has one of the only employer-facing mobile payroll apps on the market, and it's a good one. Both the iOS and Android apps are well reviewed: the mobile app has 4.3 stars out of 5 on the Apple Store and 4.2 stars out of 5 on Google Play.1,2

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 Desktop vs. QuickBooks Online

QuickBooks Desktop is a popular desktop-based alternative to QuickBooks’ cloud-based software. If you use Intuit’s desktop software, you still have payroll options. But just like QuickBooks Desktop itself, QuickBooks Desktop payroll is a bit different from the QuickBooks Online payroll plans. If you’re not sure which options will work better for you, we recommend checking out our piece comparing QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Desktop in detail.

Then there’s the issue of customer service. Even though Intuit has an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau (BBB), customers have logged more than 1,700 complaints against Intuit through the BBB.3 Most users complain of slow, unhelpful phone support—a huge frustration when a software problem keeps you from paying employees on time. And on the review site TrustRadius, QuickBooks Payroll scores only 5 out of 10,4 which is much lower than the industry standard. Gusto, for instance, scores 8.5.5

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 that’s only if you’re willing to pay for the Premium plan, which starts at $75 a month and $8 per employee. Honestly, if your business is big enough to require bigger benefits and more HR help, you’ll probably want to look elsewhere, such as Paychex.

Compare other options

Tired of payroll? Gusto handles payroll taxes and more

With unlimited payroll runs and automatic tax filing, Gusto helps small-business owners worry less about payroll and put more time into growing their business.

  • Get automatic payroll tax filing, including end-of-year tax forms
  • Manage workers compensation insurance
  • Track paid time off, sick leave, and holiday pay

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. Apple Store, “QuickBooks Payroll.” Accessed March 11, 2021.
2. Google Play, “QuickBooks Payroll for Employers.” Accessed March 11, 2021.
3. Better Business Bureau, “Intuit, Inc.” Accessed March 11, 2021.
4. TrustRadius, "Intuit Payroll Reviews." Accessed March 11, 2021.
5. TrustRadius, "Gusto." Accessed March 11, 2021.

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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