Wave vs. QuickBooks Online: Which Accounting Software Is Best for Small Businesses?

We compared Wave’s and QuickBooks’s accounting features, pricing, plans, customer reviews, and ease of use to help you decide which product works best for you.
Most affordable
Wave
3.9 out of 5 stars
3.9
  • Icon Pros  Dark
    Straightforward, simple dashboard
  • Icon Pros  Dark
    Easy integrations with other Wave products
  • Icon Cons  Dark
    Email-only customer service
Most comprehensive
Quickbooks
3.9 out of 5 stars
3.9
  • Icon Pros  Dark
    User-friendly dashboard and app
  • Icon Pros  Dark
    Hundreds of third-party app integrations
  • Icon Cons  Dark
    Low customer service ratings

Wave’s free accounting software saves freelancers and solopreneurs money, while QuickBooks Online’s comprehensive plans and mobile app make it well-suited to business owners on the go. Not sure which software choice is right for you? Business.org’s Wave vs. QuickBooks Online comparison breaks down each option’s best features.

Compare Wave and QuickBooks' top features

Brand name
Starting price
Income and expense tracking
Quarterly tax estimation
Mobile accounting app
Learn more
Wave

Wave Accounting

Free

Icon Check  DarkIcon Close  DarkIcon Close  Dark
Quickbooks

QuickBooks Online

$25.00/mo.

Icon Check  DarkIcon Check  DarkIcon Check  Dark

Data effective 3/15/21. At publishing time, pricing, and features are current but are subject to change. Offers may not be available in all areas.

Best pricing: Wave

First things first: Wave’s online accounting software is completely free. Period. You don’t even have to enter a credit card to sign up. Just type in your email address, create a user name, and you can get started.

Even better, Wave's totally free software also includes features that other accounting solutions charge extra for. For instance, Xero’s cheapest plan limits you to 20 invoices a month—if you want unlimited invoicing, you’ll need the $32 a month Growing plan. But with Wave, invoicing is always unlimited.

Meanwhile, QuickBooks Online’s cheapest plan for small businesses starts at $25 a month. The next step up, Plus, costs $70 a month, while the Advanced plan starts at $150 and maxes out at 25 users. You’ll get plenty of features with each of these plans, but they come at a high cost.

Pricetag
Price check: Accounting software

Wave and QuickBooks Online are the two pricing extremes of self-service accounting software. Most accounting software options fall somewhere in between. Zoho Books starts at $9.00 per month, Sage Business Cloud Accounting at $10.00 per month, Xero at $11.00 per month, and FreshBooks at $15.00 per month.

Most comprehensive features: QuickBooks Online

Wave offers quite a few features for its price, especially its unlimited invoicing and bank reconciliation. But no one (or next to no one) beats QuickBooks Online in terms of features.

For instance, QuickBooks’ Simple Start plan includes the basics and then some:

  • Mileage tracking
  • Estimates
  • Automatic sales tax tracking
  • Quarterly tax estimation
  • Cash flow management
  • 1099 contractor management

And with the higher-cost plans, you get built-in features like the following:

  • Bill payment and management
  • Time tracking
  • Automatic recurring payments
  • Check printing
  • Inventory tracking

In contrast, Wave offers the basics, but not much more. You'll get bank account reconciliation, income and expense tracking, invoicing, receipt tracking, basic financial statements and accounting reports, and general ledger journal entries. 

Like we said: the basics.  

Still, Wave does offer some features that QuickBooks doesn't. Most notably, you can manage more than one business with your free Wave account. 

Best Free Accounting Software Options
Wave
Best overall
ZipBooks
Best invoicing
SlickPie
Best for multiple businesses
NCH Software
Best bookkeeping
Expensify
Best expense tracking
Learn more about our top brands.

Most scalable plans: QuickBooks Online

Since Wave offers only one plan, it’s not as scalable for growing businesses. There aren’t heftier plans or upgrade options that could accommodate larger companies. What you see is what you get.

Wave Accounting plans and pricing 2021

Plan
Starting price
User limit
Key features
Learn more
Wave AccountingFreeUnlimitedReceipt scanning, invoicing, online payment acceptance

Data effective 3/15/21. At publishing time, pricing, and features are current but are subject to change. Offers may not be available in all areas.

In contrast, QuickBooks Online has four plans to choose from—and then some.

QuickBooks Online plans and pricing 2021

Plan name
Starting price
User limit
Key features
Learn more
Simple Start$25.00/mo.1 userMileage tracking, sales tax tracking, unlimited invoicing
Essential$40.00/mo.3 usersSimple Start + bill payment
Plus$70.00/mo.5 usersEssentials + inventory tracking
Advanced$150.00/mo.25 usersPlus + additional customization and automation

Data effective 3/15/21. At publishing time, pricing, and features are current but are subject to change. Offers may not be available in all areas.

Not interested in cloud-based software? QuickBooks still has you covered. QuickBooks Desktop costs an up-front yearly charge, which can range anywhere from $299.99 to $1,213.

Or, if you’re overwhelmed by the sheer number of features with QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Desktop, there’s QuickBooks Self-Employed. With this $15-a-month plan, you can send simple invoices, track mileage, and get quarterly tax estimates to make end-of-year tax payments easier.

Best third-party app integration: QuickBooks Online

Unlike most accounting apps, QuickBooks’ mobile accounting app does everything its cloud-based software can do, including accounting, invoicing, expense tracking, and receipt capturing. The app scores 4.7 out of 5 from 125K iOS users and 4.1 out of 5 from 38K Android users.1,2 You’ll be hard pressed to find a better-scored accounting app than that.

Wave doesn’t offer an accounting app, which makes it a little harder to use on the go. However, it does have both an invoicing app and a receipt scanning app. Wave Invoicing’s iOS and Android apps are particularly well reviewed—the app scores 4.6 out of 5 stars on both the App Store and Google Play.3,4 Wave Receipts is similarly well reviewed by iOS users,5 but there isn’t a Wave Receipts app available on Google Play. Instead, you have to download an APK file directly from Wave, which is a little odd but likely not a deal breaker.

Best payroll add-on: Wave

Payroll is one area where Wave wins big over QuickBooks no matter how you slice it. Wave Payroll isn’t free—honestly, most good payroll software isn’t, with one or two notable exceptions. But with a self-service plan starting at $20 a month (with $6 a month per employee paid), it’s pretty darn affordable.

Depending on where you live, you might be able to get Wave’s full-service payroll plan instead. It’s available in 14 states and counting, but if you live in one of those states, you can’t choose the cheaper self-service plan instead. Full-service payroll from Wave starts at $35 a month, and for automatic tax filing and a 100% tax penalty guarantee, that’s not half bad.

Meanwhile, QuickBooks Payroll starts at $45 a month, $10 more than Wave’s full-service plan, and it doesn’t include a tax penalty guarantee. That means that even though QuickBooks' payroll service is responsible for calculating and filing your payroll taxes, the company won’t take the hit from the IRS for a mistake. Instead, your business will, unless you pay $125 a month for the most expensive plan. We have one word for that: yikes.

Money
QuickBooks and Gusto

If you’re sold on QuickBooks Online, we recommend integrating with a third-party payroll provider like Gusto instead of using QuickBooks Payroll. Gusto is cheaper, includes a built-in tax penalty guarantee, and integrates seamlessly with QuickBooks Online. It doesn’t yet integrate with Wave.

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

Wave vs. QuickBooks Online FAQ

Which is better, Wave or QuickBooks?

Wave and QuickBooks both have their strengths and weaknesses, so it’s hard to say which one is better. But we can help you decide which one is better for you.

For instance, Wave Accounting might be better for you if your top concern is budget: it’s hard to beat free invoicing, accounting, and receipt-scanning. But QuickBooks Online might be better for you if you need thorough features and in-depth reporting. And since QuickBooks Online has multiple plans, it’s a better fit for businesses that plan on growth than Wave, which has just one plan.

Is Wave Accounting really free?

Yes, Wave’s accounting, invoicing, and receipt-scanning features are completely free. You do have to pay a transaction fee for online payments you accept with Payments by Wave, but that’s a standard requirement for all online payments from any provider. Wave’s 1% fee for ACH payments and 2.9% + $0.30 fee for credit card charges meets the industry standard. And since Wave doesn’t charge a base fee, the transaction fee is all you’ll ever pay when you use Wave.

Is there a free alternative to QuickBooks?

Yes, there are multiple free alternatives to QuickBooks Online. While Wave is probably the most comprehensive QuickBooks alternative, it isn’t the only one. ZipBooks, SlickPie, and Odoo are all good options, as are the other free software options on our list of the year’s best free accounting software.

The takeaway

Wave’s extreme affordability, easy invoicing, and receipt scanning make it a perfect choice for freelancers and solopreneurs. The software can work well for service-based small businesses too—it’s easy to share your Wave account with other business members, or even with your accountant or bookkeeper come tax time.

And QuickBooks Online’s thorough features, impressive lineup of scalable plans, and superb mobile app make it a good pick for small-business owners aiming to add employees and continue growth.

Here’s the good news: both companies offer 30-day free trials so you can take their software for a spin. (With Wave, the free trial applies to the payroll plan). If reading our comparison tipped you in either direction, feel free to check out that free trial before you commit—it’s great to be absolutely certain of your software before you go all in.

Looking for a QuickBooks alternative other than Wave? Check out some other options in our best accounting software article.

Related content

Methodology

To compare Wave and QuickBooks and derive our star ratings, we compared each company’s pricing, features, customer service, ease of use, and overall functionality for small-business owners, including freelancers.

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 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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