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

Most affordable
Entirely free accounting
Outstanding customer ratings
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Most comprehensive
Mileage tracking
Thorough tax estimation
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Last Updated: 2 months ago
Both Wave and QuickBooks are playing it safe during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis: neither company has changed its plans or pricing this month. That consistency is good news for customers who could use some stability during the second half of the year.
3 months ago
During the COVID-19 crisis, both Wave and QuickBooks Online have stayed the course: they haven't changed their plans or pricing and remain two of our favorite accounting software providers for 2020.
Less than 6 months
We recently checked this page to make sure our information was still up to date. Fortunately for software users, neither company has changed its plans, features, or pricing in the last month.
Less than 6 months
We recently reviewed this page to make sure our info for Wave and QuickBooks Online was still accurate. It is: neither company has changed its plans or pricing in the last month. Now that multiple states across the US are reopening, QuickBooks has also rolled back its COVID-19 special offers—if you sign up for QuickBooks, you're back to getting 50% off for the first three months, not 70%.
Less than 6 months
We reviewed this page to make sure our information for Wave and QuickBooks was still up to date. Both accounting companies have added information and resources relevant to the COVID-19 crisis, so we added links to those pages for our readers to check out. QuickBooks is also running a special to help freelancers and solopreneurs: for 12 months, you can get QuickBooks Self-Employed for $1 a month.
More than 6 months
We reviewed this page to make sure neither Wave nor QuickBooks have changed their plans since the last time we checked. They haven’t, but we updated this page with Wave’s customer service information and clarified a few sentences.
More than 6 months
We recently updated this page to make our review more useful for our readers. On our revamped page, you’ll find clearer comparisons and more explanations of features and benefits.
More than 6 months
We recently updated this page to include QuickBooks Online’s and Wave’s pricing, plans, and features. We still think that QuickBooks is best for small businesses with inventory needs and that Wave is best for freelancers or small businesses without inventory.

QuickBooks Online and Wave are two of the most notable names in the accounting software business. While we wouldn’t necessarily say that one is objectively better than the other, we would say that one is definitely better for your business than the other. All you have to do is figure out which one.

Don’t worry; we’re here to help. Keep reading for a deep dive into the major differences between Wave Accounting and QuickBooks Online, plus the pros and cons of each cloud-based accounting software.

Wave Accounting vs. QuickBooks Online
Brand nameStarting priceFree trialPayroll add-on starting base priceLearn more
WaveFree30 days$20.00/mo.Get Started
QuickBooks Online$25.00/mo.30 days*$45.00/mo.Get Started
Data effective 8/7/20. At publishing time, pricing and features are current but are subject to change. Offers may not be available in all areas.
*30 days or 50% off starting price for the first three months

Wave Accounting: Most affordable

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.

But several other factors set Wave apart, not just its (lack of) pricing:

  • Easy-to-read dashboard
  • Integration with Shopify, PayPal, ShoeBoxed, and Etsy
  • Multiple financial reports, including profit and loss statements, cash flow reports, balance sheets, and sales tax reports
  • Unlimited bank and credit card connections
  • Journal entry creation
  • Unlimited customized invoices
  • Receipt scanning with automatic account syncing
  • Expense and income tracking
  • Multiple users with different levels of access

Wave’s totally free software also includes features that other accounting solutions charge extra for. For instance, FreshBooks’ cheapest plan doesn’t include recurring invoicing—but with Wave, automatic recurring invoicing is built in.

Wave's free products

Wave Apps offers three completely free products: Wave Accounting, Wave Invoicing, and Wave Receipts. Wave Invoicing and Wave Receipts have mobile apps for both iOS and Android. And all three products work together seamlessly; for instance, when you scan a receipt, it’ll sync instantly to your Wave Accounting dashboard for easy reconciliation and record keeping.

Wave’s extreme affordability, easy invoicing, and receipt scanning make it a perfect choice for freelancers and solopreneurs. But 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.

As the account owner, you control user permissions and determine who can view, edit, or own different aspects of your financial records. As far as we can tell, there isn’t a limit to how many team members you can invite, which makes Wave perfect for collaboration.

  • No cost for most services
  • Access for multiple users
  • Positive customer ratings
  • No mileage tracking
  • No inventory management
  • No mobile app for accounting or payroll
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Wave’s accounting software does, of course, have some downsides. For one, it lacks some features competitors (most notably QuickBooks) add in, like mileage tracking and inventory management. And since it offers only one plan, it’s not as scalable for growing businesses; the plan you see is the plan you’ll get with no options for upgrades that could accommodate larger companies.

Additionally, Wave’s customer service is available only via email. You can check the site’s knowledge center if you run into a problem, but you can’t call in for immediate help.

Wave Payroll

Not every small-business owner needs payroll processing, but if you do, it’s nice to know you can easily integrate Wave’s free accounting software with its payroll plans. Alas, Wave Payroll isn’t free—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.

Wave's COVID-19 resources

Like most accounting software providers right now, Wave Accounting has put together some resources to help small-business owners weather the COVID-19 crisis.

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.

QuickBooks Online: Most comprehensive

QuickBooks Online has millions of users,1 which makes sense given that its parent company, Intuit, has been around since 1983. In fact, so many bookkeepers and accountants use QuickBooks that it’s almost easier to use the software just because your bookkeeper does.

But there are plenty of perks to QuickBooks Online besides its popularity. Each QuickBooks plan includes the basics:

  • Mileage tracking
  • Income and expense tracking
  • Estimates, invoicing, and payments
  • Automatic sales tax tracking

With the higher-cost plans, you get even more comprehensive features:

  • Time tracking
  • Recurring payments
  • Check printing
  • Inventory tracking

These features do come at a hefty cost, though. QuickBooks’ cheapest plan, Simple Start, costs $25 a month and allows for only one user. The next step up, Essentials, costs $40 a month and includes three users. The Plus plan starts at $70 and maxes out at five users. It’s also the only plan to include inventory tracking.

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No matter which plan you end up with, you can look forward to a super intuitive, user-friendly interface that pretty much lacks a learning curve. While Wave’s dashboard can take a minute to get accustomed to, QuickBooks’ is smooth and streamlined, and its mobile accounting app is at least as good (Wave doesn’t have an accounting app yet—just apps for invoicing and receipt scanning).

Plus, if you don’t need all the bells and whistles of a higher-priced QuickBooks plan, you can always opt for QuickBooks Self-Employed instead. With this $15-a-month plan—temporarily $1 a month for the next 12 months if you sign up now—you can send simple invoices, track mileage, and get quarterly tax estimates to make end-of-year tax payments easier.

  • Mileage and inventory tracking
  • User-friendly interface
  • Integration with other Intuit products
  • Limited users
  • Mixed customer service ratings
  • Higher cost

QuickBooks’ main downside is its cost. Wave does almost everything QuickBooks Online Simple Start does for absolutely free, and since the minimum annual amount you’ll pay for Simple Start is $300, that’s a big fiscal consideration for a business owner. And thanks to its limited user number, QuickBooks doesn’t allow for Wave’s easy collaboration.

QuickBooks Payroll

Payroll is one area where Wave wins big over QuickBooks no matter how you slice it. 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.

QuickBooks' COVID-19 assistance

Did you take out a Paycheck Protection Program loan to cover employee paychecks during the COVID-19 crisis? QuickBooks’ handy guide explains how to hasten the PPP loan forgiveness process.

QuickBooks Desktop

Like Wave, QuickBooks Online is cloud-based, meaning all your information is stored in the cloud where it’s both secure and easy to share with your accountant and bookkeeper. In contrast, old-school QuickBooks Desktop is software that you download directly onto your computer. Instead of paying for a monthly subscription, you’ll pay an up-front yearly cost, which can range anywhere from $299.95 to $1,213.

Depending on the plan, you might get a few more features than you do with QuickBooks Online, including forecasting, packing and shipping, and access for up to 30 users. But QuickBooks Online is a much more flexible program—it does basically the same thing as QuickBooks Desktop with easier, more convenient user access.

The takeaway

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; you can’t really offer a free trial on completely free software). 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.

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.” Accessed August 8, 2020.