Wave Payroll Review 2020

Unlike Wave’s popular accounting software, Wave Payroll isn’t completely free. But it’s one of the most affordable payroll service providers out there, so if you’re looking to save money while still accessing high-quality payroll help, Wave is a great choice.

out of overall
Plans starting at $20/mo.
Automatic tax filing in 14 states
Workers compensation options
No automatic payroll processing

Wave’s payroll software isn’t free—depending on the state you’re in, it starts at $20 or $35 per month. But compared to most other payroll software (most notably, QuickBooks Payroll), that’s an absolute steal.

Of course, it isn’t all sunshine and lollipops; Wave Payroll definitely has some flaws. By and large, though, we think this software is more than worth your time, especially if you already use Wave Accounting and just hired your first employee.

Wave Payroll plans and pricing 2020
Plan typeStarting priceAdditional cost per payeeAvailabilityLearn more

Full-service payroll
(automatic payroll tax filing)
AZ, CA, FL, GA, IL, IN, MN, NY, NC, TN, TX, VA, WA, and WI
See Plan

Self-service payroll (no automatic payroll tax filing)
$20/mo.$6/employeeAll other 36 statesSee Plan
Data effective 12/21/19. At publishing time, pricing and features are current but are subject to change. Offers may not be available in all areas.

Wave Payroll plans

Wave offers two payroll plans, but this isn’t a pick-your-favorite situation. Instead, where you live determines which plan you can sign up for. Wave doesn’t offer you two plans to choose between: if you live in a tax-service state, you have to choose the pricier tax-service plan. If you don’t live in a tax-service state, you have to choose the less expensive self-service plan.

Even though you can’t necessarily choose your plan, neither one is a bad option. Tax-service subscribers can enjoy the time-saver of automatic payroll tax filing. On the other hand, self-service subscribers pay $15 less per month and still get the info they need to easily pay taxes on their own.

Best Payroll Software

Both plans are cheap and come with a slew of online payroll features:

  • Direct deposit and self-service check printing options
  • Instant automatic syncing with Wave Accounting software
  • Vacation, PTO (paid time off), and sick leave tracking
  • Security features like automatic data backups and SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) encryption
  • Workers compensation coverage options via AP Intego
  • Automatically generated W-2 and 1099 tax forms at the end of the year
  • Employee self-onboarding
    Employee self-service portal for access to W-2s, 1099s, pay stubs, and bank account information

Self-service payroll

With the self-service payroll plan, Wave’s software tells you what amount to deduct each payroll period. It gives you the necessary info to quickly fill out IRS forms and file them yourself online. Sure, it’ll take a few extra minutes, but it’s not particularly complicated.

Tax-service payroll

With Wave Payroll’s tax-service plans, Wave automatically files all payroll taxes with the IRS on your behalf (most other payroll providers refer to these plans as “self-service payroll”).

Tax service availability

You can sign up for Wave Payroll’s full-service plans if you live in Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington, or Wisconsin.

Wave Payroll pros and cons

  • Affordable starting prices
  • PTO tracking features
  • Employee self-service
  • No mobile payroll app
  • No automatic payroll runs
  • Less comprehensive services than competitors

Wave Payroll pros

Payroll by Wave’s biggest strength is its affordability. If you get the self-service plan at $20 a month, you can’t get much cheaper unless you choose free payroll software, which is generally less comprehensive and limited to 25 employees. And pairing self-service Wave Payroll with Wave Accounting means your monthly payroll and accounting costs are just $20 (plus $4 per payee)—less than you’ll pay for a month of QuickBooks Online, which starts at $25 and doesn’t include payroll.

Wave's full suite of products

Along with Wave Accounting, Wave Payroll integrates seamlessly with Wave’s other offerings:

  • Wave Invoicing, which is free and includes a mobile app version
  • Wave Payments, which lets you easily accept online payments and costs only a transaction fee
  • Wave Receipts, which is free and lets you scan receipts from your phone to sync with Wave Accounting

Of course, tax-service plans start at $35 a month, but that’s still a little cheaper than Gusto, one of our favorite payroll providers. Gusto’s cheapest plan includes most of the same services as Wave’s full-service plan, including workers compensation options and employee self-service, just at a slightly higher cost.

Wave cons

Every rose has its thorns—and every affordable piece of payroll software has its flaws.

Wave Payroll doesn’t offer a mobile app. While Wave Accounting, Wave Invoicing, and Wave Receipt all have their own mobile apps, Wave Payroll doesn’t, which means you can’t manually run payroll on the go. Of course, most payroll companies are notably behind in the mobile app game; as of this writing, only a handful of companies offer secure and trustworthy employer-facing payroll apps.

Payroll in the cloud

Technically, if you use cloud-based software like Wave, you don’t necessarily need an app to pay your employees on the go. Instead, you just need a web browser, cloud-based account access, and a sturdy web connection.

But the best payroll providers without apps (including Gusto and Patriot Software) go out of their way to make their sites mobile-friendly. With these providers, you can securely and easily pay your employees via phone or tablet using just your web browser.

The Wave Apps site emphasizes that its software is cloud-based so you can run payroll anywhere with internet access and a web-enabled device. However, it doesn’t specifically call out a mobile-friendly site, so we’re honestly not sure if Wave Payroll’s web interface is as user-friendly as Gusto’s and Patriot’s. Based on user reviews of the platform’s interface on sites like GetApp, we’re guessing not.

Wave Payroll doesn’t include automatic payroll runs. While Wave will send you payroll alerts and emails, it lacks the automatic payroll feature of competitors like SurePayroll. Essentially, running payroll yourself just means reviewing the numbers and pressing a button on the software to pay out your employees, but nothing can match the convenience of scheduling automatic payroll runs.

Wave doesn’t have as many benefits options as some competitors. While we love that Wave offers workers compensation packages, employers with more benefit needs might want to look elsewhere. Gusto, for instance, offers not only workers compensation plans but also health benefits administration. (It’s worth noting that both Gusto and Wave work with the same workers compensation insurance company, AP Intego.)

Wave Payroll FAQs

Can you pay independent contractors with Wave Payroll?

Yes, you can use Wave Payroll to pay independent contractors and regular employees alike. Regardless of the type of payee, the cost per person is an extra $4 per month on top of your monthly base fee.

Seasonal employment

Do you work with independent contractors during only certain parts of the year? You can pause your payees’ payroll accounts, meaning you won’t be charged the extra $4 a month if you aren’t paying that person. You can also put your entire Wave account on hold if your business operates only part of the year.

Wave Payroll also automatically generates the end-of-year tax forms you need to distribute to both types of employees: W-2 forms for your regular employees and 1099 forms for your independent contractors.

Can your bookkeeper or accountant use Wave to collaborate with you?

Yes. If you have a Wave account, you can give your accountant or bookkeeper access for easy collaboration (for instance, during tax season).

How good is Wave customer service?

You can’t call Wave for help, which is frustrating. Instead, you can access Wave customer service only online, either by submitting a request on the Wave site or pressing the “help” button on your Wave account.

In general, though, customers are satisfied with Wave’s products and customer support. The company has 4.3 stars on review site GetApp, with most reviewers indicating they’re satisfied with their customer service experience.1 Wave Accounting is also accredited with the Better Business Bureau, which gives Wave an A+ rating.2

The takeaway

Wave Payroll isn’t necessarily the most comprehensive payroll service in the business. It lacks features like automatic payroll runs, mobile apps, and nationwide full-service plans that competitors like Paychex and QuickBooks include as a matter of course. But if you’re looking for affordability, simplicity, and easy integration with Wave’s free accounting software, it’s honestly hard to do better.

Not sold on Wave? No worries; check out our list of the year’s best payroll companies for small businesses.


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. GetApp, “Wave Payroll
2. Better Business Bureau, “Wave Financial