Wave Payroll Review 2021

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.
4 out of 5 stars
  • Check
    Plans starting at $20/mo.
  • Check
    Automatic tax filing in 14 states
  • Check
    Workers compensation options
  • X
    No automatic payroll processing

Looking for affordable payroll software? Wave’s payroll service 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 2021

Plan type
Starting price
Additional cost per payee
Learn more

Full-service payroll (automatic payroll tax filing)



AZ, CA, FL, GA, IL, IN, MN, NY, NC, TN, TX, VA, WA, and WI

Self-service payroll (no automatic payroll tax filing)



All other 36 states

Data effective 11/24/20. 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.

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
Best Small Business Payroll Software
Best overall
4 out of 5 stars
Best for growth
4 out of 5 stars
Best for new employers
4 out of 5 stars
Best Payroll + HR packages
3.5 out of 5 stars
Best customer service
3.4 out of 5 stars
Learn more about our top brands.

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

Pro Bullet Affordable starting prices
Pro Bullet PTO tracking features
Pro Bullet Employee self-service
Con Bullet No mobile payroll app
Con Bullet No automatic payroll runs
Con Bullet 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 $6 per payee).

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

Wave’s tax-service plans start at $35 a month, which is a bit more than full-service plans from SurePayroll ($29.99 per month) or Gusto ($19 per month).

Wave cons

First of all, 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.

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

Second, 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.

And last but not least, 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 $6 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 $6 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 4.4 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, though we do recommend you take the BBB’s ratings with a grain of salt.

The takeaway

Wave Payroll isn’t 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, Wave Payroll is a solid option.

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.

Kylie McQuarrie
Written by
Kylie McQuarrie
Kylie McQuarrie has been writing for and about small businesses since 2014. Prior to writing full-time, she worked with a variety of small-business owners (from freelance writers to real-estate solopreneurs), which gave her a front-row look at small-business owners' struggles, frustrations, and successes. Currently, she’s Business.org’s accounting and payroll staff writer. Her work has been featured on SCORE.org, G2, and Fairygodboss, among others.
Recent Articles
Young black woman with shoulder-length black hair types on a silver laptop in an office
The Best Payroll Companies for Small Businesses in 2021
We looked at 15 of the top payroll processing companies and evaluated them based on...
How to Convert Minutes for Payroll
How to Convert Minutes for Payroll
Step-by-step guide on how to convert minutes for payroll. Business.org breaks down the process and...
The 6 Best Free Payroll Software for Small Businesses in 2021
To find the best free payroll solutions for small businesses, Business.org considered each provider’s features,...
Using Time Management for Effectively Scheduling Employees
7 Reasons 1 in 4 Businesses Choose Gusto
In the small-business payroll world, Gusto is a popular name due to its user-friendliness and...