Finding the right payroll service is more important than you might believe at first glance. You need something that is:
- Easy to use
- Highly functional
- Supported by great customer service
With this in mind, we have chosen the very best payroll services on the market by breaking down each provider into a series of separate components – after all, there are many subcategories within the ease of use, affordability, functionality, and customer service.
The 5 Best Picks Payroll Services at a Glance
#1 – Gusto (Free trial!): One of the best all-rounded payroll services on the market right now. Affordable, highly-functional, easy to use, and excellent support. Rated #1 by the Finimpact squad. Perfect for small businesses, Sole Proprietorships, S-Corporations, and Startups.
#3 – Patriot (Two-months free!): Perhaps the best option for small businesses on a budget, without any significant compromise on functionality. Intuitive and easy to use. Often compared to OnPay for its intuitive nature.
|Vendor||Type Of Payroll||Full-Service Package Cost||Best For…||Summary|
|Full Service or Contractor||$39, but also offers $6 contractor option like Square||Sole Proprietorship, Startups, S – Corp.||Most well-rounded provider for all business types.|
|Full Service||$36 + $4 per employee||Very small business owners||Most straightforward and functional provider|
|Full Service||$30 + $4 per employee||Businesses with 15 – 100 employees.||Most affordable provider, similar in many respects on OnPay.|
|Full Service||$45 + $4 per employee||Corporations||Suited for larger businesses with specific requirements.|
|Full Service or Contractor||$29 + $5 per contractor/employee.||Online eCommerce owners that already use Square, small businesses with less than 10 contract employees.||Perfect for business already using Square products or only hiring contractors.|
#1 – Gusto
Our top pick of them all! Gusto starts at $39 per month with its Core subscription (Full Service Package), with $6 per additional employee. It offers 5 service plans and comes with unlimited payroll cycles (a critical feature of online payroll services). The basic package costs $19 a month and is ideal for teams of less than 5 people.
The 5 plans offered by Gusto are ‘Basic’, ‘Core’,’ Complete’, ‘Concierge’, and ‘Contractor’. With the Contractor plan, there is no base fee, and you simply pay $6 per contractor. This makes it perfect for startups and novel small businesses.
Serving more than 100,000 businesses, Gusto is well-established in the payroll space and comes with excellent support. A payroll provider without good support does not last for long. Businesses need to get payroll issues resolved sooner rather than later.
The beauty of Gusto is that it is so simple to use, even for a complete beginner, but also offers sophisticated capabilities. You can automate payroll to make it a breeze, provided that wages are static in a fixed working week/month. The brilliance of Gusto is not only that it automatically pays taxes, but that it files them for you. How great is that? The two biggest headaches, automatically completed by a neat payroll provider.
The on-boarding process is simple. Just give the link to your employees/independent contractors and they can get themselves up and running. Which means there is no need for you to waste more cash than necessary on costly HR personnel. Pay Stubs and W2s are easy to access through the Gusto platform.
For more advanced features, you might want to purchase the ‘Concierge’ package. The cost of this subscription is $149 per month, but it comes with an HR resource centre for the large businesses and corporations that need them. The Concierge and Complete packages cost a heavy $12 per additional employee and are not at all suitable for small businesses. All of the Gusto packages include:
- Retirement savings management.
- Pay-as-you-go workers’ compensation.
- Rapid payroll (often under 8 minutes).
- Automatic payroll, if you opt for worker self-service
- Good rates for group health insurance.
So, what are the issues with Gusto? For one thing, Gusto has a D – rating with the Better Business Bureau (“BBB”). Most of these complaints are recent. Gusto used to be a lot cheaper, but as it has grown in stature it seems to have also grown a little more ruthless, at least for some people. $6 per additional worker is quite expensive, with many of its competitors (such as Patriot Software) costing $4 per additional employee. For larger businesses, these costs really add up.
Gusto offers a free 30-day trial where you can see for yourself if it is for you. We found zero problems on this platform and it delivers value for money for both large and small businesses. The base package at $39 a month is excellent for what’s on offer.
The major drawback of Gusto could well be its customer service. While professional, they can be a little strict with their terms. They have an ok rating of 4.1 stars on Trustpilot, but it’s not exactly an exceptional rating by any stretch of the imagination. A rating of 4.5 and above is what really separates an excellent company from a good one.
Unlimited (and fast) payroll, automatic tax filing, and an affordable rate make this the number one payroll software on the market right now.
Gusto is best for Sole Proprietorships and Corporations. This might seem like a bizarre mix. But it allows you to pay employees, freelancers, and contractors in the exact same way, making it ideal for legal entity structures that use a mix of employee types. This is a huge consideration for business utilizing different worker types, and Gusto resolves it neatly.
#2 – OnPay
OnPay is possibly one of the most flexible of all platforms, with a contract that you can cancel on a monthly basis. For very small businesses, OnPay is the most appropriate platform. Why is this the case? Well, with a very small business, what you typically have is a one-man operation doing a lot of tasks, with less than 15 or so employees.
Which means that the solution has to be easy to use yet comprehensive. This is the core description of OnPay. You can get full-service payroll at a very competitive rate. If you are a small business owner that wants to streamline payroll in the quickest possible manner, then OnPay is for you.
Like Gusto, 1099 contractors and W2 employees can both be paid through the system. Taxes and filing requirements are taken care of. With the possible exception of Intuit Quickbooks, OnPay is the most smooth and intuitive platform out there. You will appreciate its simplicity right from the start. The learning curve is basically non-existence.
Why do we love OnPay so much? One thing that makes OnPay distinct for practically all other payroll providers is its single pricing system. OnPay is $36 a month with a $4 fee for additional employees/contractors.
This makes it slightly cheaper than Gusto and makes our review process a whole lot easier. Sometimes, it can feel that a provider is just slapping on pricing plans to try and hit every possible market segment – which is exactly what they are doing, but not OnPay. Everything about the platform is easy, straightforward, and streamlined.
With OnPay, you can cancel at any time and are not bound into a yearly contract, which is a huge advantage. If you want to mail physical forms to employees, the charge is $5, not including shipping costs (the only real additional charge with this provider). The first month of service is free. OnPay offers similar functionality to Guso, including:
- Fast payroll processing.
- Automatic tax filing.
- Payroll deductions.
- Payment of various employee types in a uniform manner.
- Various payment options.
- Employee self-service/onboarding.
- Additional services: retirement management, workers compensation insurance, employee benefits, etc.
In addition, OnPay has a lot of integrations, such as with Kabbage (a popular online loan provider) Quickbooks Online, Xero, etc.
But there is another area where OnPay really stands out. The customer service with this company is off the charts. While other companies we contacted on the top 5 (by both phone and email) were quite good, OnPay went above and beyond the call of duty.
Not merely polite and courteous, but prepared to offer customized solutions and refunds that may have been well within their rights to refuse (we like to pose as problem customers to gauge the reaction of the provider). For further verification of the fantastic OnPay customer service, visit their profile on Trustpilot with a lot of satisfied ratings, for a total of 4.9 out of 5 stars.
The price, the customer service and the ease of use all combine to make this the perfect platform for the very small business owner. You won’t be disappointed.
OnPay is perfect for small business owners with 15 employees or less that make use of remote workers in some fashion.
#3 – Patriot
Number 3 on the list is Patriot, which is quite budget-friendly but might lack a couple of features in comparison to OnPay or Gusto. Patriot (sometimes referred to as “Patriot Software”) has a different pricing structure in the sense that you pay for a package of employees instead of an additional cost per employee. This can make it cheaper or more expensive, depending on your business.
Patriot offers 2 payroll packages. The basic package costs $10 a month and $4 per additional employee. With 20 employees, this would work out at $90 a month. This is much cheaper than Gusto, which would work out at $159 for its core package with 20 employees. It’s nearly 50% cheaper. The full-service package costs $30 a month with a $4 fee per additional employee. There is no long-term contract and you can make use of a 30-day free trial
In other words, it is more suited to companies/businesses that have fixed employees on a long-term basis. But it can work out to be a lot cheaper (though it does lack some features in comparison). The basic version does not handle payroll taxes, which you will have to do for yourself. Both packages offer:
- Payroll setup and support.
- Direct deposits and print checks.
- Unlimited payroll.
But the full-service payroll package at $30 per month offers W3s and filing of local, state, and federal taxes. The beauty of Patriot is that you can use an online pricing tool to gauge your cost per employee and then compare this to other top payroll service providers like Intuit, Gusto, and OnPay.
Even if you feel that Patriot Software is not providing the features that you need, you can add on certain items for an additional cost. HR software is $4 a month with $1 per additional employee (which is still hyper cheap in comparison to other payroll providers). Time and attendance trackings are $5 a month base and $1 per additional employee. It really can be tailored and scaled to what you need, when you need it.
With Patriot, you are billed monthly as opposed to each payroll cycle (which can sometimes unfairly penalize businesses that pay their employees every two weeks). In terms of aesthetics, Patriot Software has more of a business-like and professional feel to it as compared to the friendly, smooth touch seen with other providers.
If you want a no-frills attached payroll service at a base cost, Patriot is for you. The major disadvantage of Patriot is that it does not have a benefits management system, which can be a nail in the coffin for certain business owners who frankly need this feature.
It is the cheapest option on the market while delivering everything that a payroll software needs to deliver, with the exception of benefits management.
Patriot Software is best suited for businesses with employees in the 15 – 100 employee range. Above 100 employees, and a different solution might be more appropriate.
Intuit Quickbooks is one of the most popular payroll providers on the market, and there really is a lot to commend it. It has the most sophisticated range of small business accounting solutions of them all and offers advanced analytics and insights. You can integrate Intuit Quickbooks with some many other applications to run data analysis, and Intuit is also the standard in many industries. You will not experience a lack of support or features with this platform. And, as the name suggests, it is also hyper intuitive and just plain cool to use.
So, what’s the drawback? Well, you do pay a price for all of those extra features, and Intuit Quickbooks is more steeply-priced than the other candidates on this list. For the full-service solution, you can expect to pay $45 a month with $4 per additional employee. In many respects, it is similar to Gusto in terms of both pricing and features. It comes with support for benefits (healthcare and retirement).
Intuit Quickbooks offers 3 packages – Core, Premium, and Elite. The Core package runs at $45, the Premium at $75, and the Elite at $125. The Core package is a full-service payroll solution, and there is no ‘Light’ option available. For a small business, the Core package is more than enough. The Premium and Elite packages are really for large businesses and enterprises that need to make use of HR features, premium time tracking, and advanced tax solutions.
This is a top product, especially if you are already using some other Quickbooks products. However, customer reviews of this company are mixed, and Quickbooks can have some problems. When a company starts to get really big, it can have trouble with backward compatibility and with keeping all classes of customers happy.
Quickbooks UK has a rating of 4.6 stars out of 5, which is quite impressive (a 4.6-star rating of over 5,000 reviews is actually superior to a 4-9 star rating of 900 or so reviews, which is what OnPay has). But there are some dreadful (and consistent) complaints with Consumer Affairs.
They seem to be having major trouble dealing with clients’ issues regarding interoperability and upgrades between operating systems and platforms. People with legacy systems will need to update their systems before migrating to Intuit Quickbooks, otherwise, they are setting themselves up for complete misery. There seem to be many accounts of people who have been with the company for 10 years or more but feel that the enterprise is not what it once was.
We called Quickbooks and were not overly impressed. It just took a long time, and we were kept on hold, though ultimately the issue was resolved. However, the quality of the software is still exceptional, potentially the best on the market, which is why it makes our no.4.
Fantastic integrations and quality of software. You will not lack for functionality with Intuit Quickbooks Payroll. Price and functionality similar to Gusto overall.
Customers that are already using Intuit products. Ideally suited for larger businesses and corporations. Small businesses might feel a little left out with the current support options.
#5 – Square Payroll
Of all the entries, Square is definitely the most novel and ‘ alternative’. Square bought out Weebly, an online web-building platform. As a result, many small business retail outlets (typically small coffee shops, restaurants, and craft stores) set up their site using Weebly and integrate it with Square Point of Sale Technology, which also takes care of payroll and inventory management.
You are setting up your site with a Square subsidiary (Weebly), handling payment processing through Square POS and credit billing, and handling payroll through Square Payroll. Talk about an all-in-one solution!
Square Payroll starts at $29 a month with an extra $5 per employee/contractor. But it also offers a contractor only package for just $5 per contractor. With Square, you do not get charged extra no matter how many times you pay your contractors or employees, meaning it is truly one of the most affordable solutions out there. Tax filing is not automatic with the contractor only plan but is a feature of the full-service plan.
Square is easy to set up and is compatible with many other Square products. But this is also something of a drawback – it is only compatible with other Square services. If you use other Square services, it makes far more sense to use Square Payroll. So you would typically have all of your services within the Square ecosystem – credit card processing, employee payroll, inventory management, and even web support through its Weebly subsidiary (Weebly also happens to be the best and most affordable of all eCommerce solutions)
Square payroll is not suited for larger businesses that need advanced HR support. If you manage less than 10 employees and already use Square point of sale technology to sell products, then it is truly the perfect option. It does offer self-service onboarding and you can also take advantage of membership benefits such as retirement and healthcare. But, to be frank, the platform is simply not as smooth or easy to use in comparison to the competition.
You do need to input a lot of info, even if you get the employee to self-onboard. It does not offer a sophisticated suite of tools or reports, unlike Gusto or Intuit Quickbooks Payroll. On the plus side, once you get set up initially and become familiar with the platform, it does offer a decent level of functionality and it gets easier. If your requirements are simple, you should not have a problem.
It offers apps for both IOS and Android, and both of these applications are very smooth and interactive, unlike other payroll applications. As far as features are concerned, Square delivers:
- Membership benefits.
- Self-service onboarding.
- Apple and Android Application.
- Automatic tax filing.
In terms of customer reviews and social proofs, Square is arguably the most well-loved provider.
Trustpilot UK rates it 4.6 stars, Trustpilot US rates it 4.8 stars, and Trustpilot Canada rates it 4.5 stars. Across jurisdictions, it is consistently getting positive ratings, which is a diversified and robust sign of a strong customer-center company. Square even connects seamlessly to Trustpilot and offers tonnes of integrations. Small business owners simply love this product.
In sum, Square is best for businesses already using other Square products (which are awesome), in much the same way that Intuit Quickbooks Payroll is best for businesses that are already using Intuit products. But it is hard to justify otherwise, in comparison to OnPay and Patriot Software.
While it is excellently suited for contract work with no base pay (just a $5 fee per contractor), Gusto also provides this option, as do some others. This has only recently been added in an attempt to compete with Square, who are dominating certain areas of the market due to eCommerce/site building/payment processing expertise. It just makes a lot of sense for online and physical store owners to take the next step with a Square payroll processor.
Decent capabilities for a decent price. Great for businesses that already use existing Square services.
Small businesses looking to take on contractors only for cheap, or small businesses who already use other Square products.
More Payroll Services for Smbs
There were some strong payroll candidates that just fell short of the mark. Chief among these would have been Wave Payroll, Sure Payroll, and Wagepoint. Take a look at some of the providers below if you want to do some more research into alternative payroll providers.
ADP: A popular option with rich features. Unfortunately, at $59 a month with a $4 charge per employee (identical to Paychex, below), this may not be the right choice for many small business owners. The lower-priced service tier is limited to a mere 2 employees, which is very rigid compared to the other available options. ADP has been in operation for over 60 years and is a very established provider.
Justworks: An A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau (always an amazing sign) makes this provider stand out. Very upfront and transparent about its pricing and activity, with a straightforward pricing model. More suited to large corporations as it is a full-service HR and compliance solution, not just payroll. The base package retails at $44 per employee, per month. The Plus plan includes access to medical, dental, and other benefits.
Paychex: At $59 per month, this is best suited for large businesses or businesses that expect to scale rapidly. Not the right fit for most small business owners. It also requires a lot of business information for custom quotes and to get started, which is largely unnecessary.
Payroll4Free: This is designed specifically for businesses that cater to less than 25 employees. The core service is free, though it does not come with automatic tax filing (can be added for a small fee). Good if you want to save some time and don’t mind working with an interface that is a little dated and a setup process that is not as streamlined as the competition.
Paycor: Paycor is designed for businesses with less than 10 employees. It has a fairly rich feature set with self-onboarding, complete tax reporting, and applications for both IOS and Android. It is intuitive and easy to use. The cost, however, is a little steep at $99 a month, up to 19 employees. This is the basic plan that does not include employee self-onboarding. The next plan is $149 a month – definitely at the upper end of the financial scale for the typical small business owner.
Payroll Mate: This can only be used on Windows Operating Systems, and does not offer online access (largely for security purposes). An excellent and secure option for businesses with between 15 – 75 employees. It does not complete automatic tax filing, however. For smart accountants and legal enterprises that actually want to file their own taxes, this could be a superb option. The cost is $119 a year, which is quite reasonable for what it offers. Very easy to set up.
Sure Payroll: This is another payroll service that is best suited for business owners with less than 10 employees. This is a hyper automated solution that makes payroll a complete breeze. The full service plan costs $29.99 a month with a $5 fee per employee, meaning it is intuitive, fully functional, and affordable. It also offers time and attendance tracking, as well as integration with a huge number of applications.
Wave Payroll: Wave payroll is much loved by many business owners. At $20 a month, an excellent setup and onboarding process, and a 30-day free trial, we can see why. Sadly, it does not offer automatic tax filing with its basic model. But for the price, it actually offers more features than many other providers. Its free service is arguably one of the most robust out there. If you are looking for a free service, we recommend Wave Payroll as a front runner.
Wagepoint: Like Wave Payroll, Wagepoint retails at an affordable $20 a month. But it also boasts an incredible interface and brilliant customer service, and only $2 per additional employee. It is possibly the most affordable full-service software out there, while also being the most user-friendly. Not for larger businesses, but definitely a fun tool for a small startup or online business owner to work with!
Sage Payroll: Very straightforward to use and integrates with other Sage accounting applications (such as Sage 50). Sage payroll is very commonly used by corporations. But you have to contact Sage directly if you want to get a quote from them. The price might be a little out of reach for most small businesses.
Trinet: This payroll service provider has received glowing reviews on various platforms. Like Justworks, they are more of a fully-fledged HR and compliance solution in comparison to just a payroll services provider. Contact them for a quote. The price breakdown with this provider is excellent and the support is world-class (which is typical of many HR providers).
How We Ranked Payroll Services?
We evaluated each of the payroll services for one month to test major features including:
- Provision Of Tax Services
- Ease Of Use/Intuitive Capability
- Quality Of Customer Service
- Availability Of Integrations
- Tax Guarantees
- Mobile Accessibility
- Payroll Reports
- Employee Self-Service/Onboarding
- Extra Services (Employee Retirement Plans, Workers’ Compensation, etc.)
- Ratings And Complaints From Various Sites (primarily Consumer Affairs, BBB, and TrustPilot)
Each of these metrics was further broken down into specific features, quality of customer support, intuitive ability, etc, and then inserted into our giant spreadsheet matrix for analysis. The tests were done on the 16 payroll services in this guide to give a comprehensive overview of which platforms worked the best. Of the 16, 5 superstars really stood out.
After it became clear which ones were above the cut, we focused most of our attention on them – why waste time on substandard services, instead of focusing on the ones that truly deliver?
The aim is to make it easier for you to quickly decide on a payroll platform without wasting time, resources, or attention. Payroll software should do what you need, quickly, without breaking the bank.
Just keep in mind that depending on the size and nature of your business, different providers may be more or less appropriate. So while Gusto is our number #1, it may be more or less suitable in the context of your unique business size and model. You can break it down on a per-worker basis and compare features to select the one you need. This guide will help you to do just that.
The software providers are to be updated regularly. Let us know if there are certain payroll services you want us to review and we will take it into consideration.
Online Payroll Pricing (Comparison)
|Contractor Package||Base Package||Full-Service Package||Premium Package||Elite Package|
|Gusto||$6 per contractor||$19 a month + $6 per employee||$39 a month + $6 per employee.||$39 a month + $12 per employee.||$149 + $12 per employee|
|OnPay||N/A||N/A||$36 per month + $4||N/A||N/A|
|Patriot Software||N/A||$10 a month + $4 per employee||$30 per month + $4 per employee||N/A||N/A|
|Intuit Quickbooks Payroll||N/A||N/A||$45 + $4 per employee||$75 + $8 per employee||$125 + $10 per employee|
|Square Payroll||$5 per contractor||N/A||$29 per month + $5 per contractor/employee||N/A||N/A|
What to Look for in Payroll Services?
Believe it or not, over 33% of small businesses in the USA are fined by the IRS due to basic payroll mistakes. Taxes and accounting is an important yet complex area, which is why you need to find the right provider. With freelancers, stay at home employees, independent contractors, and remote workers, it can get even more tricky.
The keyword when it comes to payroll services is ‘streamlined’. You essentially want to be able to let your employees self-onboard and pay all the disparate kinds of workers (freelancer, contractor, fixed employee) in a uniform fashion. On top of this, you will be looking for an automatic tax filing process. If all of these services are included, then that payroll service earns the accreditation as ‘Full-Service Payroll’.
An additional service that you may or may not get in the full-service páyroll package will be time and attendance monitoring. Human Resource Management will certainly only be available to premium tiers, reserved for larger companies that require this functionality.
Other than that, there are certain options to look out for. If you only work with contractors, then the best options are either Square Payroll or the newly added Gusto contractor option at $6 per contractor. It’s perfect if you only work with a few contractors to get essential tasks done.
Finally, usability is something you need to keep in mind, though most of the payroll software providers all provide good levels of usability. It’s just that the best providers are 100% streamlined so getting setup can be a breeze. This is where Gusto and OnPay shine through, and where Square falls just a touch short.
Payroll Services Full Features
The following is a full list of features you might want to investigate when it comes to purchasing payroll software. This is what a full-service payroll plan should contain:
- Capacity to calculate employee pay.
- Automatically calculating deductions for withholdings (state/federal taxes, insurance/retirement contributions, etc).
- Direct deposit check processing.
- Printing checks for employees not enrolled in direct deposit.
- Generation of tax forms.
- Ability to Integrate with external payroll vendors.
- Ability to issue off-cycle checks or on-demand payments.
- Maintenance of payroll history for each employee.
- Administering benefit plans.
- Managing retirement plans.
- Payroll tracking and auditing.
- Modifying and revising employee salaries.
- Running payroll balance and calculation reports.
- Employee self-service.
You can expect to pay more for HR services or for custom plans. Some so-called full-service plans do not offer benefits (retirement accounts and health insurance), which is something to look out for.
The price of high-quality payroll providers has never been cheaper, and it is truly a no-brainer.
Check out the reviews on social review sites to see how good payroll software can make life a whole lot easier for US business owners, large or small.
Do I Really Need Payroll Software?
Yes! Unless you want to try working it out using a manual spreadsheet process and downloading filing, filling out and sorting all the forms! For about $30 a month for the base package, it is really worth the money. It will free up your time significantly and help you to effortlessly avoid IRS fines and legal red tape down the line.
There are so many deadlines to tackle and forms to be filed by certain dates, every year. If you miss one, for whatever reason, expect a fine. There is simply too much detail to handle all by yourself. Benefits like health insurance can be cut off if you do not make payments on time.
Why Can’t I Use Free Payroll Services?
Because they are not full-service payroll. You can have limited functionality, but you really need to pay for good payroll software to run a business. It’s not an area you want to cut costs in too much – errors can severely hinder the growth of the business. If you fail to file correctly you are going to be fined.
How Long Does the Payroll Process Take?
The idea is that it is nearly all automated, saving you hours of time filling in manual entries of hours worked. However, it can take some time to get set up. This is where better payroll providers can shine through, with a more straightforward setup process. You still have to gather all employee info and ensure it is accurately entered into the system, but you can get the employees to self-onboard in most cases.
What Is the Basic Payroll Setup Process?
The basic steps involved in payroll are:
- Get an EIN (“Employer Identification Number”) as well as insurance and any state/local tax IDs.
- Have your employees complete a Form W4.
- Choose the method and frequency to pay your employees.
- Calculate and withhold income taxes.
- Pay the appropriate taxes.
- File tax forms and employee W2s.
What Are the Different Types of Payroll Services?
Typically, there are two kinds of payroll services. Self-service software is designed to integrate with existing applications so you can be assisted in doing it yourself. Full service is what most payroll services offer, meaning that the entire payroll process is streamlined and automated. But there are numerous plans and you can get a custom solution with many providers.
How Much Should I Pay for a Payroll Service Provider?
Generally speaking, a price of roughly $30 a month with $5 per additional employee should get you a high-quality full-service payroll accounting service with automatic tax filing and self-onboarding. The number of employees you have will be a major factor. Larger businesses have a greater need for HR resources and more advanced tax features.