July 27, 2023

Best Free Payroll Software

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Here are our top picks for the best free payroll software:

Mar. 25, 2024: Jessica Dennis added a callout box explaining when you may want to choose a paid payroll software.

Jul. 27, 2023: We restructured the page to put our expert recommendations front and center. We also added dynamic design elements to improve the visual flow of information and clarified the reasons behind our choices.

We picked our recommendations with you in mind.

First, we evaluated several of the most popular free payroll solutions available on the market today. We used vendor demos, technical documentation, and user reviews from customers like you to compile our research.

We then narrowed our selections to some of the most versatile and easy-to-use solutions. As the market changes, we reevaluate our choices so you always receive the best insight for your purchasing decision.

Check out our video overview of the best free payroll software options below:

What is the best free payroll software?

Doing payroll manually can quickly become tedious, and the errors rack up fast. After a couple of pay periods, many people begin to wonder: Is there a way to do payroll for small businesses without breaking the bank? For your company, the answer may lie in free payroll software.

When to choose paid payroll software

As your headcount grows or your payroll needs become more complex, free payroll software will eventually become too cumbersome to use. But paid payroll software can streamline the process through features like tax services, automations, compliance alerts, and benefits administration tools.

Gusto is a great first-time paid payroll platform with an intuitive interface, automated payroll runs, and approval workflows to improve processing speed. If you’re curious about other top payroll platforms and services, check out our best payroll software and professional employer organizations (PEOs) pages for more options.

Payroll4Free.com: Best for Windows users


Pros

  • 2048-bit SSL encryption.
  • 1099 contractor payments possible.
  • Automatic tax calculations.

Cons

  • Macs must run Windows to use the software.
  • Monthly fee if you want the company to handle your taxes.
  • User interface is outdated.
  • No native time-tracking app.
  • Ads are displayed within the program to keep the software free.

Payroll4Free.com is a downloadable software that allows you to pay up to 25 employees for free. This comes with a catch, however: You must be able to download the Windows app in order to use it. Despite the name, there is no cloud or web-based option, and if you are a Mac user then you must be running Windows on your Mac in order to use Payroll4Free.com.

The upside is that Payroll4Free.com comes with one of the most well-rounded feature sets of any free payroll software for small businesses. Functionality includes tax support, free direct deposit, employee self-service portal, and vacation time tracking. 

If you already own a PC (or a Mac that runs Windows) and you need free payroll software, Payroll4Free.com should be one of your top choices.

Employee portal

Payroll4Free.com provides employee portals for workers to access copies of their W-2s and pay stubs, plus view any accrued paid time off (PTO). Employees can even make updates to their personal information, like addresses. For a small business, this functionality can give you back much-needed time to focus on higher-priority projects instead of employee administrative tasks.

PTO tracking

Payroll4Free.com can track employee vacation, sick, or PTO. If your employees accrue PTO based on the number of hours they worked, you will have to input their hours manually or import them from your time clock software for the calculations to run. However, this feature prevents you from purchasing a separate solution for PTO management.

Payroll4Free.com is designed for Windows or Mac users with Windows software. Despite this, it checks all the boxes with payroll, tax calculations, self-service support, and contractor payroll. These simple features may be all you need to get your small business up and running.

TimeTrex: Best for integrated time tracking


Pros

  • No cap on the number of employees you can pay.
  • Integrated time tracking and attendance.
  • Automatic scheduling function.

Cons

  • No tax filing (only generates tax forms).
  • No direct deposit.
  • Pricing is not transparent and the free trial is difficult to find.

Unlike Payroll4Free.com, TimeTrex does not cap the number of employees that you can pay for free. Not only that, TimeTrex’s “community edition” is completely free in perpetuity. However, TimeTrex makes it tough to find the free forever version of the software, instead pushing website visitors to sign up for a free trial of the paid version of the software.

The community edition is available in both a cloud-hosted, web-based portal, and a downloadable version (you should be aware that the downloadable version requires PHP, a web server, and a database of your own in order to get it up and running). Both can be found on this page on the TimeTrex website.

As the name suggests, TimeTrex also includes a native time-tracking app in addition to payroll, a helpful integration that makes it even easier to run payroll. Other features include scheduling, HR management, and more tools in addition to payroll. TimeTrex also offers the option to integrate with other (paid) software like ADP and Quickbooks, should you decide to switch to them.

Time tracking

If you are a small retail shop or restaurant, TimeTrex’s community edition supports payroll and time tracking to manage your hourly workforce. Moreover, its time tracking features are pretty robust for a free solution, including shift scheduling functions for managers and web browser clocking in and out for employees.

Both payroll and time tracking are essential to running any small business. TimeTrex’s free versions are great basic options until you need more advanced features, like varying pay schedules.

Workforce management

Besides payroll, TimeTrex supports performance reviews, tracks workplace injuries, and stores employee records like disciplinary records or exit interviews. As a result, you can maintain an auditable electronic database of necessary documentation without resorting to pen and paper.

In addition to payroll, TimeTrex’s free community edition provides various HR features for your small business. In particular, its native time tracking can speed up your payroll process as you do not need to import your data from another platform or manually input hours.

For more accuracy, TimeTrex offers more advanced time tracking, such as geofencing, on its paid versions. This can be especially useful if you employ field workers who don’t clock in or out from a central location.

HR.my: Best for non-U.S. businesses


Pros

  • Supports dozens of languages.
  • Cloud-based software that is available anywhere.
  • Crowd-funded model.

Cons

  • Ads can be annoying.
  • No payroll tax calculations or filing.
  • No direct deposit.

Similar to TimeTrex, HR.my offers free payroll functionality without any headcount limitations. HR.my is a crowd-founded and ad-supported software that includes payroll as part of its diverse feature set. The ads can get annoying sometimes, but the tradeoff is worth the inconvenience for many users looking for a free payroll solution.

One of the app’s big distinguishing factors is the fact that it supports 67 different languages, which is great for international companies with employees in multiple countries. While the idea of free multilingual HR software sounds great (and it is), potential users should know that HR.my isn’t based in the US, so it isn’t inherently compliant with US labor laws. This can make calculating taxes and other required deductions more tedious, which is why we recommend the software for non-US businesses.

HR.my features include payslip generation, salary record keeping, time tracking and attendance, expense claim management, and too many others to list here. But even with all its features, this free software still can’t compete with full-fledged HRIS systems and other paid HR software stacks, so adjust your expectations accordingly.

International payroll

HR.my is flexible enough to satisfy different global payroll cadences if you are a startup with remote international workers. Although you have to manually add in employee tax deductions and file them yourself with the correct agencies, the free solution may be worth the extra administrative effort. It also may be a non-issue if you only need payroll for your contractor workforce.

Discussion forum

Like TimeTrex, HR.my includes basic document workflows to handle processes like injuries or employee misconduct investigations. HR.my also offers a discussion forum where employees can raise questions, brainstorm or collaborate on projects, and give feedback to peers. This is crucial for your global employees, who may have to work asynchronously with various coworkers across different time zones.

While TimeTrex includes tax reports for Canadian users and a limited number of other countries, HR.my’s support in multiple languages plus flexible payroll may be the better option for your distributed team. Moreover, HR.my’s other communication tools support cross-company consistency by eliminating information silos.

ExcelPayroll: Best for Office 365 users


Pros

  • Tax form printing.
  • Bookkeeping entry generation.
  • Check printing.
  • Multiple options for tax computations.

Cons

  • Manual spreadsheet entry required.
  • No tax filing or direct deposit.
  • No extra features beyond payroll.
  • No cloud option or employee portal.

With ExcelPayroll, you can do payroll for up to 50 active employees each month; nonprofits can request an exemption for more. While ExcelPayroll is a free downloadable add-on for Excel, it does require that you have an active license for Office 365, so it’s not technically 100% free.

This is why we recommend ExcelPayroll for business owners who are already paying for Office 365, so you don’t have the added expense of the license. If you’re already using an Excel spreadsheet to do payroll, then ExcelPayroll will automate the calculations and make everything a little bit easier for you. But if you’re not used to doing payroll in a spreadsheet, or don’t already have an Office 365 license, then one of the other free options on this list may make a bigger impact on your business operations.

Given that it is an add-on for Excel spreadsheets, ExcelPayroll is pretty stripped back in terms of functionality. Its features are focused narrowly on preparing payroll, so you won’t find a lot of extra bells and whistles. Features of note include vacation time accrual, workers’ compensation reports, wage garnishments, and other deductions.

Pre-built Excel formulas

ExcelPayroll comes pre-built with payroll formulas to calculate tax and benefits deductions, overtime, commissions, and PTO accruals. Simple drop-down menus allow you to choose which formulas to use, while highlighted cells and guided instructions make it easy to process, even for payroll first-timers.

Multiple payroll runs

ExcelPayroll supports unlimited payroll runs, so you can fix any payroll errors as soon as they occur. You should still have a consistent payroll schedule per labor law regulations; however, having the option to correct miscalculations and pay employees their due is especially important with small teams.

If you use Office 365 for most of your small business functions, ExcelPayroll can help extend the functionality of your Excel without paying extra. And, because you are already familiar with Microsoft products, ExcelPayroll may be easier to learn since it uses its interface.

That said, ExcelPayroll does not offer other workforce or time-tracking features like other solutions in this roundup. So, it may be a better option if you are a small local team or are already satisfied with your other workforce management tools.

eSmartPaycheck: Best for free payroll tax calculations


Pros

  • Free paycheck preparations.
  • State-specific calculators.
  • Basic tax form printing and filing.

Cons

  • Very limited feature set.
  • No direct deposit.
  • No saving payroll information so you have to do it from scratch each time.

eSmartPaycheck supports an unlimited number of employees, but only the web-based payroll calculator is free. For this reason, eSmartPaycheck is a good choice for employers who are confident doing payroll manually but want an automatic calculator to check their math. 

Paid features offered by eSmartPaycheck include printing paychecks and pay stubs, adjustable pay cycles, and a federal withholding calculator. If you want these features and more, then you can sign up for a 3-month free trial. After that, annual subscriptions start at $75 per year.

Payroll calculator

eSmartPaycheck breaks out payroll tax calculations by state to ensure you deduct correctly from your employees’ paychecks. If you have employees in multiple states, this can be a useful tool to avoid researching and calculating each state’s different taxes yourself.

Low-cost e-filing services

eSmartPaycheck includes automatic federal tax e-filing in their payroll subscription fee. It also provides state tax equivalent e-filing for an additional $20 annual subscription. Paying to have eSmartPaycheck file your payroll taxes on your behalf may outweigh the time and effort it takes to do it yourself.

One thing to note: eSmartPaycheck does not support local tax filing, if applicable to you. Some states also do not allow for e-filing. In these cases, you will have to prepare and file these yourself.

If you are familiar with payroll and only need a way to check federal and state tax calculations, eSmartPaycheck is a great free resource. Besides Payroll4Free.com, it is also the only other platform in our roundup that offers payroll tax e-filing services. If a low-cost payroll tax filing service is important to you, then eSmartPaycheck may be your best bet.

How can I do payroll myself for free?

When it comes to doing payroll for free, you have two main options: calculate payroll manually with spreadsheets or use free payroll software. Manually calculating payroll is very time-consuming and prone to error, so most people find it helpful to have some kind of software support whether free or paid. Some solutions — namely, ExcelPayroll — offer a blend of manual and automatic payroll processing.

Generally speaking, free payroll software has more limitations and fewer features than the paid versions. There’s often a cap on the number of employees, and the functionality of the tool is restricted. Most free payroll solutions are also either online-only or desktop-only (not both) and often lack integrations with other software as well.

In other words, if you don’t have the money to invest in paid software, be prepared to spend more time on manual payroll processes, even if you use free payroll software to speed things along.

Also read: How to Do Payroll Yourself: A Small Business Guide

How to choose free payroll software

Forever-free payroll software options like the ones in this guide may meet your business’s short-term needs. However, the limitations that come with free tools often outweigh the cost savings, and businesses tend to outgrow them quickly.

Fortunately, there are also plenty of low-cost payroll software platforms that provide robust functionality without breaking the bank. Head over to our Payroll Software Guide to discover affordable, highly-rated solutions for small businesses.


Kara Sherrer Avatar

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Featured Partners

1 Deel

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