If you run a business with more than one employee, you are going to have to run payroll. Failing to run accurate or timely payrolls not only results in angry employees but could also cost employers thousands annually to fix. The best payroll software will ensure timely payrolls, accurate tax filings and deductions, and compliance with changing federal, state, and local laws.
Determining the best payroll software can be challenging considering the vast amount of options on the market. Businesses must balance cost with the payroll features most valuable to them — whether its streamlined processes to increase efficiency, simple user interface (UI), robust reporting tools, or global payroll options.
Keep your business’s needs in mind while comparing our top payroll software solutions below. If none of these options seem like the right fit, explore other vendors in our Payroll Software Guide.
In this article...
What is the best payroll software?
Our five top payroll software picks cover a range of features, from add-ons like employee time-tracking modules to accommodations for companies in niche industries.
Gusto is best for small-to-medium size businesses looking to improve their business operations while offering unique benefits to their employees.
ADP is best for businesses needing flexible options, including HR software features and international payroll.
Patriot is the most affordable payroll software for businesses just starting out.
QuickBooks is the best for on-the-go teams, including advanced time-tracking features.
OnPay is the best for companies in niche industries needing specific payroll features to remain compliant in their industry.
Gusto: Top payroll software for SMBs
Gusto’s payroll features can help small-to-medium businesses (SMBs) balance efficiency with employee engagement. To accommodate this, Gusto offers three price tiers to choose from: Simple, Plus, and Premium. Gusto’s Simple plan starts at $40 a month plus $6 per employee.
Despite this, Gusto includes payroll features targeted explicitly at optimizing payroll processes for HR teams in each of its price tiers. For example, Gusto provides the following automations to improve payroll efficiency:
- Federal, state, and local taxing filings
- Garnishment processing
- Automatic payroll runs
- Synced paid time off policies with payroll
Businesses with either one person or small HR departments will find such features particularly useful as they allow such teams to offload repetitive, manual payroll processes in favor of higher-priority matters.
Likewise, employers concerned with attracting and retaining talent can leverage some of Gusto’s employee-focused payroll features — for example, lifetime access to employee profiles, including paystubs and W-2s. This allows employers to maintain compliance with recordkeeping laws in the event of external payroll audits. Similarly, its self-service capabilities mean employees don’t have to rely on past employers for critical financial information, while employers can focus their efforts on active employees.
Gusto accommodates growing SMBs by providing additional tools outside payroll for onboarding, employee benefits administration, and talent management. As a result, companies that choose Gusto can quickly scale their payroll software to create a consistent experience for their employees across the organization.
Also read: How to Choose the Right Small Business Payroll Software
Gusto pros and cons
- Unlimited automated payroll runs
- International contractor payroll in 80 countries
- Integration with third-party accounting software such as QuickBooks Online and Xero
- Native time tracking and geolocation (with Plus subscription)
- I-9, W-4, W-2, and 1099 compliance
- Automated payroll tax filings
- Next-day direct deposits (with a Plus subscription)
- Access to Gusto Wallet
- Limited payroll reporting
- No dedicated account manager (unless with a Premium subscription)
- Limited customer support hours
- Lowest price plan is only for single-state payroll
AutoPilot: With Gusto’s AutoPilot feature, HR teams can automate payroll with minimal manual effort. This set-it-and-forget-it module frees up time for HR teams that are pulled in multiple directions daily. Along with Gusto’s unlimited monthly payroll runs, AutoPilot guarantees employees are paid timely according to default settings without incurring additional fees to run off-cycle payrolls to fix mistakes.
Gusto debit cards: Unlike traditional pay cards, Gusto debit card users can access financial wellness tools, such as personalized budgeting categories and spending insights. In addition, small or medium businesses wishing to increase payroll efficiency and cost savings can utilize Gusto’s debit cards to move toward a 100% direct deposit payroll. Employees also benefit from quick access to their paychecks, sometimes up to two days faster.
Small-to-medium size businesses can benefit from the cost savings of Gusto’s employee debit cards as they transition to 100% electronic payrolls. Source: Gusto
ADP: Top payroll software for flexibility
ADP started over 70 years ago and primarily focused on payroll business solutions. Despite its breadth of human capital management (HCM) solutions, ADP payroll remains one of the best on the market today.
Because of its long history, ADP has developed payroll product solutions to meet the demands of various-sized companies, from small local businesses (ADP Run) to multinational corporations (ADP Enterprise HR). With multiple subscription tiers for each ADP product, employers only have to pay for the features they need. For example, small employers requiring only core payroll processing can start with ADP Run’s Essential Plan and increase subscription tiers for more advanced payroll and HR features as they scale.
In addition to payroll tools, ADP also offers managed payroll services or co-employment through a professional employer organization (PEO) relationship. ADP’s flexible options mean businesses don’t have to migrate to another platform as needs change; instead, ADP adapts with the company through add-ons, subscription tiers, and payroll services.
ADP pros and cons
- International payroll support in over 140 countries
- Deductions for retirement, insurance, and wage garnishments
- 24/7 customer support team
- Employee self-service tools
- Free trial for small businesses
- Automated payroll tax filings
- Mobile app
- Error detection alerts
- Custom payroll report builder
- Native accounting solutions
- Scheduling software and physical time clocks
- HR outsourcing and PEO services
- No upfront pricing
- Additional fees for off-cycle payrolls and year-end tax filings
- User reports of poor customer service quality
International payroll: Like ADP’s domestic software offerings, employers with an international presence have several software options and subscription tiers to choose from. Software packages depend on the organization’s employee count – organizations need employees in at least three countries with 50 employees in one international country to qualify for ADP’s starter global software. However, small organizations can take advantage of ADP’s HR outsourcing solutions, where local specialists assist in payroll processing.
With ADP’s software and services supported in over 140 countries worldwide, companies do not have to worry about switching payroll providers as they scale. Moreover, employees across the organization are guaranteed a consistent experience, reducing the time needed to train teams on varying systems around the globe.
HRIS features: ADP is not limited to just payroll; it also includes modules for time-tracking, talent management, and benefits administration. Instead of integrating several disparate systems as business needs expand, employers can move up subscription tiers or pay for these add-ons without spending additional time in training and implementation. When small businesses move away from a payroll-focused HR department, ADP’s different HR modules allow employee data to remain centralized even as business priorities expand.
ADP is not only one of our top payroll software solutions, but one of our top HRIS software solutions as well. Take a look at other vendors on our shortlist: The Best HRIS Systems
Patriot: Most affordable payroll software
For businesses looking for payroll solutions without all the extra bells and whistles, Patriot payroll is one of the most affordable solutions on the market. Users can choose from two subscription tiers, with its Basic tier starting at $17 per month plus $4 per employee. Therefore, it is a cost-effective solution for startups or small businesses that don’t need advanced payroll functions such as garnishment processing or customizable payroll reports.
However, there is a tradeoff. Although Patriot payroll users save on cost, they lose out on valuable features offered by their competitors like ADP or Gusto, such as tax compliance safeguards, automations to improve efficiency, and the ability to add capabilities when future needs arise. For example, with Patriot’s Basic tier, employers must file and deposit federal, state, and local payroll taxes themselves when this service traditionally comes standard in most other payroll software vendors in their lowest subscription tier. Employers must subscribe to the Full Service payroll package if they want Patriot to file and deposit their taxes.
Yet, for small business owners with few employees to manage, spending a little more time on payroll each cycle might be worth the cost savings. For example, take a small company of 10 employees that only needs payroll and time-tracking features. With Patriot payroll, the business can add native time-tracking features for an additional $6 per month plus $2 per employee. The company’s cost every month would be $83 for Patriot’s Basic payroll subscription with the time-tracking add-on.
In contrast, that same company would have to pay $150 monthly for Gusto’s Plus subscription tier to take advantage of both their payroll and time-tracking features. A startup can save $804 a year by choosing Patriot, which they could invest back into the money-making areas of their business.
Patriot pros and cons
- Unlimited payrolls
- Integration with QuickBooks for accounting and time tracking
- Accounting, payroll, and time and attendance reports
- Native accounting tools
- Workers’ comp integration with Next Insurance
- 401(k) integration with Vestwell
- Free payroll setup
- No mobile app
- Tax filings on company’s behalf only in full-service subscription tier
- No compliance monitoring
- Customer service hours limited to Monday-Friday, 9am-7pm in the U.S.
Accounting: Patriot users can choose between native accounting solutions or integration with QuickBooks. Thus, small businesses already using QuickBooks as their accounting software can seamlessly sync their payroll data into their General Ledger without data loss.
Even smaller companies can save money with Patriot’s native accounting software solution for an additional $20 per month. The same small business from the earlier example, for instance, would only be paying an additional $36 per year for payroll, accounting, and time-tracking solutions compared to Gusto’s lowest-priced tier, which does not include native accounting features.
Employers can choose to integrate their QuickBooks accounting software with their payroll subscription or can take advantage of Patriot’s native accounting options. Source: Patriot
Unlimited payrolls: Small businesses new to payroll processing know accidents happen — payroll is finalized, but someone forgot to turn in their time card, a manager missed a contractor payment, or the payroll department did not account for a shift differential pay rate. Many payroll vendors require employers to pay an additional fee for an off-cycle payroll to correct mistakes.
Moreover, certain states obligate employers to pay employees their last check immediately upon termination for cause (such as California) or risk incurring penalties. Patriot’s unlimited payrolls allow employers to save instead of spend more money correcting payroll errors while also remaining compliant.
QuickBooks: Best for on-the-go teams
Employers utilizing QuickBooks for their accounting needs may already be familiar with its payroll features. Optimized for small businesses with 50–150 employees, QuickBooks Online Payroll software offers a standalone payroll solution with several tiers of subscription-based plans, including options to bundle with their accounting program.
QuickBooks Payroll is tailored to teams not tied to a desk. For example, its time-tracking solution does not require a physical time-clock system installed at one location. Instead, employees use their phones to clock in and out for the day, which is especially useful in industries like construction, where employees must track their time but do not have a base of operations.
QuickBooks Payroll’s on-the-go features can also help employers move to an increasingly hybrid working environment. By forgoing traditional time-clock solutions, QuickBooks maintains accurate payroll processes while supporting a dispersed workforce.
QuickBooks pros and cons
- Automated payroll runs
- Online chat support available 24/7
- Tax penalty protection at Elite subscription tier
- Next-day or same-day direct deposits (depending on subscription tier)
- Mobile app time and mileage tracking
- Automated tax fillings
- Workforce portal
- Live support is available on Saturdays in U.S. from 6am to 3pm PT
- Personal HR advisor at Elite subscription tier
- Local tax filings only available in Premium and Elite plans
- Additional fees for tax filings in multiple states, unless on Elite plan
- Does not allow integrations, outside of QuickBooks, with other 3rd party accounting software
- Service capped at 150 employees
Time-tracking: Starting at QuickBooks Payroll Premium subscription tier, QuickBooks Time Mobile is included at no additional cost. Employees can use their mobile phones to clock in from anywhere – QuickBooks automatically logs their GPS location and keeps track of their hours worked.
With QuickBooks Elite tier, employers can even set up a geofence that reminds employees to clock in and out whenever they enter or leave a job site, so that time data remains accurate when employers run payroll.
Mobile application: QuickBooks offers a separate mobile application for employers to review and finalize payroll from anywhere. For smaller businesses without a dedicated HR or payroll department, this means they can get payroll done, even on the road, without significant interruptions to their busy schedules.
OnPay: Best for niche industries
Unlike other payroll platforms, OnPay boasts a one-price-fits-all model. In other words, all businesses pay the same price for the same set of features for $40 per month plus $6 per employee. In the price, employers have access to a full range of payroll management features, including basic human resources such as onboarding, personnel file storage, and PTO management.
Because of its transparent, one-price model, OnPay is especially beneficial to employers in niche industries. This is because OnPay users do not need to pay extra for some of the HR and compliance benefits that are typically only available in higher-paying subscription tiers with other vendors.
QuickBooks, for instance, requires subscribing to higher-paying tiers for experts to review their payroll setup or offer tax advice; Patriot, meanwhile, offers no such service. With these features standard on OnPay, employers don’t have to worry about sacrificing cost savings to comply with the tax laws in their industry.
OnPay pros and cons
- One-month free trial
- QuickBooks and Xero accounting integrations
- Free setup and migration
- One-price-fits-all model: $40 per month plus $6 per person
- Customizable payroll reports with report designer
- New hire reporting to all 50 states & DC
- PTO management
- Specialized payroll services for particular industries
- Employee self-service
- No native accounting or time-tracking software
- No mobile app
- Limited three-party integrations
Industry-specific payrolls: OnPay offers industry-specific payroll support for farming and agricultural businesses, bars and restaurants, healthcare organizations, and nonprofits. For example, OnPay automatically excludes federal unemployment, Social Security, and Medicare taxes from their payroll calculations for churches and other religious organizations. Thus, companies can benefit from their industry’s unique tax advantages without resorting to outside vendors for support.
Report designer: OnPay users can customize their payroll reports using filtering and drag-and-drop capabilities to manipulate data to their liking. This is particularly important to companies who need to access industry-specific data points, such as gross tips for restaurants or bars, without being limited to the pre-built payroll reports of other vendors like Patriot.
How to choose the top payroll software
With a wide array of options available, the best payroll solution depends on what businesses prioritize most when running payrolls, such as accuracy, efficiency, customization, or flexibility.
Gusto is best for small-to-medium-sized businesses that need to balance payroll efficiency with a good employee experience. Similarly, ADP provides several payroll plans with add-ons for HR and other solutions for companies requiring the flexibility to add additional functionality as they scale.
Meanwhile, businesses needing the ability to work from anywhere and improve accuracy in their employees’ time tracking should consider the native time-tracking tools that integrate with payroll in Gusto or QuickBooks. QuickBooks, in particular, includes options like mileage tracking so employers can guarantee their on-the-go employees or contractors are correctly reimbursed for things like gas expenditure or drive time.
OnPay and Patriot are great for businesses looking for value for their money. For companies with particularly tight budgets, Patriot offers basic payroll functionality with the ability to add features like native accounting and time-tracking at a much lower cost than vendors like Gusto. However, small businesses might find OnPay appealing for its one-price-fits-all model as it includes additional HR features to support industry-specific payroll processes without the need to invest in large-scale HRIS solutions.
If none of these vendors meet your unique needs, visit our Payroll Software Guide to browse other solutions.
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