Jessica Dennis Avatar

Written by
Jessica Dennis, Lead Writer
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Kaiti Norton Avatar

Reviewed by
Kaiti Norton, Managing Editor
Read more HR content →

Jessica Dennis Avatar

Written by
Jessica Dennis, Lead Writer
Read more by Jessica →

Kaiti Norton Avatar

Reviewed by
Kaiti Norton, Managing Editor
Read more HR content →

What is payroll software?

Payroll software is a solution businesses use to manage, organize, and automate the employee payment and tax filing process. It eliminates time-consuming, payroll-related tasks for HR, reduces pay errors, and guarantees that employees receive payment on time.

Extensive payroll platforms allow the organization to monitor time and attendance, tax information, and pay structure. They can keep track of worked hours, calculate wages and deduct tax withholding, and pay government employment taxes. Reliable payroll software solutions automatically update when tax laws change and alert employers when it’s time to file tax forms.

Aside from payroll processing and management, most payroll software solutions deliver direct deposit, expense management, employee self-service, compensation management, and reporting features. Payroll solutions may be a standalone system or integrated as part of a larger HCM platform.

We reviewed the market-leading payroll software solutions and narrowed our list of recommendations to the best of the best:

  • Gusto is best for small-to-medium size businesses.
  • ADP is best for flexibility and scalability.
  • Patriot is best for startups.
  • QuickBooks is the best for on-the-go teams.
  • OnPay is the best for niche industries.

Nov. 30, 2023: Kaiti Norton updated information about OnPay’s free trial to reflect the limited-time three-month offer.

Oct. 16, 2023: Kaiti Norton added alternative descriptions to the screenshots included in each of our editorial recommendations.

Jun. 23, 2023: We added our expert recommendations and added dynamic design elements to improve the visual flow of information.

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We picked our recommendations with you in mind.

First, we evaluated the leading 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 the platforms that best addressed the most common challenges, concerns, and priorities among payroll administrators. These factors include employee headcount, scalability, available integrations, support for various payroll schedules, types of payment methods, and employee self-service functionality.

As the market changes, we reevaluate our choices so you always receive the best insight for your purchasing decision.

Our picks for the best payroll software

Gusto: Best payroll software for SMBs


  • Unlimited automated payroll runs.
  • International contractor payroll in 80 countries.
  • Integration with third-party accounting software such as QuickBooks 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).


  • 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.

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.

Learn more about Gusto →


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.

Gusto's paycard lays on top of a phone displaying the Gusto Wallet app.
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

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. 

ADP: Best payroll software for flexibility


  • International payroll support in over 140 countries.
  • Deductions for retirement, insurance, and wage garnishments.
  • 24/7 customer support team.
  • Employee self-service tools.
  • 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.

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 Vantage HCM). 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.

Learn more about ADP Workforce Now →

Learn more about ADP Run →

Learn more about ADP Vantage HCM →

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. 

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. 

ADP displays a payroll dashboard with charts and graphs for payroll metrics broken down by country.
ADP’s Global Payroll Dashboard allows users to compare valuable payroll metrics, such as total gross wages, by country. Source: ADP

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 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: Best payroll software for startups


  • Unlimited payrolls.
  • Free two-day direct deposit.
  • 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.

Patriot is a simple but reliable solution for businesses with basic payroll needs. The software supports most of the payroll functionalities startup businesses need, such as:

  • Contractor payments.
  • Stipends.
  • Time-off accruals.
  • Mobile device compatibility.
  • All payroll schedules.
  • Two-day direct deposit.
  • Employee self-service.

Learn more about 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.


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. 

Patriot displays a page for integrating QuickBooks for accounting support.
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

For startups and businesses looking for payroll solutions without all the extra bells and whistles, Patriot payroll is one of the most affordable solutions on the market. Customers can choose from two subscription tiers, with its Basic tier starting at $17 per month plus $4 per employee.

Plus, there are no long-term contracts, so customers don’t have to worry about hidden fees if they decide it’s time to graduate to a platform with advanced functions such as garnishment processing or customizable payroll reports.

QuickBooks: Best payroll software for small, on-the-go teams


  • Automated payroll runs and tax filings.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • No integrations with third-party party accounting software.
  • Service capped at 150 employees.

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 includes the following capabilities:

  • Direct deposit.
  • Time tracking.
  • Contractor payments.
  • Benefits administration.
  • Compliance controls.

Learn more about QuickBooks →

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. 


Starting at the 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. 

QuickBooks' mobile app displays a time clock tool that gives daily and weekly hour totals.
With QuickBooks Time Mobile, employees can easily clock in and out from a job site on their phones without having to resort to pen-and-paper tracking. Source: QuickBooks

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.

OnPay: Best payroll software for niche industries

Note: At the time of this update, OnPay has extended its free trial offer to three months for a limited time. When the promotion expires, the free trial will revert back to the original one-month offer.


  • Three-month free trial.
  • Free setup and migration.
  • 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 third-party integrations.

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. 

Learn more about OnPay →

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.

OnPay displays a customization page for payroll reports.
OnPay users can drag-and-drop columns in their report designer to quickly access information that is important to them, such as contractor pay. Source: OnPay

Because of its transparent, one-price model, OnPay is especially beneficial to employers in niche industries. 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. 

Find your new payroll software

Payroll software FAQs

Payroll processing involves calculating paychecks, adding employees onto the company’s payroll, ensuring compliance with state and federal tax laws, and maintaining payroll records. Payroll software simplifies these tasks and empowers HR professionals to handle activities from one place. It also typically integrates with other business systems.

First, payroll software requires businesses to input employee information and attendance or hours worked. The system then takes this data to compute, deduct withholdings, support direct deposits, and enable the entire payroll process. Modern payroll software can also be linked to bank accounts for automatic salary disbursement. Payroll solutions also generate pay slips to show pay information and create relevant payroll reports.

Saves time

One of the most significant benefits of a payroll system is saving time. Compared to manual payroll processing, the automated features of payroll software cut down time spent on core payroll tasks. HR departments can instead dedicate their time to concentrating on other critical business areas.

Minimizes errors

In addition to consuming a lot of time, manually running payroll leaves the business at risk for various human errors. Payroll errors can lead to employee dissatisfaction or tax issues, resulting in costly fines, penalties, and litigation. Payroll software minimizes errors and ensures accurate and on-time payments to all employees for every pay period.

Payroll solutions can handle complex and simple calculations, keeping the process hassle-free. Moreover, numerous payroll software vendors offer penalty protection for any tax penalties related to system errors.

Organizes employee information

Payroll software organizes records related to payroll that employers must maintain for each employee. This includes total compensation, pay rates, tax deductions, hours worked, and benefits and deductions. Payroll platforms enable users to access all of the documents they need in a centralized, secure place.

Keeping payroll records organized is also a requirement for regulations and compliance, such as the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Improves compliance

Payroll platforms give employers confidence that they’re adhering to tax filing rules and requirements at all times. The software amkes it easy to monitor all business data and guarantee the organization pays taxes efficiently.

Many payroll systems automatically update to meet the latest tax laws. For global businesses that operate across multiple countries, advanced payroll solutions offer features for handling international payroll, including compliance with local rules and regulations.

Increases security

Payroll systems protect sensitive employee information such as salary, taxes, social security, and bank account details. Businesses can boost security and block unauthorized access to this data with strict access controls provided by payroll software solutions.

Promotes transparency

Since most payroll software offers seamless integration with finance and accounting data, it provides transparency that allows organizations to stay on budget, create timely reports, and plan for the future of the business. Additionally, payroll’s self-service features not only promote transparency but also builds trust with employees. Employee self-service features let staff view their benefits and time and attendance information.

Payroll software drives efficiency, reduces paperwork and expenses, and saves HR from doing repetitive administrative work. More importantly, it ensures accurate and timely wage payments, which is critical for employee satisfaction. Correct compensation is fundamental to the employee-employer relationship.

Manual payroll processing is complex, time-consuming, and vulnerable to inaccuracies. Any of these issues can cause payment delays and paycheck errors, affect employee morale and performance, and ultimately impact the business negatively. Payroll solutions help employers avoid all these problems. On top of that, they automatically calculate the appropriate benefits and tax payments for each employee.

Payroll software offers secure digital record-keeping, eliminating the need for keeping hard copies and physical safe storage. Companies of all sizes must also ensure they retain their payroll records for the specific length of time mandated by federal, state, and local laws.

Payroll software can be a great asset to any business, big or small. It streamlines payroll processes, decreases payroll and accounting staff labor, and minimizes compliance problems.

Read more: How to Choose the Right Small Business Payroll Software

    • Which payroll software is right for your business?
    • Find out now
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