Best Payroll Software

How to pay your employees painlessly

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Payroll software automates every step in the payroll process for small to large businesses. It helps you manage payment for your employees by making it easy to set up direct deposits, withhold payroll taxes, and keep accurate records so you don’t get fined. 

All of these processes can be time-consuming when done manually, and it’s easy to make a mistake. In 2020, the IRS assessed more than $4.9 billion in penalties for issues such as failure to pay and bad checks.

To help you choose the right payroll software for your business, we considered 15 different payroll solutions. We looked at cost, ease of use, important integrations, convenience, reporting features, and support.

The 8 Best Payroll Software of 2021

Best Overall : Gusto



Gusto offers three thoughtful tiers for small to midsize companies that need payroll with a few helpings of human resources (HR) features, making it the best overall choice. Each plan includes full-service automated payroll that’s suitable for almost any business, depending on needs.

  • Affordable, but good value

  • Unlimited payroll runs

  • Paid time off (PTO) tracking available

  • Full-service payroll available in all states

  • Basic reports included at all tiers

  • Next day direct deposit available only in the Complete and Concierge plans

  • Dedicated support only for Concierge subscribers

Gusto is similar to other payroll software solutions in that it offers direct deposit or checks to pay your employees. It also tracks and files federal, state, and local taxes automatically. What sets Gusto apart from the other options is that it offers a better plan for each tier that you go up. Rather than removing direct deposit for the low-priced plan, Gusto increases the convenience of direct deposit the more expensive your plan. For example, direct deposit takes up to four days to clear for the lowest plan, but the high-tier plans get next-day direct deposit.

The Core plan from Gusto costs $39 per month, and $6 per employee per month, making it one of the most affordable choices for a full-service payroll plan. The Complete plan is also $39 per month, but the cost per employee is $12, and you’ll be able to offer next-day direct deposit. The Concierge plan is $149 per month and $12 per person and offers dedicated support and compliance alerts.

Best Reporting : Paychex Flex



Paychex Flex offers more than 160 reports for you to get a clear look at wages, taxes, turnover, and more. Paychex is our best reporting option because it checks almost all the boxes for what you’d want in payroll software when it comes to reports and data. It also automatically files your payroll taxes, ensures compliance, and includes integrations with important programs you also use, such as accounting and benefits apps.

  • 24/7 support

  • Easy to use

  • HR add-on options

  • Robust reporting feature

  • Hidden fees for setup & EOY tax docs

  • Mixed reviews from users regarding support

There’s a lot to like about Paychex. The payroll software makes it easy to set up and run payroll, it automates the submission of federal, state, and local payroll taxes, and it offers plenty of upgrade options, which you may need as your business grows. Still, the basic reporting you get from Paychex could be worth the monthly fee alone, giving it the edge in this category. Plus, you’ll be able to add any other data field you’d like, thanks to custom fields, which is rare for small business online payroll services.

While the Paychex Flex Essentials plan is $39 per month and $5 per employee, it's difficult to say how much Paychex will cost you for the more comprehensive plans—Paychex Flex Select and Paychex Flex Pro—unless you go through the process of getting a custom quote.

One of the most important aspects of a good online payroll solution is whether it integrates with software you already use. Paychex does integrate with QuickBooks and Xero accounting software, plus many health insurance and benefits apps, time tracking and attendance software, and HR software.

Easiest to Set Up : QuickBooks Payroll



If you’re already using QuickBooks for accounting, then QuickBooks Payroll is our easiest to set up option, as everything will be automated, and it’s going to be an intuitive program for any QuickBooks user. You’re unlikely to need to contact support for help because the tutorial and knowledgebase are so thorough. Even if that’s not working for you, a quick search online will send you to a multitude of walkthroughs.

  • Easy setup and intuitive interface

  • Seamless integration with QuickBooks accounting software

  • Fast direct deposit options

  • Not a good value for the cost

  • Time track on the go feature not available in lowest-tier plan

QuickBooks earns our nod for the easiest setup because its user interface is so intuitive for anyone familiar with QuickBooks. In addition to customer service, there are ample resources online to get anyone on board with their payroll services. QuickBooks does a good job making establishing and running payroll simple for anyone regardless of experience.

Although QuickBooks offers excellent features, if a bit limited in its HR options, you’ll pay for them. The lowest-priced plan starts at $45 per month, plus $4 per person per month. The Premium plan costs $75 per month, plus $8 per person per month, but it also expands its features to include HR support and a payroll setup review from an expert. The Elite plan from QuickBooks costs $125 per month, plus $10 per employee per month, and you’ll get 24/7 support, plus tax penalty protection.

Best Customer Service : Workful



Workful is one of the newer online payroll services available, and it’s already making a name for itself with its top-notch customer support, which is why it’s our best customer service option. The geolocation time-clock tracking is easy enough to set up and ensures employees clock in and out from wherever you’ve set as appropriate. Also, employees can submit expenses through the app, so they can get reimbursed with the next payroll run.

  • Affordable

  • Easy to use

  • Includes employee expense tracking

  • Offers geolocation time-clock tracking

  • Includes document storage

  • Limited reporting features

  • Setup seems clunky

Workful is an affordable and easy-to-use application but is not without its restrictions. For example, it doesn’t do automatic tax filing for you. But, it gets our nod for best customer service because it provides fast guidance with easy-to-understand directions for a small business owner.

Workful is one of the easiest-to-use online payroll services available. The left-side main menu is intuitive, and the dashboard is clean. Setup is easy enough, with a tutorial that walks you through establishing your services. Once you have the time-clock set up, it’s kind of hands-off work for you. Employees simply use the app to clock in and out.

When it comes to integrations, Workful doesn’t seem to play well with others. You can integrate QuickBooks Online, but that’s it. Workful is trying to be a single software solution, which is why it offers built-in time tracking, document storage, and HR options. However, if you’re happy with your time-tracking solution, use a different accounting program, or need Indeed or Zapier integrations, Workful isn’t the right payroll software for you.

Best for Small Businesses : OnPay



OnPay offers an easy-to-use, affordable online payroll solution that’s ideal for small businesses. There are no hidden fees, which is important for a small business on a budget. The full-service payroll automates calculations and files your federal, state, and local payroll taxes. You’ll still have to run and approve payroll each time.

  • No hidden fees

  • Easy to use

  • Good value for the cost

  • No same-day or next-day direct deposit

  • No automatic payroll submission

Setting up payroll the first time in a new program can be time-consuming, but OnPay makes it easier with its setup wizard. Follow the steps and make sure your information is accurate, and you should be just fine. If you have data from another payroll service that you want to import into OnPay, you can get help with that, and OnPay guarantees accuracy.

At $36 per month and $4 per person per month, OnPay is a little more expensive than others, such as Workful and Payroll4Free. However, you get a lot more for the price, which makes it our top choice for small business owners trying to simplify payroll and human resources. 

In addition to the full-service automated payroll you get from OnPay, you’ll also get filing for W-2 and 1099 workers at no extra cost. There’s also plenty of HR features to help you hire new employees, including offer letters, e-signing, automated onboarding, and document storage—features typically offered as add-ons or in top tiers from other services.

Best for Large Companies : ADP



One of the most well-known names in payroll and HR is ADP. The brand recognition and years of experience make it ideal for large companies or businesses that plan on growing pretty fast. The lowest-priced plan includes full-service payroll, direct deposit, reporting, and a self-service employee portal. More complete features and HR services come with higher-priced plans.

  • Scalable with several plan options

  • Robust reporting, including customization

  • Lots of HR add-ons

  • Pricing isn’t transparent.

  • Possibly too many features for small businesses

  • Several fees, including for setup

Consider ADP’s main competitors and you’ll see why it’s typically used by larger businesses. ADP always has been more of a professional employer organization (PEO), but it has evolved to offer a payroll service that’s more suitable for small businesses. It’s a good idea to choose a payroll service that can grow with your business, though, if only so you can avoid migrating data to a different service in the future. ADP makes that possible with its ADP RUN service, which is best for businesses with fewer than 50 employees.

Unfortunately, it isn’t easy to compare the cost of ADP’s plans to other services because ADP doesn’t publish its plans’ pricing. You’ll have to fill out forms to get a custom quote for your business, which will be based on your needs and the number of employees your business has. We received a variety of quotes and setup fees for a 10-person business, which fell between $150 to $200 per month, making it an expensive choice compared to all the software on this list. Setup fees ranged from $25 to $200, but reps often offered to waive the fee if we signed up immediately.

Best Free Option : Payroll4Free



Payroll4Free is the best free payroll service you can find that’s truly free—as long as you’re willing to do a bit of manual work. You won’t be able to file payroll taxes or pay your employees via direct deposit, unless you’re willing to fork out a low payment. If you have a business with fewer than 25 employees, this would be a step up from a pen-and-paper method of doing payroll.

  • Free to use

  • Inexpensive to file taxes and pay via direct deposit

  • Pay W-2 or 1099 workers

  • Limited features

  • Setup is totally manual

Payroll4Free is the only free software that allows for all the administrative components needed to run a payroll. Essentially, Payroll4Free lets you input hours for payroll for your business, leaving a lot of the administrative tasks up to you. It’ll calculate things for you, though. Setup is manual, but it includes a setup tool to help you enter the right information in the right places. This leaves room for error, but that could be said for many payroll software tools.

There are no fees to use Payroll4Free unless you have more than 25 employees or you want Payroll4Free to file your payroll taxes for you. Payroll tax filing costs $15 per month as a flat fee. If you want to pay your employees via direct deposit, that will be another $15 per month. Otherwise, funds will be deposited into your account so you can manually pay your workers by check, though you may want to consider paying for check printing software. Even if you choose to pay for these services, you’ll still pay less than most other services.

Best for Integrations : Rippling



Rippling is HR software that includes payroll as an add-on feature, but even if you sign up just for the payroll function, you’ll find it affordable and more useful than other options thanks to its robust integration with other software. All payroll software is made more helpful by integrations of accounting and time and attendance software, and Rippling does that and much more.

  • Affordable for small businesses

  • Pay employees anywhere in the world

  • Integrate with more than 400 apps

  • Pricing is not readily available on the Rippling website.

Rippling earns its place in this list because of its easy integration of almost any app you already use. Being able to automatically sync all your data needed to run payroll makes it much easier and faster. Sure, most payroll software lets you run payroll as often as you need, but it’s important to make it a quick process, too.

You’ll have to contact Rippling to get a custom quote, but you can expect the cost to include a base fee of $35 to use the platform, and then $5 per month per employee for payroll, according to the quote we received. However, Rippling claims on its website that pricing starts at $8 per user per month. So the pricing structure is a bit confusing if you’re picking and choosing features.


What Is Payroll Software?

Payroll software is a tool that calculates how much an employee earns based on hours worked and wages set. It also sets aside the appropriate amount for payroll taxes, including the required federal taxes, plus state and local taxes.

Running payroll manually leaves a lot of room for error, which can lead to hefty fines from the IRS. This is why so many businesses prefer to outsource payroll, but that can get expensive. Payroll software is the in-between solution that’s affordable but still helps businesses maintain compliance, so they can avoid penalties and lawsuits.

Who Should Use Payroll Software?

Any business that employs workers, whether full-time, part-time, or by contract, should consider using payroll software. After all, submitting payroll taxes is required, so make it easier on yourself with payroll software. Automating payroll can save you time, prevent human error, and ensure everyone gets paid the right amount and on time. Depending on the size of your business, you may want to have a dedicated person running your payroll software.

Although payroll software automates calculations, runs payroll for full-time employees, and files payroll taxes, there’s still administrative work to do. Depending on the size of your business, you may want someone to manage onboarding new employees, offboarding exiting employees, and running off-cycle payrolls as needed.

What Does Payroll Software Cost?

Most payroll software has moved to cloud-based solutions, so they’re by and large software-as-a-service (SaaS) companies. You’ll typically pay a monthly base fee, much like a subscription, which also gives you access to support, and you’ll benefit from regular updates to the software. You can find free options, such as Payroll4Free, but you won’t get the automation that comes with a paid service.

The average cost of payroll software is about $30 per month for the base fee, and then around $4 to $8 per employee per month. Some of the most expensive plans start at $150 per month, plus $12 per person per month.

How We Chose the Best Payroll Software

We explored 15 different payroll services before choosing the top eight listed here. One of the most important things to consider for any business is cost, which is why that was heavily considered for each option. We made our decisions due to features like direct deposit and reporting. We also sought options with support to help business owners address questions they have with setting up and running payroll.

Article Sources

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  1. Internal Revenue Service. "IRS Data Book 2019," Page 60. Accessed Oct. 9, 2021.