The Best Free Payroll Software for Small Businesses 2021

Compared to paid plans, free payroll software has limited features. But free software could be a thrifty payroll solution for businesses on a budget. Below, zhulitouzi.com reviews the year's five best free payroll software options, including Payroll4Free and HR.my.
Best Overall
Payroll4Free
Payroll4Free
  • Icon Pros  Dark
    Pre-filled tax forms
  • Icon Pros  Dark
    PTO accrual tracking
  • Icon Cons  Dark
    Only compatible with Windows
Best Time Tracking
TimeTrex
TimeTrex
  • Icon Pros  Dark
    Easy time and attendance syncing
  • Icon Pros  Dark
    Employee pay stub access
  • Icon Cons  Dark
    Clunky interface
Best for Spreadsheets
Microsoft Excel
ExcelPayroll
  • Icon Pros  Dark
    Workers comp reports
  • Icon Pros  Dark
    Check printing
  • Icon Cons  Dark
    Minimal web security
Best for Global Ventures
HR.my
HR.my
  • Icon Pros  Dark
    Availability in 65 languages
  • Icon Pros  Dark
    HR features, including PTO requests
  • Icon Cons  Dark
    Minimal customer support

Looking for an alternative to paid payroll software? Free payroll software can help you save on payroll—as long as you're willing to trade tax guarantees and comprehensive features for affordability. Keep reading for more info on the year's best free payroll software for small-business owners.

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Is free payroll software right for you?

Payroll is a big deal, not only for your employees but also for the IRS, and payroll tax mistakes don't come cheap. If you choose a free provider, make sure to check, double-check, and triple-check your math to ensure you're paying your employees and the government the right amount. If you’re looking for an affordable paid option, we prefer Gusto, which has plans starting at $19.00 a month.

Best Free Payroll Software for Small Businesses

Best free payroll software 2021

Brand
Features
Learn more

Payroll4Free

Payroll tax calculations, pre-filled tax forms, direct deposit or paper check options, PTO tracking

TimeTrex

Easy-to-generate tax forms, employee pay stub access, time-tracking syncing

ExcelPayroll

Simple Excel syncing, W-2 printing, check printing

HR.my

Time and attendance syncing, easy PTO requests, unlimited users

eSmart Paycheck

State-specific payroll calculators, paycheck and pay stub printing

Brand

Payroll4Free

TimeTrex

ExcelPayroll

HR.my

eSmart Paycheck

Features

Payroll tax calculations, pre-filled tax forms, direct deposit or paper check options, PTO tracking

Easy-to-generate tax forms, employee pay stub access, time-tracking syncing

Simple Excel syncing, W-2 printing, check printing

Time and attendance syncing, easy PTO requests, unlimited users

State-specific payroll calculators, paycheck and pay stub printing

Learn more

Data effective 12/11/20. At publishing time, pricing and features are current but are subject to change. Offers may not be available in all areas.

Payroll4Free: Best overall

Payroll4Free

With features like pre-filled tax forms, an employee self-service portal, and direct deposit, Payroll4Free is the best of the best. And you won't find any hidden fees, either: Payroll4Free is completely free for up to 25 employees.

Want free payroll software that does pretty much everything paid software does? Payroll4Free is at the top of its class. And frankly, it’s hard to believe just how much it offers its users at no cost:

  • Paycheck calculations
  • 1099 contract and W-2 employee payments
  • Direct deposit and paper check options
  • Federal, state, and local payroll tax calculations
  • Pre-filled tax form access
  • Reports on taxes, benefits, payroll statistics, and more
  • Employee self-service portal
  • Paid time off, vacation, and sick time accruals
  • Accounting software integration, including QuickBooks

Payroll4Free’s reporting and PTO tracking features are particularly impressive. (Even many paid providers don’t include those features with their cheapest plans.) And while Payroll4Free can’t file your taxes for free, it calculates payroll tax deductions and auto fills the tax forms. You have to do the actual filing, but form-filling is easily the most time-intensive part of the process.

Payroll4Free can offer all these features for free by partnering with companies that show ads whenever you’re using the software. The company also offers a few paid services that are substantially cheaper than many payroll companies. Most notably, you can opt for automatic payroll tax filing at $12.50 per month.

Pros
Pro Bullet Comprehensive payroll features, including pre-filled tax forms
Pro Bullet PTO tracking
Pro Bullet Affordable paid services, including automatic tax filing at $12.50/mo.
Cons
Con Bullet Free plan limited to 25 employees
Con Bullet Only available for Windows

TimeTrex: Best time tracking

TimeTrex

If you’re comfortable using open-source software, TimeTrex gives you many (though not all) of the same features as Payroll4Free. And since TimeTrex's time-tracking software integrates seamlessly with its payroll features, calculating payroll is as easy as hitting a button—no data import necessary.

TimeTrex has a few paid time and attendance, payroll, and HR plans. If you’re looking for a free plan, you’ll need TimeTrex’s Community Edition. This open-source program has code that anyone can download, customize for their company, and use for free.

Developers in 50 countries volunteer their time and expertise to keep TimeTrex Community Edition up and running. Since they work for free, you can access these payroll features for free too:

  • Paycheck calculations, including taxes, wage garnishments, and other deductions
  • Direct deposit and paper checks
  • Easy-to-generate tax forms, including forms W-2, W-3, 940, 941, and 1099
  • Employee access to electronic pay stubs
  • Integration with other payroll software, including QuickBooks, Paychex, ADP, and SurePayroll

TimeTrex offers time-tracking software, which is also available for free on the Community Edition. But employees can clock in only online, and they can’t use the mobile app that comes with TimeTrex’s paid plans. Still, the time and attendance tracking syncs automatically with your payroll software, which makes paycheck calculation a breeze.

Pros
Pro Bullet Free time-tracking with automatic payroll integration
Pro Bullet Employee pay stub access
Pro Bullet Free employee scheduling feature
Cons
Con Bullet Basic interface
Con Bullet No tax assistance
Con Bullet No customer service (online help forum only)
Tired of payroll? Gusto handles payroll taxes and more

With unlimited payroll runs and automatic tax filing, Gusto helps small-business owners worry less about payroll and put more time into growing their business.

  • Get automatic payroll tax filing, including end-of-year tax forms
  • Manage workers compensation insurance
  • Track paid time off, sick leave, and holiday pay

ExcelPayroll: Best for spreadsheets

Microsoft Excel

If you already use Microsoft Excel to calculate payroll, ExcelPayroll reformats your spreadsheets to look and act more like paid payroll software.

Spreadsheet-based payroll templates can get you a long way, but if you wish your spreadsheet software behaved a little more like payroll software, ExcelPayroll has your back. Once you get your free payroll software download, ExcelPayroll automatically syncs with and reformats Excel so you can take care of these tasks:

  • See workers compensation reports
  • Print tax forms, including W-2s
  • Print checks
  • Calculate and record 401(k)s, wage garnishments, and other payroll deductions
  • Create bookkeeping entries

But while ExcelPayroll is free, Excel itself isn’t. Microsoft Office Suite now operates largely as a cloud-based service instead of desktop software, so if you use Excel, chances are you’re paying a monthly fee to retain your software license. The cheapest version of Office 365 for businesses costs $12.50 a month with an annual commitment.

Pros
Pro Bullet Workers compensation reporting
Pro Bullet Check printing
Pro Bullet Vacation and time-off tracking
Cons
Con Bullet Not 100% free (monthly base price for Microsoft Office)
Con Bullet No customer support or security features

HR.my: Best for international businesses

HR.my

HR.my hosts software in an impressive 65 languages, so if you need to run payroll securely and affordably for overseas employees, HR.my can help.

If your team is scattered across a few countries (or continents), chances are good that everyone speaks a few different languages. Unlike the vast majority of payroll software—both free and paid—HR.my's payroll software is accessible in 65 different languages. And no matter the language, HR.my offers these key payroll processing features:

  • Employee paid time off management
  • Attendance management and time clock integration
  • Automatically generated payslips
  • Multiple pay schedules, including weekly, biweekly, semi-monthly, and monthly
  • Leave approval
  • Unlimited users, including employees and managers
  • Unlimited employee web accounts for pay stub access and PTO requests

 

Honestly, HR.my’s online payroll software might do even more than Payroll4Free, but it has a few key drawbacks. HR.my is based in Malaysia, which could be a problem for US-based customers who need customer service support during regular business hours. Plus, HR.my’s site is the sparsest we’ve reviewed. It lists a lot of features and includes a handy user guide for getting started, but we're a little wary about its lack of product details.

Pros
Pro Bullet Multi-language software
Pro Bullet Unlimited users
Pro Bullet Employee self-service access
Cons
Con Bullet Sparse website with minimal product details
Con Bullet No US-based customer support

eSmart Paycheck: Best calculator

eSmart Paycheck

If you’re comfortable tracking payroll yourself but need a little extra help with the math, eSmart Paycheck is a great choice.

If you only have a few employees and track payroll pretty well already, you might not need full-fledged payroll software—instead, a free payroll calculator could suffice. A payroll calculator doesn’t do much more than what it says: calculate payroll. You enter your employee’s wages, tax bracket, and other amount withholding (e.g., wage garnishment), then the calculator spits out the employee’s net wage.

Different payroll calculators have different features, which is why we recommend eSmart Paycheck. Unlike some paycheck calculators, it lets you print paychecks and pay stubs after you crunch the numbers. The program also lets you download state-specific calculators to ensure you withhold the right amount for your state. (Don’t need check printing or pay stubs? Give our free payroll calculator a whirl.)

If you want help filing taxes, you can sign up for a paid plan through eSmart Payroll. But in general, eSmart Paycheck works best for small-business owners who are already super organized and have a good handle on payroll. If you confidently run payroll by hand most of the time, eSmart Paycheck can potentially speed up the process, making payroll management easier.

Pros
Pro Bullet State-specific calculators
Pro Bullet Paychex and pay stub printing
Cons
Con Bullet Payroll calculator only (no additional features)
Con Bullet No saved information for repeat calculations

Honorable mention: Paycheck Manager

It’s true that eSmart Paycheck is our favorite payroll calculator, but it’s far from the only free calculator out there. Want a second option? Paycheck Manager could be a good fit.

Like eSmart Paycheck, Paycheck Manager’s free calculator lets you print paychecks with the right net salary directly from your computer. Unlike eSmart Paycheck, Paycheck Manager doesn’t offer a different calculator for each state. If Paycheck Manager’s calculator seems too complex, you can switch over to its simple calculator for basic tax estimates.

If you want to save your payroll calculator data, Paycheck Manager’s paid plan costs $5 a month after a three-month free trial. You can save data, access payroll reports, and offer pay stubs to your employees.

View Software

Low-cost alternatives

If you don’t love any of our recommendations, no worries—a cost-effective payroll solution might be better for you anyway, especially if you have ten or more employees. After all, a costly tax mistake can mean your free payroll software actually costs much more than affordable paid software. So if you want to save money while lowering risks, here are a few of our low-cost payroll providers for small businesses.

Patriot Software

Patriot Software’s Basic Payroll plan starts at $10 a month plus $4 extra per month for each person you pay. Although the online payroll software won’t file taxes for you, it does include free direct deposit, unlimited customizable payroll runs, W-2 forms, employee pay stub access, and free payroll setup if you’re switching providers. Just give Patriot Software your information and its experts will input everything for you to minimize the risk of errors.

Square Payroll

Square is better known for its point-of-sale products, but its cloud-based payroll software is affordable and easy to use, especially if you pay only contractors. With the Square Payroll contractor-only plan, there’s no base monthly fee. Instead, you just pay $5 for each contractor you pay. Square even files your end-of-year 1099 tax forms at no extra cost. Heads up: the employee and contractor plan is a bit pricier at $29 a month plus $4 per employee or contractor you pay.

Free payroll software FAQ

What is the best free payroll software?

Payroll4Free is the most comprehensive, trustworthy, and user-friendly free payroll solution for small businesses. It offers far more features than other free competitors, including payroll tax calculation and pre-filled tax forms. And it's free for up to 25 employees, which can save small-business owners a big chunk of cash on payroll processing.

But just because Payroll4Free is the best free payroll service doesn't necessarily mean it's the best for you. If you need only a payroll calculator, for instance, Payroll4Free might have too many features for your needs. Instead, try eSmart Paycheck, Paycheck Manager, or one of our own free payroll calculators—we have one for salaried employees and one for hourly employees.

What is the easiest payroll software to use?

In terms of free payroll service providers, Payroll4Free is the easiest, most user-friendly choice. Its interface is up to date, especially when compared to those of other free payroll companies. It also saves your employee information to make repeat calculations easier and saves you time with direct deposit instead of just check printing options.

In other words, while all payroll software requires a learning curve, Payroll4Free's is about as flat a curve as you could ask for.

How can I do payroll without software?

If you have only a few employees, you can download a payroll template to use with spreadsheet software. Excel and Google Sheets are the most popular choices, though only Google Sheets is truly free—Excel costs a small monthly fee. You can also use a payroll calculator to make sure you're withholding the right amount in payroll taxes.

The takeaway

Compared to paid payroll plans, free payroll software has some important downsides—namely its lack of automated payroll tax filing and guaranteed tax compliance. But if you can't (or don't want to) pay for payroll right now, the online payroll services listed here can cut you and your wallet some slack.

Need more payroll options? Check out some paid alternatives on our review of the year’s best payroll software for small businesses.

Disclaimer

At zhulitouzi.com, our research is meant to offer general product and service recommendations. We don't guarantee that our suggestions will work best for each individual or business, so consider your unique needs when choosing products and services.

Sources
1. HR.my, “HR.my”

Kylie McQuarrie
Written by
Kylie McQuarrie
Kylie spent two of the last four years writing for and with small-business owners—from dentists in Australia to plumbers in the Midwest. She spent the other two writing in depth about internet and security. She’s passionate about reading, hiking, and dedicating every spare second to writing for fun (at lunch, between meetings, on the train, before breakfast . . . ). Her content helps small-business owners tackle the logistics of running a business so they can focus more on their passions too.
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