The 10 Best Payroll Software for Small Businesses 2021

Payroll is one of the most time-consuming and expensive aspects of running a business. Fortunately, plenty of payroll providers can take the task off your plate, some of them for as little as $19 a month. What is the best software for payroll? zhulitouzi.com's pick is Gusto. We also review and ranked all the year’s best payroll software for small businesses including ADP, Paychex, and more.

Best payroll software for small business 2021

How much does a payroll software cost?

Provider
Starting base price
Fee per employee per month
Automatic tax filing
Free trial
Learn more
Gusto

Gusto

$39.00/mo.

$6.00/payee

Yes

1 mo.

Contact for quoteContact for quote

Yes

3 mos.

$59.00/mo.

$6.00/payee

Yes

Unlisted

$36.00/mo.

$4.00/payee

Yes

1 mo.

$19.99/mo.

$4.00/payee

No*

2 mos.

$30.00/mo.$4.50/payeeYes30 days

Data as of 5/11/21. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.
*Automatic tax filing starting at $29.99 per mo. plus $4.00 per payee

Best overall: Gusto

Best overall payroll provider
Gusto
Gusto
4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3
Starting price: $39.00/mo. + $6.00/payee/mo.
 
Gusto is a comprehensive, intuitive payroll service with plenty of impressive HR extras.

Data as of 5/11/21. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.

The heartily named Gusto is a beautifully designed, full-service payroll system with plenty of features and a healthy reputation. Every Gusto payroll plan includes these impressive services:

  • Automatic local, state, and federal payroll tax filing
  • Automatic state new-hire form filing
  • Workers compensation administration
  • Paystub and W-2 access for employees
  • Two-day direct deposit
  • Accounting software and time-tracking integration
  • Automatic payroll runs
  • Wage garnishment deductions
  • Child support payment distribution (not available in South Carolina)

Pay particular attention to Gusto’s workers compensation, wage garnishment, and time-tracking integration: many online payroll providers charge extra for these.

Pin
Heads-up: Gusto's Contractor plan
Do you hire contractors on an individual basis instead of working with a full-time team of employees? Gusto’s new Contractor plan has no monthly base cost; you pay only $6 per month per payee.

Our research on Gusto turned up mostly glowing reviews from customers, who tend to love Gusto’s design, functionality, and features. However, in the last few months, Gusto's customer service has taken a few hits: users call out slow response times and payroll errors. Plus, on the review site Trustpilot, Gusto’s rating dropped from 3.8 to just 3.1 out of 5 from 1.2K reviews.1 Some user reviews note a distinct difference between Gusto’s pre- and post-COVID-19 customer service, so hopefully Gusto is able to get back on track soon.

Strengths
Pro Bullet Automatic local, state, and federal payroll tax filing
Pro Bullet Unlimited payroll runs in every state
Pro Bullet Employee benefits administration
Weaknesses
Con Bullet Support limited to daytime hours on weekdays
Con Bullet Declining customer service ratings

Basic for payroll + HR: ADP

Best payroll + HR software
ADP
ADP
4 out of 5 stars
4.0
Starting price: Contact for quote
 
If you want payroll and HR help rolled into one, RUN Powered by ADP blends ADP’s HR expertise with easy-to-use full-service payroll software.

ADP is the biggest name in the world of PEOs, or professional employer organizations, which are companies that help other businesses tackle personnel issues through totally outsourced HR. But if your business isn't big enough to warrant a PEO, RUN Powered by ADP distills ADP’s decades of HR expertise into an easy software service, complete with payroll.

All four RUN plans take care of full-service payroll basics like direct deposit, automatic payroll tax filing, and W-2 submissions. Even the cheapest plan, Core Payroll, includes HR perks like employee onboarding, health care compliance forms, and a regular HR checkup.

Need more than the HR basics? ADP’s more expensive plans include employee background checks and ZipRecruiter assistance plus more comprehensive payroll help, like wage garnishments and state unemployment tax deductions.

Unfortunately, ADP no longer lists its full-service software pricing online. You have to contact the company directly to get a quote.

Strengths
Pro Bullet Unlimited payroll runs
Pro Bullet Basic HR features in every package
Pro Bullet No-penalty guarantee
Weaknesses
Con Bullet No online pricing apart from Core plan
Con Bullet No wage garnishment with cheapest plan

Best reporting: Paychex

Best payroll and HR reports
Paychex
Paychex
3.5 out of 5 stars
3.5
Starting at $59.00/mo. + $4.00/payee/mo.

If you want to keep a finger on the pulse of your business's success, Paychex's reporting, HR, and payroll features can help you out.

Data as of 5/11/21. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.

Paychex Flex offers cloud-based payroll management and human resources software to small businesses that really need the help but don’t want to deal with full-on HR outsourcing. Each Paychex plan includes new-hire state reporting, automatic payroll tax filing, and even an employee financial wellness program. And while most of the software options we’ve listed include a report or two, Paychex Flex blows everyone else out of the water by offering a whopping 160+ reports with its payroll and HR packages.

Info
Paychex's payroll app for employers

If you frequently run payroll on the go, Paychex might be the best small-business payroll software for you. Only a few payroll providers offer employer-facing apps. Of the five or so that do, Paychex’s is easily the best: the Paychex Flex app has 4.8 stars (out of five) on Apple’s App Store and 4.5 on Google Play.2,3 Find more in-depth on our Paychex Flex app review.

Of course, there’s a catch: the full 160+ reports and general ledger service come with only the two priciest plans—and that pricing isn't listed online. If you're fine with fewer reports and less HR help, you can try Paychex Go, which starts at $59 a month plus $4 per payee. Otherwise, Paychex works best as a payroll provider if you care more about robust reporting and dedicated experts than you do about cost.

Strengths
Pro Bullet Solid employer-facing app
Pro Bullet In-depth reporting
Pro Bullet Comprehensive HR add-ons
Weaknesses
Con Bullet No online pricing apart from Go plan
Con Bullet No mobile app with cheapest plan
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

Simplest setup: OnPay

Simplest setup
OnPay
OnPay
4 out of 5 stars
4.0
Starting at $36.00/mo. + $5.00/payee/mo.

Don’t want to set up your new payroll plan on your own? Turn it over to OnPay’s experts; they’ll take care of it at no additional cost.

Data as of 5/11/21. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.

OnPay covers the payroll basics that some major players charge more for, such as garnishing wages, withholding state unemployment insurance, and giving employees multiple payment options (including paper checks). We particularly like that OnPay will tailor its payroll services to specific industries—nonprofits, restaurants, and agricultural businesses, to name a few—at no extra cost.

But the main area where OnPay stands out is its setup. OnPay’s experts will set up your software for you for free, so if you’re looking for custom help at the reasonable starting price of $36, OnPay is a great place to start.

Looking for more reasons to try OnPay? Here are a few more perks of its cloud-based payroll software:

  • Multi-state payroll at no extra cost
  • Time-tracking and accounting software integration
  • Tax filing accuracy guarantee
  • Employee onboarding
  • Employee self-service portal

And while OnPay doesn’t have a mobile payroll app, its site (like Gusto’s) is optimized for mobile.

Strengths
Pro Bullet Free professional account setup
Pro Bullet Easy PTO tracking
Pro Bullet Low base cost
Weaknesses
Con Bullet Less scalable than some competitors

Best customer service: SurePayroll

Best customer support
SurePayroll
SurePayroll
3.4 out of 5 stars
3.4
Starting at $19.00/mo. + $4.00/payee/mo.
 
With extended weekday and weekend hours, SurePayroll’s US-based customer service is a must for anyone who wants extra payroll help. And SurePayroll’s starting price of $19.99 a month for self-service payroll doesn’t hurt either.

Data as of 5/11/21. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.

With self-service plans starting at $19.99 a month and full-service plans starting at $29.99 a month, SurePayroll is one of the cheaper picks on our list. If you go with self service, SurePayroll includes a tax-calculation guarantee, verifying that they’ve accurately assessed your taxes. If you opt for full service, SurePayroll’s 100% tax-filing guarantee means they’ll deal with the IRS if they make a mistake with your payroll taxes—including paying all associated fines.

Unfortunately, SurePayroll charges extra for services some payroll companies include at no extra cost. Accounting software integration starts at $4.99 a month, and time-clock integration starts at $4.99 a month plus $3 per employee per month. Honestly, the extra fees help explain SurePayroll’s low costs—Gusto might have a higher starting price, but that higher price includes time-clock and accounting software integration.

Still, SurePayroll’s $29.99 full-service payroll software solution is basically a steal. And we’re impressed that SurePayroll transformed itself from one of the more expensive payroll providers to one of the most affordable at the end of last year.

 

Strengths
Pro Bullet Tax accuracy guarantees
Pro Bullet Affordable monthly starting prices
Pro Bullet Customer service available 6 days a week
Weaknesses
Con Bullet 4-day payroll processing with self-service plan
Con Bullet Extra costs for accounting software integration
Sponsored partner: UZIO
Uzio logo
UZIO
3.5 out of 5 stars
3.5

Starting at $30.00/mo. + $4.50/payee/mo.

As a standalone payroll solution, UZIO is one of the cheapest full-service payroll providers on our list. Its self-service employee portal and automatic payroll tax deductions make it a simple, affordable solution for US-based small businesses. And if you need HR management, UZIO All-in-One is a similarly affordable HR-plus-payroll solution.

More payroll software solutions for small businesses

We gave you our top recommendations above, but the payroll software market is a crowded one. Here are more small-business payroll solutions worth considering.

Compare top payroll features: Honorable mentions

Provider
Starting base price
Fee per employee
Automatic tax filing
Free trial
Learn more
Patriot Software

Patriot

$10.00/mo.$4.00/payee/mo.No*30 days$29.00/mo.$5.00/payee/mo.YesNone$20.00/mo.$6.00/payee/mo.No**30 daysVaries by pay frequency$2.00/payee/pay cycleYesFree until first payroll run$45.00/mo.$4.00/payee/mo.Yes30 days

Data as of 5/11/21. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.
*Automatic tax filing starting at $30 per mo. plus $5 per payee
**Automatic tax filing available in 14 states starting at $35.00 per mo. plus $6.00 per payee

Most affordable self-service: Patriot Software

Patriot Software
Patriot
Starting at $10.00/mo. + $4.00/payee/mo.
 
For hyper-affordable self-service payroll, you can’t do better than Patriot Software’s $10-a-month base plan.

With a monthly base price of just $10 plus $4 per employee, Patriot Payroll’s Basic plan for self-service payroll is one of the cheapest out there. If pricing is your top priority, we can’t recommend Patriot Software highly enough.

On top of its $10 basic payroll price, Patriot Software offers super affordable add-ons, including HR assistance for $4 per month and time and attendance tracking for $5 per month. If you want the full-service option, the cost bumps up to a $30 base price, which still makes Patriot Payroll one of our cheapest recommendations.

Best for contract work: Square Payroll

Square
Square
Starting at $29.00/mo. + $5.00/payee/mo.
 
If you want an affordable way to pay contractors, Square Payroll is an excellent bet. Employees can also use Square software to clock in and out, simplifying your payroll processes.

If you need help paying contractors or freelancers, Square offers a bare-bones plan for only $5 per person per month—no base monthly fee required. The contractors log in to a Square portal, enter their information, and then you can pay them. It’s simple and affordable.

Although you can purchase Square Payroll as a stand-alone service, it’s designed to work in tandem with Square’s point of sale solution. Employees can use Square terminals or the mobile app to clock in and out, and POS data is seamlessly synced with the payroll service.

FYI, Gusto recently added a contractor plan with no monthly base fee in a clear bid to compete with Square. We’re excited to see which plan comes out on top in the contractor-verse.

Most affordable accounting software integration: Wave Payroll

Wave Payroll logo

Starting at $20.00/mo. + $6.00/payee/mo.

Wave Payroll offers affordable self-service payroll (or full-service in 14 states) that integrates easily with Wave’s completely free accounting service.

Wave is among our top picks for the best accounting software because it offers a fantastic range of free accounting services. While Wave’s payroll software isn’t free, it’s among the cheapest out there while still providing an excellent range of payroll services.

Wave offers two plans: a self-service plan and a full-service plan. But the plan you sign up for doesn’t depend on the features you want—it depends on where you live. In most states, Wave offers only self-service online payroll software, which costs $20 plus $6 per employee per month.

Most user-friendly: Wagepoint

Wagepoint
Starting at $12.00/wk. + $2.00/payee/mo.
 
Wagepoint’s biggest selling point is its friendly interface and helpful customer service team.

It might seem weird to describe a payroll company’s software as “cute and friendly,” but Wagepoint’s software is just . . . so cute and friendly. Based on the smiley face in its logo and the little cartoons on the payroll dashboard, Wagepoint’s thing is clearly friendliness, ease of use, and simple payroll help. 

Wagepoint used to charge just $20 a month plus just $2 per employee, but it recently changed its pricing structure. Now, your cost is based on both the number of employees you’re paying and how often you’re running payroll (weekly, bi-weekly, semi-weekly, or monthly). The new payroll tool pricing structure is a little confusing, so if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to Wagepoint.

Best interface: QuickBooks Payroll

Quickbooks
QuickBooks Payroll

Starting at $45.00/mo. + $4.00/payee/mo.

Try QuickBooks Payroll if you want software that easily integrates with your existing QuickBooks Online account.

QuickBooks, long known for providing high-quality accounting software, offers three full-service payroll plans. The cheapest starts at $45 a month and includes automatic payroll runs, health care options for your employees, and next-day direct deposit. QuickBooks’ best feature is its ease of use—the interface requires next to no learning curve, and the mobile app makes on-the-go payroll easier.

A word to the wise, though: QuickBooks Payroll includes a no-tax-penalty guarantee with only its most expensive plan. Even though QuickBooks pays taxes on your behalf with every plan, the company won’t accept responsibility for any filing errors unless you’re paying a ridiculously high $125 a month. We can’t think of any other payroll software that requires such a high fee for such a reasonable, industry-standard guarantee.

Payroll software FAQ

What is the best payroll software for small businesses?

If you’re comparing pricing to features, Gusto offers the best small-business payroll software. Starting at $39 a month, Gusto calculates and files your payroll taxes, helps with workers comp administration, and lets you build paid time off policies for your employees. Gusto’s online payroll service is popular enough to sync with most accounting software options. It’s versatile, affordable, and super easy to use.

However, the best small-business payroll software for you depends on your business’s needs, including how many people you pay and what benefits you want to add. If you want thorough human resource management, you might want to try a provider like Paychex or ADP. If you’re looking to save money, Patriot Software’s $10 self-service plan might be the best payroll solution for you. Before you commit to a payroll plan, thoroughly assess your own needs and make sure they mesh with your preferred plan.

Is there free payroll software?

Yes, but free payroll options are pretty limited. In our opinion, the best free payroll software is Payroll4Free, which lets you run payroll for up to 25 employees. There are also a handful of other trustworthy choices out there.

In general, we don't recommend free payroll management software for employers with more than one or two employees. Paying your employees the right amount—and withholding the right amount in taxes—is a big, complicated issue. Paid payroll software is often more secure and effective than free options.

Can you use Excel to run small-business payroll?

Yes, you can use an Excel template for basic payroll calculation. If you’re interested, we have a list of the best free payroll templates you can use to calculate payroll by hand.

However, we recommend using spreadsheets to make payroll calculations only if you have 15 or fewer employees and you’re confident in your document organization skills. While spreadsheets can help you calculate payroll taxes, they can’t guarantee that those calculations are accurate. If you can afford it, we recommend using cheap self-service plans from payroll providers like Wave, SurePayroll, or Patriot Software. All three options give you a solid organizational system, accurate tax calculations, and accounting software integration to make bank reconciliation super easy.

How can payroll software help small businesses?

Full-service and self-service payroll systems can save small businesses time and effort. In general, paying workers, managing employee benefits, and filing payroll taxes correctly and on time is tricky and time-consuming. Payroll-related mistakes and delays are potentially costly for and damaging to your business.

So although you have to pay for payroll software, the return on your investment is, by and large, worth it. By freeing up resources and avoiding legal pitfalls, you can focus your time and energy on growing your business and hiring great employees.

The takeaway

Unless you can afford to pay an in-house bookkeeper, we recommend most small businesses use a payroll software application to pay employees and calculate tax deductions. The right payroll software provider should remove much of the hassle, cost, and risk from managing payroll and free you up to do what you’d rather be doing: growing a successful business.

Still wondering which product is right for you? For all-in-one automatic payroll with built-in HR tools, it’s hard to beat Gusto. If you own a midsize business and need more comprehensive HR management, ADP or Paychex could fit nicely. And if you want affordable payroll without all the fancy extras, we recommend OnPay, SurePayroll, or UZIO.

Looking for great accounting software to complement your payroll solution? Read through our list of the year’s best accounting software for small businesses.

Sources
1. Trustpilot, “Gusto.” Accessed May 11, 2021.
2. App Store, “Paychex Flex on the App Store.” Accessed May 11, 2021.
3. Google Play, “Paychex Flex—Apps on Google Play.” Accessed May 11, 2021.

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.

States with the best (and worst) pay in 2020

If you want to make a good living—and we're pretty sure you do—it isn't just the amount you make that matters. It's also where in the United States you make that money. Sure, California's median salary is higher than Wyoming's, but Californians have to work around 68 hours to afford one month's rent on a one-bedroom apartment. Meanwhile, Wyomingans work 30 hours to afford rent, which means they have 38 more work hours than Californians to spend (or save) on something other than housing.

In the midst of this pandemic, making sure your salary goes as far as possible matters more than ever. Now isn't exactly the greatest time to pull up stakes and move from one of the best states to get paid to one of the worst. Curious to know where your state falls in the ranking? Check out our results below.

 

Methodology

For this year’s state rankings, we looked at each state’s median hourly wage as recorded by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. We then used info on apartmentlist.com to determine the median cost of a one-bedroom apartment in each state.

After calculating how many hours you’d need to work at the median salary to make the median rent, we ranked the states (plus the District of Columbia) in order of working hours required for rent. Both data points come from May 2019, which makes our data blissfully pre-COVID. We’re interested in seeing how COVID impacts these numbers in next year’s report.

Key findings

The Aloha State is gorgeous, but island life comes at a steep price: in Hawaii, you have to work over 68 hours to make rent for a one-bedroom apartment. Compare that hourly rate to North Dakota, the best state to get paid, where you can afford a one-bedroom apartment after just 27 hours of work.

Besides pinpointing the best and worst states, we found a few other interesting facts:

  • A whopping 6 of the top 10 worst states to get paid in are on the East Coast. (Yikes.)
  • In contrast, with the exception of Kentucky, all of the 10 best states to get paid are in the West or Midwest.
  • Just two Southern states made the bottom 10: Florida and Virginia. If you want to live in the South, you'll get much more bang for your buck in Kentucky.
  • California is the second-worst state in which to get paid, but Oregon and Washington both escaped our bottom 10. If you want to live in a coastal state, we recommend the good old PNW.
  • People in the 10 best states have to dedicate less than one week's full-time salary to paying rent. In contrast, people in the 10 most expensive states dedicate closer to a week and a half of full-time salary to rent a one-bedroom apartment.

Top 10 states with the best pay

Rank
State
Median yearly wage
Median monthly rent for 1 BR apartment
Hours of work to afford apartment

1

North Dakota

$42,510

$571

27.9

2

Wyoming

$41,650

$614

30.7

3

Iowa

$38,280

$603

32.8

4

South Dakota

$34,750

$567

33.9

5

Oklahoma

$35,730

$600

34.9

6

Montana

$36,420

$618

35.3

7

Nebraska

$38,390

$653

35.4

8

Kentucky

$35,540

$605

35.4

9

Ohio

$38,560

$661

35.7

10

Arkansas

$32,940

$574

36.2

Bottom 10 states with the worst pay

Rank
State
Median yearly wage
Median monthly rent for 1 BR apartment
Hours of work to afford apartment

1

Hawaii

$44,400

$1,456

68.2

2

California

$44,180

$1,442

67.9

3

New Jersey

$45,000

$1,254

57.9

4

New York

$46,680

$1,285

57.3

5

Maryland

$45,970

$1,263

57.1

6

Florida

$35,850

$975

56.6

7

Massachusetts

$50,200

$1,313

54.4

8

Virginia

$42,220

$1,065

52.5

9

New Hampshire

$41,490

$1,036

51.9

10

Delaware

$40,900

$1,003

51

Salaries aren't everything

It's great to bring BTCC合约交易所home a nice check at the end of the day, but especially these days, it's even better to have as much leftover cash as possible after paying rent. Before setting your sights on the highest-paying job in your field, take a look at where you're living: a lower salary in the right state might prove more valuable overall.

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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