Best payroll software for small businesses and startups

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Everyone loves payday — except the harried small business owner or manager who’s responsible for running payroll. Paying employees, administering benefits, and filing taxes properly is a complex undertaking, even for professionals. 

The good news is you can turn the hard work over to your small business payroll software (and the team of financial experts backing it). Below, we’ve rounded up 10 highly rated payroll products ranging from entry-level solutions to enterprise-ready systems. 

Start your search for the perfect time-saving, risk-reducing payroll software here.

1. Gusto

Gusto is widely lauded for its affordable, all-in-one payroll and benefits management software. Every plan includes full-service payroll, which means Gusto will calculate, withhold, and file your federal taxes, state taxes, and local taxes. Take advantage of unlimited payroll runs and a variety of payment options. 

Gusto goes far beyond payroll software. Depending on the plan, you can tap into a host of convenient human resources (HR) tools to manage job offer letters, health insurance, 401(k)s, paid time off (PTO) policies, workers’ compensation insurance, and more. Plus, your team members can download pay stubs and tax forms through their employee self-service portals. 

Cost: Gusto’s cheapest plan starts at $19 per month, plus $6 per month per person. 

2. Intuit QuickBooks Payroll 

QuickBooks Online Payroll is an excellent option for businesses that already use the highly popular accounting software. Compare the Core, Premium, Elite, and Advanced plans, and select the price point and features you need. No matter what, you’re guaranteed full-service payroll, health benefit capabilities, and expert product support. 

Something that separates QuickBooks from the pack is next-day and same-day direct deposit options. If you need consistently fast payments, consider this a top pick. Choose a higher tier to get same-day deposit, as well as GPS job tracking, employee hours, and workers’ compensation features.

Cost: QuickBooks Online Payroll starts at $45 per month, plus $4 per month per person. 

3. Patriot Software

Patriot Payroll is a wallet-friendly payroll software for small businesses that receives rave reviews for its customer support. Although it’s a low-cost option, Patriot doesn’t lack payroll functionality. 

You can choose from two solutions: Basic Payroll and Full Service Payroll, both offering unlimited payrolls. The only difference is whether Patriot will take care of your federal, state, and local payroll taxes. Free setup is included with both services. Simply send in your payroll information, and a representative will take care of the rest. 

You can add on time and attendance tracking for as little as $5 per month. There is an HR software option, but it’s mainly for organizing employee records and accessing basic reports. Few software integrations are supported, so you may want to look elsewhere if you want a one-stop-shop. 

Cost: Patriot Payroll starts at $10 per month, plus $4 per month per person. 

4. Paychex Flex

Paychex Flex is one of the more expensive options out there, but it remains a top pick for a few key reasons. Unlike the up-and-coming payroll startups on this list, Paychex has been around since 1971, trusted to pay one out of every 12 American private-sector employees

There are two Paychex Flex plans: Paychex Flex Select and Paychex Flex Enterprise. Both options offer automatic tax filing, new hire reporting, time tracking capabilities, a free mobile app, general ledger reports, basic analytics, and unlimited custom fields. As you upgrade, you get access to workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance support. 

Cost: Paychex plans start at $59 per month, plus $4 per month per person. You’ll have to request a custom quote for the Flex plans. 

5. Rippling

Use Rippling to handle your payroll, benefits administration, IT services, and device management from a single customizable platform. Rippling’s core product is its comprehensive employee management program. Automate your employee onboarding and offboarding, project workflows and approvals, and document signatures while working from one detailed employee database.

Add on full-service payroll to pay your employees and contractors in as little as 90 seconds. Easily set up direct deposit or checks, multiple pay rates, wage garnishments, W2s, W4s, 1099s, and new hire filing. Rippling stands out due to its sophisticated reporting features and integrations with over 500 business and productivity apps.

Cost: Contact Rippling for a payroll quote tailored to your business. 

6. Square Payroll

Square Payroll is among the most affordable full-service payroll options available. As a plug-and-play payroll solution, it’s easy to set up and ideal for companies that already use Square for payment processing. Employee time cards collected by your Square point-of-sale system (POS) automatically sync with the payroll app, creating one streamlined financial system. 

Your monthly subscription includes new hire reporting and basic benefits integrations, like health insurance and 401(k) retirement management. Although Square Payroll lacks detailed reports, the company provides plenty of helpful online guides to help you make the most of its payroll system. 

Cost: Square Payroll starts at $29 per month plus $5 per month per person. The contractors-only option is $5 per month per person. 

7. SurePayroll

Rounding out the list is SurePayroll, a flexible full-service payroll provider for both small businesses and large companies. It’s cost-effective — roughly on par with Patriot and Square — but SurePayroll charges fees for some services other contenders provide for free. For example, you may need to pay extra for SurePayroll to create and distribute W-2s. 

The company easily manages the needs of specialized industries like restaurants, nonprofits, household services, and healthcare. If you need to transition from in-house tax filing, SurePayroll offers customer service and easy data migration. You’ll also enjoy two-day payroll processing, faster than the standard payment plan for most payroll companies. 

Cost: Contact SurePayroll for a payroll quote tailored to your business.

8. TriNet

TriNet is a professional employment organization (PEO) that’s built one of the best small business payroll options. Run payroll anywhere with the convenient mobile app for iOS and Android, and keep your operations paperless with electronic pay stubs and tax forms. TriNet’s self-service platform lets employees enroll in direct deposit, update their personal information, and request paid time off.

Small and medium-sized businesses particularly love the complete HR guidance. From streamlined payroll processing and benefits administration to tax filing and risk mitigation, TriNet provides ample support for any team. It’s more expensive than the other options on this list. However, the robust platform and excellent HR features may be worth it. 

Cost: Contact TriNet for a payroll quote tailored to your business.

9. Workday

Workday rolls HR, payroll, finance, enterprise planning, and analytics into one modern system suited for medium and large companies and fast-growing businesses. And if customer base is a marker of reliability for you, Workday is used by some of the world’s leading companies, including Sony, Target, Toyota, Citibank, and unicorn startups like Airbnb. 

Optimize payroll, see real-time labor cost data, automate your approvals and exceptions, and provide your employees with an intuitive way to manage their time-off requests. Workday offers a number of customizable product packages if you’re interested in adding onto their payroll software. Overall, customers praise the platform’s friendly design and low learning curve, which allows companies to get up and running quickly.

Cost: Contact Workday for a payroll quote tailored to your business. 

10. Zenefits 

Zenefits is technically a cloud-based HR platform with a payroll software add-on, but that doesn’t mean its payroll experience is second-rate. 

Payroll with Zenefits covers all the bases for most industries, including unlimited pay runs for employees or contractors, multiple schedules and pay rates, tip reporting, wage garnishments, benefits deductions, and more. 

This payroll platform integrates with a variety of go-to business tools such as G Suite, Slack, Salesforce, and Xero. Zenefits even connects with other payroll service providers — including Paychex, Gusto, ADP, and OnPay — if you only want to use its HR features. It even offers open API access, so you or your developer can freely connect your preferred software tools. 

Cost: The Zenefits payroll add-on starts at $6 per month per employee, plus the base price of the HR plan. 

Spend less time behind the desk

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Any of these payroll providers can help reduce manual data entry, avoid costly tax mistakes, and get crucial time back. But the best payroll software should cater to your unique business needs, while remaining affordable. 

Make sure you have access to the payment methods, pay rates and frequencies, employee benefits, tax filing support, and reporting you need. It pays to be picky when it comes to your payroll solution.

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