Best Payroll Software for Small Business: Top 14 Systems 2022
Payroll means more than cutting paychecks and letting your employees waltz those over to the bank to ask the teller to deposit their wages in their bank accounts.
Nowadays, thank heavens, we’ve got apps for that. This article is going to take you through the best payroll software for small businesses. We’ve singled out 14 good payroll systems which also cover things like human resource management, employee time tracking, employee benefits programs and more.
And while there are loads of great tools for businesses of any size, as the name of this article suggests, we will put our emphasis on the small to medium sized business, or SMB. These often include restaurants, cafes and bars, and retail shops. But they are not limited to those kinds of businesses. From small tech startups to small manufacturing operations to small healthcare businesses, there are innumerable advantages to using payroll and HR software.
This article will walk you through our top 10 payroll tools and what each one is best for. Then, we get into the bigger list of the 14 best payroll systems and discuss among other things their pricing. Sadly, there aren't many free payroll software systems out there, but many of the best small business payroll software offer budget options, and you’ll see among the list what is the cheapest payroll software for small business. After that, we’ll break down a few more key things you need to know about HR and payroll systems.
Best payroll for small business comparison chart (top 10 most popular payroll systems)
This table gives you an at-a-glance look at the 10 best payroll software on the market right now, though this does not mean that the rest of the vendors we later cover might not indeed be the perfect payroll tool for your small business.
Best payroll software overall
$39 /month, plus $6 /person /month
Best small business payroll software
$12.50 / month, plus $22.50 /month for Payroll Core
Great payroll program for HR departments
Best online payroll software
$36 /month, plus $4 /person /month
Good payroll solution for tax filing
$10 /month plus $4 /person /month
Great mobile payroll software
$39 /month plus $5 /person /month
Top simple payroll system
Top do-it-yourself payroll system
$8 /user /month
Cheapest payroll software for small business
$8 /user /month billed annually
Good HCM payroll tool
$99 /month plus $5 /user /month
What are the different types of payroll software?
Online payroll management
Paid time off (PTO) management
Direct deposit functionality
Employee benefits administration
Human resources (HR) systems
Time tracking and attendance
Tax calculation and filing
Automated payroll workflows
Health insurance management
New hires and onboarding tools
Garnishments and withholdings
Worker compensation administration
Employee engagement tools
What is the best payroll software? Here’s our top 14 list:
Let’s dig into these reviews of the best payroll software. Our list of great online payroll software for small businesses is bound to have the best fit for whatever your specific business needs are, be they budgetary, industry, or based on the precise tools you want and nothing else.
Gusto (Best payroll software overall)
Topping the list of accounting software for small business is Gusto, an industry favorite. Gusto was launched in 2012. It’s based out of the United States. Today they have over 200,000 businesses as Gusto users. The core of Gusto’s platform is to streamline online payroll, benefits administration and basic HR software tools.
The advantage of Gusto is that it’s a comprehensive payroll software solution that covers all the bases. It’s a full service payroll solution. Payroll taxes can be done at the local, state or federal level. There’s also an automatic tax calculator. You got direct deposits and a time tracking tool. For HR tools, there are a lot of onboarding features, like a custom onboarding checklist and an applicant tracking system. Gusto also syncs with apps like Zoom, Slack and Google tools. Finally, you get analytics and reporting which provide actionable insights to better run payroll and HR. For these and other reasons, Gusto is the best overall payroll system.
Gusto offers its users access to HR experts and other dedicated support staff to make sure its users fully leverage all this system has to offer. Unfortunately, as is often the case, you’ll need to shell out for the pricier packages to get the really good stuff. Otherwise, Gusto is great, and you can always start with the core package and scale up later.
Core plan starts at $39 per month plus $6 per user per month
Complete plan starts at $39 per month plus $12 per user per month
Concierge plan starts at $149 per month plus $12 per user per month
For the Select plan, contact Gusto
Intuit QuickBooks Payroll (Best small business payroll software)
Perhaps you have heard of QuickBooks as an accounting software. Or maybe you just know the hilarious Danny Devito commercials. Either way, QuickBooks is a pretty-well-known brand. It’s made by Intuit, a company that goes back to the early 80s, and that also offers the tax filing app TurboTax and the personal finance app Mint. Quickbooks goes back to 1983, being one of Intuit’s earliest products.
QuickBooks Payroll has many payroll processing tools aside from their core accounting tools. You can set up automatic payroll actions to save time on manual admin. They offer a tax calculating feature, and will set up automatic tax payments so that you don’t forget and fall behind. Another great Quickbooks online feature is same-day direct deposit, meaning you and your employees get access to cash faster. Benefits tools let you manage the 401(k) plans for your team. You can set up auto reporting for payroll history, contractor payments, employee paid time off and other bank transactions. For human resources, you get access to templates for new hires, company policy, HR laws, and even conflict resolution. This is truly among the best payroll software for small businesses.
Some people think of Quickbooks primarily as an accounting system and not necessarily as a suite of strictly payroll features. Therefore they might assume it’s a bit overkill for payroll management and basic HR support. This is a disadvantage which mostly lives in the minds of those too busy to do their research. Also, the pricing system of Quickbooks Payroll is confusing, as if you must get a basic small business plan before adding the payroll platform.
Self-employed plan starts at $7.50 per month
Simple Start plan starts at $12.50 per month
Essentials plan starts at $25 per month
Plus plan starts at $40 per month
Advanced plan starts at $90 per month
Quickbooks Payroll Core plan starts at $22.50 per month
Quickbooks Payroll Premium plan starts at $37.50 per month
Quickbooks Payroll Elite plan starts at $62.50 per month
ADP (Great payroll program for HR departments)
ADP stands for the company name Automatic Data Processing Inc. It is one of the oldest human resources management tools in the USA, going back all the way to the dark days of 1943, using punch card machines before eventually going fully digital. ADP’s revenue is in the 11-figures range, and the company forms part of the NASDAQ-100 of top-weighted tech company stocks.
ADP really stacks up its pros and benefits in the HR management category above all else. Yet this is true of their product for any sized businesses. However, here we’re talking about small businesses mainly. ADP gets you a range of HR platform services, and there are many tutorials to make sure the system is user friendly. ADP really streamlines hiring and onboarding. For payroll options, you get speedy payroll which can be done through automation. They auto calculate payroll taxes. You get quarterly and annual reporting, as well as tools to help deal with the IRS. There are even tools to manage perks and employee information benefits. ADP has robust time and attendance tracking tools, which also cover time-off requests and vacation time.
As is often the case with payroll processing software or accounting software as robust and established as ADP, one might be overwhelmed by the amount of tools and features you have to learn, and this is the case with ADP for sure. Fortunately, there is decent ADP customer support to help you learn the software and ensure your employee management stays as cost effective as possible.
For a bespoke quote based on your business size and needs, contact ADP for pricing
OnPay (Best online payroll software)
One of the sweeter things about the OnPay story is that this payroll and human resources solution began as a family business. In 2007, OnPay was rolling out a proper payroll solution application. The software has since been rated outstanding by PCMag in 2021. The OnPay platform is basically split up to let you run payroll, use HR software and manage employee benefits programs.
First off, OnPay has a very simple pricing program. They offer one single pricing package, so you don’t have to waste a lot of time choosing which tier is right for you (although some might think this is a drawback, but more on that below). Payroll tools give you monthly unlimited payroll runs as well as direct deposit, debit card and paycheck features. It can handle things like unemployment insurance issues as well as garnishments if there are legal issues in collecting payments. OnPay includes a series of employee self-service features including self onboarding. It also has an employee portal to handle things like pay stubs, docs and tax forms. Finally, among many other features not mentioned, there are solid PTO tools to manage paid time off.
Many people have complained about OnPay’s lack of a dedicated mobile app. This does not mean you cannot use OnPay on your mobile device, as the platform was designed responsively to adapt to smaller screen sizes. Still, this is a disadvantage against other payroll processing apps that have proper mobile app versions. On another note, while the single pricing package is great for some, it might be limiting to small businesses who aim to seriously scale up with new and improved functionalities.
OnPay costs $36 per month plus $4 per person per month
Patriot Payroll (Good payroll solution for tax filing)
Patriot accounting and payroll software started out as a true-to-life startup in the most original sense of the word: in a rat and bug-infested factory basement. The founders maxed out their credit cards just to get this up and running because they knew at heart they had a great payroll and accounting software solution.
Patriot Payroll software puts customer data security and privacy as one of their top priorities (they even screen their employees for insurance bonding, criminal records and drug tests, though that does seem overkill). When it comes to payroll software, here's what Patriot has to offer: Off the bat you get free direct deposit and free customer support if you are in the USA. There’s an onboarding process that comes with a very simple setup wizard too. The employee portal is also free of charge, giving staff personal and secure access to pay stubs, pay history, time off balances and more. With Patriot Payroll software, you can file and deposit federal taxes, state taxes and local taxes with minimal fuss, for year-end income taxes. When it comes to tax filing, they guarantee full accuracy,
Now that we’ve established that Patriot software’s various tax filing features are one of its strongest selling points, we must admit the con here: That the best tax filing tools are only available in the more expensive package. Another issue that some users have with Patriot is that it could stand to be more customizable when it comes to analytics and payroll reports.
Basic Payroll plan costs $10 per month plus $4 per person per month
Full Service Payroll plan costs $30 per month plus $4 per person per month
Paychex (Great mobile payroll software)
With its headquarters out of Rochester, New York, Paychex is a relatively old company handling payroll, HR and benefits management for companies of all sizes. They offer many solutions. The most popular solution they offer is called Paychex Flex, which includes among the main tools time attendance features. Paychex is also a part of the NASDAQ-100 index with other leading tech stocks.
Let’s begin with Paychex Flex, and state first and foremost that with this you get amazing mobile apps for Android and iOS. Aside from Paychex Flex, there is an employee self-service portal which handles employee retirement contributions, health insurance info, and FSA (flexible spending accounting). Paychex is also good because it separates its modules by business size. The small business package lets you run payroll online, and gives you automation for payment processing and tax filing. Other useful features get you garnishment payments and even a labor compliance poster kit. When it comes to the need to pay employees, Paychex can handle salaried workers, or hourly wage employees and contract work.
Paychex might seem like it suffers from the common disadvantage of offering too many packages, solutions and pricing tiers with a range of add-ons, so that it’s hard to know if this is the right payroll provider for your business. That being said, there is a clear monthly fee for Paychex Flex Essentials. Beyond that, you need to contact their sales department. Additionally, this one does not get an A+ for aesthetics or ease of use.
Paychex Flex Essentials costs $39 per month plus $5 per person per month
SurePayroll (Top simple payroll system)
SurePayroll is currently owned by Paychex. It was acquired by Paychex in 2011 for about $115 million, so you just know it must be worthwhile in some ways. Before that, SurerPayroll was launched back in the late dot.com boom days of 2000. From the outset, SurePayroll is aimed squarely at small businesses.
Let's start on a different foot than usual and say that SurePayroll scores very highly for its customer support for its users. This contributes to its quick learning curve and overall ease of use. The fact that it has no intention of casting a wide net over businesses of all sizes is another advantage for small businesses looking for straight up payroll solutions. It can handle 401(k) deductions and FSA and HSA funds, as well as doing wage garnishment. The mobile app is really useful too, letting you do basic payroll or HR tasks on the go. For state and federal tax deductions, you can use this to do payment withholdings to stay above the board. Payroll reports are very detailed, with summaries based on month, quarter and year-to-date data, as well as taxable wages. As far as basic payroll software goes, SurePayroll is tops.
For things like time tracking, you might need to do a software integration with another app like Xero or Quickbooks Online. Another red flag is the lack of pricing information on their website. We’re not sure why any vendor thinks that’s a good idea at this point, as many shoppers will skip it if they can’t see clear numbers. You can of course contact them for a bespoke quote, which may in the end be competitively priced, but who knows.
Contact SurePayroll to get pricing information
Rippling (Top do-it-yourself payroll system)
With offices in Bengaluru, India and San Francisco, Rippling hails itself as a payroll software that can eliminate administrative work, which is both time consuming and de-motivating for employees. Overall, it is an employee management platform, but it has a good deal of features for HR, payroll, time attendance and employee benefits.
To begin, Rippling has quite the appealing user interface and dashboard aesthetics. It is intuitive and easy to use, meaning it’s a do-it-yourself kind of tool. Next, it is automation that is one of Rippling’s primary advantages. You can automate workflows without knowing any code, which are good for things like generating reports or controlling employee permissions. Rippling boasts extremely fast payroll processing, saying it can be done in 90 seconds. There is solid automatic tax filing. Rippling can also handle currency payments from across the globe. You get your time tracking and your PTO tracking too. Extra human resources features include talent management and employee training workflows. There are also automations for IT here, but that’s beyond this article’s scope.
It has been a complaint among some Rippling users that the tax filing features can be a bit buggy. What’s more, Rippling does not have the most stellar customer service to help one get beyond those bugs. One does get a support email response in time, but getting a human agent on the phone can be tricky.
Rippling costs $8 per user per month
Zenefits (Cheapest payroll software for small business)
Zenefits is a relatively new player in the payroll software scene. It got its launch in 2013 out of San Francisco. Some of its executive team also have a history with Rippling. Today, they have offices in Charlotte, Tempe, Vancouver, and Bangalore, with an employee count of about 500.
Zenefits puts simplicity, intuitiveness and streamlined action front and center of this platform for PTO, payroll, HR and benefits. HR reps get onboarding tools, time tracking, and some decent organizational chart features. When it comes to managing employee benefits, Zenefits has put some extra focus on things like healthcare plans, though it also covers stuff like commuter benefits. The suite of payroll tools is quite large here. Advanced features include unlimited payroll runs, direct deposits, dynamic mobile pay stubs and garnishment support. There is also a lot of effort put into compliance issues and making sure filing payroll taxes is 100% accurate.
Zenefits offers three distinct packages at different prices, and with this comes the usual drawback: If you want the best Zenefits tools, you have to shell out for the more expensive plan. There is also a small selection of add-ons, which some people think is a good thing, but for small b businesses, it might only make the price tag larger or more complicated, as one is always second guessing if one needs this or that extra tool.
Essentials plan is $8 per user per month billed annually
Growth plan is $14 per user per month billed annually
Zen plan is $21 per user per month billed annually
Paycor (Good HCM payroll tool)
Paycor is a HCM system, meaning human capital management. Otherwise known as human resource information systems. It’s a wide-net system for HR, talent management, workforce management, employee experience management and a benefits tool. They have loads of offices in locations all around the USA.
The main benefits of Paycor are for HR teams, offering one system for human resource reps as well as self-service functionality. You get a suite of great tools for new hires, onboarding and talent development. When it comes to payroll features, Paycor employs automation software to save your team time and to reduce the risk of human errors. Tax forms compliance is also a big deal with Paycor, which does exact record keeping and even offers expert support for tax processing. Factoring wokrer’s compensation is also on offer here. One of the areas where Paycor excels is for handling health insurance processing.
As far as payroll management tools go, Paycor does offer the necessary payroll options. However, this platform isn’t top of the list for being user friendly. It also lacks a lot of customizable leeway when setting things up, but it isn’t totally inflexible. This is mostly a tool for more advanced HR management, rather than a simple payroll provider for small businesses.
The Basic plan is $99 per month plus $5 per user per month
The Essential plan is $149 per month plus $6 per user per month
The Complete plan is $199 per month plus $7 per user per month
The HCM plan is $199 per month plus $12 per user per month
Paycom likes to tout its own accomplishments as saying that they were among the first to take the payroll process and put the whole thing online. This was in 1998, in the bubble days before the 2000 dot.com crash. The fact that Paycom survived that tech firm cull proves its product is worth mentioning here.
Starting with payroll, Paycom has a tool called Beti. This is an automatic payroll builder that gives employees guidance in managing their own payment processing. With Paycom Pay employers can still issue old school paper paychecks through Paycom’s bank account as opposed to the company one. There’s expense management with automatic approvals, and employees can even upload photos of receipts. Of course, Paycom has some standard garnishments, withholding and payroll tax features as well. For HR, there is a Manager-On-The-Go dashboard, and a benefits administration feature. Finally, for labor and time management, Paycom gets you time and attendance tracking, scheduling and even labor acquisition functions.
There’s the annoying drawback here as Paycom is another one of these business SaaS products that give zero information regarding pricing and packages on their website. There are 3d party sites that list the pricing, and it seems this is far from one of the most economical payroll systems on the market, though we always suggest contacting Paycom’s sales team directly for exact prices.
Contact Paycom to request a meeting for prices and packages
Standing for automatic payroll systems, APS is a tech firm out of the unlikely state of Louisiana. The company was founded in 1996 and the APS system launched in 2004. APS helps companies in all 50 of the United States process their payrolls.
APS offers a unified service that combines payroll processing, HR services, attendance tracking and training and onboarding of new hires. There is also an employee self-service portal that works with a mobile version. APS wisely positions its software for specific industry verticals. These include education, restaurants, hospitality and healthcare, among others. For example, they offer a tips-to-minimum calculator for restaurant businesses. For the hospitality industry, you get tools like seasonal employee management. Asset tracking is useful for the manufacturing industry. There are plenty of other useful features like multi-branch management, regulatory compliance and commission and bonus tools.
Hard to find anything to criticize with APS when it comes to their software. However, some points need to be knocked off here for the lack of clarity when it comes to pricing. They really want you to see a demo before looking at price tags, which feels like an obstacle considering so many competitors have very clear numbers displayed on their sites when it comes to cost. It’s very likely this is a more expensive product, which for small businesses, might not be ideal.
Contact APS for a demo and to request pricing information
Spend a bit of time on Wagepoint’s website and you’ll see, they have a sense of humor. Jokes aside, this is a nifty payroll system that is basically no frills, no bells, no whistles. The company bio describes the founder and CEO as a maverick with passion and commitment who spends many sleepless nights pondering payrolls.
Wagepoint aims to keep it simple. First off, the look and feel and intuitive design of this system is really sweet. More importantly, Wagepoint is divided into three products: payroll, PTO, and time tracking. You get what you need and nothing more, and this is well represented in the ultimate price. Payroll aims to remove long administrative tasks from your human reps with direct deposits and other automations. There’s an online employee portal for people to help themselves, thereby freeing up more time for HR people. It does local, state and federal taxes in all 50 states. There’s also good reporting on pay stubs, tax summaries and deposit summaries. Time tracking tools let employees clock in and out using their own computers or mobile phones.
As much as Wagepoint scores well for being a light and nimble payroll app, if your HR team needs a more total toolkit with all of human resource functionality, then Wagepoint might be a bit lacking. Also, the lack of tiered packages means this is good for small businesses but less flexible if your business plans to grow.
Wagepoint costs $20 per month plus $2 per person per month
Dayforce is made by Ceridian, a human capital management software company (HCM). Dayforce is their main cloud-based payroll and HR software. They have sales offices in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, Australia and some Asian countries.
Dayforce combines payroll and time tracking into a single user experience. Some of the better Dayforce payroll features include a Dayforce wallet, which handles standard, one-time or on-demand payments. There’s multi-jurisdictional tax management. Employees get access to a self-service portal with payment and tax information. Reporting is simple and to the point. You get data entry shortcuts to speed up admin. Another neat thing here is that there is an executive dashboard with high-level payroll insights. Dayforce offers many payment options. You can even do regular paychecks as well as direct deposit and payroll cards. Dayforce gets you the standard employee benefits package and other useful HR tools like document management and employee safety monitoring.
Dayforce by Ceridian is a very sophisticated software, but because of this, you can expect everyone using it to take their time on the learning curve. Also, some of the fancier features might be overly complicated for very little usefulness. The price isn’t on the website, but this is far from a budget piece of payroll tech.
Contact Ceridian for Dayforce pricing
Best free payroll software
Our main list, as you can see, did not really cover free payroll systems, so here we’ll shed a bit of light on some other names in the payroll game with a starting price tag of zero. Some great free payroll for small business are the following:
This is a good free payroll solution for teams of 25 staff or fewer. It does payroll, taxes, direct deposits, PTO, employee portals and reporting.
Here you get unlimited employee management for free. They offer online HR and payroll tools, expense claims management, time clock and attendance tracking, and more.
This software uses the Excel look to offer free accounting tools. It has got most of the basic payroll functions, including vacations and garnishments. It’s good for up to 50 people.
A full service payroll app for free from TimeTrex Workforce Management, which also makes premium software. This does payroll, taxes, direct deposits and pay stubs.
What is payroll software & what does it do?
Payroll software is a digital application to handle things that a company’s payroll department or HR normally does. Payroll software mostly exists online as a SaaS, or software as a service, meaning you don’t download software onto your computer and keep all your own data, but rather you subscribe to the service and access the tools online through a web browser or mobile app.
Payroll software does many things. First and foremost, it keeps track of employee hours and pays them their wages based on their hours. In many cases, employees can clock in and out using payroll software, so the system automatically knows how long they’ve worked and how much to pay them. Payment is mostly done through direct deposits, meaning there are no paper paychecks and nobody needs to stand in line at the bank.
Payroll software also takes care of some of the more complicated aspects of payment processing. It can help organize PTO, or paid time off, including sick days and vacation days. It can do garnishments and other withholdings, which is when a part of an employee’s wages get taken off automatically for various reasons, like when an employee has a court order requiring them to compensate another party.
Tax calculations, filing and payment all form another huge part of online payroll systems. The best payroll software will be compliant with local tax, state tax and federal tax (we’re taking the USA here), and many systems guarantee 100% accuracy when calculating taxes. Additionally, insurance payment processing is sometimes included in the top payroll software.
One more interesting feature of the best payroll systems out there are employee portals. These are self-service portals that let employees access their payment information. They can get pay stubs and see their direct deposits, as well as count how much PTO they have coming to them. This is useful for tax filing purposes as well.
How to use payroll software
In a company of any size, but especially for small companies, it is mostly the human resource department who will be responsible for choosing, implementing and using payroll software.
After you choose the payroll system that’s right for you, you’ll need to migrate a lot of data into the system for it to work. This includes number of employees, contract information like wages and salaries, insurance and tax details, and other employee management data. The best payroll solutions will help you with this data migration.
Another thing that’s important when using payroll systems is to take advantage of automation. This means you can set up workflows that will follow a simple algorithmic logic based on ‘if this, then that’ step by step actions. Great payroll software lets you do this without needing to know how to code. Automations can take over the easy but repetitive work tasks like doing payment and processing employee requests. It will leave your HR reps with more free time to do their more important work, like hiring, onboarding, and resolving internal issues between staff.
Finally, when using payroll software, it’s great if you find a system that has good mobile functionality or even a dedicated mobile app. This lets HR reps and employees handle simple payroll-related actions even when they’re away from the office.
What is the best software for payroll for my business needs? Our conclusion
And finally, we come to the conclusion of this mega payroll software review. Like some who have come before us, we too crown Gusto top spot. OnPay, Rippling and Zenefits get a special mention here as well. Finally, though it did not make our top 10 best payroll tools, Wagepoint was a mighty impressive software that managed to nudge itself into our sights to get added to the near-tail-end of this list.
If you have a small business looking to streamline your payment processing, then we’re sure you’ve found the ideal payroll solution at the right price in this article. Remember, sometimes you can try out a program for free, or at last request a free demo from the vendor. And while some of the top payroll apps out there do not advertise their pricing, this does not always mean it’s because they’re too expensive. Don’t be shy to reach out to sales departments, often they are eager to help you find the right package and price for your small business.
Is there free payroll software?
When it comes to payroll systems, there are indeed some free payroll software options available. Some examples of free payroll software are Payroll4Free.com, ExcelPayroll, HR.my and TimeTrex. In some cases, a payroll software vendor may offer a free version as well as variously priced premium versions.
What is the best payroll software for small business owners?
The best payroll software for small businesses are probably Gusto, Quickbooks Payroll, ADP and OnPay. However, depending on your specific needs, there are many other great payroll systems available. What matters is whether you need basic payroll or other more robust human resource features in your system.
Does anyone supply payroll software for accountants free?
There are some vendors who supply payroll software for accountants for free. Often these payroll systems are open source, meaning accountants are free to use and modify them as they please. Some examples include Wave, Zipbooks, Akaunting and GnuCash, among others. Other brands offer budget versions of their software.