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The 5 Best Free Payroll Software Apps For Small Businesses

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Between advertising, paying employees, and keeping the lights on, the costs of running a business can add up quickly. Finding ways to save money without sacrificing the quality of products and services is a tricky balance.

Small businesses, in particular, know that handling things like payroll in-house can help retain their hard-earned money. Free payroll software can help save on monthly subscription fees, leaving more money to be invested in a business.

While the promise of free payroll software is certainly tempting, not all software is created equal. With a free service, there may be tradeoffs in terms of customer support, a user-friendly interface, scalability, and exposure to malware and viruses.

We know time is precious for small business owners, so we’ve assembled a list of the best free payroll software apps to help streamline paying your employees. For each, we’ve reviewed their top features, pros, and cons, to help find a payroll application that is right for your small business needs.

Learn More About Our Top Picks

CompanyBest ForNext Steps
Payroll4Free
Teams of 25 or fewer that need a comprehensive solution with tax features.

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ExcelPayroll
Small businesses that already use Excel for payroll.

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HR.my
Small businesses with multiple locations and multi-lingual needs.

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TimeTrex
Small businesses that need to track the time of hourly employees.

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eSmart Paycheck
Small businesses that need a payroll calculator with extra features.

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Read more below to learn why we chose these options.

The Best Free Payroll Software Apps

When evaluating the best free payroll software, we prioritized small business needs, including calculating paychecks, making deductions, and time tracking hours and PTO. Read on for our top free payroll software picks.

1. Best Overall

Payroll4Free



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True to its name, Payroll4Free is a handy tool for completing payroll for free. If you are paying 25 or fewer people, your small business is eligible to access its basic services for free.

Even at its most stripped-down level, Payroll4Free still packs a comprehensive array of features that can take the hassle out of completing payroll. For starters, it allows users to pay both W-2 and 1099 employees. The software also can print checks and calculate federal, state, and local taxes. Furthermore, users can export their payroll data to be integrated with accounting and banking software like QuickBooks.

Payroll4Free’s portal and reporting features let employers and employees alike keep track of sick days, vacation, and other PTO. Additionally, employees can print out their pay stubs and W-2 forms off the platform, saving small business owners time and resources.

The platform is able to offer free service through paid advertising, which users will encounter periodically while using the software.

Pros

  • Basic service includes unlimited customer support by phone, email, and online chat if you hit any roadblocks.
  • Customer data and information is encrypted.
  • Provides preset tax forms for submission.

Cons

  • Mac users will need to use Windows operating software since iOS isn’t compatible.
  • The free package does not include direct deposit or file payroll taxes

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2. Best For Excel-Based Bookkeeping

ExcelPayroll



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Spreadsheets are a helpful and time-tested tool for creating budgets and making calculations. If you’re already using spreadsheets or Microsoft Excel to handle payroll, ExcelPayroll can simplify the process for no extra cost.

After entering employee information, along with their earnings and deductions, ExcelPayroll can run the payroll calculations from there. Users can also print checks and tax forms, see workers’ compensation reports, and record payroll deductions, such as 401k contributions.

Pros

  • Whereas Microsoft Excel charges a subscription fee, ExcelPayroll is free.
  • Easily translatable for anyone savvy in Microsoft Excel.
  • Customized withholding and timecard options are available.

Cons

  • More manual entry involved than other payroll software.
  • Does not handle tax or benefits administration.
  • Not ideal for employers with 50 or more employees because Affordable Care Act compliance isn’t programmed in.

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3. Best for Multinational Businesses

HR.my



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Managing employees is a major task for any business. When employees are spread across multiple locations, or even countries, there may be language barriers and added steps for completing payroll taxes to account for. Step in HR.my, a free payroll software out of Malaysia that specializes in human resource management for global businesses.

HR.my is able to support payment by director deposit, check, or even cash. A business can also designate multiple managers in the system through a role-based user access control feature to divide payroll responsibilities. Additionally, employees can use the platform to input hours worked, request PTO, print their pay stub, and check their vacation accrual among other tasks. Users can also import timesheets, expense reports, and share documents via the software’s workflow function.

Pros

  • The software supports a total of 65 languages.
  • Businesses with any number of employees may utilize HR.my.
  • The flexible payment schedule lets you cut checks monthly, semi-monthly, biweekly, and weekly.
  • Data is encrypted and secured daily with off-site backup.

Cons

  • Does not incorporate U.S. labor law compliance.
  • Customer support is handled through a crowd-sourced online forum.

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4. Best For Employee Time Tracking

TimeTrex



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Calculating payroll requires knowing how much time employees have worked during a pay period. Recording any sick leave or vacation days is also important too. Timetrex is a good bet for small businesses with hourly employees, as it synthesizes time-tracking into payroll software.

The free option is known as the community edition; it is an open-source platform supported by volunteers from over 50 countries. Timetrex stands out for its time and attendance tracking for employees, who need simply log their hours online. This information is automatically linked with payroll, so running the numbers at the end of the pay period is a breeze.

Timetrex’s community edition covers most of the bases of completing payroll, including calculating net pay, taxes, and deductions. Users can utilize Timetrex to pay their employees via direct deposit or paper check, as well as prepare tax forms. Some other HR functions are featured too, such as submitting PTO requests and schedule changes.

Pros

  • Can be integrated with other payroll services, such as ADP and QuickBooks.
  • Employees can easily access app via web browser
  • Includes automated multi-week scheduling for recurring or rotating shifts.

Cons

  • The free community version does not assist with filing taxes.
  • It is not inherently compliant with all state labor laws.
  • Tax filings and payments to third parties are not included.

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5. Best For Calculating Payroll

eSmart Paycheck



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There’s a lot of arithmetic that goes into completing payroll. eSmart Paycheck is a free payroll calculator that can quickly compute payroll for hourly or salaried workers, while taking care of 401k contributions and other deductions.

eSmart stands out from other payroll calculators in that it lets users download and print paychecks and pay stubs. If you live in a state with more complicated payroll taxes, such as New York or Maryland, state-specific calculators can help safeguard you’re withholding the right amount.

Pros

  • Helps you abide by state income tax laws
  • The pay cycle has eight settings (daily, weekly, bi-weekly, semi-monthly, monthly, quarterly, semi-annually, and annually)
  • The interface for inputting information is very intuitive.

Cons

  • The free calculator does not save data, so you’ll need to make records separately.
  • Does not help file taxes.

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Honorable Mentions

IRIS

UK-based businesses with fewer than 10 employees can take advantage of IRIS’s free payroll software. Payroll calculations are done automatically on an ongoing basis once information is inputted. Data is backed up with each use, so you won’t have to start over from scratch each time you do payroll. Besides the geographic and employee constraints, another downside is that the ability to print pay stubs and reports is only free for 30 days.

Rise

At this stage, Rise only offers payroll service for small businesses in Canada with 20 employees or less. In addition to calculating payroll, qualifying businesses can generate personalized payroll reports and completely customize their payment schedule.

Should You Use Paid Payroll Software Instead?

If the aforementioned free platforms aren’t checking all your boxes, a paid payroll software is another option. In addition to greater customer support, these apps typically come with a more diverse array of features that businesses with any number of employees can utilize.

Paid VS Free Payroll Software

While the best free payroll software can come in handy for payroll calculations and printing checks, it may not cover all the bases for completing payroll. Also, companies may not be eligible for free services as they grow in size.

If you’re looking to take your payroll support further to file taxes and make direct deposits, the time savings may be worth the cash required monthly to pony up for a paid payroll software. Many paid providers offer different payroll tiers according to access, meaning there are options for nearly any budget.

The Best Free Payroll Software Alternatives

If you decide that the free apps aren’t cutting it for your payroll and HR needs, there are plenty of other cost-effective options to consider. There are many solutions out there, so we’ve done some of the legwork to put together a list of the best payroll software for small businesses.

Intuit Online Payroll

Intuit QuickBooks is one of the most well-known accounting platforms, and fans of this product may want to sync it with Intuit Online Payroll to streamline their business operations further. The most basic coverage, core payroll, can tackle paycheck and tax calculation, as well as deliver reports and next day direct deposits. Upgrading to either premium or elite will bring automated payroll, greater HR support, and time tracking features.

To access the Intuit Online Payroll service, you are required to have an existing QuickBooks Online account. If you don’t already use QuickBooks for accounting, this could make the switch more costly. Meanwhile, the abundance of features lends itself to larger entities and mid-size businesses with aspirations to expand. Read our complete Intuit Online Payroll review for more information.

ADP

ADP has been working in payroll and workplace management for decades. As an established firm, they have built their reputation on customer service and support for major companies with thousands of employees. However, ADP’s four-tiered RUN plan is geared towards small businesses with 1-49 employees. The software includes payroll processing, direct deposit, tax filing, new hire reporting. To manage HR through payroll, you will have to upgrade above the Essential RUN plan.

To determine if ADP fits your budget, you’ll have to reach out for a quote, as pricing and add-on fees are not explicitly disclosed online. For growing mid-sized businesses, the extensive features and in-depth customer support could be worth the higher prices and hidden fees. Read our complete ADP review to see if this payroll software is right for you.

Gusto

If your main priority is getting payroll taken care of without much hassle, then Gusto is a top candidate for the job. The cloud-based system can fully automate calculations and tax filing through a service called Gusto AutoPilot, which can provide 24-hour notice and ultimately submit payroll on time in case you forget. Even Gusto’s cheapest package, the core plan, lets customers manage deductions, garnishments, and additional earnings for their payroll. Employees can do some time tracking and download pay stubs within the portal too.

If reporting and complex scheduling are a priority for your small business, then Gusto may not be the best choice. Otherwise, its straight-forward approach and attentive customer support make it a hit among small to mid-size businesses. Read our full Gusto review for more details.

Wave Payroll

To get the most bang for your buck on payroll and accounting, Wave is hard to beat. Of course, the accounting and payroll apps can be used separately, but the integrated nature of the two — and the fact that Wave’s accounting platform is free — can be big plusses for small businesses on a shoe-string budget.

Currently, Wave only offers full-service in 14 states, though small businesses located elsewhere can opt for the cheaper self-service option. The key difference is that full-service customers can take advantage of tax filing and reporting services. Still, self-service handles payroll basics at a lower cost, including direct deposit, printing checks, and calculating PTO and paychecks. Read our complete Payroll by Wave review for more information.

Paylocity

After years of success managing payroll and human resource management for large businesses, Paylocity has dived into the small business market. The software stands out for its capacity to integrate solutions and services, such as time tracking, performance reviews, and employee benefits alongside payroll. Paylocity’s lowest tier, Effortless Payroll, still packs a wealth of features on top of the standard payroll calculation components, such as tax services, labor law poster updates, and a self-service mobile app for employees

Paylocity isn’t known for offering competitive pricing to small businesses. But if customizability and a full-scale HR integration is what you’re after, then look no further. Read our full Paylocity review to learn more.

Choosing The Right Free Payroll Software For Your Business

In some cases, free payroll software can help crunch the numbers and make sure employees are paid on time. On the other hand, they may have limitations in fulfilling all your tax filing and compliance needs. There are certainly more options beyond our five picks, but other free programs may lack security measures that could put your small business at risk.

In Summary: The Best Free Payroll Software Apps

  1. Payroll4Free: Teams of 25 or fewer that need a comprehensive solution with tax features.
  2. ExcelPayroll: Small businesses that already use Excel for payroll.
  3. HR.my: Small businesses with multiple locations and multi-lingual needs.
  4. TimeTrex: Small businesses that need to track the time of hourly employees.
  5. eSmart Paycheck: Small businesses that need a payroll calculator with extra features.
Kevin Brouillard

Kevin Brouillard

Kevin Brouillard is a writer, Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, aspiring goat farmer, and finance specialist based in Upstate New York. In addition to covering small business topics for Merchant Maverick, he has experience writing about environmental issues, travel, and personal finance.
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