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The 5 Best Free Payroll Software Apps For Small Businesses

    Kevin Brouillard
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Advertiser Disclosure: Our unbiased reviews and content are supported in part by affiliate partnerships, and we adhere to strict guidelines to preserve editorial integrity.

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.

Try A Top Pick For Payroll

ADP Payroll



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We like ADP Payroll for its advanced employee management, strong payroll features, and great customer support. Get three months free when you sign up through our links!

Learn More About Our Top Picks

CompanyBest ForNext StepsBest For
Payroll4Free

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Teams of 25 or fewer that need a comprehensive solution with tax features.
Teams of 25 or fewer that need a comprehensive solution with tax features.

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ExcelPayroll

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Small businesses that already use Excel for payroll.
Small businesses that already use Excel for payroll.

Visit Site

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HR.my

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

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TimeTrex

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Small businesses that need web-based time-tracking.
Small businesses that need web-based time-tracking.

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eSmart Paycheck

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

Visit Site

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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.

Payroll4Free: Best Overall Free Payroll Software

Payroll4Free



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Best for smaller businesses that need the tools to do direct deposits and tax calculations by themselves, free of charge.

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 W2 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 W2 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

  • Direct deposit and tax calculations are available as free basic services
  • 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.
  • Direct deposit through Payroll4Free’s own bank is not free

Payroll4Free Features & Pricing

Payroll4Free offers all of its basic services free of charge, which it achieves by hosting advertisements within its software for companies who pay them for their exposure. The free version of Payroll4Free places no limits on payroll or direct deposit processing and doesn’t require that you upgrade to a higher-tier plan to enjoy its basic features. Features that Payroll4Free offers at no additional cost include:

  • Direct deposits and paper checks
  • Tax calculations and required forms
  • Time tracking for vacation and time off
  • Employee dashboard portal
  • Customer service
  • Employee enrollment

The above basic services are for free for clients who staff 25 or fewer employees, although not all of Payroll4Free’s benefits are free.

Despite its name, Payroll4Free places two optional services behind a paywall. Employers that don’t want to deal with depositing and filling out payroll taxes themselves need to pay a $15/month fee for Payroll4Free to take care of it for them. However, Payroll4Free does offer free tools as a basic service that you can use to make this process easier.

If you don’t want to rely on your own bank to transfer direct deposit funds to your employees, you will need to pay another $15 dollars per month for Payroll4Free to complete these transfers using their bank. So, if you decide to opt-in for all paid services that Payroll4Free offers, you’ll be paying $30 every month at the very most.

Payroll4Free Summary

Payroll4Free is the best choice for small businesses with fewer than 25 employees that want an easy-to-use payroll application that gives them the tools they need to succeed. Free features like direct deposit and a self-service portal are absolute must-haves for small companies that need to invest in other areas of their business. Payroll4Free is the best overall payroll software choice for businesses that need basic features with a simple, easy-to-use interface.

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ExcelPayroll: Best For Spreadsheet-Based Bookkeeping

ExcelPayroll



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Best for businesses that have access to a version of Microsoft Office Suite and want a payroll solution that behaves with a spreadsheet format.

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.

ExcelPayroll Features & Pricing

According to its program mission, ExcelPayroll strives to create a Microsoft Excel-based payroll application that includes no monthly fees and zero costs attached to using it. Installation is also free of charge, so you don’t need to pay anything extra to get your software set up and running smoothly. Best of all, ExcelPayroll offers a full set of reliable payroll tools for free including:

  • Prints tax forms including W2s, W3s, 940, 941, DE9 & taxes liabilities
  • Vacation accrual
  • 401(K), garnishment, and other payroll deductions
  • Print checks
  • Time-tracking
  • Bookkeeping entries

ExcelPayroll itself is free to download, and you don’t need to pay any fees to use its features. Technically speaking, though, ExcelPayroll isn’t completely free, since it requires that you purchase a licensed version of Microsoft Office Suite to run Excel.

Microsoft’s 365 Business Standard plan is the cheapest of its cloud-enabled plans that offer the Microsoft Excel application, which charges a monthly fee of $12.50 per user. Keep in mind that you also need to pay an annual commitment fee to retain access to your Office 365 applications, including Excel.

ExcelPayroll Summary

ExcelPayroll makes sense for small businesses that are already comfortable with using Excel spreadsheets and want to use core payroll features such as W2 form and check printing in a spreadsheet format. ExcelPayroll directly syncs up with the Excel app, so you don’t need to worry about creating a spreadsheet from scratch — ExcelPayroll can do that for you. So long as your business either currently has access to a licensed version of Office 365 or doesn’t mind subscribing to a new plan, ExcelPayroll is a robust spreadsheet-based solution that still behaves like payroll software.

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HR.my: Best for Multinational Businesses

HR.my



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Best for companies that largely do their business overseas or staff many multilingual employees. 

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. Boasting support for a whopping 65 languages, HR.my is perfect for multinational teams that also need access to basic payroll processing features and human resource management tools.

HR.my is able to support payment by direct 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 stubs, 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.

HR.my Features & Pricing

HR.my offers free access to one-hundred-percent of its features and doesn’t require that you subscribe to any plans to unlock extra benefits. It accomplishes its free service through crowdfunding from its user community, so you just need to sign up to start using it. HR.my’s free features include:

  • Payroll processing that supports multiple pay periods
  • Attendance management & time-tracking
  • Employee self-service portal
  • Print & export payroll results, leave transactions, and time clock records
  • Regular software updates that introduce new free features

For the number of features it offers for free, HR.my is a contender not to be taken lightly when compared to other ostensibly free payroll software solutions, which sometimes gate certain features behind monthly fees and annual renewals. HR.my is “Free! Forever.” according to their home page, so what you see with them is what you get when you sign up: support for unlimited user accounts, time management, multiple pay schedules, a self-service portal, and much more.

HR.my Summary

Small business owners and HR managers who need multi-lingual payroll software will be pleased with HR.my’s support for literally dozens of languages. The software offers payroll features such as online HR and payroll, leave management, and expense reporting that are essential to businesses that don’t yet have mature payroll processes set up. And, since HR.my supports an unlimited amount of user accounts, it’s a feasible payroll solution for businesses that want to increase their number of employees in the near future.

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Timetrex: Best For Employee Time Tracking

TimeTrex



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Best for companies that need a full-fledged time-tracking solution that also offers payroll features. 

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.
  • Cloud-hosted support for free
  • 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.
  • Non-transparent pricing
  • Tax filings and payments to third parties are not included.

Timetrex Features & Pricing

TimeTrex offers its most basic payroll features for free under its Community Edition service plan. The TimeTrex Community Edition is exclusively cloud-hosted, doesn’t require any downloads or software installations, and comes with free features such as:

  • Payroll processing
  • Human resource management
  • Web browser support for time & attendance
  • Leave management

TimeTrex does offer mobile app and on-site service in addition to its web portal support, but you’ll need to purchase at least the Professional plan to access it. TimeTrex’s pricing starts at $2.99 per month, per user, and begins at a beginning flat rate of $29.90 for businesses that pay up to 10 employees. Additionally, the company offers a plan comparison online but doesn’t include any further pricing details, so you’ll need to request a demo with them to learn more about which plan makes sense for your business.

TimeTrex Summary

TimeTrex’s free features make the most sense for small, dispersed teams that need web access to time-tracking. Business owners who already use a payroll software they enjoy can integrate it with TimeTrex, as well as sync it automatically with TimeTrex’s attendance tracking. Unfortunately, TimeTrex’s lack of pricing transparency makes it difficult for busy companies that need immediate payroll solutions to quickly choose a plan that suits their needs.

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eSmart Paycheck: Best For Quick Payroll Calculations

eSmart Paycheck



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Best for companies that want to quickly crunch payroll numbers with state-specific calculators.

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.

eSmart Paycheck Features & Pricing

eSmart Paycheck is more of a payroll calculator than it is a software solution. Small business owners can use eSmart to input employee wage and withholding information to run payroll themselves. Among the standout free features that come with the eSmart Paycheck calculator include:

  • Print paychecks and pay stubs
  • State-specific calculators
  • Adjustable pay cycles
  • Quick web-based access

Businesses that need tools to file tax information will need to subscribe to a paid eSmart Payroll service plan. eSmart Payroll provides paid access to federal and state payroll forms at various prices.

eSmart Paycheck Summary

eSmart is best saved for businesses that already have a firm grasp on how to calculate their payroll and are confident in filing taxes themselves. If your company is well-organized and just needs a solution to calculate and print its payroll numbers, then eSmart Paycheck may be right for you.

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Honorable Mentions

IRIS: Best UK Payroll Service

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: Best Canadian Payroll Service

At this stage, Rise only offers payroll services 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.

ADP

ADP Payroll



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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.

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Gusto

Gusto



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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.

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Intuit Online Payroll

Intuit Online Payroll



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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.

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Wave Payroll

Payroll by Wave



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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.

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Paylocity

Paylocity



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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.

Read our in-depth review

Free Payroll Software: The Bottom Line

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.

Try A Top Pick For Payroll

ADP Payroll



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We like ADP Payroll for its advanced employee management, strong payroll features, and great customer support. Get three months free when you sign up through our links!

Free Payroll Software FAQs

What is the best free payroll software for small businesses?

Our pick for the best overall free payroll software is Payroll4Free, which delivers the most comprehensive array of features at no cost to small businesses. HR.my comes in a close second for the best free payroll and HR software combination.

What is the easiest payroll software to use?

For companies that have little or no payroll experience, Square Payroll or ADP are the two easiest payroll software to use.

Square is relatively rudimentary compared to other popular payroll software, but its intuitive dashboard makes it easy for even the most inexperienced users to automate their payroll runs.

ADP offers more features than Square but still retains a minimal learning curve for those with little or no payroll or accounting experience.

Is free payroll software worth it?

Small businesses that are running on a limited budget and that need tools to run payroll themselves benefit the most from using free payroll software.

Although, most free software won’t have as many features or be as scalable for a growing company as a paid software. If you don’t want to have to switch payroll software down the road, you should go with a payroll service like ADP or Gusto instead.

When should I upgrade to paid payroll software?

If you need well-developed features for time-tracking, document management, and HR resources, you’ll probably need to purchase a paid service plan. Automation of big tasks like scheduling payroll cycles and filing tax withholding also usually come with paid payroll software, and the time you save from these automations could be more than worth the cost of upgrading from free payroll software.

Can I do small business payroll without software?

Doing your own payroll without software means you’ll need to do it manually. However, DIY payroll is completely within the realm of possibility if you take some basic steps. Take a look at Merchant Maverick’s guide to doing payroll manually even as you scale your business and continue to bring on more employees.

In Summary: The Best Free Payroll Software Apps

  • Payroll4Free: Teams of 25 or fewer that need a comprehensive solution with tax features.
  • ExcelPayroll: Small businesses that already use Excel for payroll.
  • HR.my: Small businesses with multiple locations and multi-lingual needs.
  • TimeTrex: Small businesses that need web-based time-tracking.
  • 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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    Sree

    Thank you for your article on free payroll software. Free payroll apps are a great way to save money and make the process of paying employees easier. I agree with you, and payroll software is a great way to save money and streamline the process.

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