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Best Payroll Software For Small Businesses

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When it comes to finding the best payroll software for your small business, you have a whole lot of modern and intuitive options to choose from. Here at Merchant Maverick, we understand how many features small business owners need to look for in a payroll solution, as well as which ones they need to pay the closest attention to in order to make their decision. Whether you’re looking for lots of customizable options or just reliable and affordable tax support, comparing all of the options available to you can become overwhelming. The payroll software business is booming right now as more and more companies look to automate and streamline stressful aspects of their businesses, and the victors of this competitive surge are small businesses.

Merchant Maverick has spent countless hours learning the ins and outs of small business payroll software (fact: I have had a series of payroll software-related nightmares lately; we have reached peak immersion level).  So, grab yourself a coffee and save yourself some hours — and potential nightmares — by delving into our top choices for the best payroll software for small businesses. The solution you need is out there, and we’ll make sure you find the one that best suits your business’s needs.

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Best overall payroll system for small businesses. 
Best overall payroll system for small businesses. 

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Best payroll system for businesses with little or no payroll experience.
Best payroll system for businesses with little or no payroll experience.

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Best payroll system for companies that need basic, easy-to-use service.
Best payroll system for companies that need basic, easy-to-use service.

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Best payroll system to tailor features to business requirements.
Best payroll system to tailor features to business requirements.

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Best payroll system for companies that already use QuickBooks software.
Best payroll system for companies that already use QuickBooks software.

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Other Featured Options:

  • Paycor: Best payroll system for businesses that need a complete Human Capital Management system.
  • SurePayroll: Best payroll system for overlooked industries and very small businesses.
  • OnPay: Best payroll system for businesses that want a sleek, mobile-friendly experience.

Read more below to learn why we chose these options.

The 8 Best Payroll Software For Small Businesses

Small businesses that are wondering which best payroll software will work best for them have many high-quality options to choose from. But the best payroll software for small businesses varies on a case-by-case basis, because no two small businesses are completely alike. The best payroll app for your small business will depend on factors such as the number of employees you staff, your tax obligations for both your salaried employees and part-time workers, how many internal processes you’ve already automated — the list goes on. Let’s take a look at the best modern payroll software choices for small businesses to see how they compare toe-to-toe with each other.

1. Gusto: Best Overall Payroll Choice

Gusto



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Gusto is the best payroll system choice overall for small businesses that need easy-to-use software with reliable customer support. Gusto is ideal for small businesses with fewer than 100 employees that need to completely automate their payroll processing system.

At Merchant Maverick, we use Gusto to manage our own payroll, so we can attest to its ease of use from both the administrative and employee sides. This cloud-based payroll system has an easy-to-navigate interface and intuitive onboarding and benefits set-up, and it fully automates payroll, streamlining that tedious task through everything from onboarding to termination. Unlike so many other payroll providers, Gusto provides transparent pricing, but the price does run a smidge higher than other comparable systems. What you pay for, however, is a robust program with a track record of friendly and helpful customer service, full tax support, and includes solid HR features.

Customers rave about Gusto — especially people in the payroll and bookkeeping worlds — and they find the program is updating and expanding according to client needs. Reporting options and integrations continue to grow and evolve.

Pros

  • Easy to use
  • Modern interface
  • Great tax support

Cons

  • Limited reporting
  • Few integrations

Gusto Pricing

Gusto offers three different pricing plans, a free 30-day trial, and the new ‘Basic’ beta plan. The Core, Complete, and Concierge plans run from $39 a month + $6 per employee (Core) t0 $149 a month + $12 per employee (Concierge). The Concierge package offers HR compliance assistance and an HR resource center, as well as the addition of a dedicated customer service representative.

Features

Gusto offers strong benefits administration features and assists with adding worker’s compensation and HSA plans to your payroll. Bear in mind that this is a basic program designed to help small business owners who may not have an accountant or bookkeeper, and people with ample experience might find the program lacking in its customizability and reporting features. If ease and functionality are what you need, though, Gusto can’t be beaten.

At the top level (Concierge), Gusto offers the following features:

  • Unlimited payroll runs
  • Automatic tax filing
  • Direct deposit
  • Garnishment
  • Paid time off policies & time-off requests
  • Reporting
  • Customizable admin permissions
  • Employee offers & onboarding
  • Holiday pay
  • Time tracking
  • Employee directory & surveys
  • Custom employee handbook
  • HR & compliance support
  • HR resource center
  • Dedicated customer support team

With its easy onboarding platform and streamlined access to benefits, Gusto offers everything a small business needs to start a solid payroll and HR system. Their dedicated support is an additional feature that helps this program beat its competitors.

When To Use Gusto

Gusto is perfect for small to medium-sized businesses that may not have a full accounting department and are looking for an easy, functional, customer-oriented program to run payroll. It is not a bargain-basement option, inexpensive with limited features, nor is it an intricate option with numerous integrations and bells and whistles. Gusto is just right. It fills a need with attention and care, focusing on small businesses and catering to their needs with ample support. This is our best overall option for small businesses and we recommend it widely.

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2. ADP: Ideal For Payroll & Accounting Novices

ADP Payroll



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ADP is the best payroll software for small businesses with no payroll or accounting experience that need to automate both processes. ADP is also a great choice for larger businesses with more than 50 employees that need a few extra bells and whistles in addition to complete payroll automation.

It is estimated that one in six employees in the United States receive a paycheck from ADP. The iconic and prolific payroll provider is a big player in the payroll industry, and it certainly deserves its spot. ADP is known for its easy-to-use interface and guided assistance through the program. Features, however, are not sacrificed for functionality, and the reporting dashboard and options for integrations are impressive.

ADP has been around long enough to know a thing or two about payroll and that is reflected in the ample customer service it offers and its attentiveness to complaints and concerns. Run ADP is the option for small businesses with 1-50 employees, but there are other options if a company grows and needs additional assistance.

Pros

  • Easy to use
  • Can grow with a company

Cons

  • Added fees
  • Small fish in a big pond

ADP Pricing

ADP generally offers customers two free months and reduced-rate contracts to sign a yearly contract. Each contract is different, but most contracts request a 12-month commitment and are paid upfront. There is no termination fee, but there are no refunds for canceled contracts. On average, you will pay $160 with 10-15 employees. We were quoted $179.86 monthly for 11 employees for payroll and HR Plus; that is a $10 per employee fee in addition to payroll fees. (ADP charges a fee each time you run payroll.) There is also a $25 set-up fee that is usually waived with a contract. All quotes are customized per your business location, number of employees, frequency of running payroll, etc.

Features

ADP is easy to use and well-organized. The interface is surprisingly intuitive, and the setup process comes with guided support. When it’s time to enter employees and set up your payroll schedule, ADP wants to make sure you feel supported: An ADP representative will walk all users through a tutorial and provide links for access to your payroll.

Run ADP offers the following features:

  • Payroll processing
  • Direct deposit
  • Tax filing
  • Garnishment payment
  • Electronic reporting
  • Time-tracking

ADP offers a long list of integrations, including popular options like QuickBooks, Wave, TSheets, Slack, Clover, and ZipRecruiter. Its legacy program is quick to develop workarounds for any needed assistance and integrations, and the ADP customer support team is top-notch.

When To Use ADP

ADP is a great program for small businesses with a handful of employees that do not have an HR or accounting team. The program is easy to use, intuitive, and solid (and since ADP has been in the payroll business for a long time, you know they have decades of experience and information to help businesses work through difficulties). For a business with only one or two employees, ADP is simply too expensive for basic payroll, but is a solid option otherwise.

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3. Square Payroll: Easiest To Use & Navigate

Square Payroll



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Square Payroll is the best payroll software for small businesses that already use Square products, as well as businesses looking for a bargain and that employ numerous contractors. Square doesn’t include a lot of bells and whistles, but it gets the job done well for small businesses that need to be compliant and always on top of their payroll reporting.

Square has a niche: simple and easy. As a payment processor, Square offers a straightforward system without a stream of bells and whistles. And that is exactly what they deliver with the Square payroll program as well, which boasts an intuitive and easy to use payroll program that integrates well with the rest of Square’s products. Competitive pricing and a simple interface are big plusses for Square. Its lone complaints come from bigger companies looking for a more curated interface and people who say sometimes it takes a long time to get connected with a payroll expert. However, if it is simple and basic you want, Square can provide, and at a reasonable rate.

Pros

  • Inexpensive
  • Easy to use
  • Basic

Cons

  • Rudimentary features
  • Limited payroll functions

Square Pricing

With Square, there are no hidden fees or sneaky terms and conditions. There are two different plans depending on your type of employee and payroll needs. If your business is only paying contractors, you will pay a $5 a month fee per contractor on your payroll. If you pay both contractors and salaried/hourly employees, you pay a $29 subscription and $5 per employee per month. There are no contracts with Square, so you can cancel your plan at any time.

Features

When you join Square Payroll, you have access to all the basic payroll features. Square’s features are easy to access and understand, even if you have never run payroll before, and the interface is designed to walk you through each step of the process.

Square offers the following features:

  • Unlimited payroll processing
  • Tax services
  • Direct deposit/Bank checks/cash card
  • Employee self-service portal with mobile app
  • Garnishments
  • Time tracking
  • Benefits administration
  • Poster updates
  • HR support
  • Supports off-cycle payments

Square Payroll integrates directly with other Square products like Square POS. While Square payroll will work best and have peak functionality if you’re using other Square applications, there are other programs outside the Square brand that integrate well with Square. There are six additional integrations including QuickBooks, TSheets, and ZipRecruiter.

When To Use Square

Square is best for small businesses that might already be using Square products or businesses looking for simple and inexpensive payroll options. The pricing is competitive among payroll systems for similar employee numbers, and the setup is simple and intuitive for companies that may not have an HR department. However, larger companies that need customization around payments and pay-scales may find Square too limited for their specific needs. The best bet? If you are already using Square POS, integrating Square’s payroll system is simple and quick, and a logical choice for streamlining your sales, payroll, and time cards.

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4. Paylocity: In-Depth Customization & Feature Set

Paylocity



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Paylocity is the best payroll system for mid-sized businesses that need software they can tailor and customize to suit their business needs. The software boasts a large feature set that works well for businesses that need both payroll as well as HR capabilities.

Paylocity is a web-based payroll program designed for businesses of all sizes. The company only recently included small businesses in its payroll software, but the company stands out as a leader in bridging the gap between more streamlined payroll and HRM solutions.

Customizability is where Paylocity has a competitive edge. Its program boasts many integrations for HR, benefits, time tracking, performance reviews, and applications fully tailored to your company’s needs and wishes. Paylocity wants to create a bespoke program specifically with your needs in mind. With a drag and drop interface and a specialized account person a phone call away to help make changes, there is a lot to like about this program. However, some users find the app counter-intuitive and prone to errors, which does not make this a good option for Luddites or payroll newbies.

Pros

  • Customizable
  • Copious features
  • Modern interface

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Steep learning curve
  • Not for the tech-shy

Paylocity Pricing

Paylocity offers three different payroll tiers (Effortless Payroll, Efficient Tech, and Modern Workplace.) The price varies by feature access, not by the number of employees. There are no contracts, and you can cancel your plan at any time. We were quoted between $125 to $200/month plus $6-8/month/employee depending on the plan. For small businesses, Paylocity is a bit more expensive than its competitors. However, at the Modern Workplace level, Paylocity is a full human capital management system and payroll system, incorporating the entire employee life cycle.

Features

Paylocity’s features are varied and easily customizable based on your business needs. At the most basic payroll level, Paylocity offers all the best features of a cloud-based payroll system. However, for companies looking to expand beyond payroll, the system accommodates growth and other aspects of HR.

Here is a full list of features available:

  • Unlimited payroll processing
  • Tax services
  • Direct deposit
  • Bank checks/check signing
  • Check stock for printing
  • Employee self-service portal with mobile app
  • Garnishments
  • New hire reporting
  • Poster updates
  • QuickBooks integration
  • HR support
  • Benefit essentials
  • Web expenses
  • Unemployment management
  • Web Time (cloud-based time tracking)
  • General ledger reports for people operating without QuickBooks
  • Custom-built PTO tracking and management
  • Web recruiting and background checks
  • Web onboarding
  • Employee performance management
  • Access to learning management systems

With its easy-to-use features, Paylocity is a solid choice for companies wanting a modern product they can tailor to their needs. It has ample integrations and a one-on-one account manager.

When To Use Paylocity

Paylocity is not a simple program: it was designed to appeal to HR directors and accountants, not necessarily the small business owner running payroll for a few people on a monthly basis. If you need simple and basic, this isn’t for you. Instead, this program is going to appeal to growing businesses that want a more streamlined HR and payroll system, and that know enough about payroll and HR to communicate their program desires to the Paylocity team. It’s not for payroll newbies but is a solid find for a small business with more advanced requirements.

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5. Intuit QuickBooks Online Payroll: Perfect For Existing QuickBooks Users

Intuit Online Payroll



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Intuit is the best payroll system for businesses that already use QuickBooks products that they want to easily integrate with a payroll solution. Intuit has a reputation for regularly adapting and reworking its payroll features, which may appeal to businesses that anticipate rapidly scaling their growth and operations in the near future.

QuickBooks is an old standby and its products are hard to ignore; for businesses that already use QuickBooks software, upgrading to Intuit QuickBooks Online payroll should be a breeze, and users will find that the program is trustworthy, easy to navigate, and affordable.

Pros

  • Easy to use
  • Perfect for QuickBooks users
  • Priced well

Cons

  • Mediocre customer service
  • Confusing to navigate QuickBook’s myriad formats

Intuit QuickBooks Online Pricing

QuickBooks Online Payroll recently went through a renovation of its Intuit program and prices. The biggest update is that all of the new payroll options are full-service platforms. Intuit QuickBooks has month-to-month contracts and no early termination fees. Payments are monthly, and you can cancel your subscription at any time. QuickBooks also runs promotions for its payroll product frequently, so be sure to check for any available discounts before purchasing.

QuickBooks has a tiered pricing system with three different options. The most basic package (Core) costs $45/month +$4/per employee; the second tiered option is the Premium Payroll which costs $75/month +$8/per employee; the Elite option costs $125/month +$10/per employee.

Features

If you’re already accustomed to QuickBooks Online, Intuit Online Payroll will seem familiar and easy to get used to. The software is well organized, and the UI is intuitive. People who like QuickBooks and already use aspects of the software are more likely to have a positive experience transitioning to the Intuit Online Payroll system.

One great bonus about Intuit is that it integrates well with TurboTax. Employees can import their W2s straight into TurboTax by using their employee identification number.

Intuit QuickBooks Online offers the following features at its Core level:

  • Next day direct deposit
  • Unlimited payroll runs
  • Calculates paychecks
  • Calculates and files federal and state taxes
  • Calculates and files year-end forms
  • Expert support
  • Workforce portal
  • Manages garnishments and deductions
  • Offers reporting features

As the prices scale, the features improve and become curated for your business. At the upper tiers, Intuit offers the white-glove treatment to onboarding and sends you a dedicated HR representative to work with your company.

Intuit payroll is also expanding its integrations on a weekly basis. QuickBooks is known for giving access to over 400 apps, and the Intuit Online program has many you might be familiar with, such as TSheets, Expensify, Shopify, and Chaser.

When To Use Intuit QuickBooks Online

If your small business already uses and likes QuickBooks, you will find a lot to love about the addition of Intuit payroll. With the new overhaul of payroll and pricing, Intuit has demonstrated a desire to evolve and grow as payroll competition becomes fiercer. The biggest complaint about QuickBooks in the past was customer service and confusion about prices, but they have adjusted their pricing and seem to be keeping their finger on the pulse of complaints. We are always impressed when a company responds swiftly to feedback.

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6. Paycor: Extensive Human Capital Management Tools

Paycor



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Paycor is the best payroll system for small businesses that need a full Human Capital Management system with payroll processing features. Paycor boasts an intuitive and modern-looking user interface that may appeal to smaller businesses that need some extra hand-holding. 

Paycor’s Human Capital Management (HCM) program, including its cloud-based full-service payroll system and the rest of the HR/benefit management suite, is sleek, usable, and has an intuitive interface. This makes it an easy software to learn and understand; combined with the company’s commitment to resolving issues and rolling out new features and customized options, Paycor shows dedication to improvement and innovation. If you need payroll and HCM support, Paycor should be the first place you look.

Pros

  • Easy setup
  • User-friendly
  • Strong payroll features

Cons

  • Extra fees
  • Too many essentials are sold a la carte

Paycor Pricing

Paycor has adopted a tiered pricing system, and while the company’s base prices are inexpensive, there are quite a few features that cost extra fees per month. If your company does not need the extras (perhaps no need for extensive recruitment and scheduling software), the payroll systems are priced well and appear to offer a competitive option for buyers looking for an economical solution.

The one thing to note is that some of the more popular essentials of an HR management suite are still add-ons with additional monthly fees. For example, if you want to add time-tracking or a benefits management package, you’ll be paying more per month.

Paycor’s prices for their Basic Payroll start at $99 a month; Complete Payroll is offered for $149 a month, and Essential Payroll is $199 a month.

Features

The payroll system for Paycor is rated highly for usability and features. Loaded with reports and customizations, Paycor’s system is easy to navigate. There are helpful resources within the program and available online to walk your business through any issues. The best part of Paycor is that payroll, scheduling, recruitment, HR, training, can all be in one location. There is no flipping back and forth between programs: Paycor aims to meet client needs.

Paycor employee portal

Paycor offers the following features in its Basic Payroll package:

  • Same-day direct deposit
  • Free W2s filed and sent
  • Assisted payroll setup
  • Help from US-based experts
  • Standard report building and customizable reports
  • Garnishment/child support self-service
  • HR support center
  • Up to 10 employees

In addition to the basics, your business can add features. Some of the more popular additional features are the Paycor learning management systems, recruiting and application tracking, and a scheduling platform that runs needed reports on inventory and job costing.

Paycor is continuously expanding its integrations, and currently, the platform has 35 available integrations/partners. The company also has an API available for app creation within the platform and a genuine desire to create bespoke integrations and applications based on need.

When To Use Paycor

If you want a payroll system and an HR platform, Paycor is a fantastic choice. Paycor is perfect for small to medium-sized businesses looking for enterprise-level HR assistance. The software was designed to streamline services, so it is best suited for an owner-operator or business owner with a small HR department. Large companies that need a significant amount of customization may find Paycor too limited for their specific needs.

Paycor is a great option for a company that wants to expand to a full HCM suite, and it is basic, easy to learn, and inexpensive.

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7. SurePayroll: Payroll Solutions For Niche Industries

SurePayroll



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SurePayroll is the best payroll system for overlooked industries and very small businesses. SurePayroll works best for small businesses that need easy-to-use software with basic payroll processing features.

SurePayroll is leading the way for bare-bones cloud-based software that caters to small businesses. As a matter of fact, SurePayroll is best for industries like household employment, nannies, clergy, or non-profits — and it’s a great fit for very small businesses with fewer than five employees. If you are looking for an inexpensive, simple, straightforward payroll program, SurePayroll deserves to be in top contention. It’s simple to use and was designed for small businesses both in terms of price and functionality.

Also, SurePayroll continues to listen to client feedback and has worked on its features in recent months. For small businesses that need a basic payroll system and don’t need to add a lot of extra integrations, SurePayroll is a competitive option in this price range.

Pros

  • Easy to use
  • Modern interface
  • Inexpensive

Cons

  • Website is slow
  • Ample extra fees
  • Limited integrations

SurePayroll Pricing

SurePayroll doesn’t publish its prices online. However, our business was quoted $29 a month, plus $4 per employee. One frustration with SurePayroll is the extra fees. Integrations like time-tracking can cost an additional monthly fee, and the monthly cost does not include the cost for year-end filing and W2 reports. You can get one month free, however, to try SurePayroll. Overall, SurePayroll is an affordable option.

Features

SurePayroll’s features were designed with small businesses in mind. This means that a small business should find every feature and customization they need, but not too many extras. That said, SurePayroll’s employee app and attention to 24-hour support is unmatched at this price point, and also can be specifically customized to meet the needs of those overlooked industries.

SurePayroll Dashboard

SurePayroll offers the following features:

  • Unlimited payroll processing
  • Tax services
  • Direct deposit
  • Bank checks/check signing
  • Check stock for printing
  • Employee self-service portal with mobile app
  • Garnishments
  • New hire reporting
  • Poster updates
  • HR support
  • Labor poster updates
  • Tax guarantees

With its easy-to-use features and intuitive programming, SurePayroll is a great choice for companies looking to get-up-and-go with a straightforward product. However, companies or small businesses looking to integrate a payroll system with their other systems (like time tracking or invoicing) might find the transition cumbersome.

When To Use SurePayroll

SurePayroll is the perfect payroll software to use if your company is small or if you are looking for a payroll system that specifically manages nanny/household employees. There isn’t a bevy of features and customizable options; however, most small business owners who are running payroll by themselves without an accountant may feel bogged down by options they’ll never use in a more robust app, and SurePayroll doesn’t lack any essential features or reports. Full tax support at its current price puts SurePayroll among the least expensive options available, and it truly is simple and easy with excellent customer support.

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8. OnPay: Strong Mobile Experience

OnPay



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OnPay is the best payroll software for small businesses that want a simple system to onboard new employees and that need to automate both their payroll and HR processes. OnPay boasts fast, unlimited payroll processing as well as flexible frequency to accommodate different reporting needs, and even offers a robust mobile experience to assist small businesses with their HR and payroll. 

OnPay is a cloud-based payroll software solution that offers an impressive range of flexibility and functionality. The software offers users fast payroll processing that’s made even better with custom fields and forms, as well as a sleek, easy-to-use mobile app experience.

OnPay has a positive reputation for responsive customer service that’s available through an easily navigable dashboard, and it even integrates with QuickBooks for small businesses that are already using Intuit QuickBooks products. This is one of the best payroll software solutions for small businesses that want to combine a wide range of customizable payroll features with HR resources and tools to streamline processes.

Pros

  • Customizable HR and payroll tools
  • Strong mobile experience
  • Responsive customer service

Cons

  • Poor scalability for larger businesses
  • Extra fees to process year-end tax documents

OnPay Pricing

OnPay’s pricing includes just a single plan that starts at a flat rate of $36 a month, with a monthly per-employee fee of $4. OnPay doesn’t offer a free trial or free version of its software, so you can use all of its features and functions without worrying that you’re missing out because you didn’t upgrade to a higher service tier. And, since OnPay doesn’t require that its users sign any contracts for terms of use, you only need to pay to keep using the software on a monthly basis without risking getting hit with penalty fees.

Features

OnPay’s features are very customizable and appropriately varied for small businesses that need help with payroll. There is only one service plan available with OnPay, so you can enjoy all of the biggest features the software has to offer including unlimited payroll runs with quick processing speeds, employee self-service options to review paychecks and tax forms, and onboarding and employee time management options for administrative users.

OnPay offers the following features with its single service plan:

  • Unlimited payroll runs
  • Self-service portal
  • Tax services
  • Vacation/leave tracking
  • New-hire reporting
  • Online HR library and resources
  • Responsive mobile site experience
  • Integrations with popular services (TSheets, QuickBooks Online, Xero, etc.)
  • Retirement savings options

A single service plan from OnPay allows users to experience everything this software has to offer without fear of missing out on other important features. This provides small businesses with more of an incentive to check out all of the features that OnPay includes, even when compared to other payroll software solutions that are slightly less expensive on a monthly basis, such as Square payroll.

When To Use OnPay

OnPay works best for very small businesses that are rapidly growing and need to flesh out both their payroll and HR processes. Its highly intuitive online platform complements its expansive set of HR tools, tracking capabilities, and customer service that work well on mobile as well as on a desktop PC. Certain businesses may find a single service plan limiting; however, the pricing is relatively inexpensive compared to certain higher-tier plans offered by solutions such as Paylocity and Intuit QuickBooks.

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What To Look For In Good Payroll Software

Processing your own payroll can be cumbersome, to say the least. Trying to do your business’s payroll all by yourself requires specific, skilled knowledge and can often leave you prone to making errors if you don’t know exactly what you’re doing.

The last thing you want to do is inaccurately report your tax withholding data and benefit contribution amounts when you run your payroll. So, rather than trying to be your own payroll superhero, consider outsourcing your payroll processing tasks instead.

To do that, you’ll need to ask yourself exactly what your company needs from a payroll software solution. Are you looking for a program that’s easy to use? Maybe something with the whole kitchen sink of customizable feature? Are you hoping for reliable, one-on-one customer service, or are you past the point of needing your hand held? How much are you willing to pay for your software, by the way? And, do you want to offer benefits, and do you already have a broker to help you offer them? Are all these questions making your brain hurt like when you drink a Slurpee too fast?

For better or worse, these are all questions to which you need definitive answers. That’s because the payroll software solution you choose needs to account for your business’s unique needs, in order to be the best it can be. Choosing the right solution can seem overwhelming at first, but each software has the same end goal in mind: to create a system that works as intended and takes the overwhelming aspects of business off of your plate.

As you sit down to research, there are some key features that can guide your choices. Here are the things to look for in a good payroll software:

  • Full Tax Support: Payroll requires a decent amount of time and work on taxes and filing quarterly reports, and the penalties for screwing up can be costly. With affordable options to add full tax service and support to your payroll program, I would advocate outsourcing the taxes. In fairness, while some self-service programs do still exist, most are being phased out in lieu of full service as we continue with great speed toward the trend of automation. Remember to consider how many salaried employees you staff versus part-time and hourly employees; your tax obligations can change drastically based on the number and types of employees that work for your business.
  • Excellent Customer Service: Read reviews, speak to someone who had to go through a crisis with the company, and know what type of hand-holding you will/will not need. Some payroll solutions offer a designated account representative whose sole job is to advocate for you, assist you through onboarding, and everything that comes afterward. (Also, know that angry people write angry reviews that may or may not tell a full story. Rather than rely solely on these reviews, look for patterns of poor behavior that go unresolved or ignored instead.)
  • Mobile Apps: This is almost becoming a necessity. Payroll providers might need to submit payroll on the go, and employees will need the ability to access their payment information under certain circumstances (like applying for a loan or filing taxes). Ask about apps and what type of mobile services are available. Phones are our computers, and companies can’t assume their employees have home access to a desktop computer for onboarding or enrolling in benefits. Make it easy. Look for an app.
  • Benefits Administration Options: Not all payroll companies are created equal when it comes to how they help you administer benefits. If you are required by law to provide health insurance, or if you are interested in offering any type of competitive benefits, choosing a payroll program that has great integrations or an in-system administration is important.
  • Ease Of Use For Administrators & Employees: With payroll and HR, there are two types of users having a very different experience: the administrators and the employees. For a system to work, it needs to benefit both parties, and it needs to be simple for both of them to use.
  •  HR/Attendance Add-Ons: If at any point you want to add HR options or time-tracking or any other type of extra program, it is easier if your programs are in the same suite of products. Look for a payroll company that will grow with your company if you plan on expanding.
  • Affordability: There is a very cheap way to do payroll: DIY. But I will argue that the time you save and redistribute back into your company is worth the cost. Choosing to outsource payroll is going to cost some money, but it doesn’t have to be egregiously expensive. Know what you can spend and work from there.
  • Integrations: If you are using other software, make sure it integrates with your payroll platform, and that it integrates well. It’s no fun when you come to realize that certain features you need from your software are only available when it integrates with other platforms, which can be a nightmare in and of itself. Ask specific questions about the integrations you need and double-check user reviews that cover ease of integration with other software solutions.
  • Security: Last, but not least, as a client of a system that has access to sensitive information (name, social security, wage information, bank account numbers), you are well within your rights to ask how your data is being protected. A good payroll company will be 100% transparent about what they are doing to secure data and prevent hacking (and it happens…too often). Cybersecurity is more crucial than ever to consider in a small business payroll solution, especially as we all continue to accomplish everything business-related digitally and online.

What matters is that you know what your company needs and can afford before you contact a payroll sales rep. It’s important to be in the driver’s seat because sales reps want to sell you a product, and if you don’t know what your company needs, it’s easy to be swayed by features that you may not need or want to pay for.

Choosing The Best Payroll Software For Your Business

So, when it comes down to the decision-making moment, how do you choose between the payroll options? With a loud roar, we can say: It depends! Each payroll provider is different and each small business is different; the company that wins your heart will be the one that meets and fulfills your needs. That sounds romantic, but remember: You’re hiring a payroll company to perform a service for you–so, ask yourself these questions:

  1. How much tax support do I need?
  2. What reports do I require to run my business?
  3. Will I need hand-holding through onboarding or can I manage it myself?
  4. Do I need payroll or am I looking for a full human capital management program?
  5. Is a modern interface important to me?
  6. Does the payroll provider have a functional app?
  7. What do the reviews say about the company? What are patterns and unresolved issues?
  8. How easy is it to schedule a demo?
  9. Does the price include filling W-2s?
  10. Are there tax experts in case of a tax emergency?

With answers to those questions under your belt, you should have a firm grasp on what type of payroll system your company needs. Thanks to the varied options available, it should be easy to find something that is a perfect fit.

Small Business Payroll FAQs

What is the best payroll software for small businesses?

Obviously, the best payroll software for your small business will come down to your specific needs. Some businesses need varied and customizable options while others need straightforward service that offers a lot of hand-holding and guidance. With that said, Merchant Maverick’s top overall pick for the best payroll software for small businesses is Gusto. Gusto’s easy-to-use and modern interface, friendly and helpful customer service, full tax support, and solid HR features all combine to create a robust program that continues to grow and evolve.

What is the easiest payroll software to use?

Payroll software that is easy to use typically combines aspects such as a navigable user dashboard, payroll outsourcing and automated reporting, reliable customer service, and a responsive mobile web design. Merchant Maverick considers all of the payroll solutions covered in this article as easy-to-use payroll solutions that work well for small businesses, although certain companies with very little or no payroll experience may find Square among the easiest to use. Square offers relatively rudimentary features compared to other solutions discussed in this article, with an interface that’s about as simple as it gets. Honorable mentions include ADP, Gusto, and Paycor for their simple setup processes and easily navigable dashboard layouts.

What is the best HR software for small businesses?

Not all HR software solutions are created equally. Some emphasize stellar payroll capabilities while others rely on a bevy of customizable features as their bread and butter. The best HR software for your small business comes down to how mature your HR processes are, which will impact the priorities you should look for in HR software. Merchant Maverick’s top picks for the best HR software solutions for small businesses include Gusto, Zenefits, BambooHR, Namely, and Paycor, which are all available and great options for small business owners that need to outsource or upgrade their HR department.

Can I do my own small business payroll?

Doing your own payroll all by yourself may seem daunting when you think about it, but doing it manually isn’t out of the question. It can be cheaper to try your hand at DIY payroll if outsourcing the process seems too expensive, or if you prefer to feel more in control by knowing what’s going on with all of your payroll processes and payroll taxes. If you’re determined to do your own payroll manually, take a look at our 11 easy steps to start running your own payroll.

What is the best free payroll software?

Running your own business isn’t cheap. Small businesses, in particular, know how important it is to run payroll in a way that helps them retain their hard-earned money. With free payroll solutions, small businesses can save on monthly subscription fees and allow themselves more room to invest money in other areas of their business. Merchant Maverick’s top overall pick for best free payroll software is Payroll4Free which, even at its most stripped-down level, packs a punch with an impressive range of features that’s available to businesses paying 25 or fewer people.

Is QuickBooks good for payroll?

Intuit QuickBooks is a longtime leader in the industry for accounting software, with more than 1.4 million users using it specifically for payroll. There are, in fact, two types of QuickBooks payroll products: QuickBooks Desktop Payroll and Intuit Online Payroll. The former works with QuickBooks Desktop Pro, while the latter integrates directly with QuickBooks Online.

QuickBooks Desktop Payroll is an excellent choice for those with the desire to learn the ins and outs of its relatively advanced features. For businesses that want to emphasize mobility and cloud-based solutions, QuickBooks Online is likelier the better option between the two. Either way, both solutions are reliable and very in-depth that cater to savvy users with some payroll experience already under their belt.

How do I choose a payroll system?

When it comes to choosing the best payroll software for your small business, consider the software solution that provides the level of tax support and guidance that suits your amount of payroll experience. The right payroll software for your business should be easy to use and fulfill your unique business needs. As a rule of thumb, it’s a good idea to look at solutions that balance a modern, intuitive interface with transparent pricing that clearly outlines features under each service plan, if there are multiple pricing tiers. With these things in mind, you should be able to make a confident and informed decision on the payroll system that’s a perfect fit for you and your small business.

In Summary: The 8 Best Payroll Software For Small Businesses

  1. Gusto: Best overall payroll system for small businesses. 
  2. ADP Payroll: Best payroll system for businesses with little or no payroll experience.
  3. Square Payroll: Best payroll system for companies that need basic, easy-to-use service.
  4. Paylocity: Best payroll system to tailor features to business requirements.
  5. Intuit Online Payroll: Best payroll system for companies that already use QuickBooks software.
  6. Paycor: Best payroll system for businesses that need a complete Human Capital Management system.
  7. SurePayroll: Best payroll system for overlooked industries and very small businesses.
  8. OnPay: Best payroll system for businesses that want a sleek, mobile-friendly experience.
Shelbi Wescott

Shelbi Wescott

Writer at Merchant Maverick
Shelbi Wescott is a writer and educator from Portland, Oregon. When she isn't writing about ways to help small businesses, she is a published author churning out pages for her science-fiction and mystery books. In 2015, her book After Life won an Honorable Mention for Best YA Mystery from the Library Journal. (It has ghosts. And mystery.) Shelbi has both a BA in English Literature and a Masters in Teaching from Lewis and Clark College.
Shelbi Wescott
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