What is Accounting Software?
Accounting software allows business owners to manage their finances and balance the books. These tools often eliminate the need for a human accountant by giving business owners the ability to track their income, manage expenses, and run accounting reports themselves.
Web-hosted vs. Locally Installed
There are two types of accounting software: web-hosted software and locally installed software.
Web-hosted accounting software is software that operates on the cloud. This type of accounting software offers mobility and access for multiple businesses in various locations. It is generally easier to use.
Locally-installed software is downloaded directly onto your computer via a disk or link. This type of program works offline and can potentially be more secure; however, you’ll lose the mobility and ease-of-use of web-hosted software.
Cash-basis vs. Accrual Accounting
As you begin researching accounting software, you will likely come across two terms: cash-basis accounting and accrual accounting. Cash-basis and accrual accounting refer to the way you record your business’s income.
Cash-basis accounting records income when a product or service is actually paid for.
Accrual accounting records income when products or services are agreed upon (rather than when paid for).
Cash-basis accounting can work for small business, but we recommend accrual accounting as it uses full double-entry accounting.
How Can Accounting Software Benefit My Business?
Accounting software allows business owners to record their income, track expenses, send invoices to make sales, pay bills, manage contacts, track inventory, and pay their taxes correctly. Accounting software doesn’t just benefit your business. It is integral to your business and the success of your company. In short, accounting software keeps your finances organized and ensures that your company is on good terms with the IRS.
Common Features to Look For in an Accounting Software
The features of accounting software vary depending on the type and size of business the software is designed for. However, there are some common features that most (good) software offers:
- Recurring invoices
- Expense tracking
- Bank reconciliation
- Live bank feeds
- Contact management
- Items management
- Basic time tracking
- Basic project management
- Unlimited sales tax rates
- Import/export capabilities
- Multiple currencies
- Mobile apps
- Some integrations
Higher-level accounting software companies will often offer the following features as well:
- Chart of accounts
- Ability to separate personal and business expenses
- Full inventory tracking
- Developed time tracking
- Job costing
- Large selection of reports
- Tax support
- Track deductions
- Class tracking
- Mulitple languages
- Ample integrations
How Much Will It Cost?
The price of accounting software will vary depending on your business size and needs.
A good, full featured accounting software for small businesses will cost anywhere from $20-$35/mo. Accounting software for medium businesses who need payroll and have multiple users will cost around $35-$50/mo. Larger businesses can expect to pay $50+.
Freelancers, independent contractors, micro businesses, and smaller businesses are in luck because there are a lot of free software options out there as well.
Do I Need Integrations?
While accounting software offers a large array of features, there is one type of integration you won’t be able to live without–payment gateways. Payments gateways allow you to accept payments for invoices online, which is a must for a successful invoice-sending business.
Beyond this, integrations are optional, but we highly recommend choosing a software that offers ample integrations. You may be able to get by with only your accounting software’s features for now, but most programs won’t meet all of your needs, or at least not to the depth that you need.
Choosing Specific Accounting Software
Now that you have a basic understanding of accounting software (what to expect in terms of price, which features to look for, etc.), it’s time to pick one. At Merchant Maverick, we’ve spent countless hours researching and testing the best accounting software programs on the market. Read our comprehensive reviews for more information, compare our highest rated software options, or check out Merchant Maverick’s best accounting software winners.
If you need more help picking a software solution, take a look at our Complete Guide to Choosing Online Accounting Software.
And before you commit to a software, be sure to take advantage of any free trials the company offers. Most accounting software companies offer a 14-day or 30-day free trial of their software, no credit card required.
Have fun shopping!