Wave Accounting Versus QuickBooks Online

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WaveVSQuickBooks Online
Accounting Method
Users and Permissions
Ease of Use
Product Features
Payment Processors
Customer Service
Negatives Reviews and Complaints
Positive Reviews and Testimonials
Final VerdictWinner
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In the world of accounting, QuickBooks is a big name, but how does the online version of this popular software stack up against Wave, a free online accounting software? Which program is better? Are they even in the same league?

The answers to these questions are more complex than you might think. While both services are pretty easy to use, they each have unique strengths and weaknesses and different points in their favor. So how can you know which one is right for your business?

Well, read on! This article will compare both programs side by side and let you, the reader/business owner, decide on your own which of the two is better suited for you and your accounting needs.

Web hosted or Locally Installed:

Both Wave and QuickBooks Online use cloud based services and do not require any installation or downloads. While Wave has limited iOS mobile use, QuickBooks Online offers mobile apps for iPhone, iPad, and Android.

Accounting Method:

Man doing his accounting financial adviser working

Winner: QuickBooks Online

Wave supports accrual accounting only. QuickBooks Online supports both accrual accounting and cash basis accounting.

Users and Permissions:

Winner: QuickBooks Online

Wave is a cheaper alternative to QuickBooks Online, but it was designed for independent contractors, sole proprietors, and companies with nine employees or less. You can give unlimited users access to your accounts, but every user will be able to view ALL the information in your account. QuickBooks Online, on the other hand, was made for small to medium businesses and the number of allowed users (one, three, or five) will depend on the plan you select. (You can also add up to two accountants to your account who will not count as users.)


Man counting money, economy concept, allocation of money

Winner: Wave

Wave is free of charge, though it is supported by advertisements that take up about 13% of your screen on the right side. You can test it out for any amount of time that you would like, at no cost to you.

QuickBooks offers three levels of pricing. You can test out any of their plans with a free 30 day trial, no credit card required. It’s not necessary to sign a contract, and you can cancel your monthly subscription at any time. If you are interested in committing to an annual contract, QuickBooks Online will reward you with a 10% discount. Now to examine the pricing tiers. Let’s break it down! Hammer time! (Whoops wrong crowd. Back to accounting.)

  • Simple Start: $12.95/month – This version of the program allows you to create estimates and invoices, track income and expenses, and sync your bank accounts and apps. You can have one user and share with up to two other accountants.
  • Essentials: $26.95/month – This version allows up to three users, and adds an accounts payable function to track and pay bills. It also offers instant sales and profits reports.
  • Plus: $39.95/month – Plus gives you an inventory option, as well as the ability to prepare and print 1099s. You can have up to five users and allow an unlimited number of users partial access to view reports or enter hours on their time-sheets.

Ease of Use:

Winner: Tie

While both Wave and QuickBooks Online are user-friendly in general, both also have issues with bugs ranging from minor to significant.

QuickBooks Online is fairly easy and enjoyable to use, although it has had issues with a lack of efficiency since its 2013 redesign. What’s more, if users get stuck, there is no comprehensive knowledge base to go to. And heaven forbid you find yourself in need of more help! QBO offers no email support, forcing users to call customer service and deal with long wait times and representatives that are not always very helpful. On a positive note, despite offering many features (especially in the Plus option), the QBO interface is clean, fairly easy to navigate, and looks nice to boot. QBO generally runs faster than Wave and can be more reliable when it comes to up-time and bank-feeds as well.


Wave’s UI is very enjoyable to navigate and use. Upon starting the program, Wave walks you through some of the different features that it has to offer so that your first use is not so overwhelming, and describes things in a language that makes sense to someone who might not have a strong accounting background. In general, Wave is very clear and extremely easy to use. It even offers “hot spots” or little icons that highlight parts of the program users should look at when first starting out. Though easy to use, this software does have a few areas where the interface could use a bit of improvement, and it runs slowly at times. If you run into problems, Wave does have an extensive knowledge base; as an added bonus, some of the articles are actually written with a sense of humor. (And when you’re in the business of accounting, you take what humor you can get!)


Product Features:

Winner: QuickBooks Online

In this category, QuickBooks Online takes the win, though for being a free service, Wave provides a surprisingly long list of features.

Both programs offer features such as dashboards, estimates, invoicing, bank reconciliations, accounts payable, reporting, sales tax, and contacts. But in many of these categories, QuickBooks offers more complex functionality (especially with the higher paid options). For instance, Wave has only three invoicing templates to choose from while QBO has five.

However, although QuickBooks Online offers a wide variety of features, many of them only are only available if you purchase the QBO Plus version, while Wave offers an impressive set of tools for free. One other advantage Wave has over QuickBooks Online is that it includes personal accounting features, allowing users to set up linked personal and business accounts and track transfers of money between them. This feature comes in handy, especially for independent contractors and people who use just one bank account for personal and business transactions.

FeaturesWaveQuickBooks Online
Accept Quotes OnlineNoNo
Basic Stock ListYesPlus Only
Inventory AccountingNoPlus Only
BudgetingNoPlus Only
Purchase OrdersNoPlus Only
Job Costing/Tracking CategoriesNoPlus Only
Recurring InvoicesYesEssentials and Plus
Time TrackingNoPlus Only
1099sNoPlus Only
Manually Mark Invoices SentYesNo
BillsYesEssentials and Plus
Expense ReportsNoNo

Integrations and Add-Ons:

Winner: QuickBooks Online

Again, Quickbooks takes the win in this category, with Intuit offering around 280 add-ons. Here is a list of some of the most notable add-ons offered:

  • QuickBooks Payroll: Integrates seamlessly with your accounting software.
  • QuickBooks Payments: Accept online payments and enable electronic payment of invoices.
  • Method CRM: This customer relationship management software was built to be compatible with QuickBooks Online.
  • Mavenlink: A project management tool.
  • Agiliron: A combined CRM, point of sale, and inventory management solution.
  • Jobber: Scheduling, routing, work flow management and CRM support software that works well with field service businesses.
  • Shoeboxed: A receipt management and data entry service which facilitates paperless expense reporting.

Wave only offers five add-ons:

  • Payments by Wave: Process credit card payments and enable clients to pay invoices online. Rates comparable to PayPal and Stripe.
  • Wave Payroll: Integrates seamlessly with your accounting software. Basic payroll tax service available in 13 states.
  • Paypal: Wave can automatically import your PayPal sales and purchases.
  • Etsy: If you sell through Etsy, you can automatically import your sales info with this integration.
  • Shoeboxed: A receipt management and data entry service which facilitates paperless expense reporting.

Payment Processors:

Winner: Wave

Both software programs offer only one payment processor (Payments by Wave for Wave and QuickBooks Payments for Quickbooks Online) so the real reason Wave wins this category is that its payment processor is cheaper. Rates for Payments By Wave compare to those of PayPal and Stripe. Credit card processing fees vary from country to country, but in the United States and Canada the rates are 2.9% + $.30 per transaction per credit card. Wave’s payment processing system is not without its faults, however. More specifically, Wave Payments is poorly designed in the sense that some users sign up for it inadvertently, and then it is next to impossible to disable. Read here for the whole story.

It is worth noting that the QuickBooks Payments credit card processing fee is significantly higher than Wave’s or alternatives like PayPal or WePay. (3.4% + $.25 vs. PayPal’s 2.9% + $.30)

Customer Service and Technical Support:

Concentrated customer service agents with headset working on in a call center

Winner: QuickBooks Online

Customer support systems for both QuickBooks Online and Wave are known to be slow and not very helpful. In this category you are choosing the lesser of two evils, so to speak. While QuickBooks Online has flaws, the average response times are two to 30 minutes, while Wave offers average service times ranging from two to seven days.

QuickBooks Online offers phone service for customers from 6 am to 6 pm PST, Monday through Friday, and 3 pm through 6 pm PST on Saturdays. No email or chat support is available. Service quality varies depending on the representative helping you. There are plenty of negative reviews from customers complaining about long wait times, unhelpful representatives, incorrect information, representatives who speak poor English and have a lack of follow through, and customer calls being routed to the wrong department. While there are some signs that the company is working to fix these issues, they still have a long way to go.

Wave’s customer service is available Monday-Friday, 9 am through 5 pm EST. Wait times average three days but range anywhere from two to seven days. There have even been some complaints of wait times lasting up to three to four weeks. Though representatives are friendly, they are not always very helpful.

Wave does offer faster support with three monthly subscription premium service packages:

  • Plus ($9/month)
    • Live chat support 9AM-5PM EST Monday to Friday
    • Expert insider tips on using Wave
    • Money-back guarantee
  • Advanced ($19/month)
    • Live phone and chat support 9AM-5PM EST Monday to Friday
    • Toll-free access right to Wave headquarters – no call centers
    • Real experts ready to help
    • Unlimited, real-time service
    • Money-back guarantee
  • Year End ($49/ 3 Months)
    • 3 months of live phone and chat support 9AM-5PM EST Monday to Friday
    • Toll-free access to Wave headquarters instead of a call center
    • Real Wave product experts ready to help
    • Unlimited, real-time service
    • Money-back guarantee

Note: The Year End subscription will automatically roll into the Advanced package if you do not cancel it.

Negative Reviews and Complaints:

Hand writing a Poor Rating Concept

Winner: Tie

Both Wave and QuickBooks have received quite a few negative reviews about their programs, and both have a history of unhappy customers who complain about bugs and systems that run slowly. Not surprisingly, each program also has negative feedback when it comes to customer service and long wait times. In addition, both QBO and Wave are reported to be unresponsive to customer requests. QBO, for example, has done nothing to fix bugs that were reported months ago or to create a QBO mobile version that is more functional. Likewise, Wave also has a bad track record of quick responses to customer feature requests. This is most evident in the continued lack of Android invoice applications and cash-basis accounting features, both of which have been requested frequently by customers.

Specifically, QuickBooks Online customers complain that QBO pales in comparison to QuickBooks Pro, and many have been unhappy with recent interface upgrades which have caused a marked loss in efficiency (what once took one click now takes five).

In turn, Wave customers complain that the auto-categorizations do not make sense, and – more grievously – Wave forces users to enter categorized transactions manually each time because it does not “learn” from previous transactions.

Positive Reviews and Testimonials:

Winner: QuickBooks Online

Both programs have many loyal users and their fair share of positive feedback. Quickbooks Online has had an excellent A+ Rating by the BBB for quite awhile, and Wave has received a satisfactory B+ rating from the BBB with a total of seven complaints over the past year.

Wave and QBO customers alike say that the software saves them time by keeping their finances organized in an understandable way.

QBO customers praise the amount of features offered, a set which is among the best in the cloud-based accounting world. Experienced accountants say they appreciate how QBO works within standard accounting principles (allowing you to use dual entry bookkeeping, for example, and maintain an audit trail.) Some people also really enjoy the new updates to the interface including its new look and easy navigation.

One of the biggest points of praise for Wave is that it is free and more functional than some of the paid programs out there. Customers of Wave also really like the convenience of integrated, linked personal and business accounts. Some users also feel that for small business accounting, in the service-based industry in particular, Wave truly provides everything that is needed.


illustration of security concept with blue internet cloud icon and locked pad lock

Winner: Tie

Both service providers implement strict security measures.

Wave uses 256-bit SSL encryption and stores its information on servers located in facilities with both physical and electronic safeguards. It uses protocols certified by TrustE, subjects its security measures to third party testing, and backs up user data routinely off site.

QuickBooks Online uses 128-bit SSL encryption. Company servers are hosted in two tier 4 data centers protected by physical and electronic safeguards. The software’s parent company, Intuit, conducts routine penetrative testing and security audits, and user data is backed up every few minutes.

Final Verdict on Wave Accounting vs QuickBooks Online:

Winner: QuickBooks Online

Though Wave is a worthy contender, in this comparison QuickBooks takes the win, and it’s not hard to see why. QBO is a solid program which for years has been the “go to” software for small business accounting. It is software that someone with zero accounting experience would be able to use easily, though it is not “dumbed down” to the point that someone with a solid bookkeeping background would feel frustrated. QBO is far from perfect and does have some problems, but overall it is a robust, well-crafted accounting solution.

That said, although Wave did not come out on top in this particular comparison, it is still a great option, well worth trying out; it is a FREE program after all, and really quite impressive. When it all boils down, the decision between QuickBooks Online and Wave will really depend on your needs and the particular idiosyncrasies of your business. I recommend that you test Wave and do a free trial of QuickBooks Online. See which one works best for you and your company.

Elizabeth Cranston

Elizabeth Cranston

Writer and Reviewer of Point of Sale Software at Merchant Maverick
Elizabeth Cranston is a writer and native Oregonian who lives in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. She enjoys researching and getting to the bottom of questions relating to the Point of Sale industry.When not writing about and researching Point of Sale software, she can usually be found overindulging in Dutch Bro's coffee, making others laugh, or listening to music.
Elizabeth Cranston
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