Wave VS QuickBooks Online: Which Is Better For Your Business?
|Ease Of Use||Excellent||Good|
|Reviews & Complaints||Good||Fair|
|Best For||Small businesses that want simple, affordable, and easy-to-use accounting software.||Small to large businesses that want strong accounting, numerous features and integrations, and mobility from their accounting software.|
Cats versus dogs. PC versus Mac. Paid versus free. There are lots of age-old unanswered questions, and this post focuses on the latter. More specifically, we’re going to compare two of the most well-known accounting software options on the market today: Wave and QuickBooks Online.
QuickBooks Online has been one of the biggest names in the accounting world since 2004. The software offers a robust feature-set, strong accounting, attractive invoices, and hundreds of integrations. These features, combined with QuickBooks’ overall reputation, are hard to beat. But that hasn’t kept other companies, such as Wave, from trying.
Wave is a cloud-based accounting software that focuses on providing a complete small business solution to business owners. The ace up this company’s sleeve is that its software is completely free — and you’re not sacrificing quality for savings either. Wave is giving QuickBooks a run for its money in the small business accounting world with features, such as expense tracking, contact management, invoicing, and even lending.
This post is going to dive into the specifics of each software option to help determine which is the right choice for your business. What’s right for one business may be a complete mismatch for yours. We’re going to look at pricing (is Wave really free?), features (is less more or vice versa?), ease of use, customer support, and even customer reviews to help you decide between these two top accounting software programs.
We have done our research and test-driven the software to provide the unbiased comparison you’ve come to expect from Merchant Maverick. The hard work’s done, so now just sit back, relax, and get ready to learn more about Wave and QuickBooks Online and which is the best option for your business.
Table of Contents
Wave VS QuickBooks Online
Wave’s free software is the go-to accounting option for budget-minded businesses, but it does fall short in some areas (such as integrations and features). On the other hand, QuickBooks Online is known for its features and integrations, but are these extras worth the monthly fee? Let’s start with a broad overview of each product to help you determine which software best fits your needs.
Wave is pretty new to the scene, but since its launch in 2010, the software has acquired over 3.5 million users. While that is impressive, it’s pretty easy to see the allure of this software. What Wave stands out for most is that it’s completely free. That’s right — this cloud-based software is forever free without the limitations you’ll find with other programs that claim to be free. Adding payroll, payment processing, or professional bookkeeping services do come at a price. Still, businesses that are searching for accounting software with no associated costs won’t find a product much better than Wave.
In addition to its low cost (after all, what beats free?!), this software is very user-friendly, regardless of your accounting background. Even users with no prior accounting experience find that Wave’s well-organized UI is easy to navigate and use. If you get stuck, there are a variety of customer support options available to help you get the most out of the software.
Wave offers a number of features, many of which you’d find with paid accounting software. Some of the most notable and useful features include unlimited invoicing, expense tracking, bank reconciliation, bill pay, and a basic inventory list. Unfortunately, it does lack many of the more advanced features you’d find with other software — including QuickBooks Online — such as advanced inventory, project management, and the option to add multiple users. However, small businesses that want affordable accounting software that’s easy to use likely won’t be disappointed by all that Wave has to offer.
- Easy to use
- Numerous features
- Good for small businesses
- Solid security features
- Helpful support resources
- Lacks more advanced features found with paid software
- Not designed for larger businesses
- Doesn’t support multiple users
- Limited integrations
QuickBooks Online Overview
Even if you have no experience at all with accounting, it’s still highly likely that you’ve at least heard of QuickBooks Online, a product many business owners view as the “gold standard” for accounting software. You’ve probably also heard how challenging it can be to learn and use the software. If you’re intimated by this, don’t be. QuickBooks Online is a cloud-based software that’s easier to learn and use than its desktop counterpart.
That doesn’t mean that it’s the easiest software you’ll ever use, though. There is still a pretty steep learning curve when it comes to QuickBooks Online, so you should be prepared to take the time to learn the ins and outs of the program. But this extra effort is worth it to many business owners (more than 2.2 million, to be precise) as a trade-off for a plethora of features you won’t find when using other software.
Features worth noting include customizable invoices, automatic sales receipts, inventory tracking, project management, and hundreds of integrations. You can even add on additional services (such as live bookkeeping or payroll). The numerous features, add-ons, and integrations make QuickBooks Online your one-stop cloud-based accounting shop, no matter the size of your business. QuickBooks Online can be used by a single user on up to 25 different users.
The drawbacks, though, include the aforementioned learning curve that could prove to be frustrating for users that want basic accounting software. Pricing is also a big issue, with monthly fees and add-on costs easily piling up quickly. While the expense may be worth it to larger businesses that will utilize the range of features QuickBooks Online has to offer, small businesses may want to stick with other programs, including Wave.
- Numerous features
- Advanced features not found with most accounting software
- Hundreds of integrations
- Supports up to 25 users
- Excellent mobility
- Can be expensive
- Has a slight learning curve
- No email support
Both Wave and QuickBooks Online have all of the features you’d expect from accounting software. Both programs offer invoicing, contact management, expense tracking, inventory, reports, sales orders, and tax support. Both also have built-in lending, offering users a more convenient way to acquire business financing. In addition to more advanced features, QuickBooks also offers two things not found in Wave: project management features and time tracking. We’ll dive further into these differences later in this section.
On the surface, things look pretty similar between Wave and QuickBooks Online. Now, let’s look at specific features and how each product differs to help you narrow down your choice.
With QuickBooks Online, you can choose your accounting method, as both cash-basis and accrual accounting methods are supported. This software offers journal entries, a detailed chart of accounts, and bank reconciliation.
Wave also uses cash-basis and accrual accounting. The downside, though, is that this software only allows you to run reports as cash-basis or accrual.
QuickBooks Online includes unlimited invoices, which isn’t uncommon for paid accounting software. What does stand out, however, is the customization and automations QuickBooks offers. You can fully customize your invoices using size invoice templates, or you can import a custom template through Microsoft Word. You have the option to customize your invoice by changing the logo, color scheme, number of columns, and other features to make your invoices truly stand out and represent your brand. You can also include fields for shipping charges and discounts as well as add attachments. Invoices can be sent through QuickBooks in six different languages.
That isn’t all that QuickBooks Online offers in terms of invoicing. Auto scheduling and invoice tracking are standout features that you won’t find with most software. Depending on the plan you select, you may also have access to features, such as recurring invoices, reminders, and batch invoicing.
Wave also offers unlimited invoicing. Surprisingly, the invoicing feature is very well-developed, particularly for software that doesn’t have a monthly fee. There are only three invoice templates, but each is well-designed and modern. You can also customize the templates to your liking to better fit with your brand.
Wave allows you to send recurring invoices, schedule and send reminders, and provide receipts for your customers. The invoice dashboard makes it easy to see your outstanding invoices, overdue invoices, and other data, including the average time it takes for your invoices to get paid. If there is any downside to Wave’s invoicing feature, it’s that sales tax and discounts have to be added manually. Overall, though, these are minor issues that are far outweighed by the other great features and options available through this free software.
All QuickBooks Online plans have an inventory feature. However, you will have to upgrade to the Plus or Advanced plan to take full advantage of everything this software has to offer. All plans allow you to track your products and services, but the higher plans are more advanced and allow you to input sales prices, purchase prices, SKUs, descriptions, and images. You can easily view your current stock levels when creating your invoices through QuickBooks Online.
Unfortunately, Wave’s inventory feature leaves a lot to be desired, as it is little more than an item list. You can add the name of your products and/or services, a description of each item, and the sales price, but Wave does not show current stock levels.
QuickBooks Online has over 80 reports, and the exact number you’ll have access to is based on the plan you’re signed up for. The more expensive the plan, the more reports you’ll be able to create. However, even the lower tier plans include all the reports you need to operate your business. QuickBooks Online offers the standard reports you would expect from accounting software (e.g., profit and loss statements and balance sheets) to more advanced reports (such as job costing).
Wave offers just 12 reports to its users. Fortunately, this will be sufficient for many businesses, as the most common reports (such as cash flow statements) are included. You can customize reports, easily compare your data to past periods, and create customer statements.
While you may still require a more robust solution if you operate a project-based business, QuickBooks Online has a pretty solid project management feature when compared to other accounting software. To access these features, you must have the Essentials, Plus, or Advanced plan. You can create projects, track billable and unbillable time, and track expenses. You can also easily track the profitability of each project with basic job costing.
As for Wave, this is one area where the software falls short. Wave lacks a project management feature. Whether or not Wave will add this in the future is unknown, but as of this time, businesses that need even basic project management features will need to look elsewhere.
QuickBooks Online has a time tracking feature provided that you are an Essentials, Plus, or Advanced customer. This feature allows you to create single-time activities or timesheets, and tracked time can be attached to projects.
Unfortunately, time tracking is another feature that Wave lacks. The potentially good news, though, is that Wave has been known to listen to its customers and update the software to include new features. So it may be possible that time tracking will be added to the software further down the road.
QuickBooks users can sign up for Intuit Online Payroll. There are three different plans to choose from, based on the needs of your business. The Core plan is the least expensive and includes full-service payroll. The Premium plan adds more features, such as workers’ comp administration and same-day direct deposit. The top-level Elite plan gives you access to features, including a personal HR advisor, customized setup, and 24/7 customer support. As you would expect, these services are not included in your monthly QuickBooks Online subscription fee and must be purchased for an additional monthly cost.
Wave also offers payroll services for an additional monthly fee. There are two plans available based on the state in which you operate. Tax service payroll handles your payroll and filing your payroll taxes. This service is only available in 14 states. Business owners in the remaining states can sign up for self-service payroll, which requires you to file your own payroll taxes.
Accounting software that can also help you find extra funding for your business? Sounds too good to be true, but both QuickBooks Online and Wave offer built-in lending options for their customers. QuickBooks Online gives you access to QuickBooks Capital, a lending platform that can help you score up to $100,000 to build your business, expand, or just for use as working capital. With competitive interest rates and terms up to 12 months, these installment loans are comparable to other alternative lenders with one big difference: QuickBooks Online users can apply right within the software, which auto-fills the majority of the information, taking the hassle out of the lending process.
Wave also offers built-in lending through a partnership with OnDeck. With Lending By Wave, you can receive a short-term loan up to $500,000 with terms up to 36 months. You may also qualify for a flexible line of credit up to $100,000 with repayment terms up to six months. You may even qualify for both financial products. This integration makes it easy to apply for a loan in just minutes. One potential drawback to consider is that this form of funding may be expensive, with APRs for short-term loans rising to as high as 99.4%. Still, the relaxed borrowing requirements and convenience of applying may make this a viable lending option for your business.
As you can probably already see, both Wave and QuickBooks Online bring a lot to the table. Some key differences may have helped you make up your mind, but if you’re still on the fence, maybe the pricing can help sway you one way or the other.
First up is Wave, which disproves the old saying, “Nothing in life is free.” Wave is, in fact, completely free for all of its users. And unlike other free software, there are no limitations on features (such as invoicing), no pop-up ads filling your screen, and no outdated UI to trip you up. So what’s the catch?
Wave makes its money from payment processing and payroll services. Pricing for payment processing is per-use and is 2.9% + $0.30 for Visa, Mastercard, and Discover transactions, and 3.4% + $0.30 for American Express transactions. ACH payments are 1% per transaction.
Payroll users will pay $20 to $35 per month based on whether they operate in a self-service or tax service state. In addition to this monthly fee, all users must pay an additional $6 per active employee and independent contractor.
If you need more personalized service, Wave offers that for a fee through three different packages.
Wave can handle the books while you focus on other aspects of your business. This service starts at $129/month. Wave can also file your taxes, conduct quarterly reviews, and perform other tasks through its tax service, with prices starting at $129/month. If you want to tackle the books yourself but don’t know where to start, you can take advantage of accounting coaching for a one-time fee of $199.
Now, on to QuickBooks Online and its pricing structure. To take advantage of any of QuickBooks Online’s accounting features, you will be required to pay a monthly fee, although there is a 30-day free trial available. When you take advantage of the free trial, take note that no further discounts will be offered, and you will pay the full price for your subscription. These monthly fees range from $25/month to $150/month. It’s also worth noting that QuickBooks Self-Employed is an option if you’re a freelancer.
If you decide to jump right in without signing up for the trial, you can take advantage of lower monthly fees. The screenshot below shows just one of the promotions you may expect to find when signing up for QuickBooks Online.
QuickBooks Online Payroll is an add-on that your business might want to take advantage of. The three plans range from $45 to $125 per month plus an additional $4 to $10 per employee. If you don’t sign up for the 30-day free trial, you may qualify for discounts on payroll services.
If you want to accept online payments, QuickBooks Payments integrates with your software. There are no upfront costs or monthly fees. Instead, you’ll pay per transaction.
Like Wave, QuickBooks also offers professional bookkeeping through its QuickBooks Live service. This costs an additional $200-$600/month and is based on your volume of monthly expenses.
Ease Of Use
Once you’ve considered pricing, it’s also important to look at the ease of use. After all, low-cost software may seem appealing on the surface, but if the software is difficult to use, is it even worth the headache? Fortunately, Wave’s recently redesigned UI is easy to use, even if you have no prior accounting experience. Setting up your account is quick and easy, and getting started takes no time at all. While there is no back button, this doesn’t seem to be a problem for most users, who find the software quite easy to navigate.
QuickBooks Online is also easy to use — especially when compared to QuickBooks Desktop, which can prove to be challenging for beginners. However, it isn’t quite as intuitive as Wave. If you have prior accounting experience, you might not encounter any challenges with setting up and using QBO. One thing to note is that some features are hidden and may be difficult to find. However, QuickBooks’ built-in help option makes it easier to navigate and use the software without the need for endless clicking and searching.
Customer Service & Support
The good news for Wave users is that there are plenty of customer service and support resources at their disposal. Answers to many of the most common questions can be found in Wave’s Help Center or within the Wave Community. And if your question isn’t answered? Unfortunately, you’re left with only email support, with response turnarounds averaging about one day. One of Wave’s major drawbacks in terms of customer service and support is that chat and phone support are reserved exclusively for users that pay for credit card processing or payroll services.
QuickBooks Online users face the opposite problem. While phone support is available, there is no email support option. While customer service and support from QuickBooks have improved considerably in recent months, there are still some considerations to keep in mind. Wait times have improved, but the actual helpfulness of QBO’s customer service reps varies. If you don’t feel like waiting or potentially getting connected with an uninformed rep, QuickBooks does offer other helpful resources, including in-software help and video tutorials.
Reviews & Complaints
What do current and previous users have to say about Wave and QuickBooks Online? Let’s start with Wave, which has an overall favorable public reputation, scoring high marks across review sites, such as G2Crowd, Trust Radius, and Software Advice. There are a few common complaints, but these may not be dealbreakers, depending on what you’re looking for in your accounting software. These complaints include the lack of available integrations (more on that in a minute), slow servers, and poor mobile apps. On the other hand, users praise the software’s free pricing, invoicing, and solid feature-set.
QuickBooks Online also has a pretty good reputation among its users, scoring solid marks across sites, such as G2Crowd and GetApp. Users like its strong mobile apps, ease of use, and numerous integrations. However, common complaints about QuickBooks Online include plan pricing, customer service issues, and a lack of features when compared to QuickBooks Desktop.
If Wave and QuickBooks Online seem quite similar up until this point, the number of integrations definitely separates the two. If you want your accounting software to integrate with your other small business software and apps, you’re likely out of luck with Wave. This software only integrates with Paypal, Etsy, and Shoeboxed. However, it does have a Zapier integration, so you can connect with over 1,000 add-ons.
QuickBooks Online, on the other hand, connects with numerous apps and add-ons — over 650 to be exact. This includes 25 payment processing options, making it easier for you to get paid.
The Key Differences Between Wave & QuickBooks Online
We’ve taken a pretty in-depth look at each type of software, but let’s make it easier to compare the two by breaking down the key differences between Wave and QuickBooks Online. Determine what’s most important for your business, then dive right in to see which software is better suited to fit those needs.
- Pricing: The pricing structure of each accounting program is probably the most noticeable difference. Wave is completely free, giving users access to all features without limitations. You do, however, have to pay for payroll services, payment processing, and professional bookkeeping. QuickBooks Online requires a monthly fee starting at $25/month just to use the software. Like Wave, QBO also charges additional fees for payment processing, payroll, and professional bookkeeping services.
- Integrations & Add-Ons: One of the most notable differences between Wave and QBO is the number of supported integrations. QuickBooks Online easily tops Wave (and other accounting software on the market) with over 650 integrations, including numerous payment processors. On the other hand, Wave only supports a small number of integrations, although the Zapier add-on does allow users to connect with additional apps and programs.
- Features: Before we dive into specifics, let’s make it clear that both Wave and QuickBooks Online have numerous features that make each solid accounting software. However, QuickBooks Online has a much larger and more advanced feature-set. Project management, time tracking, and advanced inventory are features available through QBO, while these features are either nonexistent or not very well-developed through Wave.
- The Number Of Allowed Users: Wave supports only a single user, so it isn’t a scalable option for larger or more complex businesses. QuickBooks Online supports up to 25 users depending on the plan you select, although it should be noted that the plans that support more users come at a premium price.
- Learning Curve: QuickBooks Online is significantly easier to get used to than using QuickBooks Desktop. However, some of the advanced features may be a bit more difficult to use. Fortunately, there are plenty of support resources to help you learn the software. In contrast, Wave makes it easy to get started and use the software, no matter what level of accounting experience you have under your belt.
Which Is Best For My Business Needs?
What works for one business may be a complete miss with yours, so it’s important to choose software based on what your business needs. Let’s take a look at instances when Wave would be the better choice for your business, and when QuickBooks Online is the superior option.
Choose Wave If…
Wave is best for:
- Small businesses that don’t need advanced accounting features but want solid accounting software
- Businesses that want free software without outdated UIs, pop-up ads, or strict limitations on features
- Etsy shops and other eCommerce businesses
- Businesses that want software that’s easy to use, even for beginners
Choose QuickBooks Online If…
QuickBooks Online is best for:
- Small- to large-sized businesses
- Businesses that want accounting software that integrates with other software and apps
- Businesses that want lots of features without the hassle of learning QuickBooks Desktop
- Businesses that are willing to pay for more advanced features
- When you want accounting software that supports multiple users
Comparing Wave VS QuickBooks Online: The Final Verdict
What stands out most about Wave is its free pricing. Well-designed, easy-to-use software that’s available to use for no cost is pretty unheard of, but Wave gets it right, making it a standout among other account software. Wave doesn’t fall short of features, either, and it has a solid public reputation among other small business owners.
Wave is best for small businesses (including eCommerce businesses) that want accounting software that’s essentially plug-and-play. Even if you lack prior accounting experience, getting set up and diving right in is no problem for most users. While a lack of integrations and advanced features (such as project management) may not make Wave a viable option for larger businesses, this software still holds its own against its competitors.
QuickBooks Online is a good choice if you’re willing to pay a monthly fee to use the software. This fee can easily be justified by many businesses, as QuickBooks Online offers a number of features and integrations you won’t find with Wave or other accounting software.
The strong mobile apps of QuickBooks Online also sets it apart, allowing business owners to keep track of their finances easily from anywhere. Larger businesses that need more advanced features and more mobility will likely find QuickBooks Online to be the better fit.
Still on the fence? Read our Wave Accounting review and our QuickBooks Online review to learn more about features, our experience with customer service, and more to help you make the most informed decision for your business. Good luck!