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The Best Accounting and Invoice-Generating Software for 2021

By
Donna Fuscaldo
,
business.com Staff
| Updated
Jul 02, 2021

Our team has compared the best accounting software for 2021. See up-to-date comparisons, reviews and costs for the top-rated accounting programs.
Best for Small Businesses
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50% off for 3 months
Online bookkeeper available
Robust app integration
Best for Invoicing
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60% off for 3 months
Instant invoicing
Automate business processes
Best ERP Tools
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Built-in ERP features
Automated accounts payable
Cash-management solutions
Best for Microbusinesses
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Quick invoicing
Online payments accepted
Mobile app
Best for Growing Businesses
Xero
50% off for 2 months
Multicurrency features
Gusto payroll integration
Our team has compared the best accounting software for 2021. See up-to-date comparisons, reviews and costs for the top-rated accounting programs.
Updated 07/02/21

We updated our FAQs to include information about the cost of accounting software and what attributes small businesses should look for when selecting an accounting program.

 

The Best Accounting Software Providers

Accounting software plays a critical role in keeping your business financially sound. The best accounting software fits within your budget, is easy to use, and integrates with other programs and applications you are already using. To help you cut through the noise of the hundreds of options of accounting software, we checked out more than 300 solutions. We poured over their features, prices, fees and reputation to come up with our list of the 11 best picks for various types of business.

How We Decided
Our team spends weeks evaluating dozens of business solutions to identify the best options. To stay current, our research is regularly updated.
306
Considered
31
Researched
11
Selected

Compare Our Best Picks

Accounting software Use Case Base Price Invoicing and Payments Number of Clients Supported Free Trial Invoicing and Payments Mobile App Third Party Integrations Reporting
Automated Accounting Tools
QuickBooks Small businesses $15/month Yes Unlimited 30 days Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
FreshBooks Invoicing $4.50/month Yes 5 30 days No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Zoho Books Microbusinesses $9/month Yes 10 30 days Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Oracle Netsuite ERP tools Custom price Yes N/A N/A Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Zarmoney Transparent pricing $15/month Yes Unlimited 2 weeks Yes Yes Yes Yes No
GoDaddy Online merchants $4.99/month Yes Unlimted No Yes Yes Yes No No
Wave Financial Free Free Yes Unlimted Free version Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Sage Business Cloud Accounting Freelancers/self employed $10/month Invoicing Unlimited 30 days Invoicing Yes Yes Yes Yes
Xero Growing businesses $11/month Yes 20 30 days Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Melio Acounts payable software Free Pay invoices N/A Free version Yes No Quickbooks No No
Plooto Automating processes $25/month Yes 10 30 days Yes No Quickbooks and Xero Yes Yes

Our Reviews

Intuit QuickBooks Online: Best for Small Businesses

QuickBooks Online has valuable accounting software features, including professional invoicing, expense tracking and cash flow management.
QuickBooks Live Bookkeeper connects you to accountants when you need expert help.
You can't upgrade from the Self-Employed plan. If you think your business will grow, you may want to choose the Simple Start, Plus, or Advanced plan.
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Intuit's QuickBooks Online is our choice for the best accounting software for small businesses due to its feature-rich cloud software, wide variety of integrations, affordable pricing, and reputation. QuickBooks has served small businesses for more than 20 years, and for good reason. When you choose this accounting software, you get all the tools you need to support your operations now and in the future.

Editor's score: 9.4/10

What led to QuickBooks Online being selected as our best pick for small businesses is that even its basic plan has lots of features other vendors charge extra for, including professional invoicing and the ability to accept payments, track expenses, and manage your business's cash flow. QuickBooks' higher-priced plans include batch invoices; business analytics; a dedicated support team; on-demand online training; and integrations with Bill.com, Salesforce, and HubSpot. With all of QuickBooks' plans, you can snap photos of receipts and link expenses from your mobile device, integrate with several apps, and access customer support.

Another aspect of QuickBooks that makes it ideal for small businesses is the ability to connect with a live accountant. Cloud accounting software automates a lot of the tasks, but sometimes, you need the insight of an accounting professional. With QuickBooks's Live Bookkeeping service, you get access to a bookkeeper who sets up the software for you, categorizes transactions, reconciles accounts, closes books monthly and runs detailed reports. Another helpful feature with the service is Cleanup, which QuickBooks rolled out earlier this year. Customers can use the feature on a pay-per-use basis to reconcile historical accounts and categorize historical transactions. Pricing for the live bookkeeping service depends on your needs and requires an initial consultation (which is free) with a QuickBooks representative.

For small business owners who already have a trusted accountant, QuickBooks makes it easy (and free) for them to collaborate with you. The software enables you to invite an accountant who can work on your books for free. All the accountant needs to do is accept the invitation. You can remove access anytime.

QuickBooks offers small businesses of all sizes a full suite of features and functionality at affordable price points, but that's not the only reason we selected it as the best accounting software for small businesses. We also like its reputation and adoption rate. If you work with an accountant or accounting consultant, chances are, they are familiar with QuickBooks. The same can't always be said of other accounting software programs.

April 2021: Intuit has partnered with DocuSign to enable business owners to sign estimates digitally without leaving the QuickBooks Online platform. Through QuickBooks' new DocuSign eSignature Connector, small businesses can improve their turnaround times for estimates, automate the estimate process, and track progress of a potential contract. QuickBooks said customers can save $36 on average per contract with the service.

May 2021: Intuit recently announced QuickBooks Online's integration with Docyt, an AI-powered tool that works in conjunction with the accounting software. Through Docyt, business owners can pay bills, manage expenses and financial documents, capture receipts, and run different reports from one central location. With this integration, the company aims to reduce the number of apps accountants and business owners have to manage.

Read Intuit QuickBooks Online Review

FreshBooks Accounting Software: Best for Invoicing

You can create professional invoices, allow customers to pay invoices online, and send automatic reminders about bills.
Accounting features include time and expense tracking and automated bank and credit card entries.
It can get pricey if you want to add several team members to the account.
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FreshBooks makes it quick and easy to create professional invoices, get paid quickly, and track down past-due payments, but that just scratches the surface of what it can do. With competitive pricing, robust invoicing capabilities, and other accounting features, FreshBooks is the best accounting software for invoicing.

Editor's score: 9.1/10

Getting paid on time is a big pain point for small businesses. Remembering to bill clients, let alone chase down past-due bills, can quickly fall by the wayside as you focus on running your business. FreshBooks accounting software removes a lot of those challenges, with its feature-rich invoicing capabilities.

Take the creation of invoices, for example. With FreshBooks, you can create professional invoices customized with your logo and message. Clients can opt to pay their bills through the invoice, reducing the time it takes to get paid.

Do you have clients who tend to pay late? FreshBooks lets you create reminders and send alerts to customers when bills are due or past due. It also monitors the status of invoices after you send them, alerting you when customers receive and view them. With FreshBooks' invoice generator, you can add tracked time and expenses to invoices.

Invoicing features aside, FreshBooks has a lot of features small business owners will appreciate. Using the cloud-based accounting program, small business owners can track the time they spend working on a project, connect a bank account and credit card to eliminate the need for manual entries, and benefit from automatic updates. Customers can also snap a picture of a receipt and log it while they are on the go. FreshBooks' Premium and Select plans now use double-entry accounting – which is a significant upgrade to the software – and allow you to create a chart of accounts and run new reports, such as a general ledger, balance sheet, and trial balance. If you have an accountant, you can easily invite them to your FreshBooks account in a few clicks.

FreshBooks also stands out on the reporting front. You can run profit and loss reports, sales tax summaries, accounts aging and expense reports, invoice details, payment collected, and time-entry details. After running reports, you can email them, print them or export them to Excel.

FreshBooks supports more than 80 apps and integrations, allowing you to connect this accounting software to other business services and systems you may already use. If you have a larger business and want several users to access your account, FreshBooks may get pricey. However, for most small businesses that send a lot of invoices, FreshBooks is a standout.

Read FreshBooks Accounting Software Review

Oracle NetSuite: Best ERP Tools

Oracle NetSuite's feature-rich accounting software also offers ERP functionality.
Its accounts receivable system automates the delivery and collection of invoices, while its accounts payable solutions automate payments.
You must contact a sales representative to learn how much the software costs.
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NetSuite is a full-featured accounting and ERP program that enables small businesses to manage all aspects of their business – billing, reporting, manufacturing – from one dashboard. NetSuite offers a full AR service that automates the delivery and collection of invoices and an accounts payable solution that automates payments. Another attractive aspect of NetSuite is its tax-management tools. Its tax engine provides business owners with domestic and global tax management. Taxes can easily be processed according to local laws, removing a lot of the guesswork. The engine supports all currencies and exchange rates.

Editor's score: 9.2/10

NetSuite also makes it easy to manage cash flow via its cash management feature, which provides you with insight and visibility to optimize cash flow and stay up to date on your company's bank accounts. Business owners will appreciate NetSuite's payment management system that centralizes and simplifies payments. The planning and budgeting feature automates, processes, and unifies the data, making it easier to create budgets and forecasts, model what-if scenarios, and generate reports on different aspects of your business. You can set access permissions to ensure you're in control of your business's finances at all times.

In addition to all of the accounting features, NetSuite offers a bevy of ERP tools to make it easy to manage finances, handle orders, manage production and supply chains, and plan for the future.

You can fill out a form on the website to be contacted for a free demonstration. Because there are so many capabilities and features with NetSuite, you will need to talk to a sales rep to get an accurate price for the software.

While NetSuite may have too many features for microbusinesses or self-employed individuals, if you are a larger small business with lots of moving parts and complex business functions, NetSuite stands out, which is why it's our pick for best accounting software with ERP functionality.

Read Oracle NetSuite Review

Zoho Books: Best for Microbusinesses

Zoho Books is available on iOS and Android, allowing you to accomplish accounting tasks from anywhere.
With Zoho Books, you can track bills, manage vendor credits and add reporting tags to transactions.
The highest tier plan limits you to 5,000 transactions per month.
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Small business owners with few employees don't need a complicated accounting program. They need to send invoices, automate payments and reminders, track expenses and projects, and they need to do that on the cheap. Zoho Books checks all of those boxes and then some, making it our best pick for microbusinesses.

Editor's score: 9.24/10

Zoho Books is an intuitive accounting software program for microbusinesses that has a ton of features at an affordable price. It has mobile apps for Apple and Android phones (and tablets), as well as Apple Watch and Android smartwatches, allowing you to accomplish accounting tasks from almost anywhere. We like that you can create and send invoices directly from the mobile app.

Its Standard plan costs $15 a month for three users. You can manage up to 50,000 invoices. The Professional plan costs $40 a month for five users. You can also track bills, manage vendor credits and add reporting tags to transactions. The Premium plan costs $60 for 10 users. In addition to the capabilities in the standard plan, you get a custom domain and access to a vendor portal.

Zoho Books stands out for microbusinesses beyond its pricing, thanks to its ability to automate lots of accounting tasks. That frees you up to focus on what you do best: running your business. Estimates and sales orders can quickly be converted into a retainer or recurring invoices. You can schedule when your customers are billed and send payment reminders. Linking your account with your payment processor enables you to accept invoice payments directly through Zoho Books.

Microbusiness owners also save time running reports. You can schedule reports to automatically generate weekly, monthly, quarterly or annually and then have them emailed to you in the format of your choice (PDF, CSV or XLS). Automatically generated weekly summaries give you a view into the business's performance, income, expenses and cash flow.

Another standout feature that business owners will appreciate is Zoho's client portal. It's a website your clients can visit to view their invoices and pay online. You can send estimates and interact with clients via the portal.

Zoho Books is easy to set up and easy to use, but that doesn't mean it isn't powerful. Through the program, you're able to access real-time data and analytics to make informed business decisions. Zoho Books checks all the boxes when it comes to accounting software for microbusinesses.

Read Zoho Books Review

Xero: Best for Growing Businesses

Xero offers more than 700 app integrations.
Email and live chat support are available 24/7.
Not all accountants are familiar with Xero.

Every business starts small, but as a company grows, its financial needs change. As a result, you want an accounting program you can have over the long haul, and that's where Xero comes in. Xero's pricing and plans are based on the progression of a company, making it our choice for the best accounting software for growing businesses.

Editor's score: 9.12/10

Take its pricing for starters. Its Early Plan costs $11 per month and is perfect for freelancers, solo traders and business owners just starting out. You can send 20 invoices and quotes, enter five bills per month and reconcile bank transactions. As you expand, Xero's Growing plan, which is $32 per month, gives you unlimited invoices, bills and bank transactions. The Established Plan is $62 per month. Besides unlimited invoices, bills, and bank transactions, it supports multiple currencies, it can track projects, and you can claim expenses. If you need payroll services, you can add Gusto to your plan.

Xero offers more than 700 app integrations, which means there's a good chance it works with several of your existing business software applications.  As you grow, you may need different apps, which Xero can easily support.

Another plus of Xero's software is that you can run more than 50 different reports, including profit and loss statements, aged receivables, and a general ledger. Many reports are customizable, allowing you to change titles, rearrange columns, show a chart, set a date range and apply filters. You can print reports, archive them, or export them as PDF, Excel or Google Sheets files. We also like that you can manage both customers and suppliers with this accounting software and organize them into groups.

Xero is easy to use, which is another reason we chose it as best for growing businesses. You don't want to start your business with complex and cumbersome accounting software that takes forever to learn. Xero's interactive dashboard displays graphs and charts for key information, such as invoices due, bills you need to pay, and a history of your bank account balance. There's also a button that tells you how many items you need to reconcile. The information is displayed on movable cards that you can arrange to your liking. The cards also have quick buttons for tasks like creating an invoice or a new bill.

Whether your business is in the early stages or growing, Xero has a pricing plan and features that will meet your needs. Further, the software is easy-to-use and adapts alongside your business, making it our best pick for growing businesses.

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ZarMoney: Best for Transparent Pricing

ZarMoney offers transparent pricing plans with no hidden fees.
The software connects with more than 9,600 banks in the U.S. and Canada.
You cannot send recurring invoices. (This feature is coming soon.)

Small business owners need clear and transparent pricing upfront about how much their accounting software will cost, which is exactly what ZarMoney provides. There's no guesswork involved with ZarMoney, which is why it's our pick for best accounting software for transparent pricing.

Editor's score: 9.04/10

ZarMoney is an accounting software program that offers plans for entrepreneurs, small businesses and enterprises. It sticks to a simple pricing plan, charging a flat rate depending on the number of users. Its Entrepreneur plan costs $15 per month for one user. You get unlimited transactions and U.S.-based customer service. ZarMoney charges $20 for its Small Business plan, which includes two users, unlimited transactions and U.S.-based support. If you want to add an extra user to the Small Business account, you'll pay $10 per user. You can easily get a clear picture of how much ZarMoney will cost you using the pricing tool on the website. The third plan is the Enterprise plan, which supports 30 or more users, and costs $350 per month.

Businesses of all sizes will appreciate ZarMoney's features. Take its accounts receivable features for instance. You can manage estimates and sales orders, offer customers payment terms and early payment discounts, text or email customers order alerts, and automatically enforce credit limits at order entry and invoicing. Currently, you cannot send recurring invoices, but this feature is coming soon. ZarMoney supports credit card payments online and provides an array of payment management and tracking services.

The software connects with more than 9,600 financial institutions in the U.S. and Canada. ZarMoney automatically imports bank transactions daily for you to approve or edit. The accounting software also supports batch deposits of checks, cash, and credit card sales; calculates sales tax; and transfers funds between banks.

We selected ZarMoney as a best pick because of its transparent pricing, but there's so much more to like about this accounting software. With this cloud-based provider, you get robust accounting, inventory and productivity features at a competitive rate.

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Plooto: Best for Automating Processes

Plooto unifies payments, approvals, reconciliation, and reporting, and it provides AP and AR automation.
You can add a vendor or supplier payee in seconds via the Plooto Network.
It only syncs with QuickBooks and Xero.
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Time is money, and the more of it that's wasted on mundane business tasks, such as accounts payable and receivable, the worse off you'll be. Plooto is here to help, slashing the time it takes to pay vendors, which is why it's our best pick for automating your accounts payable processes.

Editor's score: 8.54/10

Plooto is an all-in-one payment platform that provides greater financial control and simplicity by unifying payments, approvals, reconciliation, and reporting. Plooto's smart approval workflows and secure electronic payments reduce errors, expedite your accounts payable process, and improve how vendors get paid. It also provides end-to-end AP and AR automation. The software is designed for small and medium-sized businesses, as well as accountants and bookkeepers.

To slash the hours spent paying vendors and suppliers, Plooto lets you use the same system to pay anyone, even if that company or individual is outside the U.S. Adding vendors as a payee takes seconds with the Plooto Network of 120,000 suppliers and vendors. Search for your payee on the Plooto Network, then add them to your account with one click. If you can't find a particular vendor, you can add them as a payee in minutes.

With Plooto, you can quickly transfer money within the U.S., Canada, and more than 30 countries. The payments are automatically reconciled with your accounting software. If you do business in Canada, Plooto saves you time submitting remittances to the Canadian Revenue Agency (CRA). Through its system, you can send CRA payments anytime.

It also speeds up accounts receivables; you can set up the software to automatically send clients invoices with instructions on how to make a payment. When the payment is received, it's automatically reconciled. A big reason why we like Plooto for managing payments is its integration with QuickBooks and Xero. By syncing with Plooto and Xero, you get clear payment records, audit trails, and much easier reconciliation. Users can pay electronically, with checks, make batch payments, set payment approvals, store and search records, and reconcile accounts automatically with the QuickBooks and Xero integrations. Plooto doesn't integrate with other accounting software applications.

Plooto is transparent with its pricing, which we like about this accounting software vendor. Plooto charges a flat rate of $25 a month for 10 free domestic payments. After 10 payments, you're charged 50 cents per domestic transaction. International transactions cost $9.99 per transaction, while check payments are $1.99 each. Plooto charges $3 for CRA payments. Plooto doesn't cap the number of users, approvers, customers and vendors a customer has. It offers unlimited bank connections and free accountant/bookkeeper collaboration.

Plooto isn't a traditional accounting software program, but if you want to optimize your accounts payable and receivables and maximize cash flow, Plooto is worth a deep dive. It automates many accounting processes, integrates with QuickBooks and Xero and is priced competitively, making it our best pick for automating certain accounting processes.

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GoDaddy Online Bookkeeping: Best for Online Merchants

GoDaddy integrates sales data from Amazon, Etsy, PayPal, and other platforms. You can generate reports based on information in real time.
GoDaddy's pricing is very affordable for small online businesses.
Created with sole proprietors and LLCs in mind, it's easy to use and not overburdened with unnecessary bells and whistles.

E-commerce is exploding across the globe, requiring many businesses to manage online and offline sales. Having an accounting program that brings it all together is important and is where GoDaddy Online Bookkeeping stands out. Not only can you integrate this accounting software with your sales data from Amazon, Etsy, and PayPal, but you can send and track invoices, accept online payments, and run reports, all for an affordable price, making it our best pick for online merchants.

Editor's score: 8.4/10

Online merchants need more than basic accounting software. They need to be able to track their sales from multiple channels and view them in one central location. GoDaddy Online Bookkeeping offers that ability and then some. With this easy-to-use accounting software, you can import your data from Amazon, eBay, Etsy, PayPal, and other platforms and generate reports on income, expenses, profits, and losses using real-time data. That gives you an accurate picture of your online sales. We also selected GoDaddy Online Bookkeeping because there is nothing to download or update – you can sign in from any device to access the accounting software in the cloud.

Another reason GoDaddy is the software we picked for online merchants is that the pricing plans (there are three tiers) start at $4.99 per month. That enables even the smallest online merchant to benefit from the accounting software. GoDaddy's Get Paid lowest-tier plan costs $4.99 a month and includes the ability to send invoices and estimates, accept payments from a mobile device, track mileage and time, and run reports on the current year. The Essential Plan starts at $9.99 a month and offers all the features in the Get Paid plan, plus the ability to run unlimited business reports and automatically import bank and credit card transactions, as well as sales data from Amazon, PayPal, eBay, and Etsy. With its Premium plan, which starts at $14.99 a month, you get all the above, plus the ability to send recurring invoices.

Small business owners need an accounting software solution that is easy to install, use and manage. It needs to speed up accounting processes and help business owners stay on top of their tax obligations; otherwise, it's not worth it. GoDaddy delivers on that front, too. Designed with sole proprietors and LLCs in mind, GoDaddy created its accounting software to automatically categorize transactions, track estimated tax payments due and sales tax collected. You can send reminders and create tax sheets as well. These features, however, are only available for the Essentials and Premium plans. 

GoDaddy Online bookkeeping may not have all the features that other accounting software has, but that's on purpose. It was created with non-accounting professionals in mind. You won't get overwhelmed with tons of features you'll never use. If you operate a larger business with multiple employees, GoDaddy Online Bookkeeping may not be for you. But for online merchants who want to send invoices, track expenses and sales, and get paid quickly, GoDaddy Online Bookkeeping is a standout, which is why it's our best pick for online merchants.

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Wave Financial: Best Free Option

Wave can link to your bank and credit card accounts to automatically track your transactions.
It offers standard bookkeeping services, like many of the paid alternatives do.
App integrations are limited compared to other software applications.

If you're a freelancer or the owner of a small business that doesn't store much inventory, Wave's accounting solution is ideal for you. It offers ample features and is easy to use, even for those who are new to accounting software, making it our best pick for free accounting software.

Editor's score: 8.57/10

With Wave, there's no monthly or annual fees or software license to maintain.  The only costs are for optional add-on services. That's a nice attribute of Wave. You can start out with its free software and add more capabilities if you need it.

Wave's free accounting software and mobile apps do not cap the number of transactions you can do, nor the number of invoices you generate or users who have account access. If you want to accept invoice payments online, Wave charges a flat 2.9%, plus 30 cents per credit card transaction or 1% (with a $1 minimum fee) for ACH bank transfers.

If you want payroll services, it won't break the bank either. Wave charges $20 or $35 per month (depending on which state your employees are in), plus $6 per employee or contractor. For $129 a month, you can get Wave's Bookkeeping service. You get a dedicated bookkeeper who keeps your financials up to date. If you need hands-on training, Wave offers Accounting Coaching, which costs $249 for a 120-minute session.

Just because Wave is a free service doesn't mean it skimps on the features it offers. It holds its own compared to many paid software applications, automating many billing aspects and saving small business owners' precious time. For example, with Wave, you can create and schedule recurring invoices and track payments. There are automatic payment reminders and automatic syncing with your bank and credit card accounts. Wave also supports PayPal, enabling you to sync that transaction data. 

Wave isn't shabby on the reporting side either. You can run dozens of different reports, track expenses, upload receipt images, and manage vendors and bills. Wave integrates with Etsy, PayPal, Shoeboxed and Zapier, which is fewer than its rivals. However, you can connect with hundreds of third-party apps through Zapier.

Even though it's a free program, Wave offers the standard bookkeeping services of many paid alternatives on the market. Small businesses strapped for cash should take a look at Wave, as it may be a great solution to save money without hurting your accounting practices.

 

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Sage Business Cloud Accounting: Best for Freelancers/Self-Empoyed

Sage doesn't limit the number of users who can access the software.
It has 24/7 support, including live chat with Sage accounting experts and one-on-one sessions.
You can only accept payments via invoices through Sage's integration with Stripe.

Sage Business Cloud Accounting is a low-cost, cloud-based program that lets you create and send invoices, track what you're owed, and automate bank reconciliations. At $10 a month, it's an affordable accounting tool that helps you stay on top of all of your accounting tasks, which is why we selected it as best for freelancers and those who are self-employed.

Editor's score: 8.95/10

Freelancers and self-employed individuals don't need a lot from their accounting software. They want to bill their customers and get paid quickly. Sage Business Cloud Accounting makes that possible and only charges $10 a month.

With the Sage Accounting Start plan, you can create, track, and send invoices and automatically reconcile bank entries. If you need more than that, the Sage Accounting plan enables business owners to send quotes, estimates, and invoices; forecast cash flow; and manage purchase invoices. For the first three months, you can use Sage to snap and post receipts to your account. The Sage Accounting plan supports unlimited users and costs $25 a month. Sage runs specials from time to time in which it discounts the software as much as 50% for six months. That means freelancers can get good accounting software for just $7.50 a month for half a year. Sage also has a free trial (30 days), so you can test-drive it before committing to it. We also like that you can cancel at any time. You aren't stuck in a long-term contract, but you do have to give notice to avoid any issues.

Sage's program is cloud-based, which means you can access it from any internet-enabled device. It's easy to set up, and the learning curve isn't steep. Sage integrates with Stripe, enabling users to add a "Pay Now" button on invoices. Freelancers can automate many accounting and invoicing tasks, including the auto-posting of expenses and payments, sending and tracking invoices, and setting reminders and alerts.

Freelancers typically don't have a lot of accounting expertise. They may have questions or need accounting help, and Sage makes it easy to obtain that. Sage offers 24/7 support via chat and live Q&A sessions with Sage Success Coaches Monday through Friday, 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Eastern time. You can also schedule one-on-one sessions with a Sage Accounting expert online. Additionally, it's easy to extend Sage's capabilities, thanks to its app marketplace. Sage integrates with several apps, including AutoEntry, Draycir, Avalara, Credit Hound and others.

Sage's accounting software offers freelancers and self-employed individuals robust accounting software at an affordable price. It has everything you need to get paid and manage cash flow and is worth considering if you're self-employed.

Read Sage Business Cloud Accounting Review

Melio: Best for Free Accounts Payable Software

Melio doesn't charge you any fees for bank transfers; there is a fee of 2.9% for credit card payments.
You can control who has access to your Melio account, giving you a better view of your cash flow.
Melio only integrates with QuickBooks.

Sometimes, all you want is a simple way to manage your accounts payable and receivables. You don't want an overly complicated or costly system, just one that can send and track invoices and ensure you get paid. That's where Melio and its free accounts payable software comes in. It's a free cloud-based software program that lets you schedule payments, manage your bills, and it integrates with QuickBooks, making it our best pick for free accounts payable software.

Editor's score: 8.0/10

With Melio, it's free to make payments via bank transfer; credit card payments, however, cost 2.9%. You can also accept payments by customers via card or bank transfer at no cost to you. What sets Melio apart from other free accounts payable software is its ease of use. It takes no time to add vendors and schedule payments.

You can enter a vendor's details manually, upload a file, or take a photo of an invoice to get the payee in your account. You can then schedule payments for the date and amount you want. Vendors either receive a check or bank transfer. This accounting program also makes it easy to control who has access to your accounts payable and receivable information. You can invite users from your company or an accountant, and assign them roles and permissions.  You can also set approval controls for each transaction to ensure you stay on top of your cash flow.

Melio's integration with QuickBooks is another aspect we liked. QuickBooks is powerful alone, but when combined with Melio's payment data, it can provide deeper insights into cash flow.

It's also easy to sync. All you have to do is log into your Intuit account to connect QuickBooks for a two-way sync between payments and accounting.  There is one drawback: Melio only integrates with QuickBooks right now. It does plan to integrate with Xero in the future, but for companies that use accounting software other than QuickBooks (and soon, Xero), there isn't a convenient way to reconcile your payments with your ledger.

Melio may not be well suited for large companies, but it's ideal for small businesses in many industries looking for a free solution to manage payments. Add integration with QuickBooks to the mix, and it easy to see why Melio is our best pick for free accounts payable software.

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Accounting Software Pricing

 

Most accounting software programs have an array of plans and prices to fit your business's needs and budget. The plans typically differ in price, features and number of users who can access the software.

There are two main cost structures for accounting software: perpetual licensing and subscription pricing. A perpetual licensing model gives you full access to software forever for a one-time fee. This option is generally used for software you buy and download directly to your computer or server, and it doesn't usually include any software updates. Costs range from a few hundred dollars to more than $1,000.

A subscription pricing model, which is generally used with cloud-hosted software, bills you monthly or annually for services. A benefit of subscription pricing is that you have access to all the software's updates as soon as they are released. Depending on the service plan you choose, subscription prices range from $5 to $60 per month.

Be wary of hidden fees, though. They lurk in things such as accepting payments online, software integrations and technical support services. To avoid overpaying for features you don't need, make a list of what you're looking for in an accounting system. Like coming up with a list before you go grocery shopping, a list will prevent you from overspending.

Some accounting programs are free. Wave Financial is a good example of a quality service that is free. When searching for accounting software, take advantage of free trials and demos. This will help you see how easy the software is to use and how well suited it is for your company.

Buying Guide

Types of Accounting Software for Business

Accounting software comes in different flavors from spreadsheets to cloud software. What makes the most sense for your business depends on how big it is, the complexity of your accounting, and what you are hoping to achieve.

Spreadsheets

Made popular by Microsoft and Google, spreadsheets are digital documents that are used to arrange data in rows and columns. You can apply calculations and move around data with spreadsheets. Spreadsheets are a cheap option, popular with many microbusinesses and sole proprietors. However, if you want to do more than keep data organized and categorized logically, you may want to consider accounting software.

Commercial Accounting Software

Designed with small and medium-sized businesses in mind, commercial accounting software enables you to manage your books, sends invoices, accept payments and perform other business functions. Examples of commercial accounting software include QuickBooks, FreshBooks and Xero. The vendors typically charge monthly fees to access their accounting software in the cloud.

Enterprise Accounting Software

Large companies have more complex needs. Enterprise accounting software is designed for large businesses and typically integrates different aspects of a business in one central location.

Custom Accounting Software

Although it isn't very common, some vendors create custom accounting software for their clients. Alternatively, a company can create its own custom accounting program if they can't find what they want on the market. This option can be costly and isn't the best option for many small businesses.

Key Features of Accounting Software

There are many aspects of accounting software that make it a useful tool. Most online accounting programs offer accounts receivable, accounts payable, banking and reporting features. Some even include tools for inventory management, project management, time tracking and payroll. Here are some core elements of accounting software you should look for.

Bank Feed

This feature allows you to connect to your business bank and credit card accounts to receive a daily update of your transactions. This saves you the time it would take to manually upload statements into the system, and it gives you a daily overview of your accounts. This feature also assists with reconciliation, making it a small daily task rather than a monthly ordeal.

Dashboard

When you log in to your account, you'll be greeted by a dashboard with an overview of your account activity and key metrics, such as cash flow, profit and loss, account balances, expenses, accounts payable and receivable, and sales. Some software lets you customize what you see first by rearranging the information.

Online Invoicing

If your business sends invoices, the ability to email them and accept online payments can help you get paid faster. Some accounting programs integrate with third-party payment processors, while other vendors require you to use their in-house processing services.

Recurring Invoices

With this feature, you can schedule the software to automatically generate and send invoices for recurring charges, such as subscriptions. You can choose how frequently invoices are sent – daily, weekly, monthly or annually – and indicate whether there's an end date to the billing. Many accounting software providers don't have recurring invoice functionality (we've noted in our reviews which ones do).

Automatic Payment Reminders

This feature reminds your customers about upcoming and past-due payments. Some have sample email text you can use as is or customize. You can then choose when you want the reminders to be sent. Some programs also give you the option of sending thank-you emails to customers after you receive their payments. 

Bank Reconciliation

Smart reconciliation tools identify potential matches between your bank transactions and the bills and invoices you've entered into the software, saving you the hours it would take to sift through records. You can then approve or deny the suggested matches. The best products we reviewed suggest potential matches as you reconcile your accounts, and a few also include a reconciliation feature on their mobile apps.

Financial Reporting

Every accounting program generates financial reports; some are more basic than others, and some require you to subscribe to a higher plan for advanced reporting. If you need specific types of financial reports, make sure they're included in the program and plan you choose. Detailed reports can help you interpret your financial data to make informed business decisions.

Mobile Apps

Not every accounting and invoicing program has mobile apps, but the best ones do. There is, however, quite a bit of variance in app capabilities. Some can only capture receipts for expense tracking; several allow you to create and send invoices, and others have almost every feature the web-based software does. As mobile work becomes increasingly convenient, it's worth checking that the company offers a mobile app with its software.

Integrations

The ability to connect your accounting software to the other business programs you use saves you the time of manually transferring data from one system to another. Payroll service, payment processing, point-of-sale systems and customer relationship management software are some popular types of integrations you may want to look for. Integration with systems you already use also cuts down on training time for employees. 

Tracking for Billable Hours

If you're a consultant or your business is an agency that bills clients by the hour, you want accounting software that allows you to track and bill your time or integrates with the time-tracking program you already use. This is an especially important feature for freelancers.

Inventory Management

If you have a retail or distribution business, you'll want accounting software that tracks inventory and helps with purchase ordering. You may need to subscribe to a top-tier plan to get this feature. If you need more advanced inventory features, look for software that integrates with a dedicated inventory management system.

Project-Based Billing

Firms, freelancers, and consultants who work with clients on projects or jobs should look for accounting software that helps them track the projects' tasks and budgets. The software should allow you to invoice customers for tracked time and rebill them for project expenses.

Support for Multiple Businesses

Several programs we reviewed allow you to add more than one business to your account, though some of them charge extra for this convenience.

Benefits of Accounting Software for Business

Properly managing your business's finances is no small task. The right accounting software can take a lot of pain out of the process. Here are several key advantages to using accounting software.

Keeps Finances Organized

An individual may be able to manage their personal finances on the fly, recording transactions here and there and relying on bank statements to get by. But small businesses need to keep all their finances organized to prevent any negative surprises. Accounting software can help achieve that. It organizes and stores your financial data in one central location. Many time-consuming accounting processes can be automated, eliminating the likelihood of mistakes.

Cost-Effective

Accounting software doesn't have to be one of your biggest expenses; there are several price points that meet the needs and budgets of small businesses. We've highlighted free solutions, too. Many are easy to set up and don't involve a steep learning curve, which means you can quickly learn the software and get going managing your business's finances.

Helps Businesses Comply With Tax Laws

Trying to configure business taxes can be extremely overwhelming for small business owners. Accounting software takes the guesswork out of filing taxes. Many of these programs calculate sales tax and prepare and file a variety of tax forms. That frees you up to concentrate on what you do best, running your business.

Accounting Software FAQs

What Is Accounting Software?

Accounting software is a digital system that helps you manage your money. Overseeing your business finances is very different from managing your personal finances and requires different actions. Accounting software records and analyzes your company's financial data. It also tracks transactions, generates reports, manages customer and vendor contacts, creates purchase orders, tracks inventory levels, bills customers, and monitors account balances. Accounting software helps you put your financial data into a structured system and understand how your company is doing.  

Why Should You Use Accounting Software?

Accounting software is an efficient system that saves time and reduces human error. It automates accounting software functions, which eliminates the problem of inefficient and inaccurate data entry. You can also connect the software to your business bank or credit card accounts. 

Important reports and financial statements, like profit and loss statements and balance sheets, can be created from accounting programs. This is helpful when you're seeking funding from an investor. Not only does accounting software help you manage your cash flow, but it streamlines financial tasks and puts everything you need to do in one place. This reduces confusion and keeps you abreast of how your company is doing.

Who Can Benefit From Using Accounting Software?

Any company looking for help managing its finances should use an accounting tool. Especially for small business owners, it makes managing your finances easier, because it automates tasks and reduces human error in your data entry. Accounting software also helps you comply with local, state and federal tax laws.

This software is useful for businesses looking to save time or set up a bookkeeping or accounting system. Accounting software lays the groundwork for that. It also helps manage your tax filing and business taxes. 

Do You Need Online Bookkeeping Software Instead of Accounting Software?

The term "online bookkeeping software" is frequently used interchangeably with "online accounting software" in the small business market. The best online accounting software applications have features for keeping the books and analyzing your business's financial health. There is a difference, however, between a bookkeeper and an accountant. For our reviews, we focused on solutions that offer the ability to analyze financial data rather than solutions with basic bookkeeping options.

Is Online Accounting Software Secure?

The best online accounting software uses bank-grade data encryption to protect your account. Further, it should either require or allow you to opt in to two-factor authentication, giving you another layer of security. Because the software is in the cloud, your data is safe, even if your computer is stolen or destroyed. 

If you have employees or an accountant accessing your accounting program, you can control the information they see by setting user permissions. The best accounting programs include a detailed history or audit log that shows what changes were made to your records, on what date, and at what time by which user, giving you additional insight and control over any changes or entries made in your accounting program.

Is There Free Accounting Software?

Yes, some accounting software providers offer their services for free. Wave Financial offers free accounting software, as it provides an array of key features to manage your financial data. Wave has no hidden fees or trials, and you can access its invoicing, accounting and receipt scanning functions for as long as you want at no charge. Instead of simply offering free trials, companies like Wave provide all the essentials for free.

While free accounting software is available, it's important to find a program that gives you what you're looking for at the standard your company requires. Free doesn't always mean faulty, but some free services and software lack sophistication or efficiency.

What Is the Easiest Accounting Software to Learn?

Our best picks – QuickBooks Online, Xero, FreshBooks, Zoho Books, Wave Financial, to name a few – are easy to use and have tips and hints within the software, plus online support resources designed for new business owners who don't necessarily have accounting experience, such as getting-started guides, video tutorials, webinars and how-to articles with step-by-step instructions.

Many of these companies offer free trials. You shouldn't buy an accounting solution without first testing it to see how it works. Some companies even include hypothetical data for testing, which makes it easier to play with the program and see all the different features. We recommend exploring each platform you're considering to get a feel for how it works before paying.

Should I Get Accounting and Payroll Software?

Integrating payroll with your accounting software can save you time, but you don't necessarily have to get both systems from the same company. Many accounting software applications offer integrations with a variety of payroll services. If you prefer to use the same company for both, check out QuickBooks Online and Wave, which offer payroll as an add-on service to their accounting software. 

Should Accounting Software Also Serve as Invoice Generator Software?

It's not necessarily a deal-breaker if your accounting software doesn't generate invoices. However, for some companies, it is a necessity. If you're a freelancer or a small business that expects to regularly send invoices to clients, it's a good idea to look for accounting software that includes an invoice generator. The ability to quickly create invoices and automatically send them to clients can save your business important time.

How Do You Know Which Invoice Generator Software Is Right for Your Business?

The right invoice generator depends on your business structure and how much time and money you're trying to save. An invoice generator makes your invoice look more branded and professional. You can also use invoice software to accept online payments, which makes it easier for clients to pay you with a credit or debit card. Invoice software allows you to track your payments and reuse templates. Invoice- generator software does the outline for you, which saves you resources and structures information so you can keep track of unpaid invoices. If you don't have an invoice templates, an invoice generator can help you out.

When Is the Best Time to Switch Accounting Software?

The ideal time to switch your accounting software is at the beginning of the year, because that's when the fiscal year comes to a close. Making a change at the start of the year allows you to wrap up the reports from that time period and start the year reporting on new financial information, which makes the transition seamless and less complicated.

If you can't wait until the start of the year to make a change, the next best time is at the end of a fiscal quarter.

How much does small business accounting software cost?

The cost for accounting software runs the gambit from free to as much as $25 per month depending on the features and functionality. Accounting software that supports more users, real-time payments, and other features such as e-commerce, advanced reporting, and inventory management.  The complexity of your business and how many users you want connected will determine how much it ultimately costs you.

What should accounting software for small businesses include?

The whole idea behind accounting software is to make it easier for you to manage your operations. If it is too complex or requires a lot of manual entries, it may be a waste of time. Good accounting software should be easy to use, integrate with your bank and other apps, and enable collaboration with your accountant. The best options also include invoicing, reporting and a mobile app.

Community Expert Insight

As someone who knows the accounting industry quite well, Candace Galiffa, founder of NewWay Accounting, recommends QuickBooks Online for business owners and accountants.  

Part of what Galiffa appreciates most about the program is its amazing customer service and invoicing platform. She says it's a good program if you want all your standard and ideal features in one spot, she said.  

"It's affordable for the standard business owner's needs and has connection capabilities with just about every bank," Galiffa told business.com. 

Katie Thomas, founder and CFO of Diamond J Accounting, is a fan of  FreshBooks because of its bank reconciliation process. She recommends finding accounting software that allows you to connect with credit unions and banks across the country. 

This feature of FreshBooks stood out to Thomas because it allows business owners to receive automatic transaction updates. It's also a timesaver because, instead of manually uploading statements, you will receive a digital overview of pertinent transaction information.  

However, Thomas did note that some, especially accounting professionals, may find FreshBooks too limited. As an accounting professional, she said it's important for software to be customizable, allowing you to modify reports, so you can operate the system with ease and little error.  

Thomas also believes Xero to be a quality option. The features that stand out to her are its open API and project management software integrations, which help users create a more organized and streamlined system.

Methodology

After asking experts and accountants what they look for in accounting software and the solutions they recommend, we searched online for the best small business accounting systems on the market. We read accounting software reviews and articles to find new programs to add to our existing list, which included accounting software we were already familiar with and programs vendors had previously pitched to us. 

We then narrowed down the list based on different use cases and criteria such as price, features, and number of supported users. We scoured each company's website to learn about the software, checking out blogs, guides and knowledgebases to find product details. We watched how-to videos or feature demos (where available) and read user reviews. 

In addition to our best picks, ZipBooks, Bench and OneUp made it to our shortlist.

What to Expect from Accounting Software in 2021

The accounting software market is poised to continue its growth trajectory as more businesses adopt cloud-based accounting programs in 2021. The COVID-19 pandemic forced scores of companies to shift to a remote work environment, which hurt their ability to prepare financial statements on time and forced them to overhaul their finance plans. That issue is increasing the interest in technology that automates accounting processes.

Business owners are considering accounting software to reduce accounting headaches as working at home becomes the norm. According to market research firm Gartner, worldwide information technology spending is forecast to hit $3.8 trillion in 2021, up 4% from 2020. Enterprise software is projected to enjoy 7.2% growth, and that includes cloud accounting applications.

Like many other areas of financial technology, the accounting software space has many players that cater to small business owners, making competition fierce. That should continue in 2021, which is good news for small business owners, who will gain access to more tools and functionality. Expect additional features to speed up processes, save time and boost productivity.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning gained popularity, with many accounting applications implementing these advanced technologies to reduce manual data entry and automate redundant tasks. Those AI and machine learning advances are expected to continue in 2021. Consider accounting automation software company BlackLine as evidence: It spent $150 million in October to acquire Rimilia, a U.K. SaaS startup that uses AI and machine learning to simplify cash flow and cash collection.

COVID-19 is still a huge issue for business owners. If the economy and small businesses take more hits, accounting software providers will likely step up again with deals and discounts to cushion the blow.

Understanding Accounting Services Infographic

Understanding Accounting Software
Credit: Grant Reinero
Donna Fuscaldo
business.com Staff
Donna Fuscaldo is a senior finance writer at business.com and has more than two decades of experience writing about business borrowing, funding, and investing for publications including the Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones Newswires, Bankrate, Investopedia, Motley Fool, and Foxbusiness.com. Most recently she was a senior contributor at Forbes covering the intersection of money and technology before joining business.com. Donna has carved out a name for herself in the finance and small business markets, writing hundreds of business articles offering advice, insightful analysis, and groundbreaking coverage. Her areas of focus at business.com include business loans, accounting, and retirement benefits.
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