The Best Online Payroll Services of 2020

Simone R. Johnson
, writer
| Updated
May 04, 2020
Image Credit: AndreyPopov / Getty Images

Update: This page has been updated with new Gusto pricing information.


Running payroll can be time-consuming and, if done incorrectly, can result in fines. It can be overwhelming, but online payroll services can lighten the load. Many small businesses have turned to online payroll services to smooth out the process of paying employees accurately and on time.

Best Picks

Paychex - Online Payroll Services
Paychex - Online Payroll Services
Best Online Payroll for Larger Businesses

Editor's note: Looking for the right online payroll service for your business? Fill out the below questionnaire to have our vendor partners contact you about your needs.

With so many online payroll companies to choose from in 2020, finding the service that has all of the functionality your business needs can be a difficult task. There are several factors to consider when trying to choose online payroll software that is right for you, including whether it offers all the services and tools you need, fits your budget, and provides a high level of customer support. To help you narrow down your options, we've studied and evaluated the top payroll service providers on the market.

We recommend Intuit as the best payroll software for small businesses, Gusto as the best payroll service provider for sole proprietors or S corporations, OnPay as the best payroll service for very small businesses, ADP as the most popular payroll company, and Paychex as the best payroll service for larger businesses.

You can read more about each of our best picks and the types of organizations we think they are best for, in our reviews. If none of our recommendations work for you, scroll down to see more reviews and a list of other online payroll services.

What to Expect in 2020

In 2020, what online payroll services offer is expected to expand. Gary Anderson, director of sales at Criterion, told SelectHub that he expects payroll services to offer more comprehensive HR services, rather than companies having to pay for a stand-alone payroll service and a separate HR management solution. He said this will allow businesses to keep the payroll service they feel comfortable with while having an HR service integrated right into it. 

Some payroll providers, such as Gusto, have already moved in this direction. Knowing that some payroll providers have started offering all-in-one solutions, we expect other payroll services to quickly follow suit. If they don't, they stand to fall behind their competition. 

The integration of artificial intelligence is another trend we expect to continue in 2020. Payroll AI is able to pick up on errors that can lead to fines. As more payroll services incorporate this technology into their platforms, we predict a drop in the cost of compliance concerns and violations.

April 2020: As small businesses continue to be negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, many online payroll services are offering resources and tools in an effort to help.

For example, a number of payroll providers have launched resource hubs on their websites to provide their customers with information about legislative initiatives that have been launched to help support small businesses. Gusto, ADP, OnPay, and Intuit all have online guides and tool kits designed to help employers learn more about the Paycheck Protection Program and the CARES Act.

In addition, Paychex is partnering with PayActiv to provide on-demand payroll service for employees who need immediate access to their wages. This option gives employees some flexibility as to when they get paid versus waiting for their traditional payday. PayActiv is offering $250 to Paychex customers who enroll in its Pay-on-Demand service.


In addition to our best picks, here are our reviews of other top payroll service providers.

Online Payroll Pricing

While the costs of payroll services differ by company, each provider uses a similar cost structure. There is typically a base fee and a per-employee charge. Our best picks charge base fees of $29 to $150 and per-employee fees of $2 to $12.

How often you are charged varies by provider. Some charge monthly, while others charge each time you run payroll. The providers that have monthly charges allow unlimited payroll runs each month. Among our best picks, Intuit, OnPay and Gusto all have monthly fees, while ADP and Paychex have a per-payroll cost structure.  

While some providers offer just one package that includes all their services, others offer several plans at various price points with different levels of service. For example, the cheapest plan may include payroll processing only, with the most expensive plan including all payroll tax filing and payment responsibilities.    

Besides the monthly or per-pay-run costs, some providers charge for services like setting up the system and completing year-end tax filings.

Here is a breakdown of the costs of each of our best picks:

  • Intuit: Costs range from $29 to $109 per month, plus $2 to $4 per employee.
  • QuickBooks Payroll: This combines QuickBooks accounting software with Intuit payroll. Costs for this combination of services range from $59 to $159 per month, plus $2 per employee.
  • OnPay: Costs are $36 per month, plus $4 per employee.
  • Gusto: Costs range from $39 to $149 per month, plus $6 to $12 per employee.
  • ADP: Costs are customized for each business. We were quoted costs of about $120 per payroll for 25 employees.
  • Paychex: Costs are customized for each business. Paychex would not provide any specific pricing information to us.

When trying to determine the true cost of payroll services for your small business, you need to factor in any taxes or other fees that the payroll provider may charge. Be sure to inquire about that when discussing pricing.

Before signing up with a payroll service provider, ask the company these questions to get the best deal possible: 

  • Does it offer a discount for agreeing to a long-term contract?
  • Does it offer discounts for businesses with a large number of employees (if you're a larger company)?
  • Would it be willing to match the price of one of its cheaper competitors?    

It is critical that you review the contract thoroughly before signing anything. Make sure the contract includes everything you have agreed to and doesn't have any built-in price increases after an extended time.   

Also inquire about the process for canceling service. Find out if there are any costs associated with that and how much notice you need to give.

Frequently Asked Payroll Questions

Q: What should we look for while deciding the best payroll software for our organization?

A: There are various factors to consider when choosing a payroll service provider. The most important factor is whether it can serve your company's needs. Does it make it easy to manage your entire employee roster? Can you run payroll as often as you like? Does it handle all of your payroll tax needs? Does it offer a tax guarantee? Does it provide the added services you want, such as workers' compensation insurance and PTO management? These are all things you need to know about a service before committing to it.

Other factors you want to consider are whether it fits in your budget, how easy the online payroll software is to use and the level of customer support.

Q: What are the benefits of the best payroll software?

A: There are many benefits to using online payroll services. First, it makes the process of running payroll simple. These services handle all of your payroll processing and payroll tax responsibilities. All you, as the business owner, are responsible for each pay period is entering the number of hours each employee worked and any commissions or bonuses they earned. You should be able to run your payroll in just a few minutes.

Once you submit, the payroll software does the work for you. It calculates the correct amount for each paycheck and deposits that money directly into your employee's bank account. If they don't use direct deposit, it will let you know when you can print out a paper check for them. The software also automatically calculates the proper payroll tax withholdings and, when the time comes, files the required paperwork and makes the necessary payments on your behalf.

Payroll software also offers employee self-service. Instead of employees asking someone else all of their payroll questions, they can log in to the system to get the answers they are looking for on their own. This also saves time for those who would be answering their questions to work on something else.

Q: What criteria did you use to compare payroll software solutions?

A: We looked at a variety of factors when determining our recommendations. We considered the cost of each service, how easy it is to use, what tax services it offers, the integration options, whether there are any incentives like free trials or discounts, if self-service is available, how complete the tax services are, extra services (such as HR, time-off management and retirement savings plans), the customer support, and Better Business Bureau ratings and complaints.

Q: What are the top payroll software solutions for payroll service providers and accountants?

A: After careful research and consideration, our top payroll service selections are Intuit, OnPay, Gusto, ADP and Paychex. Other highly rated services include SurePayroll, Sage, APS, BenefitMall, IOIPay, MyPayrollHR, Fuse Workforce Management, PrimePay and PayUSA. To learn more about each service, check out our reviews above.

Online Payroll Features

Online payroll software encompasses a lot of services. These are some of the most valuable features and services these programs offer.

Payroll Processing

The primary purpose of these services is to process payroll. This is how your employees are paid. Based on the wage rates you enter and the hours each employee worked, the system automatically calculates how much they should be paid. It applies the appropriate deductions for each employee into account, such as medical benefits and Social Security.

Payroll Tax

One big plus of using an online payroll service is that it handles your business's payroll tax responsibilities. Based on each paycheck, the software can withhold the required employee taxes. The service then fills out and files the quarterly payroll tax reports and pays the appropriate local, state and federal agencies.

At the end of the year, the software generates the W-2 and 1099 tax forms for each worker. Many payroll companies offer an error-free guarantee. This means that if it makes an error on your taxes, your payroll provider will correct the mistake and pay any fines or interest it incurred.

New-Hire Reporting

Each time you hire a new employee, you are required to report that information to the state. Online payroll services can complete those forms for your business and send them to the proper state agencies. Information on the forms includes the employee's name, address, and Social Security number, as well as the employer's name, address, and Federal Employer Identification Number.

Pay Options

Payroll companies offer multiple ways to pay your employees. The most convenient option is direct deposit. With this method, an employee provides their bank account information, and the payroll software automatically deposits the paycheck into their account on payday.

Another option is paper checks. Some payroll providers offer check-stuffing services. They will print the checks, stuff them in envelopes and then deliver the envelopes to your office to be given directly to employees.

A third option that some payroll services now offer is prepaid debit cards. The money from each paycheck is automatically deposited to each debit card. The employees using the payroll cards then have instant access to the funds.


Employee Types

With online payroll software, you can pay all types of employees. The software can process pay for full- and part-time W-2 employees as well as 1099 contractors, including consultants and freelancers. The software treats both types of employees the same in terms of payment and reporting. All employees are stored in the software; oftentimes, both types of employees can log in to the system to access their payroll records.


Online payroll software can provide businesses with a wide range of payroll reports. These reports can give you better insight into your company and employees. The types of payroll reports that some services offer include payroll registers, contribution reports and payroll tax reports.


A lot of online payroll software includes integrations with programs many businesses already use. These include accounting software, time and attendance systems, and human resources software. These integrations allow the two programs to seamlessly connect – data is automatically shared and transferred between the two. This saves you the time of entering the same information in multiple places.

Employee Self-Service

Each employee has their own login to access the software. The employee portal allows them to review their digital paystubs, access their year-end tax forms and check their time-off balances.

Mobile Access

Some payroll services provide mobile access to their software. Some have mobile-friendly websites, while others have a dedicated mobile app for iOS and Android devices, allowing you and your employees to access all the same features wherever you are.

PTO Management

Many payroll services include some level of management for your employees' paid time off. This may mean simply tracking PTO accruals, or it may also offer the ability for employees to request and managers to approve or deny time off.

HR Features

Some payroll companies include human resources services in their platform. These can include employee onboarding services and tools to create employee handbooks or job templates. Some payroll services even offer on-demand HR consultations.

Customer Service

Online payroll companies offer a variety of customer support options. With some, you have a dedicated support representative assigned to your company. This is your go-to person for any issue that requires a call. Other payroll services just have a general support number that you call for help. Most companies offer customer support Monday through Friday, though a few have support available over the weekend. In addition to the in-person support you can receive, most online payroll services have extensive resources on their websites such as how-to-guides, FAQs and videos.

Added Services

In addition to the core payroll functions, many payroll companies offer a litany of other services that you can tack on to your plan. These include workers' compensation insurance, benefits administrations, retirement plans, college savings plans, and time and attendance systems.

Payroll Service Review Methodology

To determine the best payroll services for businesses, we started with a pool that included each service on the comprehensive list below. After some preliminary research of other best-pick lists, we interviewed small business owners to discover new ones to add to our list. Overall, we conducted our initial research on more than 70 payroll services.  

We settled on 22 payroll services to consider as best picks: ADP, AmCheck, APS, BenefitMall, Big Fish Payroll Services, Fuse Workforce Management, GetPayroll, Gusto, Intuit, IOIPay, MyPayrollHR, OnPay, Patriot Software, PayUSA, Paychex, Paycor, Paylocity, Payroll On A Budget, PrimePay, Sage, SurePayroll and Wagepoint. 

Next, we conducted a more in-depth review of each service. We studied their websites and offerings, watched tutorials and how-to videos, read user reviews, looked at Better Business Bureau ratings and complaints, and tested out services when demos were available. After narrowing down the list to 14 contenders, we contacted each company posing as business owners to evaluate their customer service. 

We analyzed each service based on the following factors:

  • Cost
  • Tax services
  • Ease of use
  • Customer service
  • Integration options
  • Tax guarantees
  • Mobile accessibility
  • Payroll reports
  • Employee self-service
  • Extra services (employee retirement plans, workers' compensation, etc.)
  • Ratings and complaints

A growing number of businesses find value in outsourcing their payroll. Today's payroll services handle several critical, time-consuming tasks, including processing payroll and calculating, filing, and paying payroll taxes. 

Outsourcing payroll not only helps prevent errors but also frees up employee resources. A recent report on the payroll industry by IBISWorld shows that there are more than 300,000 payroll and bookkeeping businesses in the United States that employ more than 900,000 people.

Overall, payroll and bookkeeping businesses generated $79 billion in revenue in 2017, up 5.6 percent over the previous five years.

"The industry has experienced steady growth over the five years to 2018 as clients increasingly subcontracted back-office administrative activities to take advantage of strengthening economic conditions, enabling them to focus efforts on core business functions," the report's authors wrote. "By outsourcing payroll and bookkeeping, small businesses can save time and money, freeing up resources for higher-priority pursuits."

Common Payroll Questions & Answers

Have a payroll question of your own?

I think people that choose one of the big guys do so because they are a known quantity. The smaller companies don't have as many reviews, and in some cases, can't provide all the services that are needed. They don't know what they are missing, as many clients go back & forth from ADP to Paychex because of problems. Our cloud based solution combines a powerful payroll & a web-based HR application along with the convenience of services typically offered by payroll outsourcing providers. ...

Read More

Also remember that benefits are not just insurance. I've worked at companies that do random prize draws, group dinners out, offer free services (like help quitting smoking, inexpensive daycare) or college tuition assistance. Free coffee is good, too.

Read More

Bravo that you're thinking this through! Gusto/Zenpayroll is a great option but does need to be monitored by a trained payroll eye, I've found two mistakes already with year-end filings with clients that I manage with them. I am happy with them otherwise, though, it's a great solution. Your tax accountant can advise you on reasonable salaries as well as draw structures that won't overdraw the basis and trigger capital gain. I've written a blog post in this same...

Read More

Hi Daniel, I believe the question you must answer first is: What are my obligations as an employer? If it is required by your country's labor law to pay overtime premium then its is not only smart to do that, it is what is legal. In my case, I started my business with freelancers. I pay them only for the number of hours they work on our projects. If the work load is high, they get to work more hours. Because there's no employer-employee relationship, I am not required to provide statutory...

Read More

Downloadable Guides

Common Payroll Pitfalls - Whitepaper
Common Payroll Pitfalls - Whitepaper

The Top 10 Common Payroll Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them


Even small payroll mistakes can lead to big headaches—such as regulatory fines, penalties, and damaged employee relationships. But by following some simple best practices, you can easily avoid common slip-ups regarding compliance rules and regulations, taxable fringe benefits, year-end preparation, and much more!

Solving Payroll Problems
Solving Payroll Problems

The New Employee Management System

Download the Whitepaper

For a more robust employee management system through your payroll services providers, you may choose to add benefits management, 401(k) management, or other enhancements to the basic payroll processing service. Here are some common HR obstacles and ways in which payroll services can mitigate these challenges.

Payroll Processing:
Payroll Processing:

Proper Calculation of Employee Pay Helps Minimize Wage and Hour Compliance and Litigation Risks

Download Now

With wage and hour litigation on the rise, payroll accuracy should be a top priority for employers. Our review of court data shows that of all state and federal court employment law class actions filed in the United States, 90 percent are wage and hour class or collective actions. This increase in wage and hour litigation stems from Department of Labor initiatives that seek to inform employees of their rights under FLSA and the growing number of lawyers specializing in Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) cases. Why should employers be concerned?  The potential damages in these cases are alarming: in 2010 the average settlement in the top 10 reported wage and hour class and collective actions was $34 million.

Sage Payroll Services - Whitepaper
Sage Payroll Services - Whitepaper

Sage Payroll Services


Your hands are full. Put payroll in ours.