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The Best Online Payroll Services of 2021

By Chad Brooks, Writer
| Updated
Nov 13, 2020

Our team has compared the best online payroll services for 2021. See up-to-date reviews and costs for the top services.
Larger Businesses
Multiple ways to pay employees
Four service plans available
Paychex handles all new-hire reporting
Platforms for small and large businesses
Run payroll online or by phone
ADP offers complete payroll tax services
Sole Proprietors or S-Corps
Run payroll from anywhere
Unlimited payroll runs
Gusto generates year-end tax forms
Very Small Businesses
Easy-to-use online platform
One plan for all users
Excellent customer support
Small Business
No software to install or maintain
Self-service access for employees
Multiple service plans available
Our team has compared the best online payroll services for 2021. See up-to-date reviews and costs for the top services.
Updated 11/13/20

This page has been updated with new answers to frequently asked questions about online payroll services, including whether you can pay contractors and whether payroll appears on your company's balance sheet.



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.

Find the Right Online Payroll Service for Your Business

Fill out this questionnaire to find vendors that meet 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.

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.

Compare Our Best Picks

  Starting Monthly Price # of Service Plans Unlimited Payroll Mobile App
Paychex Custom 4 No Yes
Intuit $22.50 plus $4 per employee 3 Yes Yes
Gusto $39 plus $6 per employee 4 Yes No
OnPay $36 plus $4 per employee 1 Yes No
ADP Custom 3 No Yes

Our Reviews

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

Employees can be paid by direct deposit, paper checks and pay cards. Checks can be printed or mailed.
Paychex calculates, files and pays all payroll taxes on your behalf.
Paychex doesn’t provide pricing online for its Select and Enterprise service packages.

Bigger companies have different payroll needs from small businesses. They need a solution that can offer basic human resources services, reliable payroll processing features and dependable payroll tax management. 

Paychex absolutely fits this bill. It is our choice as the best online payroll service for larger businesses.


Why Paychex?

Paychex offers a flexible, full-featured payroll service for payroll processing and payroll tax obligations. The company provides a host of other services as well. You can choose the payroll schedule you want – weekly, biweekly, semimonthly or monthly – and pay all types of employees, including part-time W-2 employees, 1099 contractors and other freelancers.

A one-size-fits-all solution may work for small businesses, but larger ones have complicated needs. They need a solution that offers a range of plans and can be customized to meet needs of critical importance.

What makes Paychex an appealing option for larger businesses is the flexibility in its service offerings. The Paychex Flex platform is available in four different service plans that vary in features. In addition to plans designed for small businesses, there are service plans built specifically for large and enterprise organizations. 

The plans for midsize and enterprise businesses go beyond the traditional payroll processing services by including HR tools and features, such as onboarding, HR administration and pre-employment background check services. 

Large businesses also want flexibility in how employees are paid. You can pay your employees in multiple ways with Paychex. All of its service plans allow payments by direct deposit and prepaid debit cards, while three of the plans also allow paper checks. Paychex offers check signing and check logo services. 

Typically, larger organizations look for payroll services as part of a complete human resources platform. Many enterprise businesses want a platform that can also manage time and attendance, benefits administration, and hiring. 

Paychex fills that need for employers. In addition to payroll processing, Paychex Flex supports online timekeeping, benefits administration, compliance services, employee onboarding, employment screening, retirement plans, business insurance and health insurance. 

Paychex Pricing and Service Plans

Paychex offers custom pricing for its services. None of the representatives we spoke with, however, would provide pricing estimates on any of the service plans, so we can't pass along any price quotes. 

Paychex offers four service plans: Express Payroll, Paychex Flex Select, Paychex Flex Pro and Paychex Flex Enterprise. All the plans include Paychex's core payroll processing and payroll tax administration services.

Here is a breakdown of each plan: 

  • Express: This is the most basic of Paychex's service plans. In addition to the payroll processing and payroll tax services, the Express plan includes new-hire reporting, direct deposit, prepaid debit cards, an employee financial wellness program, and 24/7 phone and chat support. 

  • Paychex Flex Select: This is the most popular plan for small businesses. It includes everything in the Express plan, plus access to a dedicated payroll specialist, labor compliance poster kits and paper check options. 

  • Paychex Flex Pro: Designed for midsize businesses, this plan includes everything in the Select plan plus garnishment payment service, onboarding tools and pre-employment background screening. 

  • Paychex Flex Enterprise: This is the most comprehensive plan and designed for larger organizations. It includes everything in the Pro plan, plus custom analytics, reports and HR administration. 

Since pricing is customized, you'd be best served by contacting Paychex directly and speaking with a sales representative to get specific information on pricing. Once they learn how many employees you have, how often you plan to run payroll, and what additional Paychex services you may be interested in, they should be able to give you a detailed price quote. 


Paychex offers a number of different services and features, including the following: 

  • Payroll processing: Paychex handles all of your payroll processing. The payroll software calculates how much each employee should be paid based on the hours they work and their pay rate. It also accounts for any additions, like bonuses or commissions, and deductions for things like health benefits. 

  • Paycheck options: You can pay your employees by direct deposit, check or pay card. If your employees choose to be paid by check, Paychex prints the checks and mails them to you, or you can print your own checks onsite. 

  • Payroll tax: Paychex handles all your payroll tax compliance issues. The service calculates, files, and pays your payroll taxes on time and ensures they are accurate. You don't have to worry about errors, because Paychex backs up its services with an accuracy guarantee. The guarantee states that Paychex pays the penalties if there are any mistakes in your payroll taxes. The service also processes year-end W-2 and 1099 forms for your employees. 

  • Payroll reports: Paychex provides employers with more than 160 payroll-related reports. Enterprise users can also create their own custom reports. 

  • New-hire reporting: The payroll service handles all the state-required reporting when you hire a new employee or contractor. 

  • Accounting integrations: Paychex allows businesses to link their payroll data to popular accounting software, such as QuickBooks and Sage. 

  • Unemployment insurance: Paychex helps businesses manage the entire unemployment insurance process. 

  • Employee financial wellness program: This program provides a variety of tools and education to help employees meet their financial goals. It also allows for short-term loans. 

  • Onboarding: Paychex offers Pro and Enterprise service users a number of employee onboarding tools. This allows new staff members to complete their new-hire documents, such as tax withholdings forms, in a paperless format. 

  • Background screening: The Pro and Enterprise plans include a limited number of pre-employment background checks. 

  • HR administration: These tools include options to track performance reviews, manage employee training and store important documents safely in the cloud. 

  • Added services: Paychex offers a range of other business services, including time and attendance systems, employee benefits and benefits administration, compliance services, records administration, hiring services, business insurance, business loans, payment processing, tax services, incorporation services, and online marketing services. 

Ease of Use

The Paychex Flex platform is very easy to use. As a cloud-hosted system, it's accessible from any web browser. You can also manage your payroll from the Paychex mobile app, which is available on iOS and Android devices.

When you log in, the homepage provides a quick glance of your important information. This includes a notice of when your next payroll is due, a link to start the payroll process, upcoming check dates, the cash required for the next payroll, and a quick link to the payroll reports section of the system. 

Running payroll is a simple task with just a few steps. All you have to do is enter your payroll information (salaries, hours worked and pay rates), confirm that the data is correct and submit the payroll for processing. Rather than running payroll manually each pay period, you can set up recurring amounts for faster processing. 

The system offers employee self-service. Employees get their own login so they can access the system to see their paystubs and year-end tax documents. 

In addition to accessing the payroll tools and features, you can use the Paychex Flex platform to access other Paychex services your business uses. 

Customer Service

We were disappointed in the customer service we received from Paychex. To test the customer support, we contacted the company multiple times by phone and email, posing as a business owner interested in payroll services. 

When we called the company, the representative we spoke with refused to give us any details about the system and its cost over the phone. He said that, for him to fully explain the system and give more information on pricing, we would have to meet in person. When we explained that we were just looking into payroll systems and wanted to see how Paychex compared to its competitors in pricing, the representative said he couldn't even provide us with an estimate. 

Additionally, even though we said we were only looking for payroll services at this time, the representative kept trying to sell us on Paychex's other services. So, while the representative peppered us with questions, he wasn't able to answer any of the questions we had for him, which was disappointing. 

The service we received over email wasn't much better. When we reached out to a representative and explained we were interested in learning more about the different service plans and pricing, we didn't receive the level of information we were looking for. While the representative sent a document with a service plan comparison, he offered no other information. He didn't offer to walk us through the plans or give us more detailed information on the services available. We still didn't receive any type of price quote or estimate either. 

One positive of Paychex's customer support is that Select, Pro and Enterprise plan users receive a dedicated payroll specialist to handle any issues. Many of the other payroll services we looked into don't offer a dedicated point person to help with problems. 

Regardless of the plan you use, Paychex support is available by phone and live chat 24/7. 


The biggest drawback we encountered with Paychex was the customer support. Nearly all of the other payroll companies we investigated were willing to speak with us over the phone and provide detailed answers to our questions about what their service offers and how it works. Most of them also provided us with a price estimate to give us an idea of how much their payroll software would cost us. 

We were also disappointed to see that, as of September 2018, more than 200 complaints had been filed against the company with the Better Business Bureau. Despite the complaints, however, Paychex is an accredited member of the BBB with an A+ rating.  


ADP: Most Popular Online Payroll Service

ADP's Run platform, designed for businesses with 50 employees or less, offers three plans.
The service integrates with multiple accounting services, including QuickBooks, Xero and Wave.
ADP's Run platform, designed for businesses with 50 employees or less, offers three plans. The service integrates with multiple accounting services, including QuickBooks, Xero and Wave.
ADP is the most popular payroll service among readers, and it has a strong reputation as a payroll industry leader. It is used by businesses across a wide range of industries and holds a 12 percent share of the entire payroll industry marketplace, according to IBISWorld. This company offers specified payroll platforms for small, midsize and large businesses. Its Run platform is designed for businesses with fewer than 50 employees while its Workforce Now platform is for businesses with 50 to 999 employees. Organizations with more than 1,000 employees have various options, including the Enterprise platform. The breadth of ADP's services alone make it a standout company among small businesses, midsize companies and enterprise businesses. We analyzed the Run platform. There are three basic plans for the Run platform: Essential, Enhanced and Complete. The Complete Plan is a combination of both Essential and Enhanced plans. For a full breakdown of each plan, read our review on ADP. Marquee features of each plan include payroll processing, payment options, payroll tax compliance, year-end tax forms, accounting integrations with platforms like QuickBooks, payroll reporting, new hire reporting and additional HR services. Again, the breadth of ADP's services is a noteworthy aspect of what this company has to offer. ADP's payroll software can easily integrate with its other services, like time and attendance software. If you're interested in a full suite of business solutions, ADP has several different packages to choose from.
Read Review

Gusto Payroll Software: Best Online Payroll for Sole Proprietors or S. Corporations

Gusto has comprehensive payroll and benefits administration features.
Gusto integrates with 45 popular third-party applications.
It lacks performance management features.
Visit Site
Gusto is our top choice for S corporations and sole proprietors, because it serves both regular employees and contractors/freelancers, and it allows you to run an unlimited number of payrolls each month. Costs start at $36 per month, plus $6 per employee or contractor. To run payroll with Gusto, employers can log in to the system from anywhere online, enter the employee hours plus any PTO and bonuses or commissions earned, and click the Submit Payroll button. Employees are then paid via direct deposit or printed check. The flexibility of payment options and the ease of running payroll makes Gusto an ideal service for small businesses. While it's pricing per employee may be more expensive than some of the other companies we reviewed, small business owners pay for quality when they partner with Gusto. Besides the Core plan, Gusto offers the Complete and Concierge plan. These prices are higher, but there are more features rolled into these plans, like employee onboarding tools, paid time off management and HR on-demand services. May 2020: In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, Gusto has reduced pricing for its Core plan. The Core plan now has a $19 monthly base fee, plus $6 per employee. The Complete plan still costs $39 per month, plus $12 per employee, while the Concierge plan costs $149 per month, plus $12 per employee. Gusto is also now offering a Contractor plan, which has no base fee. You only play $6 per month, per contractor. This full suite of services means small business owners can partner with Gusto and solve important payroll and HR issues. Gusto's flexibility is a hallmark of its services. By serving regular employees and contractors/freelancers equally, this payroll platform is ideal for small businesses that need to run payroll frequently and need to pay several different employee types.
Read Review

OnPay: Best Online Payroll for Very Small Businesses

There are no contracts required. Pay month to month and cancel at any time.
Run payroll as many times as you want each month at no added cost.
OnPay does not offer a dedicated mobile app.
Visit Site
OnPay is our top choice for very small businesses because it handles all payroll and payroll tax needs. It has an easy-to-use online platform and is affordably priced. The service costs $36 per month, plus $4 for each employee. November 2019: OnPay has added a full suite of HR tools to its payroll services at no extra charge. In addition to offering online onboarding, this new suite includes paid time off accruals and approvals, e-signable legal document templates, in-app messaging, secure document storage and a full library of free HR guides and resources. OnPay doesn't sacrifice features and value by edging toward simplicity. Users can enjoy payroll processing, tax compliance, multiple employee types, multiple payment options and employee self-service access. This software can also integrate with a number of popular programs, like QuickBooks, Xero, Kabbage, Humanity, Guideline, Zenefits, ThinkHR and other small business services.
Read Review

Intuit QuickBooks Payroll: Best Online Payroll Service for Small Businesses

The payroll service integrates with QuickBooks' accounting software.
You can pay W-2 employees and 1099 contractors and freelancers.
Several complaints have been filed against Intuit with the Better Business Bureau.
Intuit Payroll provides businesses of all sizes with payroll and related tax services. This cloud-hosted service requires no software to install or maintain. Employers log in to the system to process payroll, review and pay payroll taxes, and view detailed labor reports, while employees can view their paystubs, pay history and PTO accruals. February 2020: Intuit recently unveiled an expanded suite of three new payroll and HR offerings. All of the plans – Core, Premium and Elite – allow small business owners to run payroll and file taxes automatically. Other services in the various plans include a workforce portal for employees, health benefits from SimplyInsured, time tracking, an HR support center and project management. Costs range from $22.50 to $62.50 per month, plus $4 to $10 per employee. October 2019: The prices of Intuit's self-service and full-service plans have been updated. Full-service payroll with QuickBooks has a new rate of $105 per month, while the full-service payroll with QuickBooks Plus is now $150 per month. Self-service payroll costs $105 per month. However, the 30-day free trial, as well as the 50% discount for the first three months of service, remains available for each of these plans. This may affect our overall evaluation when we next update our payroll reviews. The variety of service plans for payroll services alone is unmatched by competitors. Intuit is a flexible service that can meet the needs of just about any small business looking to switch its payroll. If a small business owner is interested, the company provides access to QuickBooks as part of its payroll offering. This means small businesses can access intuitive accounting and payroll software in one simple plan. By focusing on plan variety and addressing a full spectrum of small business needs, Intuit defines itself as a versatile small business payroll provider.
Read Review

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.

Buying Guide

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.

Frequently Asked Payroll Questions

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

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.

What are the benefits of the best payroll software?

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.

What criteria did you use to compare payroll software solutions?

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.

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

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.

How do you run payroll for contractors?

Most payroll software allows you to pay contractors right alongside your full-time employees, though there are some differences with regard to taxes. Taxes are not withheld from a contractor's paycheck. (Instead, independent contractors pay self-employment tax on their earnings.) If you pay a contractor more than $600 a year, you will need to fill out Form 1099-MISC.

Does payroll appear on the balance sheet?

A balance sheet reports on a company's finances (including assets, liabilities and shareholder equity) during a certain time period. A balance sheet does not necessarily detail salaries and wages, though unpaid wages can appear as a liability on the balance sheet. 

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."

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.

Chad Brooks
Chad Brooks, Writer
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Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based writer and editor who has spent more than 20 years in media. A 1998 journalism graduate of Indiana University, Chad began his career with Business News Daily in 2011 as a freelance writer. In 2014, he joined the staff full time as a senior writer. Before Business News Daily, Chad spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Chad has also worked on the other side of the media industry, promoting small businesses throughout the United States for two years in a public relations role. His first book, How to Start a Home-Based App Development Business, was published in 2014.

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Charles Barouch
Charles Barouch
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.
Outsourcing payroll: Who do you prefer, a privately owned local payroll company or one of the big guys, and why?
7 Responses
Barry Ross
Barry Ross
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. ...
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How should I pay myself?
8 Responses
Danelle Williams
Danelle Williams
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...
Should I pay overtime for salaried employees?
38 Responses
Pretty Hagad
Pretty Hagad
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...

Other Services Considered

Sage is a provider of business management software and services to small and midsize businesses. The company's payroll offerings include Sage Essentials, for businesses with fewer than 10 employees, and Sage Payroll Full Service. Sage Payroll Essentials provides unlimited processing, tax filing and direct deposit for a flat monthly fee, while Sage Payroll Full Service outsources your work to Sage's payroll professionals. Read Review.

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