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The Best Online Payroll Services of 2021

By Chad Brooks,
business.com Staff
| Updated
Jan 06, 2021

Our team has compared the best online payroll services for 2021. See up-to-date reviews and costs for the top services.
Best for Larger Businesses
Multiple ways to pay employees
Three service plans available
Handles all new-hire reporting
Best for Small Businesses
No software to install or maintain
Self-service access for employees
Multiple service plans available
Best for Added HR Services
Run payroll from anywhere
Unlimited payroll runs
Generates year-end tax forms
Best for Very Small Businesses
Easy-to-use online platform
One plan for all users
Excellent customer support
Most Popular
Platforms for all business sizes
Run payroll online or by phone
Complete payroll tax services
Our team has compared the best online payroll services for 2021. See up-to-date reviews and costs for the top services.

 


With so many online payroll companies to choose from in 2021, finding the service that has all of the functionality your business needs can be a difficult task. To help you find the right service for your business, we examined nearly 80 payroll providers. We looked at cost, features and tools, and customer support to find the online payroll services we think are best for small businesses.

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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.
77
Considered
17
Researched
5
Selected

Compare Our Best Picks

  Starting Monthly Price # of Service Plans Unlimited Payroll Mobile App
Paychex $59 plus $4 per employee 3 Yes Yes
Intuit $22.50 plus $4 per employee 3 Yes Yes
Gusto $19 plus $6 per employee 4 Yes No
OnPay $36 plus $4 per employee 1 Yes No
ADP Custom 4 No Yes

Our Reviews

Paychex - Online Payroll Services: Best for Larger Businesses

Employees can be paid by direct deposit, paper checks and pay cards. Paper checks can be printed or mailed.
Paychex includes a host of HR-related services
Paychex doesn't provide pricing online for its Select and Enterprise service packages.

Paychex is a robust cloud-hosted payroll service that manages payroll processing and tax obligations, and provides a host of other HR-related survives. The Paychex Flex platform is accessible online or via the mobile app for iOS and Android devices. You can pay anyone who does work for you through Paychex, including W-2 workers, 1099 contractors and freelancers.

Running payroll is a simple process with Paychex. In essence, all you have to do is enter your employees' salaries and pay rates, note how many hours they worked, and then submit your payroll for processing. Paychex takes care of the rest. It calculates each paycheck, withholding the proper amounts for payroll taxes and other benefits. It then pays your employees via direct deposit, pay card or printed check.

Paychex is available in three pricing plans that start at $59 per month, plus $4 for each employee. Customer support is available 24/7.

In addition to its payroll services, Paychex offers human resources tools and services, time and attendance systems, employee benefits, and business insurance.

Read Review

Intuit QuickBooks Payroll: Best 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.

QuickBooks Online Payroll by Intuit provides businesses of all sizes with payroll and related tax services. As a cloud-hosted service, it doesn't require you to install or maintain any software. You can log in to the system to process payroll, review and pay payroll taxes, and view detailed labor reports, while your employees can view their paystubs, pay history and PTO accruals.

QuickBooks Online is available in three service plans – Core, Premium and Elite – which all 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 $45 to $125 per month, plus $4 to $10 per employee. Intuit offers a 50% discount for the first three months of service.

QuickBooks is a flexible service that can meet the needs of just about any small business looking to run payroll online. If you're interested, the company provides access to the QuickBooks accounting software as part of its payroll offering, giving you intuitive accounting and payroll software in one simple plan. By focusing on plan variety and addressing a full spectrum of small business needs, QuickBooks defines itself as a versatile small business payroll provider.

Read Review

Gusto Payroll Software: Best for Added HR Services

Gusto has comprehensive payroll and benefits administration features.
Gusto integrates with 45 popular third-party applications.
The HR services don't include performance management features.

Gusto is our choice for the best online payroll software with added HR tools because of the many HR services it offers. In addition to taking care of all your payroll processing and payroll tax needs, Gusto can handle many of your HR tasks, such as managing your staff's paid time off (PTO) and administering health insurance. It also grants access to certified HR professionals who can guide you through all sorts of situations.

Gusto is available in four service plans that range from $19 to $149 per month, plus $6 to $12 per employee. The range of service plans gives you the option to use Gusto just for your payroll needs, or to upgrade plans if you want to tap into the HR resources.

To run payroll with Gusto, you can log in to the system from anywhere online, enter an employee's hours plus any PTO and any bonuses or commissions they earned, and click Submit Payroll. The employee is then paid with direct deposit or a printed check. The flexibility of payment method and the ease of running payroll makes Gusto an ideal service for small businesses.

Read Review

OnPay: Best for Very Small Businesses

There are no contracts required.
You can pay month to month and cancel at any time.
OnPay does not offer a dedicated mobile app.

OnPay is our top choice for very small businesses because it handles all payroll and payroll tax needs, has an easy-to-use online platform, and is affordable even on a tight budget. The service costs $36 per month, plus $4 for each employee.

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 many popular small business services, like QuickBooks Online, Xero, Kabbage, Humanity, Guideline and ThinkHR.

OnPay includes a full suite of HR tools with its payroll services for no extra charge. In addition to online onboarding, this new suite offers PTO accrual and approval, e-signable legal document templates, in-app messaging, secure document storage, and a full library of free HR guides and resources.

Read Review

ADP: Most Popular

ADP offers multiple service plans to meet your needs.
ADP is the payroll software industry's market share leader.
ADP charges on a per-payroll basis, which could really add up if you have different pay schedules for various employee types.

ADP is the most popular payroll service among business.com readers, and it has a strong reputation as a payroll industry leader. It is used by businesses across a wide range of industries, and it's the payroll industry's market share leader.

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 makes it a standout payroll provider.

There are four basic plans for the Run platform: Essential, Enhanced, Complete and HR Pro. Marquee features of each plan include payroll processing, payment options, payroll tax compliance, year-end tax forms, integrations with accounting platforms like QuickBooks, payroll reporting, new-hire reporting and additional HR services.

ADP's payroll software can easily integrate with its other services, like its time and attendance software. If you're interested in a full suite of business solutions, ADP gives you several different packages to choose from.

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 also varies by provider. Some charge monthly, while others charge each time you run payroll. The providers that charge monthly allow unlimited payroll runs each month.

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 handling 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.

Costs of Payroll Implementation

Many payroll services don't charge any implementation or setup fees. For the most part, getting set up in the software is an easy process that employees can even do on their own. Some companies may charge a one-time fee to transfer over all of your previous payroll and employee data; while this isn't hard to do on your own, the transfer fee might be worth it to save you some time. 

When determining the true cost of payroll services for your small business, you need to factor in any taxes and implementation or other fees. Be sure to inquire about fees when discussing prices with vendors.

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 to review the contract thoroughly before you sign anything. Make sure the contract includes everything you have agreed to and doesn't have any built-in price increases after a certain time period.   

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

Online Payroll Free Trial

Many payroll providers offer first-time customers a 30-day free trial. This gives you the chance to run payroll at least once to determine how you like the service. In addition, many payroll providers don't require long-term commitments, so if you test it out for a few months and decide the program you selected doesn't fit your needs, you can easily cancel your service and find a better match elsewhere.

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, such as for 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 payroll company 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 must 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

You can pay all types of employees with online payroll software. 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 W-2 and 1099 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.

REPORTING

Online payroll software can provide a wide range of payroll reports to businesses. 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.

INTEGRATIONS

A lot of online payroll software includes integrations with programs many businesses already use. These include accounting software, time and attendance systems, and HR 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 platforms. 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. Some of them assign a dedicated support representative 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 administration, retirement plans, college savings plans, and time and attendance systems.

Pros and Cons of Online Payroll

There are numerous benefits to using online payroll software. The two biggest are accuracy and timeliness. Online payroll software is critical in ensuring your employees are paid on time and accurately.

The software helps with accuracy because it handles all of the calculations for you. As long as you enter the correct number of hours each employee worked each pay period, the amount they are paid should be correct every time. Since you don't have to do any of the math yourself, this greatly reduces the chance of errors.

In addition, many payroll services are essentially "set it and forget it." Again, as long as you enter the correct number of hours worked, everything else will be handled in time for payday, without any extra input from you.

One of the most confusing aspects of running payroll is making sure the correct amount of taxes are withheld each pay period. Payroll software handles all of that for you, which is a huge benefit. In addition to withholding the correct amount of payroll taxes, some payroll services will fill out the correct federal and state payroll forms and file them for you, along with your payments.

The one potential downside of payroll software is that these are usually cloud-hosted services. This means you are at your provider's mercy in making sure the software is always up and running. If your provider has a catastrophic issue that takes its services offline, you run the risk of not being able to pay employees on time.

Online Payroll Security

Payroll software contains a lot of sensitive data that you don't want unauthorized people getting access to, such as employees' Social Security numbers and bank account details for direct deposit. To keep that data safe, you need to make sure the online payroll software you use has top-notch security protocols.

Among the security measures you should look for when choosing online payroll software are multifactor authentication and high-level encryption. Find out what security certifications the software has and what physical security measures the company takes in the server location where it stores the cloud-hosted software and data.

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, but it all comes down to whether it can serve your company's needs. Will the software 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 any 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 should consider are whether it fits in your budget, how easy the online payroll software is to use, and the level of customer support the company offers.

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF THE BEST PAYROLL SOFTWARE?

There are many benefits to using online payroll services. Firstly, 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 this information, the payroll software does the rest of the work for you. It calculates the correct amount for each paycheck and deposits that money directly into the 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 saves time for them as well as those who would be answering their questions.

WHAT CRITERIA DID YOU USE TO COMPARE PAYROLL SOFTWARE SOLUTIONS?

We looked at a variety of factors to determine our recommendations. We considered the cost of each service, how easy it is to use, what tax services it offers, the integration options, 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 QuickBooks, OnPay, Gusto, ADP and Paychex. Other highly rated services include SurePayroll, Sage, APS, BenefitMall, MyPayrollHR, Fuse Workforce Management, PrimePay and Pay USA. To learn more about each of our best picks, 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

After some preliminary research of our previous contenders and other best-pick lists, we interviewed small business owners to discover new payroll services to add to our list. Overall, we conducted our initial research on more than 70 payroll services.  

We settled on 17 payroll services to consider for best picks: ADP, APS, BenefitMall PayFocus, Big Fish Payroll Services, Fuse Workforce Management, GetPayroll, Gusto, Intuit, OnPay, Patriot Software, Paychex, Paycor, Paylocity, 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

Community Expert Insight

As part of our research, we reached out to small businesses to find out which online payroll solutions they use and what they find most valuable about them.

John Holloway, co-founder of NoExam.com, said he uses QuickBooks because of how simple it is to run payroll with the software. He specifically pointed to how simple it is to log in and run payroll while updating his books.

"QuickBooks has the most features and integrates nicely with our accounting software, which is the main reason we stick with it," Holloway told business.com.

Marcus Anwar, co-founder of classifieds website OhMy, said he uses QuickBooks for its wide range of features. 

"One of the features I really like is how you can pay employees with direct deposit for free," he said. "Many other payroll services charge a fee for direct deposit."

Anwar said he previously used ADP for his payroll needs, but switched because of the added features QuickBooks offers.

"The reason why we switched from ADP to QuickBooks was some of the features we wanted ADP didn't have, and the price was the other important factor," he said. "QuickBooks is cheaper with more options."

What to Expect in 2021

Over the past year, the outsourced payroll industry grew 27%, due in large part to the physical limitations of 2020. That growth rate is projected to continue increasing over the coming years. Advances in cloud computing will be the largest driver of its widespread adoption throughout the industry. Businesses are more willing to outsource their payroll due to concerns regarding staff sizes and the increasing number of digital platforms capable of quickly and efficiently handling these functions.

Further, major online payroll software solutions cut their prices in 2020. Entry costs have been lowered because of both global economic damage and the rapid improvements to AI and automation technologies allowing for cheaper implementation. These services will grow in importance as governments update information regarding 2021 sick-leave practices, and their improved automated functionality will help businesses that are prepared to invest more in a 2021 market dominated by freelance work. 

Having an online payroll service handle your taxes will remain critical in 2021, with increased uncertainty around the Paycheck Protection Program, unpredictable stimulus packages and political change that accompanies a new presidential administration. Tax season may face delays after the IRS announced that it still holds millions of pieces of unopened mail and incomplete tax returns.

Chad Brooks
Chad Brooks
business.com Staff
See Chad Brooks's Profile
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.

community answers

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At what point do I need to offer benefits and think about using a payroll service?
9 Responses
Charles Barouch
Charles Barouch
Answered
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.
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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
Answered
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
Answered
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...
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Should I pay overtime for salaried employees?
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Pretty Hagad
Pretty Hagad
Answered
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...
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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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