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The 9 Best Payroll Services for Small Business Owners

Maintain payroll taxes, correctly pay wages, and comply with tax laws with payroll software.

Did you know that small business owners spend almost five hours calculating, filing, and paying payroll taxes each pay period?

So, for example, if they pay their employees weekly, that adds up to more than six full work weeks every year. Pretty ridiculous, right?

That time can be put to better use — sales, marketing, business growth, or even some quality chill time.

But you don’t need to be agonizing over your payroll when there are better solutions.

Subscription-based payroll services can save you heaps of time on running the numbers.

Follow this guide to find the best payroll solution for your small business.

Let’s get started.

Table of contents

  1. What do payroll services do?
  2. Best payroll services for small business owners
  3. Quickbooks Payroll
  4. Gusto
  5. ADP Payroll
  6. Paychex
  7. OnPay
  8. Execupay
  9. SurePayroll
  10. Square Payroll
  11. Wave Payroll
  12. What is the average cost for payroll services?
  13. FAQ (Commonly asked questions)

What do payroll services do?

A payroll service is a software or provider that manages your employees’ salary payments, tax, and social contributions.

They can help you:

  • Calculate and process employee salaries
  • Accurately calculate state and local payroll taxes
  • Schedule and pay employee salaries on time
  • Avoid mistakes that can lead to fines

Payroll services can save you time and money for every type of payroll management activity.

Best payroll services for small business owners

So what types of payroll services are available on the market?

Here are the three main ones:

  1. Bookkeepers and CPAs
  2. Payroll companies
  3. Payroll software apps

We believe that payroll software is the most cost-effective option for small business owners.

Distributed as cloud-based Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) for a monthly/annual subscription fee, payroll apps automate payroll data entry, tax compliance, and payment scheduling.

Essentially, a payroll app does the admin heavy-lifting for you, as most users report:

Small business owners say that using automated payroll software helps them save time, money and have more peace of mind
Small business owners say that using automated payroll software helps them save time, money and have more peace of mind. Source: QuickBooks.

If you love how the above sounds, here’s our selection of the 9 best payroll apps on the market.

1. Quickbooks Payroll

Best for: Small businesses already using other Intuit apps such as their QuickBooks Online accounting software.
QuickBooks Payroll is the leading payroll management software
QuickBooks Payroll is the leading payroll management software. Source: QuickBooks.

QuickBooks Payroll is the leading payroll management solution over 1.4 million businesses love and use.

Features

  • Integrated employee time tracking.
  • Next-day or same-day direct deposits (depending on the plan).
  • Common payroll tasks automation.
  • Streamlined payroll processing.
  • Automated tax reporting and forms pre-filling.
  • Expert product support and assistance with setup (depending on the plan).

Pros

  • Seamlessly integrates with Quickbooks accounting software.
  • Powerful automation features that can save you a ton of time.
  • Expert support and reviews by human professionals.

Cons

  • It might be overkill for a small business with several employees.
  • No email reminders about payroll activity due dates (which can result in missed deadlines).
  • More expensive than other payroll providers on the market.

Pricing

QuickBooks Payroll has three pricing plans:

  • Core. $45/month + $4/employee/month. As the name suggests, you get all the core features of the payroll software.
  • Premium. $75/month + $8/employee/month. This plan has everything in the core plan plus same-day direct deposits to employees’ bank account, on-the-go time tracking, HR support center, and workers’ compensation insurance administration. Moreover, you also get an expert review of your documents done by a human accountant.
  • Elite. $125/month + $10/employee/month. This plan has everything in the Premium plan plus on-the-go project tracking, a personal HR adviser, and expert setup. There’s also tax penalty protection.

If you need some extra support, you can also get additional services through QuickBooks partners. These include HR support, workers’ comp, health insurance, and 401(k) retirement plans.

2. Gusto

Best for: Small businesses looking for an easy-to-use payroll management solution and affordable employee benefits deals.
Gusto has an easy-to-navigate user interface that simplifies payroll management
Gusto has an easy-to-navigate user interface that simplifies payroll management. Source: Gusto.

Gusto positions itself as a “people platform” you can use for an entire cycle of employee activities — from hiring & onboarding to payroll and benefits management. Over 200,000 companies use Gusto.

Features

  • The onboarding process for new hires.
  • Convenient time tracking tools.
  • Payroll management and tax compliance.
  • Access to an integrated employee benefits marketplace.
  • Access to HR experts for personalized support.
  • Companion personal finance management app for employees.

Pros

  • Easy-to-navigate user interface.
  • Convenient and timely notifications on all critical activities.
  • Automatic tracking of 401(k) and other deductions from the paycheck.
  • Integrates with all popular small business accounting software.
  • Access to certified HR professionals (on Concierge plan).

Cons

  • Appears to be less powerful than QuickBooks, but the pricing is similar.
  • Doesn’t offer a mobile payroll app.
  • Customer support can be hit-or-miss unless you’re on the Concierge plan.

Pricing

Gusto has three pricing tiers:

  • Core. $39/month + $6/person/month. Get access to the main Gusto goodies, including full-service payroll, employee self-service, employee benefits, health benefits administration, and more.
  • Complete. $39/month + $12/person/month. This plan includes everything in the Core plan plus hiring and onboarding, time tracking and PTO management, project tracking and workforce cost analysis, team management, and next-day direct deposits.
  • Concierge. $149/month + $12/person/month. This plan includes everything in the Complete plan plus compliance alerts, HR resources center, and access to certified human resources professionals.

Also, if you haven’t hired any W-2 employees yet, Gusto can help you pay your 1099 contractors for just $6/person per month.

It seems that Gusto’s main strength is its user interface which is clean, modern, and easy to navigate.

3. ADP Payroll

Best for: Small businesses that anticipate rapid growth. We believe that ADP suits companies with 50-999 employees better.
ADP offers a suite of human capital management solutions
ADP offers a suite of human capital management solutions. Source: ADP.

ADP offers a suite of human capital management (HCM) solutions, including payroll software.

Features

  • Payroll management (both web and mobile apps).
  • Direct deposits.
  • Comprehensive reports.
  • Payroll delivery.
  • Tax filing.

Pros

  • End-to-end HR and payroll management solution.
  • Good automation features for report generation such as “Field Grabber.”
  • Integrates well with other apps in ADP’s software suite.
  • Highly accurate time-tracking functionality.

Cons

  • A somewhat clunky user interface. Less UX-friendly compared to other solutions.
  • Reaching customer service can be problematic at times, as users report.
  • Lengthy sales cycle. You need to contact the company to receive a price quote and schedule a meeting with the sales team.

Pricing

You’ll need to either contact the company or complete a short questionnaire to get custom pricing information.

But the basic package for small businesses starts at $59 per month plus $4 per employee.

4. Paychex

Best for: Small businesses with a permanent bench of staff, rather than contractors.
1 in 12 private-sector employees in the United States is paid through Paychex Flex
1 in 12 private-sector employees in the United States is paid through Paychex Flex. Source: Paychex.

Paychex is a platform offering solutions for payroll management, HR management, employee insurance, and more.

Their payroll management app, Paychex Flex, is a popular tool that can work well for small and medium-sized businesses. In fact, 1 in 12 private-sector employees in the United States is paid through it!

Features

  • Payroll management.
  • Customized earnings and deductions.
  • Employee self-service.
  • Analytics and reports.
  • New hire reporting to gov agencies.

Paychex touts its speed. If nothing has changed since the last pay period, you can enter the payroll data in just two clicks.

Also, Paychex Flex integrates seamlessly with other solutions in the company’s software suite.

Pros

  • Always up-to-date tax information and compliance.
  • On-demand access to 200+ compliance experts.
  • Award-winning, 24/7 customer support.
  • Intuitive online dashboard for viewing employee information and reports.

Cons

  • Complex pricing structure and extended onboarding. You can’t just sign up. You need to go through an application process.
  • There’s no single point of contact. Several different account managers are in charge of your payroll.

Pricing

You’ll need to contact the company to learn more about the pricing.

5. OnPay

Best for: Small businesses that need a no-frills, low-cost payroll management app, and some basic HR features.
OnPay is one of the most affordable payroll management and HR management solutions on the market
OnPay is one of the most affordable payroll management and HR management solutions on the market. Source: OnPay.

OnPay offers online payroll services (hence the name). Recently it also branched into basic HR services such as employee onboarding, HR document creation, and management.

Features

  • Payroll options for both W-2 employees and 1099 contractors.
  • Permissions that allow you to delegate various payroll tasks.
  • Employee self-service functionality.
  • Automated tax filings and payments.
  • Payments via direct deposit, debit card, or check.
  • Integrations with top accounting and time tracking apps (QuickBooks, Xero, etc.).

OnPay software has a clean user interface that is easy to navigate.

Pros

  • Beginner-friendly user interface. Negligible learning curve.
  • Easy migration from other payroll solutions.
  • Integrations with popular accounting apps.
  • Reasonable pricing and a one-month free trial.
  • Proactive and knowledgeable customer support.

Cons

  • The software can be buggy at times.
  • Appears to lack some of the automation features that competitors like QuickBooks Payroll offers. For example, it only supports manual worker’s compensation entry.

Pricing

It’s probably safe to say that the company’s main strength is its affordable pricing.

OnPay has one fixed plan for all: $36/month base pay + $4/person/month.

That makes OnPay one of the most affordable payroll management apps out there compared with other payroll services with similar functionality.

6. Execupay

Best for: Small businesses looking for an HCM solution to support their HRs, rather than a standalone payroll app.
Execupay has been in business for over 40 years
Execupay has been in business for over 40 years. Source: Execupay.

Execupay has been in business for over 40 years and offers an all-in-one human capital management solution called PlatinumHMC.

Features

  • Employee onboarding process setup.
  • Time and attendance management (timekeeping, PTO, etc.).
  • Payroll management.
  • HR management.
  • Employee self-service.

Pros

  • An all-in-one human capital management solution that lets you see everything in one place, including all the payroll information.
  • Effective automation of employees’ accruals of benefits.
  • Comprehensive real-time payroll processing reports and year-end tax reports.

Cons

  • You can’t just sign up for the free trial. You need to provide contact information and then wait for an email from the company with the next steps.
  • The software doesn’t provide the most modern UX.
  • Customer support can be hit-or-miss.

Pricing

You’ll have to contact the company to learn more about pricing, but they offer a free trial, so you should be able to check out their software before committing for the long term.

7. SurePayroll

Best for: Small businesses with 1-10 employees or a roaster of contractors.
SurePayroll has been in business for 20 years
SurePayroll has been in business for 20 years. Source: SurePayroll.

SurePayroll is an on-demand payroll management service from Paychex, explicitly designed for small businesses and individuals employing contractors.

Features

  • Flexible payroll management, done by a professional accounting team.
  • Payroll management for household staff and contractors.
  • No penalty tax filing guarantee — if there’s an issue with the IRS, the payroll provider will handle it for you.
  • Customers also have access to award-winning US-based customer support.

Pros

  • You can choose between self-service and full service.
  • Guaranteed tax calculations for self-service, so there are no surprise bills.
  • Two-month free trial — more than any other provider offers.

Cons

  • Online payroll management only. There’s no desktop or mobile app.
  • Some of the features that the company sells as add-ons are included in the subscription fee by other payroll service providers.

Pricing

SurePayroll offers two pricing plans:

  • Self-service. This plan comes with all the core functionality and enables you to handle payroll and taxes yourself.
  • Full-service. This plan comes with all the core functionality, but payroll taxes are calculated, paid, and filed for you. Plus, you get access to an HR advisor.

There are also several add-ons available for additional fees (accounting software integrations, local tax filing, and more).

You’ll need to contact the company to learn more about the pricing. There’s a 2-month free trial, though.

8. Square Payroll

Best for: Small businesses already using Square.
Square Payroll is a payroll management solution offered by Square
Square Payroll is a payroll management solution offered by Square. Source: Square.

Square Payroll is a payroll management app created by Square, the popular digital payments company many SMBs use.

Features

  • Payroll management.
  • Automatic quarterly and annual tax filings.
  • Seamless integrations with other Square tools (POS, team management, etc.).

Pros

  • Seamlessly integrates with other Square tools.
  • Automatically calculates overtime, paid or unpaid breaks, based on POS data.
  • Automated, highly accurate tax filings.
  • Both plans include free seasonal inactivity, which is excellent for seasonal businesses.

Cons

  • Payroll management functionality appears to be rather basic compared to some of the other tools on the market.
  • Not as robust unless you use Square tools.

Pricing

  • Pay contractors only. This plan costs $5/person/month and includes the core functionality of Square Payroll.
  • Pay contractors and employees. This plan costs $29/month + $5/person/month. It includes the core functionality of Square Payroll plus full-service payroll, access to US-based customer support, and more.

By the way, you can use Square Payroll even if you don’t have a Square account.

9. Wave Payroll

Best for: Small businesses that need a simple and affordable payroll management solution.
Wave offers a software suite that includes a payroll management app
Wave offers a software suite that includes a payroll management app. Source: Wave.

Wave is better known as a small business accounting app. But it also has pretty decent payroll functionality, also available as a standalone service.

Features

  • Payroll management.
  • Direct deposits into your employees’ bank accounts.
  • Automatic payroll journal entries.
  • Self-service pay stubs and tax forms.
  • Tax payments and filings.
  • Workers’ comp.

Pros

  • Seamlessly integrates with other Wave products.
  • Simple, easy-to-navigate user interface.
  • Excellent employee expense tracking and reimbursement features.
  • Amicable support, always in the know of the latest changes in regulations.

Cons

  • Wave only offers tax services in 14 states.
  • No analytics for employee work hours and performance.
  • The employee benefits setup process is somewhat clunky.

Pricing

  • Tax services states. $35/month + $6/employee/month + $6/contractor/month. Wave handles your payroll taxes.
  • Self-service states. $20/month + $6/employee/month + $6/contractor/month. You have to handle your payroll taxes yourself, but Wave makes it easy by showing you what information and how much money you’ll need per payroll.

Your plan will depend on the state that your business is incorporated in.

What is the average cost for payroll services?

Companies that provide payroll management software typically charge a subscription fee that consists of two elements:

  • A base fee, ranging from $20/month to $149/month, depending on the product and the plan that you choose.
  • The per-seat fee that you need to pay for each employee. It can range from $4/person/month to $12/person/month, depending on the product and the plan that you choose.

So the total monthly cost of payroll service software for a small business with 10 employees might be:

  • $80/month on the low end (e.g., Wave’s Self-Service plan, $20/month + $6/employee/month).
  • $269/month on the high end (e.g., Gusto’s Concierge plan, $149/month + $12/employee/month).

It’s important to understand that a business payroll system like that can save you both time and money.

Moreover, it can help you stay on top of payroll taxes and avoid hefty fines.

Remember that even a seemingly insignificant error made when calculating federal taxes can get you in trouble with the IRS!

So don’t make the mistake that is so common among startups: don’t be penny-wise and pound-foolish. Invest in the payroll service software.

Commonly asked questions (FAQ)

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about payroll services.

Tomas Laurinavicius

Article by:

Tomas Laurinavicius

Editor in Chief

Tomas Laurinavicius is the Editor in Chief at SimplifyLLC. He's built multiple online businesses and helped scale companies with streamlined content marketing operations. His work has appeared in Forbes, TIME, New York Observer, HuffPost, Adobe, and BigCommerce, among many other publications.

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