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Which Version of QuickBooks Is Right for Your Business?

image for Traimak_Ivan / Getty Images
Traimak_Ivan / Getty Images
  • QuickBooks offers versions of its software for freelancers, small businesses and enterprise-level businesses. You can also choose from online and desktop versions of the software.
  • QuickBooks Online is less expensive upfront than the desktop editions. There's no contract, and the subscription price includes software updates that roll out automatically. It also works on mobile devices, so it's accessible from anywhere.
  • It's usually best to purchase a lower tier of QuickBooks with a low starting price and then upgrade later as needed.

When we asked small business owners what type of accounting software they rely on, we expected a variety of answers. Instead, in the hundreds of responses we received, QuickBooks was the only accounting software mentioned. That said, different entrepreneurs had strong opinions on which version of QuickBooks is the best.

Comparison shopping between different versions of QuickBooks can be daunting, especially if you've never used accounting software before. So, we dug into the details of each version of QuickBooks and created this guide.

QuickBooks comes in an online and a desktop version. We didn't include overviews of the QuickBooks desktop software in this guide, because it's more expensive and doesn't have any added functionality. Even Intuit is pushing its business customers away from desktop products and toward the online versions, stating on the QuickBooks website that "3 out of 4 customers get more work done with QuickBooks Online vs. QuickBooks Pro."

In the side-by-side comparison on the site, you'll also see additional costs associated with the QuickBooks desktop software. This reflects a larger trend in business software toward cloud-based software and away from downloaded software that lives on your computer. Because of this trend and the cost difference, we recommend online versions of products over desktop versions, unless you are in an industry with stringent compliance or security requirements that preclude you from using the online software.

 

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

QuickBooks Online plans were overwhelmingly more popular with the entrepreneurs we spoke to than the desktop versions of the product. The popularity of QuickBooks Online is likely because it is less expensive than the desktop version, can be used on mobile devices, and has no contract, giving entrepreneurs the freedom to upgrade or downgrade at will. Another benefit of QuickBooks' cloud-based software is its low maintenance requirements: When you use cloud-based software, the company typically rolls out updates automatically, which means you don't have to run updates in-house.

There are currently three versions of QuickBooks Self-Employed. Here's a breakdown of each product.

The least expensive version of QuickBooks Self-Employed starts at $7 a month and delivers quite a bit of functionality for the low price. You can always upgrade to a higher-priced version in the future, so if you're completely new to using a program like QuickBooks, it's not a bad place to start.

Self-Employed gives you the ability to track business and personal expenses separately, track mileage automatically, send invoices from anywhere, estimate your taxes on a quarterly basis, and maximize your Schedule C deductions.

Like other tiered cloud software, QuickBooks adds more functionality with each tier while still including all the features of the lower levels. In the Self-Employed Tax Bundle, which starts at $12 a month, you get everything from the Self-Employed package plus an account for TurboTax Self-Employed, which allows you to seamlessly transfer your tax information from QuickBooks into TurboTax. The TurboTax add-on includes the fees for one federal and one state return. If you plan to file your taxes with TurboTax anyway, you might as well spring for this midrange version of QuickBooks.

Starting at $17 a month, QuickBooks Self-Employed Live Tax Bundle is the most expensive of the self-employed versions of QuickBooks. It includes the access of the lower tiers and these additional features for tax filing help:

  • Unlimited help and advice all year from a qualified CPA
  • Access to a CPA who will do a final review of your tax return before you file

While these may be valuable features, we haven't personally tested them and cannot vouch for the efficacy of the tax professionals you'll have access to or the user-friendliness of the interface.

Additionally, many small business owners already outsource the filing of their taxes to trusted accountants or high-street tax filing shops. If you want a dedicated accountant, you're probably better off hiring someone to work with for the long term, rather than relying on a rotating cast of remote accountants employed by a massive software company.

Like most software giants, Intuit offers lots of very similar packages of software with different names and slightly different terms and features. In addition to all the QuickBooks Self-Employed tiers, there are QuickBooks Online tiers, which are also offered in a SaaS format and available online. QuickBooks Online is intended primarily for small businesses, including single-person businesses as well as multi-person organizations.

The Simple Start version of QuickBooks is only suitable for a single user, so if you have employees, you can skip to the next tier. Simple Start pricing begins at $12 a month, which is more than QuickBooks Self-Employed ($7) and the same rate as QuickBooks Self-Employed Tax Bundle ($12).

This basic small business subscription offers the ability to track sales and sales tax, track income and expenses, invoice and accept payments, store and organize receipts, and maximize tax deductions. It does not include a subscription to TurboTax, though, and if you end up hiring more employees who also need access, you'll have to upgrade to Essentials, if not higher.  

Starting at $20 a month, Essentials gives three users access to QuickBooks Online. With more reports baked in and additional capabilities for managing bills, such as tracking payment statuses and paying multiple vendors at the same time, it's a little boost from the Simple Start package. 

According to Intuit, Plus is the most popular online version of QuickBooks. This version of the accounting software supports up to five users and includes the same features as Essentials and Simple Start, as well as the ability to track inventory and project profitability. A Plus subscription starts at $35 a month.

Starting at $75 a month, the Advanced accounting subscription offers access to up to 25 users and leans more toward the enterprise level rather than small businesses. For the increased price, you'll enjoy a dedicated account manager, business analytics, and the ability to import and send batch invoices, which is a real bonus for larger businesses.

You're too busy to read through a bunch of software descriptions and figure out which QuickBooks version makes sense for you – we get it! These tips aren't applicable to everyone, but they are accurate for a majority of small businesses with standard accounting software needs.

Remember, software companies like Intuit will always allow you to upgrade your services in the future. Software reps might push you to buy more sooner, but there is absolutely no reason to sign up for a higher subscription level than you think you need.

It is nearly always preferable to start small and increase your subscription as needed rather than start at a high subscription level, discover you don't use most of the features, and then downgrade your account.

If you run an enterprise business, do not buy products intended for small businesses. Unless your business is in transition and still growing toward the enterprise level, most small business products will not suit your purposes. Intuit and other accounting software companies make plenty of products just for enterprise users that will better suit your needs. You can inquire about QuickBooks Enterprise here.

Don't try to save money by sharing one account among many employees. The entry-level QuickBooks versions, like Simple Start ($12) and QuickBooks Self-Employed ($7), only support one user. It's tempting to stay at that level and simply share one account among multiple team members, but this is a precedent you will regret setting. QuickBooks data is only as valuable as it is accurate; allowing multiple people to use one account eliminates accountability or transparency and breeds errors.

Advanced reports should always be interpreted by someone with a background in data analysis. QuickBooks data can become complicated very quickly, and while reporting tools are certainly helpful, they are not a viable replacement for an educated and experienced data analyst. Numbers don't lie, but only looking at certain numbers and prizing some types of numbers (like averages) more than others can be wildly misleading. If you do not have any background in mathematics, statistical analysis, data or business intelligence, the conclusions that seem obvious to you from your QuickBooks reports might not be correct or mathematically sound.

Intuit, the company that owns QuickBooks, sells lots of software and apps. It's wise to look at a software company's whole ecosystem of products before adopting a solution from it. It's often beneficial to use multiple products from one company, because they all work together, so be strategic about the system you adopt.

Mona Bushnell

Mona Bushnell is a Philadelphia-based staff writer for business.com and Business News Daily. She has a B.A. in writing, literature, and publishing from Emerson College and has previously worked as an IT technician, a copywriter, a software administrator, a scheduling manager, and an editorial writer. Mona began freelance writing full time in 2014 and joined the Business News Daily/business.com team in 2017. She covers business and technology.