After much research and analysis of accounting software, we recommend Intuit QuickBooks Online as the best accounting software for small businesses in 2018.
Why QuickBooks Online?
Of all the accounting software we reviewed, QuickBooks Online offers some of the best pricing, with four service tiers designed to accommodate the needs of different business types. The company offers a 30-day free trial, but if you skip it, you can receive a 50 percent discount on your subscription for six months.
- The Self-Employed plan is the most basic and costs $10 per month. Designed for independent contractors and freelancers, it allows you to track mileage, income and expenses, create invoices, accept payments and run reports. This is the only plan that can't be upgraded to a higher tier, requiring you instead to set up a new account.
- The Simple Start plan supports a single user and costs $15 per month. Like the Self-Employed plan, it allows you to track income and expenses, create invoices, accept payments and run reports. However, you can also send estimates, and it tracks sales and sales tax.
- The Essentials plan supports multiple users, costs $35 per month, and includes the features of the previous plan, along with bill management and time tracking.
- The Plus plan costs $50 per month and can help you track inventory and pay independent contractors that use the 1099 form, in addition to the features of the previous plans.
You can add payroll features to the top three tiers for an additional monthly fee, and these tiers are also suitable for nonprofit organizations that need accounting software.
Ease of use
To find out exactly how easy it is to use QuickBooks Online, we tried the accounting software ourselves. It was simple to get started with the software and add information to the system. The dashboard interface feels intuitive; the side menu makes it easy to find the features you're looking for, and you can access account settings from the gear icon in the upper right corner of the screen.
On the dashboard, you can see a snapshot of your financial status, with information such as overdue and paid invoices, sales, expenses, profits and losses, and the balances of the bank and credit card accounts you've connected to the system. This gives you a quick overview of the health of your business as soon as you log into the system.
When we asked small business owners what the "perfect" accounting software should do, there was one resounding requirement across the board: save time. QuickBooks Online easily lives up to this expectation with the following features.
Automations. QuickBooks Online automates tasks, making accounting less time-consuming and less stressful for small business owners. The software can automate recurring invoices, bill payments and payment reminders, sync data from bank and credit card transactions, and reconcile and categorize expenses, which eliminates the tedious, time-consuming task of manually doing so for every single transaction.
Built-in reports. QuickBooks spares you the task of creating financial reports from scratch, thanks to the software's wide collection of built-in reports. You can mark the reports you use most as favorites so you can quickly find them at the top of the reports page.
Automatic backups. It automatically backs up your data so you never have to worry about whether your books are safe and up-to-date.
Electronic invoicing. Another time-saving feature that QuickBooks offers is electronic invoicing, which helps you get paid more quickly. You can email invoices to your customers through the system, track them, and accept online payments and electronic signatures.
Integrations. QuickBooks Online integrates with hundreds of third-party applications, such as those designed for email marketing, e-commerce, customer relationship management (CRM), payment processing, time tracking, payroll services and more. This can save you time by connecting the software to the business programs you already use, allowing you to automatically import, export and sync data in real time among the different services.
Mobile apps. This saves you time by allowing you to do your accounting and view your business's finances on the go. Both iOS and Android apps are available and included with your QuickBooks Online account. Here's what they can do:
- Create, customize, send and track invoices
- Take photos of receipts and attach them to expenses
- Reconcile transactions
- View customer information, add new customers, and message customers directly from the app
- View dashboard data, such as your account balance, profit and loss report, and open current and past due invoices
- Control which app features your employees can access
- Accept payments on the go and online (after activating QuickBooks Payments)
QuickBooks Online provides several support channels to its customers. It offers both phone and chat support, which you can access directly throughout the company's website. Or, if you prefer to troubleshoot problems yourself, the support page has a searchable knowledgebase plus a collection of articles, guides and videos. QuickBooks also offers a blog, a user community and training classes.
If you want in-person assistance, QuickBooks gives you access to local certified Intuit advisers who can give you one-on-one help on using the software and advising your business.
When we contacted the company as a small business owner looking for new accounting software, the QuickBooks rep we chatted with was pleasant and helpful. She answered our questions promptly, asked about our business and recommended a software plan based on our specific needs. She was persistent in trying to set up a call for us with a sales specialist, which is helpful if you're ready to buy but not if you don't have time or you're not yet ready to speak with a sales rep and just want your questions answered.
One of the biggest benefits of using QuickBooks Online is that it's "accountant approved." Not only does it have all the features accountants deem as must-haves for small businesses, but it eliminates the learning curve since most accountants already use QuickBooks, so you won't have to teach them how to use the software.
If you use an outside accountant, you can avoid compatibility issues since the software allows you to give him or her access to the system. Whether your accountants are helping you take better control of your finances or assisting only with tax prep, using accounting software that they're are already familiar with makes the process easier for everyone involved.
The QuickBooks rep we spoke with noted that your accountant receives access to your QuickBooks account for free. In other words, your accountant doesn't count toward the number of users allowed by your plan.
QuickBooks Online is an impressive accounting system that's easy to use and includes all of the features most small businesses need to efficiently accomplish their accounting tasks. However, there are some points to consider before you choose your software.
If you download the 30-day free trial, you forfeit the six-month, 50 percent discount. You can get a feel for the program, try out many its features and still qualify for the discount by using the free demo on the company's website.
- The self-employed plan isn't upgradeable to the small business plans, so if your business is growing or if you have (or plan to hire) employees, you may want to consider starting with one of the small business plans instead.
- The plans limit the number of users who can access the system. Your accountant doesn't count toward your user number, but if you have several employees that need to access the system, you may need to sign up for a higher-tier plan or look for software that supports an unlimited number of users for all its plans.
- Although the self-employed plan includes mileage tracking, the small business plans don't. The company notes in its FAQs that this feature may be available for these plans in the future, but if it's a feature you need now for your employees, you'll have to add an integration, find a workaround, or consider a different accounting application.
Ready to choose your accounting software? Here's a breakdown of our complete coverage:
- How to Choose Accounting Software
- The Best Small Business Accounting Software 2018
- Best Small Business Accounting Software
- Best Accounting Software for Mac
- Best Accounting Software for Really Small Businesses
- Best Small Business Invoicing Software
- Best Free Small Business Accounting Software
Additional reporting by Sara Angeles.