Everyone loves payday—except payroll administrators. Paying employees and contractors is the most complex element of small business accounting. You have to produce checks and direct deposits that are 100% accurate, after ensuring that the underlying calculations, such as taxes, benefits, and other types of withholding, are correct down to the penny. Then you have to submit payroll taxes and filings to the IRS and other tax agencies on time and for the correct amounts or face penalties.
If you're doing payroll manually, the process can take hours every payday. Cloud-based payroll applications, like the nine we review here, can run a payroll in minutes once you've done the initial setup. They know exactly what information is needed to complete successful, compliant payroll runs; and they provide extensive help, even submitting your payroll taxes and filings automatically.
Considering all that they do, these services are—for the most part—reasonably priced, requiring a monthly base charge and per-employee fee. A five-employee payroll could cost you less than $100 per month. So read on to find out which sites might suit you best.
The Best Online Payroll Service Deals This Week*
- ADP (Opens in a new window) — 3-Months Free Payroll When you Sign Up
- Paychex (Opens in a new window) — Limited Time Only - 3-Months Free
- Rippling (Opens in a new window) — Payroll so Powerful it Can Run Itself
- Gusto (Opens in a new window) — See How Easy Payroll and Benefits Can Be
- Onpay (Opens in a new window) — One Simple fee for Everything we do: $40 Base + $6 per Person
- Patriot (Opens in a new window) — 60-Day Free Trial
*Deals are selected by our commerce team
Best for Novice Payroll Managers and Very Small Businesses
Why We Picked It
The Gusto family of payroll websites has four different subscription levels, making it more scalable than any competitors. You can start with Gusto Simple, which offers everything you need to run payroll, and upgrade when your needs for tools like time-tracking and robust HR becomes greater. Its user experience is outstanding. Gusto takes much of the drudgery out of payroll and almost makes it a pleasant experience.
Who It's For
Gusto is best suited to very small business and novice payroll managers thanks to its usability, understandable workflow, and company support. But it's capable of serving larger companies, and its scalability makes it possible for businesses to grow with it.
- Exceptional user experience
- Flexible, thorough employee records
- Contractor-only version
- Excellent employee versions
- Good set of customizable reports
- Comprehensive mobile access
- No time tracking included with Gusto Simple
- Payroll run page can be confusing
- Contractors and time off require separate links or screens
Best for Midsize Businesses
Why We Picked It
Rippling can be a great choice for small businesses, but more importantly, it also supports larger, more complex organizations with dozens or hundreds of employees. It offers robust human resources, benefits administration, and IT management capabilities. Its payroll features, voluminous integrated apps, and expansive user capacity make it a great midrange application at a small business price. Rippling's versatility is unparalleled among this group of services.
Who It's For
Rippling has the largest potential user base of any site reviewed here, from startups—especially those that anticipate growth—through midsize businesses. In fact, Rippling integrates with both small business and midrange accounting applications. Users choose the modules they want, making it easy for businesses of any size to assemble a system that meets their needs.
- Good setup tools
- Exceptionally customizable
- Excellent payroll-processing tools
- Large selection of integrated apps
- Comprehensive employee profiles
- Exceptionally customizable reports
- Complexity may intimidate small business users
- Screen changes sometimes slow
- Learning curve for reports
- Limited mobile apps
Best for Up to 100 Employees
Why We Picked It
OnPay serves both general businesses and specialized ones, like professional services, medical offices, and farming. It's easy to use (great user interface and navigation tools), flexible (a lot of customization options, accessibility, and custom fields), and reasonably priced at a flat $36 per month plus $4 per month per employee or contractor.
Who It's For
OnPay is ideal for small businesses new to payroll, though it can also handle dozens of employees. OnPay does not have any add-on fees like some sites do, so it would be good for small businesses on a budget. Its potential audience is sizable because it's an exceptional general payroll site that provides support for numerous vertical industries. OnPay rivals Gusto in terms of usability, so both novice and experienced payroll managers could get up to speed quickly.
- Fast, capable payroll processing
- Unlimited payrolls, flexible frequency
- Custom forms and fields
- Supports numerous vertical industries
- Exceptional employee versions
- Mobile admin version missing some functions
- No automatic payroll
Best for Specialized Payrolls
Why We Picked It
SurePayroll has been around for more than two decades, and in that time has established a name for itself by providing top-notch payroll-processing tools. Like OnPay, it serves general businesses as well as some specialized professions, like nannies and household help. Recent changes like a more affordable starter version and more emphasis on the user experience have improved its appeal.
Who It's For
SurePayroll integrates with several popular accounting applications, not just the standard ones like QuickBooks and Xero, but also Zoho Books and Sage 50. So it's a good choice for users of some applications that aren't typically supported. SurePayroll's long, successful history and its acquisition by Paychex will appeal to businesses for whom company longevity is critical. It also serves a wide variety of businesses, considering its support of vertical markets.
- Top-notch onboarding and payroll processing tools
- Flexible, understandable payroll run screens
- User interface improvements
- Supports multiple vertical payroll types
- Good subscription options
- Integrates with numerous accounting sites
- Extra fees for managing W-2s and 1099s
- No custom reports
- Employee portals could be better
- Mobile apps not comprehensive
Intuit QuickBooks Payroll
Best for QuickBooks Online Users
Why We Picked It
Intuit QuickBooks Online is the best overall small business accounting website. It integrates beautifully with Intuit QuickBooks Payroll. It can also be used as a standalone application. It features a flexible, thorough setup process and numerous customizable payroll reports. Like all Intuit products, its user interface and navigation tools are simple and understandable.
Who It's For
We recommend Intuit QuickBooks Payroll primarily for Intuit QuickBooks Online users. It's more expensive than competitors, but its deep, smooth integration may justify the expense for payroll managers who want to take advantage of this all-in-one system. But it doesn't integrate with any other accounting applications. There are better, less expensive payroll websites that you could use as a standalone service.
- Simple, understandable user experience
- Smooth payroll process
- Flexible, thorough setup
- Deep integration with QuickBooks Online
- Payroll Tax Center
- Impressive reports
- Slim employee portals
- Time tracking integration not available in Core version
- Mobile apps missing many desktop features
Patriot Software Full Service Payroll
Best for Inexperienced Payroll Managers
Why We Picked It
There's something almost charming about Patriot Software. It's so simple to use and so friendly, yet so capable. Its screens for the most part are big and readable and friendly, and its signature purple adds to its attractiveness. Its simplicity is deceptive. Behind those modest working screens is a very efficient, intuitive payroll-processing engine. It's flexible and thorough.
Who It's For
Because of its exceptional setup wizard and guidance for new users and its primary focus on payroll, Patriot Software deserves consideration by smaller businesses that aren't likely to want to scale up and don't need expansive HR support. It can handle more, but it's best for companies with 1–10 employees.
- Exceptional setup wizard and guidance for new users
- Intuitive and attractive user interface
- Great payroll flexibility
- Excellent employee portals
- Capable mobile versions
- Optional accounting features
- Time & Attendance, HR incur extra fees
- Payroll screen can get crowded
- No separate payroll screens for hourly and salaried workers
Roll by ADP
Best for Very Small, Mobile-Savvy Businesses
Why We Picked It
Roll by ADP is the most innovative payroll application we've found. It's a mobile app that uses chat commands for everything, including running a payroll—hard to imagine, but it works. We picked it because it's unique, because it makes good use of artificial intelligence (AI) and "learns" your business, and because once set up and mastered, it can save time on your payroll.
Who It's For
Roll by ADP launched less than two years ago, so it's not as feature-rich or customizable as its more established competitors. But for someone who is fairly tech-savvy, has only a few employees and an uncomplicated payroll, and who often needs to work remotely, it could be a good choice.
- Simple operations and thorough setup
- Fast payroll runs
- On-demand payroll
- Flexible pay schedules and unlimited payrolls
- New Plaid integration, time tracking
- Chat commands require some adjustment
- Limited earnings types and benefits administration
- No accounting integrations
Best for Small Businesses With Hourly Workers
Why We Picked It
Workful was only introduced three years ago, but it's come a long way in that time. It was developed by the same people who created TaxSlayer, so the company's financial expertise goes way back. Running payroll is easier, of course, when a site is well-designed and easy to understand. Workful is both. It was designed with mobile access in mind, so both its apps and its browser-based version are intuitive and attractive.
Who It's For
Workful excels at supporting hourly workers who punch a time clock, though you can also pay salaried workers. Its usability and simplicity make it a good choice for novice payroll managers. Workful is among the least expensive sites we reviewed, so small businesses on a budget might consider it. Because it's so young, though, we don't recommend using it if you have dozens of employees. There are better payroll websites for larger companies.
- Reasonably priced
- Clean, simple user experience
- Built-in time clock supports geolocation
- Expanded earnings types
- Good employee records and employee portals
- Excellent mobile access
- Payroll runs lack flexibility, access to supporting screens
- Employee mobile apps lacking
- No automated payroll
- Only third-party integration is QuickBooks
Best for Hourly Workers, Square POS users
Why We Picked It
Square has a great financial application ecosystem consisting of multiple websites and other tools that work well together. Its payroll website, Square Payroll, is tightly integrated with Square POS (Point of Sale). Together, they make a great team, supporting hourly workers and payroll administrators as they record hours, schedule shifts, and complete other compensation-related tasks. We included them because of this powerful connection. Square Payroll itself seems too expensive and is not as feature-rich as its competitors.
Who It's For
Square Payroll is best used in conjunction with Square POS. Its ideal audience would be small businesses that want to use both. We wouldn't recommend Square Payroll alone for companies that have dozens of employees, or even a handful of employees. It wants that POS integration.
- Competent payroll processing
- Contractor-only option
- Good integration with Square's POS app
- Third-party benefits providers
- On-demand pay
- Limited earnings types
- Uninspired user experience
- Only offers basic reports
- Rudimentary setup tools
What Is an Online Payroll Service?
Online payroll services are business services you access through a web portal or app to manage your business's payroll and distribute the correct amount of money to employees every payday.
If you're still doing your company's payroll manually, you know that the process is complex, exacting, and deadline-driven. Your employees count on you to dispatch their paychecks and authorize direct deposits on scheduled paydays. They expect you to know how much to withhold for all the taxes you owe and the benefits you offer.
There's an enormous amount of detail to track, especially if you're trying to do it all on paper. Mistakes aren't tolerated well by anyone involved. Tax agencies can assess stiff fines if payroll filings and taxes aren't received by the scheduled dates. Benefits providers can cut off services such as health insurance if you fall behind on payments.
Payroll websites help you process accurate, timely payday runs. They count on you to provide correct information about your payroll configuration and employees. But they won't let you complete a payroll if you're missing any required inputs. They make supporting data like employee profiles available while you're getting ready to pay your workers. They also offer special assistance and flexibility in areas like state registration and earnings types. Gusto will actually complete your state compliance requirements for you, and OnPay is especially good at troubleshooting during actual pay runs.
These services can save you an enormous amount of time. They minimize the frustration and headaches associated with payday. They promote goodwill with your employees because of their accuracy, flexibility, and timeliness. And they may even save you money you would otherwise pay in penalties.
How Do Payroll Websites Work?
Cloud-based payroll solutions can help you organize and automate this onerous task. Some of them offer step-by-step wizards that guide you through the time-intensive process of creating records for employees and supplying the information needed for withholding. They let you establish your own payroll schedules. They also do all the required calculations, and most of them submit your payroll taxes and filings to the appropriate agencies.
These sites walk you through each payroll run and tell you how much each will cost you. Most provide multiple report templates (Intuit QuickBooks Payroll is especially good at this). Plus, each offers online portals and mobile apps or integrated services that let employees punch in and out of a time clock. Workers can also access pay stubs via these apps and portals, and they can also usually see other data about their pay and employment. Patriot Software Full Service is especially good.
Not surprisingly, they're equipped with generous support options, since payroll managers need responsive assistance during setup and troublesome pay runs. Chat, phone, and email options are supported by everyone. Roll by ADP even has 24-hour chat help available during the week and more limited access on weekends.
The benefits are obvious. You don't have to keep up with payroll tax tables, and you have help with the myriad compliance issues associated with employee compensation. You can modify your records quickly, and you have instant access to the smallest details. You're much less likely to make errors using one of these services.
How Much Do Online Payroll Services Cost?
Every payroll website we reviewed charges both a base price, averaging around $30 per month, and a per-employee monthly charge, usually just a few dollars. OnPay and a few others have one base fee and one employee charge, and that's it. Others, like Patriot Software and SurePayroll, have additional fees for some services.
All three of Intuit QuickBooks Payroll's subscription levels are full-service, meaning the company submits your payroll taxes and filings for you. But its most service-rich level is $125 per month plus $10 per employee per month. The company has an ongoing promotion that gives you the first three months at 50% off.
Gusto's top-tier level, Premium, does not even make its price public. You have to request a quote from the company. The version we reviewed, Gusto Simple (previously called Gusto Core), is $40 per month plus $6 per person per month.
What Is the Cheapest Online Payroll Service?
Patriot Software is the least expensive payroll service of the ones we tested. It charges $17 per month plus $4 per month per employee or contractor for Basic Payroll (though you may have to pay extra for Time & Attendance and HR Software). For that price, you have to submit your own payroll tax filings and taxes. SurePayroll also has a No Tax Filing Payroll Plan for $19.99 per month plus $4 per employee per month (plus fees for some services).
How Difficult Is Setting Up Payroll?
Though each payroll site we examine here provides a unique user experience, they all share similar structures. They begin with the setup process, which is by far the most time-consuming and detail-oriented element of paying your staff. Though the exact order varies, some of them walk you through pages of questions in an orderly, step-by-step fashion. Others provide partial setup wizards and leave the rest to you. These setup wizards ask for information about your company, such as its address and Employer Identification Number. You select your payroll schedule, which is usually weekly or biweekly, and name your payroll administrator and signatory.
If your business offers benefits such as health insurance and retirement plans, you can create records for them that outline the cost to employees and any company contributions. Or, in the case of sites like Intuit QuickBooks Payroll and Rippling, you can work with a third-party provider. The required amounts will then be deducted during the payroll process and submitted to these providers.
You must also create thorough records for each employee, with details such as contact information, date of birth, Social Security number, salary or hourly pay rate, and number of allowances from the W-4 form. Since most of these sites submit your payroll taxes and support direct deposit for compensation, you may need to supply bank account information.
You need to enter any existing payroll records if you've compensated employees in the past. This process can be arduous and may require assistance from the site's onboarding specialists because absolute accuracy is critical. Rippling actually automates the process of importing historical data from a number of competing payroll sites.
If you offer additional payroll types like paid time off and sick pay, you can usually define your policies for accruing these benefits; the services then keep track of them for you. Bonuses and commissions can also be paid during a regular pay run, or you can issue them by creating an off-cycle payroll. Need to include garnishments like child support on paychecks? These sites support such withholding. In fact, most offer custom pay types, so you can create your own, sometimes even when you're in the middle of a pay run.
There's no getting around it: Setup takes time, and may require that you consult a number of resources. But in the end, it allows you to run your payrolls so much faster than you could with a manual system.
How Challenging Is the Actual Payroll Processing? How Long Does It Take?
Once you complete the setup, you generally can't return to the dedicated setup tools, so it's important to get it right the first time. That said, every service we tested has a comprehensive settings section where you can modify and add to the payroll information you've already entered.
Next, you're ready to run your first payroll. This is the easy part. Though there are some differences, these sites function similarly during the actual pay run. When you launch a payroll, they display a list of employees and contractors along with their pay rates. You first check to make sure the pay period and pay date are correct. After that, you simply enter the number of hours worked (where applicable) in the appropriate pay type boxes (regular, overtime, vacation, and so on).
Every service has a way to import hours from timesheets or a time clock, which is more likely to be accurate than if you enter them manually during the pay run. Payroll sites also let you allocate funds for other earnings types and reimbursements on this same page.
After you enter all the necessary details, you see a preview of your payroll. The various services handle this slightly differently, but you'll be able to see each employee's gross and net pay, plus withholding for taxes, benefits, and any company contributions. The payroll site then shows you the total amount of money that will be withdrawn from your bank account for direct deposits and taxes, as well as the exact date it will be debited.
After you approve a payroll, most sites can generate additional tables or reports with the details of the pay run. And many allow you to edit, void, or cancel a payroll after it's been approved but before a stated deadline.
If you have few employees or a very simple payroll, the process shouldn't take more than a few minutes. Depending on which site you use, you may be able to let payrolls process automatically (assuming, of course, that there are no changes from the previous run). Some even offer same-day payroll and advances on paychecks.
What Is the Best Online Payroll Service?
Based on our hands-on testing, the three top-rated payroll services currently are Gusto, Rippling, and OnPay. Read more about each one above or in their in-depth reviews (linked above) to get a better sense of how they differ and which one might be best for you.
Do Payroll Websites Have HR Capabilities?
In larger companies, payroll and benefits administration are usually handled by separate departments. In your small business, though, both of those responsibilities may land on your desk or that of another employee. There's so much overlap between payroll and HR that even if you're strictly running your payroll on a site, you'll still be doing HR tasks.
Most of the payroll sites we review here offer basic HR components, such as online W-4 and W-9 forms, new-hire reporting, document templates, and document storage. Electronic signatures are often allowed, as is employee participation in the data-entry process. Rippling is the overall best where HR and benefits administration are concerned.
What Other Payroll Sites Are There?
We review the payroll services we judge best for small businesses that process compensation for 10 workers or fewer—businesses, furthermore, that have modest human resources and benefits administration needs. Some of the sites we reviewed go well beyond these basics. We also looked at each company's history, its reputation, and its security practices.
There are dozens of payroll websites we could have reviewed, some from household names like ADP and Paychex (although we did review the innovative Roll by ADP, which is for small businesses). Both ADP and Paychex offer entry-level DIY payroll services that scale up easily. There are four small business solutions in the ADP Run line: Essentials, Enhanced, Complete, and HR Pro. ADP does not publish prices for its DIY payroll websites; it offers to contact you for a customized quote.
Paychex has a three-tiered subscription scheme, and it does make the price of its entry-level solution available. Paychex Flex is $39 per month plus $5 per month per employee, comparable to some of the sites reviewed here.
What Do Larger Businesses Use for Payroll?
Large businesses typically have more complex payroll needs than small businesses and they may want to include payroll as a part of all-encompassing HR or benefits administration service. Paychex and ADP both have solutions geared toward the midrange and enterprise markets.
As noted, Rippling is one of the best within this subset. It's surprisingly affordable and offers an excellent user experience. It also provides all the tools you need for onboarding, payroll processing, tax filing, and reporting. Advanced features include job costing, highly customizable reports, and global payroll.
Can You Trust Online Payroll Services?
When you run payroll manually, you're relying on the current tax tables and payroll tax schedules, as well as the accuracy of your employees' information and that of benefits providers. And your calculator. You're relying on your calculator a lot.
Payroll websites are just as reliable (more so, actually) because expert payroll teams work with the most current payroll data to ensure that you're always in compliance. They do all of the calculations required, and most are responsible for submitting your payroll taxes and filings.
They remind you when you have payroll work to do. They employ teams of individuals who know more about payroll than you do who are available via phone, email, and chat. And these sites have state-of-the-art security and safeguards built in. If you haven't supplied all of the information required, you won't be able to run a payroll.
All of the payroll services we reviewed come from reputable companies with years or even decades of experience behind their tools. You can trust any of them with this critical task.