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Reviews

The Best Payroll Software and Services

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Payroll software makes paying your employees easier, but you’re going to want something that can also accommodate the nuances of your industry or workforce. There are a lot of options that each work well for different types of organizations, but we think Gusto is the best payroll software for most people’s needs. It’s easy for both workers and admins to use and it’s adaptable enough to handle workforces of any size, even when they’re scattered across the country.

The Best Payroll Software for Most

Gusto

Gusto

Best for Most

Trusted by 100,000+ businesses in all 50 states. Includes automated tax calculations, hands-off tax filings, employee benefits, time tracking tools, and employee self-service dashboards with no long-term contracts. Pricing starts at just $39 per month + $6 per month per employee.

Gusto is our top pick because it’s easy for everyone (including admins and employees) and supportive of all the different types of employees on your payroll. It’s what we use ourselves, so we can personally vouch for its immense value, excellent UI, and ease of use.

Whether you’re paying full-time staff, seasonal workers, contractors, freelancers, or any combination of employees, Gusto does it all. From automatically filing payroll taxes, numerous compliance tools, and a generous selection of benefits to intuitive PTO management and a fantastic user interface, it goes above and beyond without an out-of-budget price tag.

The 7 Best Payroll Software Options to Consider:

  1. Gusto – Best payroll software for most
  2. OnPay – Best for businesses with tipped employees
  3. ADP Workforce Now – Best for keeping teams of 50+ employees happy
  4. Square – Most affordable option for paying contractors & freelancers
  5. Poppins Payroll – Best worry-free solution for paying household employees
  6. Patriot – Best for businesses with an in-house payroll expert
  7. TimeTrex Community Edition – Best payroll software with a $0 price tag

When It Makes Sense to Invest Into Payroll Software

Whether you have two employees, 20 employees, 200, or 2,000+ on your payroll, investing in payroll software is a smart investment. Essentially, if you pay people, it’ll make your life a lot easier.

Even if your company doesn’t have W-2 employees, you can still use payroll software for 1099 contractors and freelancers. 

So, it’s even suitable for single-member LLCs and sole proprietors, as well. Even if you’re not paying contractors consistently, some solutions make it easy to process payments on-demand without having to pay for months you don’t issue payments.

In short, every business paying at least one worker can (and should) use some type of payroll software.

However, you probably don’t need it if you don’t pay anyone other than yourself. As soon as you’re ready to scale and pay someone else, it’s time to make the investment.

#1 – Gusto — The Best Payroll Software for Most

Gusto

Gusto

Best for Most

Trusted by 100,000+ businesses in all 50 states. Includes automated tax calculations, hands-off tax filings, employee benefits, time tracking tools, and employee self-service dashboards with no long-term contracts. Pricing starts at just $39 per month + $6 per month per employee.

Gusto’s flexibility is one of the main reasons it gets our vote as the best payroll software. Plus, it’s what we use to pay our team, so we can personally vouch for its greatness.

It’s an incredibly versatile tool that comes with built-in features to support every type of employee you have, from freelancers and contractors to salaried employees, hourly staff, and everything in between. Regardless of who you’re paying and how often, Gusto makes it as easy as a few clicks.

For salaried staff, you can automate payroll and send out paychecks without needing to login to the platform, review anything, or click any buttons. 

It’s as easy as inputting their annual salary and your desired pay frequency. Seriously, that’s it.

For hourly employees, you get time tracking and POS integrations on the entry-level plan and a built-in time tracker with automated compliance rules on higher tiers if you don’t already have a preferred time tracking solution. 

Users can import and track their hours worked using the online portal or Gusto’s mobile app.

From there, admins and owners can see a detailed breakdown of time by project, employee, task, or time period to get a clear picture of where your team’s time goes.

Gusto also comes with advanced user permissions, making it easy to assign team members to the right manager while giving managers the ability to approve hours before payroll runs. 

You can even set up multiple pay rates on a granular level if an employee performs several activities throughout the day. 

Contractors and freelancers are treated differently within the software to match applicable laws and regulations based on where your business is and where your freelancers or contractors work.

It also automatically handles 1099s online so you don’t have to cross any extra t’s and your contractors don’t have to wait for anything in the mail during tax season. Not only that, but Gusto also automatically files 1099s with the government so you don’t have to worry about a thing.

While those are the most common types of employees, Gusto also works well for seasonal workers and tipped employees, too. 

On months you don’t run payroll for specific users, you don’t have to pay for them. And you can set up automatic minimum wage adjustments so you’re always in compliance with the FLSA tip credit minimum wage requirement. 

It’ll even generate all the required forms your accountant needs at tax time—they’ll thank you.

Just about the only type of employee it doesn’t support is household staff like nannies, senior caregivers, and housekeepers. For that, we highly recommend Poppins Payroll instead. 

Regardless of the type of employees you have, compliance is one of Gusto’s key components. Most companies employ multiple types of staff, making compliance even more complex since the government regulates each one differently. 

But Gusto makes it all a breeze. It automatically calculates and withdraws taxes at the local, state, and federal levels. 

Then, the software files them with the appropriate government agencies every time you run payroll. And there are no hidden fees for automatically filing and remitting owed taxes. 

Others charge for this which is yet another reason we love Gusto. 

You can rest easy when it comes to sending out employee tax forms, regardless of how they work for you. The software automatically distributes them during tax season. Plus, they’re all stored online and employees have lifetime access to everything—forever. 

While most payroll tools feel clunky and outdated, Gusto is very clean, straightforward, and modern. It’s one of the best user interfaces we’ve seen, which makes payroll that much easier. 

Admins and managers can create custom onboarding checklists for new employees, set up new employees in a matter of seconds, and send offer letters right from within the platform. There are dozens of professional offer letter templates, so no one has to start from scratch. 

And the act of running payroll is easier than we’ve seen with any other software. 

If you don’t believe us, Gusto offers an interactive demo so you can play around and see it in action from an employee and admin perspective. It’s an exact representation of the tool itself, which is an excellent benefit you can leverage before signing up. 

From an employee standpoint, everything is crystal clear. Onboarding takes less than ten minutes and is very straightforward. 

Our entire team has onboarded themselves and we’ve never had any snags.

Users can view upcoming payments, connect with other teammates, see their PTO accruals, request time off, access pay stubs, and download tax documents at the end of the year. 

They can also make benefits selections in just a few clicks if that’s something you offer. 

If you don’t already offer benefits to your employees, we can’t recommend Gusto enough. Our team is distributed across the country and everyone has excellent coverage. 

There are more than 3,500 healthcare plans to choose from offered by 100+ different carriers that span all 50 states. So, you can rest easy knowing your entire team is covered regardless of where they live. 

Plus, you can add and manage company-wide healthcare coverage on every plan at no additional cost (besides the cost of your premiums). 

You can also choose from numerous other benefits, including:

  • Commuter benefits
  • Retirement plans
  • FSAs, HSAs, and healthcare reimbursements
  • Dental, vision, and life insurance
  • Gusto Wallet – helps employees manage financial health
  • Cashout – the ability to access paycheck funds early in an emergency
  • Fee-free cash accounts for employees without bank accounts

All plans include basic payroll support, or you can upgrade to the top tier for a dedicated support team, direct phone line, and live 24/7 access to HR pros via phone and live chat. You also get compliance consultations, relations advising, and proactive compliance alerts on the top plan. 

There are four no-frills pricing plans to choose from, including:

  • Contractor – $6 per person paid per month
  • Core – $39 monthly base + $6 per person per month
  • Complete – $39 monthly base + $12 per person per month
  • Concierge – $149 monthly base + $12 per person per month

Most of you can probably start with the Core plan and upgrade to higher tiers if you need access to more advanced features as your payroll needs change. 

Sign up today and get your first month free!

#2 – OnPay — The Best for Businesses with Tipped Employees

OnPay

OnPay

Best for Tipped Employees

Looking for an easier way to handle tips? Get all the features you need to manage payroll for tipped employees with built-in compliance. Includes unlimited monthly pay runs, exceptional customer support, benefits in all 50 states, employee self-service tools, and more. Plans start at $36 + $4 per person per month.

With tipped employees, wages can be dynamic to meet minimum wage requirements. Plus, you’re responsible for withdrawing and paying income, social security, and Medicare taxes on all of your employee’s tips. 

Tax compliance is hard enough as it is, but the unfortunate truth is that managing tips and the associated regulations that surround them make payroll that much harder. 

Not to mention the sheer amount of time it would take to calculate everything on your own. 

Because of that, we highly recommend OnPay for tipped employees. Whether you’re a restaurant, cafe, tattoo shop, hair salon, or something else entirely, it’s an excellent choice that delivers everything you need to manage compliance and keep your team happy.

If you’re in the food and beverage industry, you get the added benefit of auto-generated industry-specific tax forms—like Form 8846—that make tax season a breeze. 

While Gusto offers this on some tiers, OnPay is slightly cheaper and only has one plan that comes with all of its features.

One of the most significant benefits of the software is automatic tax calculations. After everyone enters their tips, it automatically deducts taxes from every paycheck. It even pays and files your taxes every quarter with the right government agencies down to the local level.

OnPay guarantees its calculations and will go to bat for you with the IRS if something isn’t right. 

Plus, you never have to worry about issuing W-2s or 1099s at the end of the year—OnPay generates and distributes them on time, giving every employee the forms they need to file their own taxes in a timely manner. 

As an admin, you can see all the forms filed on your behalf in your dashboard, complete with timestamps and the corresponding agency they went to. 

You can come back to them to view, download, and print at any time. 

For those that pay less than minimum wage and rely on tips to make up the rest, the software automatically handles the dynamic calculations for you. On the other hand, you can turn it off if you don’t need it. 

It also acts as a record-keeping system for employees to record tips and keep accurate records of them as long as you need to. 

With OnPay, you can easily add multiple custom pay types for different employees, like cash tips or debit and credit card tips before running payroll. It’s super helpful for businesses that pool tips and split them later. 

If your staff doesn’t take home tips at the end of every day, you can easily add it to their paycheck in a few clicks to ensure everyone gets their share. 

Or you can run payroll in between pay periods to distribute tips since you get unlimited payroll runs at any time For example, you can easily disperse tips on non-paycheck weeks to keep your team going in between pay periods. 

OnPay also integrates seamlessly with several different time tracking tools so you can automatically pull hours and issue paychecks without manually entering anything yourself. 

It integrates with TSheets, Deputy, WhenIWork, and Humanity with more coming soon plus QuickBooks and Xero accounting tools for multi-department data sharing to minimize errors and save countless hours of manual entry. 

Want to offer benefits or bring over your existing benefits package? No problem. You can make OnPay your broker in a matter of minutes, and it works with most insurers across all 50 states. 

If you don’t have a benefits package, the OnPay team will help you put together the best options for everyone on your payroll. 

The support team can also help with tax credits and deductions based on your benefits packages. 

When you switch or sign up for a new package, everything’s fully integrated with payroll and the software automatically handles updates when an employee’s status changes or they experience a qualifying life event. 

From an employee standpoint, the interface is very intuitive and easy to navigate. New employees can onboard themselves in just a few minutes. 

And each employee gets a personal dashboard where they can onboard themselves, update personal information, control their deductions, and view all of their documents. 

For admins and managers, it’s just as straightforward. You can add new employees in seconds, automate salaried employees, and rest easy knowing the software handles compliance for your entire team. 

OnPay comes with several other beneficial HR features, including:

  • In-app messaging
  • Document storage
  • Free templates
  • Electronic signatures
  • PTO management

Pricing is as straightforward as it gets with a base monthly fee of $36 plus an additional $4 per person per month. 

Sign up for a 30-day free trial to see if OnPay is right for you today!

#3 – ADP Workforce Now — The Best for Keeping 50+ Employees Happy

ADP

ADP

Best for 50+ Employees

Trusted by 700,000+ businesses around the world, including thousands of enterprises with tens of thousands of employees. Includes all essential payroll features, an exceptional mobile app, various advanced HR tools, and 24/7 access to payroll professionals. Custom pricing available.

ADP Workforce Now is a modular HR software that lets you upgrade and add more functionality as you need it. Because of that, it’s a great choice if you’re a smaller team with closer to 50 employees or a team of thousands. 

Because it’s also one of the most comprehensive all-in-one HR tools on the market, it comes with hundreds of features that may feel overwhelming to set up from an admin perspective. 

But its value for larger teams is well worth the steep learning curve since you get all the features and functionality you need to run your entire HR department in one place. 

Even as you grow and your needs change.

On the entry-level plans, you get all of the standard payroll features you expect, including:

  • Payroll processing for any type of employee
  • Customizable self-service employee portal
  • Unlimited storage for all of your documents
  • Retroactive and prorated payroll adjustments
  • Automated local, state, and federal tax filing
  • Dozens of built-in reports

Plus, all of your new-hire reports and forms are filed with state agencies, you get access to compliance experts in every state, and the software has built-in error detection notifications if something doesn’t look right. 

The larger your team, the more complex it is to ensure compliance. Thankfully, ADP’s more than apt to handle teams with tens of thousands of employees, so you don’t ever have to worry. 

You can even set up custom new-hire and termination workflows to ensure you check all your boxes, complete with completion reminders. 

It also comes with a full-featured mobile app for both employees and admins. With it, employees can view their documents, update personal settings, and adjust tax withholdings. 

Admins and managers can create schedules, approve time cards, assign tasks to team members, and run payroll right from their phones. 

It’s one of the few functional mobile apps we’ve seen for payroll software, so this is a major benefit for highly mobile teams and work-from-home environments as well. 

While you get most of the standard features, there are a few things missing. PTO management, time tracking, overtime calculations, hourly worker compliance, and benefits administration are additional add-ons that come with an extra cost regardless of the plan you choose. 

On the plus side, this makes ADP more accessible and modular for smaller teams who may not need all of those features. But it will drive up the price for those of you who do need them. 

It’s not a dealbreaker, but it is something to keep in mind. 

However, ADP comes with more functionality for large teams that other tools on our list can’t compete with.

The talent acquisition module is an excellent example. With it, you get access to 25,000 job boards, unlimited job postings, smart matching features, and seamless onboarding. All of which… are embedded directly into ADP to save you time. 

It’s perfect if you’re continuously growing and on the hunt for the best candidates out there. You can create a job posting, send it out, and manage responses without ever leaving the platform. 

Once new hires join the team, you can use the same module to deliver training and development courses—you don’t even have to create the courses yourself. 

ADP offers numerous pre-built training modules covering compliance, diversity, personal development, and more to help your employees grow. 

Need help managing and tracking performance? ADP has a module for that. 

Whether you have 50 employees or hundreds of thousands, you can use it to assign goals, measure performance over time, automate the review process, and predict turnover risks in just a few clicks. 

Although pricing for ADP Workforce Now isn’t available online, there are four tiers to choose from with different modules, including:

  • Payroll Essentials – Includes the payroll and tax module
  • HR Plus – includes the above plus onboarding, digital record keeping, and HR tools
  • Hiring Advantage – Includes the above plus talent acquisition
  • Performance Plus – Including the above plus performance and compensation management

There are also four add-ons, including workforce management, HR assist, benefits administration, and enhanced analytics. 

You can start with basic payroll capabilities if you’re a smaller team. 

Or go all-in with the enterprise-grade option with access to all of ADP Workforce Now’s features from the beginning if you’re a large team that’s unhappy with your current solution. 

If you want more of a hands-off option, you can offload your entire payroll and HR department with a full-service solution with ADP as well. You can delegate certain tasks, unload everything, or create a custom solution that supplements your in-house HR team without having to hire more employees.

The point is… ADP Workforce Now is scalable, versatile, and adaptable to match your needs whether you have 55 employees or tens of thousands. 

Request a live demo to see if ADP is right for you and your team today!

#4 – Square — The Most Affordable Option for Paying Contractors & Freelancers

Square

Square Payroll

Best for Paying Contractors and Freelancers

Get all the essential payroll features you need to pay contractors and freelancers without the bloat and expense of features you’re never going to use. Includes automatic 1099 forms, direct deposit, and time tracking tools for just $5 per person per month.

If you’re only paying contractors and freelancers, you don’t have to worry about PTO, benefits, workers’ compensation, or any of the other advanced features that most payroll tools come with. 

Square believes you shouldn’t have to pay for things you don’t need. And we happen to agree. 

Its contractor solution is the cheapest option we’ve seen that doesn’t sacrifice ease of use, integrations, and all the functionality you need to maintain compliance. 

Some of the “cheaper” payroll tools feel… cheap and are missing crucial features like automatic 1099 distribution, direct deposits, and customer service. But the good news is that you don’t have to settle for something that feels antiquated or clunky.

At just $5 per person paid per month, you get everything you need. 

And you only have to pay that monthly fee for months you issue payments to that person. If you have 15 contractors but only pay six of them in July, you only have to pay for those six users. 

So, it’s an excellent choice if you have seasonal freelancers or only make occasional payments throughout the year. 

The setup process is just about as easy as it gets for everyone involved. In less than five minutes, you can create your account and start inviting your team to the platform. 

From there, they can onboard themselves and set up their preferred payment method. They can choose from direct deposit, cash app, or check. And they can log in at any time to see previous payments, configure their notification settings, update personal info, and access their tax documents online. 

Once everyone’s set up, issuing payments takes just a few clicks and you can issue them any time from anywhere with an internet connection. 

You can even issue instant payments if you keep your Square account funded. 

Doing it this way means you don’t have to wait for the bank to process the payment and your contractors get their money right away. 

If you have contractors or freelancers that charge by the hour, they can use the Square mobile app to log in and track hours to you directly on their phones. Or you can enter payments manually within your dashboard if that’s easier for you. 

Setting up the Square time tracker is just as easy as setting up your account. All you have to do is turn it on, issue a new time tracking ID, and share it with that person. 

Then, they can use it to track time to you within the app. 

Honestly, it’s a clunky system, but it works and it’s free. Most cheap 1099-only plans don’t offer this capability at all, so it’s an excellent benefit if you don’t already have a time tracking solution. 

There are also several built-in time tracking integrations, including Homebase and TSheets if you prefer using something else.

When tax season rolls around, Square generates, prepares, and files 1099s for everyone you paid that year. It also distributes them to each person so they can easily access their tax documents online. 

It’s a huge time-saver with added peace of mind since you don’t have to remember to print them and mail them out yourself. 

If you ever run into issues along the way, you can contact Square’s US-based customer support team at any time, although you probably won’t need to since it’s so easy to use. 

Using Square’s contractor payroll option rather than its free payment processor means no one has to pay transaction fees and your workers get to keep their money. Plus, you get the added benefit of automatic 1099s and centralized reporting. 

If you ever end up bringing anyone in-house, Square also offers a payroll solution for W-2 employees. 

It includes automatic tax withdrawals and filings, benefits administration, electronic onboarding, and more. So, you can easily upgrade if you need to. 

To recap, Square’s pricing plans include:

  • Contractors – $5 per person paid per month
  • Employees and contractors – $29 per month + $5 per person paid

You can sign up and start issuing payments within a few minutes, even if you don’t use any of Square’s other tools. Plus, it’s the most affordable contractor-only option on our list, making it our top choice if you only pay 1099 employees. 

Sign up for a free account to get started today!

#5 – Poppins Payroll — The Worry-Free Solution for Paying Household Employees

Poppins Payroll

Poppins Payroll

Best for Paying Household Employees

Avoid costly mistakes, issues with the IRS, and unknowingly breaking the law with Poppins Payroll. Get all the worry-free compliance, fee-free payroll tools, and automation features you need to simplify tax season and keep your household employees happy.

If you pay household employees, like nannies, senior caregivers, chefs, housekeepers, gardeners, or drivers, they’re not contractors. 

Because you’re in control of their schedule and the types of work they do, you’re considered their employer. And surprisingly, there are a lot of rules around how you handle payroll, the taxes you withdraw from their paychecks, and the taxes you owe.

To make matters worse, many payroll tools won’t help with household employees because the IRS requires special forms. 

Trying to do it all on your own can lead to mistakes and costly penalties. 

And that’s not to mention the amount of time you’ll spend trying to figure it all out. The IRS isn’t exactly known for being… user-friendly and easy to understand. 

Thankfully, you don’t have to. Poppins Payroll is one of the few fee-free payroll solutions built specifically for situations like yours. It takes all the worry, stress, and fear out of the equation so you can focus on other things and rest easy knowing it’s all taken care of for you.

Most household payroll tools nickel and dime you for things like direct deposit, implementation, and tax filings. But that’s not the case, here. 

You only have to pay a flat monthly fee. There are no other charges or hidden fees whatsoever. 

The only fee that exists is a $99 tax filing fee if you cancel your account before tax season but still want Poppins Payroll to generate year-end tax forms for you. Which… is fair because you’re no longer paying the monthly fee to continue using the software. 

It starts at $45 per month for one employee. Additional employees are $10 per employee per month. Others charge hundreds of dollars for just two employees. 

So, not only are there no fees, but it’s also one of the cheapest solutions we’ve found.

Getting started is incredibly simple—and it takes less than ten minutes. All you have to do is provide basic information about you and who you’re paying. 

If you don’t have an EIN number, Poppins Payroll will help you get one and file new-hire paperwork for your state and local agencies as well to ensure you’re in compliance. 

From there, the software automatically sends you all the forms you need to have your employees fill out. You can then enter that information into the system for them to make things even easier. 

Next, you’ll choose your payment method and payroll frequency. You can choose from weekly, bi-weekly, semi-monthly, or monthly with direct deposit or paper checks. And that’s it. 

The software handles everything else for you. 

When it’s time to run payroll, you’ll get an email a few days before to make adjustments as required. If no adjustments are needed, you don’t have to do a thing. 

You can ignore the email and payroll will go out automatically in a few days. It’s an excellent feature if every paycheck’s the same amount no matter what or your employees work the same number of hours every week. 

In most cases, it takes less than 10 minutes to make adjustments, review, and approve payroll. 

Once you have everything set up, you can create custom paid time off and sick leave policies that automatically accrue based on your rules. Employees can see their available hours online or in their payment confirmation emails. 

Poppins Payroll also takes care of recordkeeping and document storage to help you stay in compliance. 

Each account comes with a digital library of all of your documents for up to five years. You can easily download and print them at any time if you want to save them elsewhere for permanent storage. 

However, the most significant benefit of Poppins Payroll is that it automatically calculates, withdraws, pays, and files your quarterly payroll taxes for you. 

It does so at the local, state, and federal levels. All you have to do is review and e-sign. 

For year-end taxes, all you have to do is print your automatically generated Schedule H and attach it to your personal tax return. 

The humans behind the software keep track of regulations and laws so you don’t have to worry about dynamic changes that seem to happen every day. The team also guarantees accuracy and on-time remittance.  

When we say worry-free, we mean it. 

As with all good things, there are a few limitations. Poppins Payroll doesn’t operate in every state. But if your state isn’t covered, you can shoot them a message. 

If there’s enough demand in your area, they’ll work on learning the laws and regulations in your state and let you know when they’re ready for you. The software also doesn’t include an option for benefits administration or workers’ compensation insurance. But you can easily get those elsewhere. 

To recap, Poppins Payroll is $45 per month for your first employee and $10 per employee per month after that with no fees whatsoever. 

Sign up today to get your first month free!

#6 – Patriot — The Best for Businesses with an In-House Payroll Expert

Patriot

Patriot

Best for Businesses with an In-house Payroll Expert

Have an in-house payroll expert, bookkeeper, or accountant to file payroll taxes for you? Stop paying for automation and assistance features you don’t use with Patriot’s basic payroll software that starts at just $10 per month + $4 per person paid per month.

Patriot is one of the few premium payroll tools that have a low-cost option for businesses with an in-house bookkeeper or accountant on staff. Even if you don’t have that but are comfortable with filing taxes on your own, it’s an excellent bare-bones option. 

Unlike the other choices on our list, you can opt-out of automatic tax filings and other assistance features you don’t need. 

With that said, it does automatically calculate your tax liabilities and deduct those amounts from each paycheck every time you run payroll. 

So, you’re not left to figure out all of those calculations on your own. 

It’s the perfect balance of automation and time-saving features without the added expense of unnecessary hands-off functionality you don’t need.

With Patriot, you can generate numerous reports designed to help you get a clear picture of how much you owe to local, state, and federal agencies as well as for unemployment insurance. As such, you get a centralized place for all of your info that makes it a breeze to fill out tax forms and remit payments on time. 

You also don’t have to worry about W-2s and 1099s at the end of the year. The software automatically generates and distributes them electronically to all eligible employees. 

Alternatively, you can print them out and mail them if you prefer. 

And while the basic Patriot edition doesn’t include automatic 1099 filings with the IRS, you can pay a small fee if you’d like the added convenience of not having to handle those yourself. 

It’s $20 for the first five, an extra $2 per 1099 up to 35, and the rest are free. So, it’s not expensive by any means, and it’s completely optional. 

Beyond taxes, you can set up customizable deductions for things like:

  • Retirement plans
  • Health insurance
  • Garnishments and child support
  • Life, dental, and vision insurance

You’ll get a clear breakdown of each deduction for every employee before you run payroll to make sure everything looks good. After running, you can pull reports for specific deductions, and your employees get a clear picture of where their paycheck goes every cycle. 

Patriot supports every pay frequency at no extra cost. And you can set up unique pay frequencies for different types of employees. 

Want to pay your contractors every week but your in-house staff bi-monthly? No problem. 

You can also pay anyone at any time, which is perfect if you regularly work with freelancers you need to pay outside of normal pay periods. 

If you reimburse employees for out-of-pocket expenses, you can set these up as well. You can create as many as you want and apply them to individual employees on a granular level or to entire groups at once. 

Despite it being a low-cost option, you still get a ton of features. In-depth PTO management is one that other companies, like ADP, charge extra for. So, it’s an excellent added benefit. 

With it, you get complete control over which employees accrue time off, how much is earned, and how often. It’s very easy to use and there are dozens of step-by-step videos that walk through how to set everything up on your own. 

You can set maximum earning limits and decide whether hours carry over from one year to the next. 

Employees can see their time off in their online portal. They can also use it to view pay stubs, access their W-2s or 1099s, update personal settings, and more. 

Patriot is 100% mobile-friendly, but it doesn’t have a mobile app. The website claims this is on purpose so you don’t have to use up storage space for yet another app. Despite that, mobile access is intuitive and easy to use for everyone. 

If you’re looking for a better way to pay workers’ compensation insurance premiums, you can use the free integration with AP Intego as well. 

The integration makes it easy to spread out your payments over a year based on actual payroll dollars rather than an estimate. So, you won’t have to worry about overpaying or underpaying either. 

Pricing is very straightforward, with basic payroll plans starting at $10 per month + $4 per person paid per month. There are also a few add-ons, including:

  • Time and Attendance – $6 per month + $2 per employee per month
  • HR software – $$6 per month + $2 per employee per month
  • Accounting Basic – $15 per month
  • Accounting Premium – $25 per month

And you always have the option to upgrade to full-service payroll if you no longer want to handle filing and paying taxes on your own. 

Sign up for a free 30-day trial to see if Patriot’s right for you today!

#7 – TimeTrex Community Edition — The Best Payroll Software with a $0 Price Tag

TimeTrex

TimeTrex Community Edition

Best Free Option

Thanks to volunteers across 50+ countries, TimeTrex Community Edition packs a lot of bang for its $0 price tag. From payroll features, tax calculations, PTO management, plus time and attendance tracking, you get everything you need without paying a penny.

If you’re on a tight budget or are just getting started and don’t want to pay for payroll software, TimeTrex Community Edition is an excellent free solution. 

It’s open-source and comes with a $0 price tag—no strings attached. 

With that said, it’s not the most intuitive option and it has a much higher learning curve than other choices on our list. You also won’t get much (if any) customer support, but that’s the price you pay for free software. 

Once you get things up and running, though, it’s very easy to use going forward. 

TimeTrex gets our vote as the best free option because it’s incredibly robust in comparison to other free alternatives. Payroll is just one piece of what it comes with.

With the payroll module, you get automated tax calculations for local, state, and federal agencies. So, you don’t have to worry about manual calculations, guesstimating, or staying up to date with continuously changing tax codes.

At tax time, it also automatically generates a wide range of tax forms, including W-2s, W03s, 940s, 941s, and 1099s. There are even a few Canadian and international forms too.  

Just to be clear, the software won’t file and remit taxes for you. You’re still responsible for that every quarter and at the end of the year. But its automatic calculations and reporting help reduce errors and speed up the process. 

While it’s not as hands-off as paid options, you can add custom deductions for things like health insurance, retirement plans, and wage garnishments. 

It even comes with PTO accruals and customizable policies with no limits on the number of rules you can create. 

Employees can request time off inside their personal dashboards and see how many hours they have, making PTO management a breeze. Some of the paid options on our list don’t include time off requests at all, so this is definitely a steal. 

Your team can easily set up direct deposit or opt for printed checks if that’s what they prefer. 

The free edition comes with numerous other modules, one of which is built-in time tracking and attendance. 

With it, hourly employees can clock in and out using any web browser, and managers can monitor attendance in real-time with up to the second accuracy. 

Because the modules integrate with each other, you can easily pull time tracking data to generate payroll runs in a matter of seconds. From there, all you have to do is make adjustments, review, and submit. 

If your employees rely on you for scheduling, you can also build basic or complex schedules right within TimeTrex. 

The best part is that PTO requests automatically populate the schedule so you never have to worry about scheduling conflicts with approved time-off requests. 

Finalized schedules are available online at any time so everyone stays in the loop. 

The last module that comes with the free community edition is HR management. It includes dozens of powerful features, like:

  • Employee qualification tracking
  • Performance reviews
  • Entrance and exit interviews
  • Ability to define KPIs and track them
  • An employee information database

If you’re wondering how TimeTrex can possibly offer so much for free, you’re not alone. The software’s operating costs hover right around $0 because a team of volunteers spanning 50+ countries maintains and updates the software. 

Overall, you get a ton of functionality for free, as long as you can work through an outdated interface that doesn’t feel as modern as other options. 

Sign up for a free-forever plan to take TimeTrex for a test drive today!

Methodology For Choosing The Best Payroll Software

When testing and evaluating the top payroll software options, we compared numerous factors including feature sets, built-in legal compliance, automation, customer support, ease of use, and the user interface. 

To help you make the best choice for your business, we turned our process into a complete methodology that outlines everything to look for as you weigh your options. 

What Types of Employees Are You Paying?

Whether you’re paying contractors, freelancers, seasonal employees, part-time employees, or anyone in between, you need software that comes with all the features you need to take care of everyone on your payroll. 

The best way to narrow your choices down is to understand the types of employees you’re paying and the specific features you need to stay in compliance and keep everyone happy. 

Salaried employees
With the right software, you can set up a system for salaried employees that runs on autopilot at any frequency you want. Besides the initial setup, you won’t have to do much from an admin standpoint. 

Be sure to look for software that lets you set up overtime rules, manage benefits (if you need them), and create custom PTO policies. 

Hourly employees
With hourly employees, the process is more involved. You can either choose software with built-in time tracking tools or integrations with the time tracking tools you already use. 

If you use a POS system for clocking in and out, be sure it integrates with your payroll system, as well. Without an integration or built-in tools, you have to enter hours for every employee manually.

Which… is fine if your team is small but will quickly become unsustainable as you grow. 

You should also look for software that does automatic overtime calculations, handles compliance for hourly workers, comes with PTO management, and has multiple user permissions so managers can approve time before payroll goes out. 

Contractors and freelancers
With contractors and freelancers, you don’t need much. However, you should make sure the software you choose automatically generates 1099s for each person, so you don’t have to worry about doing it yourself. 

Some tools take it one step further and automatically file 1099s with the IRS for you at the end of the year. 

If you only pay contractors and freelancers, we highly recommend Square. 

Note: most entry-level payroll tools only work for US-based workers, so be sure to look into this if you have international contractors or freelancers. 

Seasonal employees
If you have seasonal employees, look for software that lets you pause your subscription or only charges per-person fees for months you run payroll. 

Some options, like Square, make this easy. You only have to pay the $5 per person fee for contractors you pay that month. If you have 100 freelancers but only pay 15 of them in July, you only pay for 15 users. 

This flexibility helps keep costs low during slower seasons with the option of easily ramping things back up later. 

Tipped employees
As an employer, you’re responsible for withdrawing income taxes from tips plus hourly wages. Doing so on your own can be very challenging, and you run the risk of making mistakes. 

The right payroll software automates the process of adjusting pay based on tips to ensure everyone makes minimum wage. It also automatically calculates and withholds the right amount of taxes with every pay run. 

Some tools will even automatically file industry-specific tax forms with the proper government agencies for you. 

We highly recommend OnPay for most businesses with tipped employees. 

Household employees
This covers anyone who works in your home, like nannies, senior caregivers, housekeepers, babysitters, personal chefs, drivers, and more. 

The government requires specific tax forms for household employees, and most payroll tools won’t help with them. You also have to issue W-2s and pay income taxes quarterly if you pay them more than $2,300 per year. 

It can be incredibly confusing, and it’s often more challenging than doing taxes for a business. 

Because of that, we highly recommend payroll software specifically for household employees—Poppins Payroll is our top recommendation.

Worry-Free Compliance with Local, State, and Federal Regulations

One of the most significant payroll software benefits is built-in compliance features for taxes, new-hire paperwork, and record retention, even as laws change over time. 

That added peace of mind makes payroll software the perfect choice for anyone who doesn’t want to hassle with compliance but isn’t ready to fork over thousands of dollars every month for full-fledged done-for-you payroll services. 

As a business owner or non-HR pro, you can feel confident that everything’s done correctly and submitted on time. 

Taxes are often the biggest headache and the most confusing part of paying employees. To make things easier, most payroll tools automatically calculate, withhold, and remit payroll taxes to the appropriate agencies for you, along with the required paperwork. 

Even if your employees work in different states, payroll software automatically calculates the appropriate withholdings based on local requirements. 

Complete with automatic updates when laws and taxes change. 

But it also goes beyond that. It can automatically create and distribute W-2s and 1099s for every employee at the end of the year, so you never have to remember important deadlines or lift a finger to get it done. 

Some guarantee their calculations and provide hands-on help if the IRS contacts you with problems. 

However, there are a few things to keep in mind. Some tools aren’t able to make automatic payments or filings to every state and local authority. And some may not help you with filing taxes at all, which requires more know-how and effort on your part. 

Every tool is different. As such, it’s crucial to look at this carefully and ensure you understand what comes with your package before making any decisions. 

If you prefer handling taxes on your own or have an in-house bookkeeper with tax experience, you don’t have to pay for all these features—Patriot offers a low-cost bare-bones tool without automatic tax filing for those who don’t need it. 

Aside from taxes, there are dozens of other compliance-related issues you’re in charge of handling, including:

  • Break and lunch requirements for hourly workers
  • State new-hire paperwork for every new employee
  • Workers’ compensation requirements
  • Wage garnishments and child support
  • Record keeping requirements
  • Unemployment insurance

Another thing to consider is whether or not you get access to HR experts for help with compliance. Most software providers offer customer support, but they may not help you with taxes and legal regulations. So, it’s an essential factor to consider. 

Payroll software that does it all is more expensive, but it’s worth the added expense if you’re hesitant about handling anything compliance-related yourself. 

And it’s cheaper than paying hefty penalties for making honest mistakes. 

Benefits and Time Off Management

Regardless of the types of employees you have, efficient PTO management features play a significant role in running payroll. If the two systems don’t play well together, you’ll have to enter time off manually, which becomes more cumbersome as your team grows. 

So, it’s essential to look for software that comes with automatic PTO accruals and the ability to handle time-off requests for eligible employees. 

All of the tools on our list offer this in some capacity or another. But they’re not all created equal. 

Some allow for more flexible PTO policies at a granular level, whereas others limit how you can set it up. However, the best option for you matches your current policies. 

You may not need anything too fancy if you only have a few employees or if everyone falls under the same PTO umbrella. On the other hand, you may need to set up different policies for different types of employees, or even down to the employee level. 

It’s also essential to be able to adjust sick leave and vacation hours for individual employees manually. 

If an employee joins the team in the middle of a payroll cycle, the software may not start accruing PTO until the next one starts. So, you’d need to go in and manually adjust it. 

Or you may want to offer extra days off as a bonus or incentive. 

Regardless of the specifics of your PTO and holiday policies, auto-populating everything into payroll is a huge time-saver and something to look for. 

Besides time off, benefits are another great way to keep employees happy and engaged. 

Some payroll tools offer benefits administration, while others don’t. Gusto, OnPay, ADP, and Square are our top recommendations if benefits are a top priority. 

However, they’re not all the same, nor do they offer the same types of benefits or partnerships with the same insurance carriers. 

When choosing software, be sure to look through the benefits packages you can choose from to ensure they’re beneficial to all of your eligible employees regardless of where they live. Most work with several national carriers but always double-check coverage in the states where your team members work. 

Don’t forget to consider other benefits, like:

  • Dental, vision, and life insurance
  • Retirement plans
  • HSAs and FSAs
  • Commuter benefits
  • College savings plans
  • Healthcare reimbursements
  • Early access to paychecks
  • Financial tools

In our experience, Gusto offers the most comprehensive selection of benefits. But the others have great options as well and are a better fit for specific situations. 

Poppins Payroll, Patriot, and TimeTrex don’t offer benefits administration. 

However, they may integrate with an outside benefits provider to make automatic payroll deductions easier. 

If you have benefits elsewhere and want to keep them, be sure to talk to the payroll software provider to see about possible integrations or if you’ll need to set up manual deductions instead. 

Either way, most payroll tools won’t pay your benefits provider for you. They can automatically withdraw money from your employee’s paychecks, but you’re still in charge of remitting those payments to your carrier.

An Intuitive User Interface for Admins and Employees

Every payroll software has a unique interface that can make or break your experience. If it’s clunky and hard to use, it may end up being more of a hassle than it’s worth. 

So, it’s important to choose a UI that makes sense to you and works for your employees. 

In most cases, the simpler the software, the easier it is to use. ADP, for example, is very comprehensive and covers a lot of areas outside payroll. So, it isn’t as user-friendly or straightforward as other options on our list. 

But it may be worth getting past the steep learning curve if you plan to grow or have thousands of employees. 

So, it’s a trade-off that depends on your current and future situations. Regardless of that, there are several things you should pay close attention to as you test out different UIs to see which one works best for you. 

First, ensure that employees can onboard themselves. 

It’s a massive time-saver for managers and admins. Plus, it gives employees control to make changes to their benefits, bank account information, and tax withholding settings on their own. 

You should also be able to customize the onboarding process depending on the type of employee. Contractors, for example, won’t require as much information. So, there’s no need to waste anyone’s time collecting it if you don’t need it. 

Other employee-facing features to consider include:

  • E-signatures for onboarding paperwork
  • Automatic notifications for upcoming payments
  • Team-member birthday reminders
  • A dashboard with digital tax documents and paystubs
  • Online PTO requests

Your software should be just as intuitive for managers and admins, too.

Make sure admins can set up users with different permissions and visibility to give managers control over their team without them seeing sensitive information they shouldn’t. 

You should also pay attention to how easy it is to actually run payroll. If you only have salaried employees, you may not have to do anything at all. But it shouldn’t take more than a few minutes to review and submit for other types of employees. 

Lastly, you need to make sure you have room to grow without outgrowing the software. 

Are there more advanced features available when you need them? Can you upgrade to more hands-on support or a more comprehensive HR service that handles payroll (among other things) for you? 

Be sure to look into integrations, as well. Even if you don’t need them today, you’ll be thankful you have the option to connect all of your business tools as you grow. 

Overall, most tools offer all of these capabilities, but they differ in the finer details. 

In most cases, your personal UI preference will help you decide between two otherwise identical options. 

Once you’ve narrowed it down to two or three options, sign up for a free trial or a live demo to see the software in action. Doing so will give you insight into how it works and what it looks like from the inside. 

If there’s anything you don’t understand or want more clarity on, it’s the perfect opportunity to see how great (or not-so-great) the team behind the software is. 

Helpful Humans Behind the Software

Despite most tools being straightforward, you should still be able to get help and guidance when you need it. Some providers offer better support systems than others, so it’s worth testing out during your free trial. 

We recommend reaching out and asking them for help with implementation to gauge their responsiveness and willingness to help you get started. 

Most should offer support for this in some capacity or another. But the level of support will vary from one company to the next. And it’s important to keep in mind that most entry-level plans only come with technical support and general payroll guidance. 

For simpler setups with smaller teams or businesses with in-house experts, this should be more than enough to get you going and comfortable with the software. 

Some providers do offer more specific help for free. But remember that you may need to pay extra or upgrade to a higher tier if you want personalized, hands-on support for very complex situations or if you have hundreds of employees. 

Gusto, for example, offers basic support on the first three tiers. But you get a dedicated support team and a direct phone line to your team with the highest tier. 

Note: if you have a very complex payroll situation and don’t have an in-house team to help you manage it, we highly recommend checking out the best online payroll service providers instead. They offer a level of support you won’t get with payroll software, and you won’t have to worry about doing anything yourself. 

Besides implementation and general questions, you’ll probably run into issues with calculations or other automations at some point. 

A timely and responsive support team is crucial to resolving issues quickly and ensuring your team gets paid on time, even when mistakes happen. 

For most providers, phone support is standard. But that doesn’t always mean you can talk to someone on the phone. Some are just a maze of automated menus with no real humans at the end. The only way to know is to give them a call, and we highly recommend doing so. 

Some may also offer email, live chat, and ticket support, but those are less common. 

Regardless, it’s best to reach out via all of their support channels to see how long it takes to get a response and how well the rep answers your questions. 

Doing so will give you a clear picture of support quality before making your final decision.

Gusto

Gusto

Best for Most

Trusted by 100,000+ businesses in all 50 states. Includes automated tax calculations, hands-off tax filings, employee benefits, time tracking tools, and employee self-service dashboards with no long-term contracts. Pricing starts at just $39 per month + $6 per month per employee.

Summary

Our top recommendations for most businesses are Gusto and OnPay. However, they’re not a perfect fit for every business in every industry.

Whether you run a startup, small business, or large-scale enterprise, there’s an online payroll solution for you on our list above. So, make sure to use the methodology and recommendations in this guide to find the best payroll software for your business.


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