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Best Payroll companies and services for small businesses

Payroll is an essential part of running a business, but it can be so challenging to do. The world would be a much more comfortable place if you could just sign checks in your office and hand them out to people one by one. It would be even better if you could pay cash. Better yet, it would be awesome if you could just pay cash.  

Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. You have to calculate withholding, figure out time off, contributions, taxes, and everything in between. It’s no wonder that many organizations look for offline or online payroll companies to make the process much easier.

That presents another challenge. How do you choose the best payroll service for your unique needs? The ones for small businesses and large businesses are different. Some of them combine HR features, while others focus exclusively on payroll. PEO companies also bring something different to the table.

The good news is that we’ve vetted the best online payroll companies and brought you the strong contenders in each category. All you have to do is select the best one and heave a sigh of relief.

What are the best payroll companies?

1.    Gusto – best all-around platform

Gusto homepage

Gusto is a full-service payroll platform that helps you handle almost every aspect of the payroll process from managing benefits, cash advances, medical insurance, 401K, and everything in between. Unlike many other solutions, it has a beautiful interface that makes it easier – not harder – for you to get started with managing your payroll. The same doesn’t apply to many of the other tools out there.

In addition to being a powerful tool on its own, it integrates with a wide range of tools you’re may already using. Integrations include Quickbooks (yes, it integrates with a competitor because it’s about you, not them), Xero, Freshbooks, Tsheets, 7shifts, Upserve, Trainual, and many more.

It’s hard not to like everything that Gusto has built, and it makes sense since it was founded in 2011 and has been evolving ever since.

Key features

  •           Payroll management
  •           Automatic deductions & filing
  •           Direct deposit support, W-2, 1099s
  •           Start, move, and administer health insurance plans
  •           Manage 401K from within Gusto
  •           HIPPA compliant
  •           Onboarding checklist creation
  •           Offer letter management
  •           Form & document storage
  •           Time tracking tools
  •           PTO requests and management
  •           Access to HR professionals with a few clicks

Cons

  •           It’s only limited to the United States
  •           Some plans don’t sync employee PTO and pay

Pricing

It’s dead simple and inexpensive to get started with Gusto. For the contractor plan, there’s no base price, and each contractor is only $6. For the most extensive plan, there’s a base plan cost of $149/m and then $12/m/person. Each plan is determined based on the features you use, not your

Contractor – There’s no base pricing, and for each contractor you add, it costs $6/m.

Core – Base pricing is $39/m, and each additional employee costs $6/m.

Complete - Base pricing is $39/m, and each additional employee costs $12/m.

Concierge - Base pricing is $149/m, and each additional employee costs $12/m base.

4.7 stars on Capterra

2.    Paychex – ideal for mid-sized and larger brands

Paychex was started by Tom Golisano in 1971 with only $3,000 and has grown to serve tens of thousands of small, medium, and large enterprises. It’s one of the few firms that also offer PEO services. It’s a full-service HR and payroll company operating in all fifty states. 

Unlike other online payroll services, it breaks down the way its services are offered based on the size of the company it’s serving. That’s because it understands a company with five employees has very different needs than a company with 500 employees. It has solutions for self-employed, 1-9 employees, 10-49 employees, and 50-1000+ employees.

Though it started in the ’70s, the company has kept up with the times. The software is cloud-based, has a mobile app, and is constantly releasing new payroll services to help you stay on top of the competition. That’s why it has made the list of best payroll companies – you can be sure it’ll keep innovating. On a side note, it has a pretty dated UI.

Key Features

  •           Payroll management
  •           Online portal for employees
  •           On-demand access to earned income for employees
  •           Online timekeeping
  •           Offline timekeeping (time clock)
  •           Administer various benefits to employees (health, dental, vision, etc.)
  •           Store and organize all records
  •           Employee onboarding features
  •           Easy recruiting and tracking of applicants
  •           Ability to screen employees
  •           Service to pair you with reputable insurance agents to find the packages that meet your needs
  •           Payment processing
  •           Tax filing and planning
  •           Retirement management

Cons

  •           The UI itself needs a major overhaul
  •           Opaque pricing (not available online)

Pricing

Unfortunately, Paychex doesn’t publicly display its pricing. Each business gets tailored pricing based on its size and specific needs. Since Paychex offers so many services, those needs can get complex. I found the pricing for you anyway :).

Express Payroll - $60/m base pricing then $4/m/employee

Paychex Flex Select - $90/m base pricing then $3/m/employee

Paychex Flex Pro - $156/m base pricing then $3.65/m/employee

4.1 stars on Capterra

3.    Quickbooks – reliable tool for small businesses

Quickbooks Payroll

Quickbooks is kind of the elephant in the room. Launched in 1992, Quickbooks has become one of the most successful Inuit products. It offers many services for small businesses, which range from payment processing, accounting, and now online payroll services. It has a well-rounded feature set that includes HR, staying abreast of labor laws, and several free payroll tools.  

It’s one of the best payroll companies not because of its feature set alone but because it has built an ecosystem that works seamlessly together. Its target demographic – small businesses – appreciates all the convenience it can get.

Key features

  •           Online payroll management
  •           Direct deposit set-up and administration
  •           Employee time tracking
  •           Tax penalty protection up to $25,000
  •           Get the latest labor posters and receive protection of up to $33,000 if there’s an issue
  •           Payroll experts available to chat online
  •           Get access to HR advisor
  •           Access and administer benefits (health, dental, vision) through partner SimplyInsured
  •           Manage workers compensation
  •           Clear dashboard with all your important stats

Cons

-          Many of the features are provided through a partner which means an extra fee

-          Doesn’t offer added services to manage employees, recruiting, or compliance

Pricing

Quickbooks Payroll has three pricing tiers that are divided based on the features you use. Of course, all plans come with full-service payroll, but the speed of deposits and add-ons vary based on the pricing tier.

Core - $45/m base pricing plus $4/m/employee

Premium - $75/m base pricing plus $8/m/employee

Elite - $125/m base pricing plus $10/m/employee

4.5 stars on Capterra

4.    OnPay – great for micro-enterprises

Founded in 2011, OnPay has turned into a solid payroll solution that caters to micro-enterprises – the smallest of the small businesses. Don’t get me wrong here. It’s still a useful solution for other small businesses. It’s not clear to me if this happened intentionally or not. The point is that valuable features got developed as a result.

There’s a clear emphasis on simplicity, but that doesn’t mean you lose anything when you choose OnPay. It somehow manages to do most (if not all) of what you need for payroll, HR, and benefits. It also integrates with a good number of tools such as Quickbooks, TSheets, Vestwell for 401k, and a few more.

One of my favorite features of OnPay – and what makes it a strong contender for the best payroll company - is that the OnPay team will add your employee data – for free – so you can get set up quickly. Depending on the size of your organization, this can save you hours or days. 

Key features

  •           Support W-2 and 1099 workers
  •           Can pay in multiple ways such as debit card, checks, and direct deposit
  •           No limit on the number of monthly pay runs
  •           Manage garnishments
  •           Large number of in-depth reports
  •           Easily process payroll in multiple states without incurring extra fees
  •           Portal for employees
  •           Intuitive interface
  •           Store paperwork for each employee within OnPay
  •           Offer letters contained within the application
  •  Necessary tax forms available online for easy access
  •           Develop and save checklists for onboarding or any other relevant process
  •           Manage and administer benefits like health and dental insurance
  •           PTO management

Cons

  •           Lacking a mobile application
  •           Have to pay for hard copies of certain forms

Pricing

In keeping with its emphasis on simplicity, OnPay has a single pricing plan which gives you access to all the core features. It cost $36/m base plus another $4/m/employee.

4.9   stars on Capterra

5.    ADP – offers a robust PEO

ADP homepage

Technically, ADP is designed for any size business, but if you’re a smaller brand, it can feel like overkill. It provides a full-service PEO product which stands for Professional Employer Organization. If you’re not familiar with what that is, here’s the spark notes edition.

A PEO splits your company with you and takes over the administration of everything related to payroll – that includes the liability. In essence, you’re leasing your employees to them, they handle tax filing, benefits administration, sending out checks, and everything in between. The significant difference between a PEO and standard payroll service is how involved they are and the cost. They’re much more expensive than a pure online payroll company—a lot more expensive.

If the convenience of doing business in this way is worth it to you, then go for it. Just make sure you read the fine print thoroughly before getting started. Conversely, you can choose to use the software alone.

Key features

  •           Payroll management
  •           Time tracking and management
  •           Workforces management and optimization
  •           Recruitment management tools
  •           Business insurance
  •           Benefits administration
  •           Outsourcing HR solutions
  •           Workers compensation

Cons

  •           It’s much more expensive than other online payroll services
  •           There’s no visible pricing on the website

Pricing

Pricing for ADP is based on your needs and the services you choose to use. The company seems to have selected a quote-based pricing model to make it easier to understand the needs of their prospects before recommending a payroll service.

4.5 stars on Capterra

6.    SurePayroll

Surepayroll homepage for payroll services

SurePayroll is a company run by Paychex, and it focuses on a smaller segment of the small business market. It may be the only payroll solution that caters specifically to nanny employers. Yes, any small business can use it, but it may not be ideal for them. With that being said, SurePayroll has a robust feature set that’ll help you stay on the right side of the law and pay your team on time.

Key features

  •           Unlimited payroll runs
  •           Set up auto payroll
  •           Direct deposits or physical checks
  •           Support for individual contractors
  •           File and pay taxes
  •           Store paystubs and the proper tax forms
  •           Time tracking and attendance
  •           24/7 help and support
  •           Has a labor law poster update service
  •           Workers compensation

Cons

  •           Users can’t reset their password
  •           The application can be a bit confusing at times

 Pricing

SurePayroll doesn’t publicly share pricing, so you’ll have to submit a form and get a personalized quote based on your needs.

4.3 stars on Capterra

7.    PayUSA

Payroll company PayUSA homepage image

Let me just take a moment to say that the PayUSA website looks like it was built at the turn of the century. I’m sure they’re one of the online payroll companies that get little business from the internet. That aside, it was founded in 1969 and has a solid reputation in the payroll industry. What it lacks in design skills, it makes for in dependability.

PayUSA is one of those companies that you know will last for a year, ten years, or possibly a hundred years. While it doesn’t have as many features as some of the other payroll platforms here, it’s still one of the best payroll services out there.

Key features

  •           Benefits administration
  •           Direct deposits, checks, or even payment cards
  •           Personnel reports
  •           Federal unemployment tax returns
  •           Federal, state, and local tax filing and payment
  •           Time tracking and attendance tools

Cons

  •           The online presence of this company is dated
  •           Only able to file taxes in a limited number of states

Pricing

Pricing isn’t readily available on the website. You’ll have to contact them to get a customized quote.

What is an online payroll company?

A payroll service or company is an organization that helps businesses automatically calculate and process payroll. It can include tax calculation, tax statements, forms for employees to file taxes, onboarding, and more. It will also submit payroll taxes at the different levels of government on your behalf.

Many marketing leading payroll companies have gone above and beyond the bare minimum and offer value-adding services. Of course, it varies from provider to provider. Still, you can expect things such as HR advice, benefits administration, connecting you with insurance agents, multiple ways to pay employees, and employee portal, etc.

Payroll services can be the difference between being up to date on your taxes and payments or dropping the ball over and over again and getting fined. For what they offer, they’re inexpensive and can save you a lot because the cost of non-compliance is high.

Don’t think that it’s only for full-time or part-time employees. The best services also allow you to handle payments for contractors(1099 workers which are different than if you outsource through a freelance website like Fiverr). and informal workers.

Final note about the best payroll companies

I wish payroll were easy. It’s not. It can be a tedious and time-consuming process. There are many laws to be aware of, deductions to make, benefits to administer, and everything in between.

The worst part is that it's just one element of a growing business business, whether online or offline. 

The best online payroll services make it considerably easier to stay on top of paying your team and those who’ve done work for you. At the very least, you’ll save hours a month, and in the best-case scenario, you’ll avoid fines due to non-compliance with government regulations.

As you can see from the list, each payroll company brings something different to the table. If you’re looking for a PEO, then ADP is your best bet, but if you need a solid all-around platform, then Gust will come to your rescue.

In the end, it’s all about you – not them. I hope this list has made your choice easier. Let me know what you think in the comments or if there are any tools you’d like to add.