The right small-business payroll software should be affordable without sacrificing essential features like employee salary management, payroll tax calculation and other payroll-related tools. Fortunately, the market for cheap payroll software is always growing, which means businesses have an increasing number of high-quality options to choose from.
SEE: Finding the best payroll software for a small business is kind of a big deal.
For most small businesses most of the time, SurePayroll is the best cheap payroll service. It doesn’t sacrifice payroll features or ease of use for price, and it gives businesses the overall best value for the cost. But if SurePayroll doesn’t work for you, we have other affordable payroll recommendations that can support your business operations.
- Top cheap payroll software services: Comparison table
- The best cheap payroll software of the year
- How do I choose the best cheap payroll software for my business?
- Frequently asked questions
Top cheap payroll software services: Comparison table
|Software||Free trial||Starting base price||Starting per-payee price||Add-on benefits||Mobile app for employers|
|Patriot Software||30 days||$17/mo.||$4/payee/mo.||No||No|
|QuickBooks Payroll||30 days||$45/mo.||$6/payee/mo.||Yes||No|
The best cheap payroll software of the year
SurePayroll: Best cheap payroll service
Our star rating: 4.7 out of 5
SurePayroll’s fully automated payroll software lets small businesses pay employees with ease. Its excellent payroll features include automatic tax and paycheck calculation, thorough payroll reporting, accounting integration, time tracking and optional employee benefits in all 50 states.
SurePayroll works well for any business, but it’s particularly useful for first-time employers who haven’t run payroll before and are nervous about getting it just right. SurePayroll’s interface is notably user-friendly. The software is astonishingly easy to set up on your own, but SurePayroll includes free setup for new users. It also has a mobile payroll app for employers who want to process payroll away from the office.
Plus, although SurePayroll doesn’t have 24/7 customer service, it does offer live, U.S.-based customer support with extended weekday and weekend hours. The team is exceptionally easy to reach, and agents are remarkably friendly and personable — which makes SurePayroll unique among payroll software providers, where customer service complaints are the norm.
For more information, read our full SurePayroll review.
SurePayroll has two plans, both starting at below-average prices:
- Self-Service Payroll: $19.99 per month + $4 per employee per month. Includes automatic paycheck calculation, payroll tax calculation and direct deposit.
- Full-Service Payroll: $29.99 per month + $5 per employee per month. Includes all self-service features plus automatic payroll tax withholding and remittance.
New customers can get up to six months free with either SurePayroll plan.
- Automatic payroll runs with autopilot setting.
- Federal, state and local tax calculation, withholding and remittance (with full-service plan).
- Wage garnishment.
- Optional health insurance benefits in all 50 states.
- Workers’ compensation coverage with flexible payment options.
- 401(k) plans with automatic 401(k) deduction management.
- Pre-employment screening.
Pros and cons
|SurePayroll's strengths||SurePayroll's weaknesses|
|Low starting price.||Limited scalability (two plans only).|
|PEO-quality employee benefits.||No native time tracking (integrations only).|
|Exceptional customer service.||No 24/7 customer service.|
|Up to six months free.|
OnPay: Best value for price
Our star rating: 4.7 out of 5
OnPay’s starting price is about average for small-business payroll software, but it packs in more features for the cost than nearly any other payroll company, including its key competitor Gusto (reviewed below). OnPay doesn’t charge extra for accounting software integration, multi-state payroll runs, wage garnishment, W-2 and 1099 preparation, time-tracking integration or health benefits administration. It also offers free account migration for new customers, a 30-day free trial and unlimited monthly payroll runs.
OnPay’s single plan includes all of its payroll and HR features, which is ideal for businesses that prefer straightforward pricing without surprises. However, it’s less scalable for growing companies that want the option to add more features — such as learning management systems — to accommodate their growing workforce.
For more information, read our full OnPay review.
OnPay’s single plan includes all of its payroll and HR features. It costs $40 per month plus $6 per contractor or employee paid per month.
- Industry-specific payroll plans for agricultural businesses, nonprofits, churches and more.
- Support for multiple pay rates and schedules.
- Optional health benefits in all 50 states.
- Free accounting and time tracking integration, including affordable software options like Xero (starts at $13 per month).
Pros and cons
|OnPay's strengths||OnPay's weaknesses|
|No-fee wage garnishment.||Limited scalability.|
|No-fee multistate payroll.||No true 24/7 customer service.|
|Excellent customer support team.||No mobile app.|
|High-quality employee benefits.|
Gusto: Best for small businesses
Our star rating: 4.6 out of 5
Gusto is one of the country’s leading domestic payroll providers. It combines a slew of payroll features with HR tools like employee onboarding checklists, offer letter templates, team e-cards and employee self service. Gusto also offers health, dental and vision benefits in 37 states and unique benefits like commuter benefits and financial management tools for employees.
Gusto’s two pricier plans add free multi-state payroll and further time-tracking and HR tools. Gusto also offers a slightly cheaper contractor-only plan, an optional international contractor plan and physical time kiosks. While Gusto doesn’t have a mobile payroll app, its site is mobile-friendly so employers can process payroll anywhere they have an internet connection.
Since Gusto is one of the most popular payroll providers in the U.S., it integrates with more third-party accounting, time-tracking and HR software tools than nearly any other payroll service on our list.
For more information, read our full Gusto review.
Gusto offers three different pricing tiers for its payroll solutions:
- Simple: $40 per month + $6 per month per employee.
- Plus: $80 per month + $12 per month per employee.
- Premium: Custom pricing.
Gusto also has a contractor-only plan, which costs $35 per month plus $6 per contractor paid. It also has an international contractor plan with pricing that varies based on the country in which your contractors work.
While Gusto doesn’t offer a free trial, you can set up a profile free of charge to make sure you like Gusto’s interface and features. You won’t be charged until you run payroll for the first time.
- W-2 and 1099 form preparation and filing.
- Basic hiring and onboarding tools with every plan.
- Gusto-brokered health insurance plans.
- No-fee health benefit integration and administration.
- Thorough accounting, time tracking and expense management integrations.
Pros and cons
|Gusto's strengths||Gusto's weaknesses|
|Full automation.||Additional fee for top-notch customer service.|
|Fee-free workers' comp administration.||No built-in time tracking with cheapest plan.|
|Fee-free health insurance integration.||Limited HR features.|
|Hiring and onboarding tools.||Compliance alerts with priciest plan only.|
Square Payroll: Best for paying contractors
Our star rating: 4.2 out of 5
If you work solely with contractors, not W-2 employees, Square Payroll is easily the cheapest payroll software option. Square’s contractor-only plan has no base fee — instead, you pay a $6 fee for each contractor paid per month, and that’s it. Since the service is charged month to month with no long-term contracts, you can pause your account any time, which makes Square ideal for businesses that work primarily with seasonal laborers. You can also run payroll an unlimited amount of times per month without paying extra.
Square Payroll also integrates neatly with Square’s other products, most notably Square Point of Sale, which doubles as a time clock for your W-2 employees. Although Square lacks the HR features you’d get with a payroll provider like OnPay or Gusto, it doesn’t charge any additional fees for benefit integration or administration, keeping costs low. The payroll service is definitely too simplistic for complicated businesses with dozens of W-2 and 1099 workers across the country, but it should be a good fit for businesses on a budget that want fast, convenient payroll with few bells and whistles.
For more information, read our full Square Payroll review.
Square Payroll pricing
Square offers two different pricing tiers for its payroll solutions:
- Pay Contractors Only: $6 per contractor per month.
- Pay Employees & Contractors: $35 per month + $6 per employee/contractor.
- Automatic payroll tax calculations.
- Multiple pay options, including check, direct deposit or Cash App.
- Timecard, tips and commissions integration through Square solutions and third-party partners.
- Employee self-service app and timecards.
- Workers’ compensation insurance, healthcare and retirement benefits integration.
Pros and cons
|Square Payroll's strengths||Square Payroll's weaknesses|
|Free seasonal inactivity.||Limited scalability.|
|Excellent integration with Square POS.||No free trial.|
|No base price for contractor plan.||Limited reporting.|
|User-friendly mobile app.||Limited HR features.|
Patriot Software: Most user-friendly option
Our star rating: 4.3 out of 5
Patriot Payroll’s user-friendly software enables fast payroll runs for small and midsize businesses. Although the streamlined, simple software was tailor-made for small businesses, its exceptionally low per-user fee of just $4 per person helps keep payroll cheap for businesses with dozens of employees. Plus, Patriot’s user-friendly interface and free professional setup support first-time employers who don’t have any experience in the realm of payroll.
While Patriot is one of the cheapest payroll solutions, it’s far from the most fully featured. It doesn’t include automatic health benefit administration, nor can you use it to find benefits for your team. Patriot integrates with QuickBooks Online only, and time tracking and HR document storage both cost an additional per-user fee. However, if you need only basic payroll tools, don’t need many third-party integrations or use separate human resource software, Patriot can get the job done without breaking the bank.
For more information, read our full Patriot Payroll review.
Patriot Payroll pricing
Patriot Payroll has two plans only:
- Self Service: $17 per month + $4 per person paid per month. Includes automatic paycheck calculation and direct deposit.
- Full Service: $37 per month + $4 per person paid per month. Includes automatic tax withholding and remittance.
Additionally, new users can take advantage of a 30-day free trial with free professional setup included.
- Free professional setup.
- Electronic or printable W-2s and 1099s.
- Multiple pay rates and all pay frequencies.
- Optional 1099 e-filing.
- Integration with QuickBooks Online.
Pros and cons
|Patriot's strengths||Patriot's weaknesses|
|Low per-user fee.||Limited scalability.|
|30-day free trial.||Extremely limited HR tools.|
|Time-off accruals with both plans.||Minimal integrations.|
|Workers' comp insurance and 401(k) integration.||Additional fee for time tracking.|
QuickBooks Payroll: Best for 20+ employees
Our star rating: 4.1 out of 5
Intuit QuickBooks Online is a popular accounting software solution used by millions of individuals around the world. If you’re one of those individuals, QuickBooks Online Payroll could be the fastest, easiest way to onboard and pay your new employees. QuickBooks Payroll’s interface is just as streamlined, user-friendly and fully automated as its top-notch accounting program. The payroll software has next-to-no learning curve for employers already familiar with QuickBooks Online, and the two software serves sync with no problems.
QuickBooks is notoriously pricy, and its base-level payroll plan is no exception. However, its two higher-tier plans have a below-average per-user fee, which makes it more affordable the more employees you have.
For instance, QuickBooks Payroll Premium’s payroll features are fairly comparable to those of Gusto Plus, Gusto’s mid-tier plan. While Gusto Plus has a lower starting price, QuickBooks Payroll Premium (and even QuickBooks’ highest-tier plan, Payroll Elite) becomes more affordable than Gusto the more employees you hire.
|Monthly price||1 employee||10 employees||20 employees||50 employees||100 employees|
|QuickBooks Payroll Premium||$88||$160||$240||$480||$880|
|QuickBooks Payroll Elite||$135||$225||$325||$625||$1,125|
Learn more by reading our full QuickBooks Online Payroll review.
QuickBooks Payroll pricing
QuickBooks offers three different payroll plans with varying levels of payroll features:
- Payroll Core: $45 per month + $6 per employee per month.
- Payroll Premium: $80 per month + $8 per employee per month.
- Payroll Elite: $125 per month + $10 per employee per month.
New users can also choose between a 30-day free trial of any plan or 50% off for three months. Be aware that if you choose the free trial, you’ll have to enter your credit card information — and if you forget to cancel once the trial is up, you’ll be charged automatically with no option for a refund.
- Autopilot feature for automatic payroll runs.
- Form 1099 preparation and filing.
- Next-day or same-day direct deposit (depending on the plan).
- 401(k) plans, health insurance options and workers’ compensation insurance.
Pros and cons
|QuickBooks Payroll's strengths||QuickBooks Payroll's weaknesses|
|Below-average per-payee fees (plan dependent).||Extremely limited features.|
|1099 preparation and e-filing.||No time tracking with cheapest plan.|
|Healthcare options in 50 states.||Limited third-party integrations.|
|QuickBooks Online integration.||Poor customer service reputation.|
Paychex: Best HR software
Our star rating: 4.0 out of 5
If you want all-in-one payroll and HR software at an affordable starting price, Paychex is the best solution for you. With all three Paychex plans, customers enjoy thorough automated payroll features along with access to an HR library with hundreds of trainings, documents and templates. Paychex’s higher-tier plans add HR features like applicant tracking, learning management systems, PTO tracking and more.
Although Paychex has a below-average starting price, its costs can add up quickly depending on which services you need. General ledger reporting costs extra, as does benefits integration, time tracking, Form W-2 preparation and workers’ compensation insurance administration. However, Paychex’s three-month free trial can help offset costs, and the solution may ultimately be cheaper than a human capital management alternative.
For more information, read our full Paychex review.
Paychex’s cheapest plan starts at $39 per month + $5 per person paid per month. While it offers two other plans, Paychex doesn’t include upfront pricing and requires customers to get in touch for a custom quote.
- Online payroll processing with full-service payroll tax administration.
- Direct deposit, paycards, paper checks, online tip sharing and on-demand access to earned wages.
- Free mobile app for both business leaders and employees.
- Robust reporting and analytics for insights into payroll and HR data.
- 24/7 customer service and technical support.
Pros and cons
|Paychex's strengths||Paychex's weaknesses|
|Up to three months free.||Additional fee for general ledger reports.|
|High-quality HR library.||Limited transparent online pricing.|
|Three plans for improved scalability.||Additional fee for benefits integration.|
|24/7 customer service.||Additional fee for W-2 and 1099 forms.|
Rippling: Best for growth
Our star rating: 4.3 out of 5
Rippling Payroll’s automated payroll service tackles payroll tax calculation and filing, direct deposit, workers’ comp integration and more. It also keeps you compliant with labor laws by alerting you to potential minimum wage, overtime, sick leave and family leave errors that can have major consequences on your business and employees.
Unlike other solutions on our list, Rippling offers not just payroll but HR, IT and finance modules as well. Since Rippling is fully customizable, the product works well for one-employee businesses that need easy payroll as for international corporations that need payroll, expansive employee benefits, remote device management and compensation planning on the same platform.
Learn more by reading our full Rippling review.
Rippling’s payroll software starts at $8 per person paid per month. However, that per-person cost is on top of an unspecified monthly base fee. Rippling’s customized solutions usually require a custom quote, so get in touch with a Rippling representative for more information.
- Expansive payroll reports.
- Customizable workflow templates.
- Admin permissions.
- Optional international payroll plan.
Pros and cons
|Rippling's strengths||Rippling's weaknesses|
|Comprehensive payroll automation.||No free trial.|
|Customizable workflows and permissions.||Limited transparent pricing online.|
|Third-party integrations.||May be too pricy for small businesses.|
|User-friendly interface and employee app.||Additional fee for benefits, time tracking and more.|
This is a technical review using compiled literature researched from relevant databases. The information provided within this article is gathered from vendor websites and includes both firsthand software experience and input based on an aggregate of user feedback to ensure a high-quality review. Our payroll review methodology page can tell you more.
How do I choose the best cheap payroll software for my business?
Choosing the best payroll software for your needs requires you to assess exactly which payroll features you need, what you can afford and what tools your workforce needs to succeed. Whenever possible, we recommend setting up free trials or reaching out to sales reps for free, customized demos where you can directly ask about your key concerns.
Make sure to consider your payroll product’s compatibility with your existing technology infrastructure. Additionally, compare each solution’s plans, prices and subscription models to ensure the payroll service works for you in the long term, not just for now.
Considering these factors should help you choose the best low-cost payroll software that meets your business needs, streamlines payroll processing and helps you manage costs efficiently.
Frequently asked questions
What is the cheapest payroll software?
Apart from completely free payroll solutions like Payroll4Free, the cheapest payroll software that offers the best value for the price is SurePayroll. Its low per-employee fee and below-average monthly base price keeps costs low for business owners in any industry.
However, the best cheap payroll service for you depends largely on how many employees you have. Most payroll companies charge a monthly base fee as well as a per-payee fee, so the more people you employ, the more the per-payee fee impacts your bottom line.
How much does a payroll service cost?
Payroll services can cost as little as $0 a month or as much as thousands of dollars a month. For the most part, the cost depends on how many employees you have: Most payroll software companies charge a monthly base fee as well as a per-employee fee, and the per-employee fee will end up having the biggest impact on your bottom line.
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