Small-business payroll helps business owners pay employees (and themselves) correctly, on time and with as little hassle as possible. While the right payroll software for your small business depends largely on your business’s unique payroll requirements, we recommend Gusto for first-time employers who need simple, affordable software with a low learning curve.
At $40 a month plus $6 per employee, Gusto’s price, features and optional employee benefits make it the best payroll company for many small-business owners. But Gusto is just one of many payroll companies with software that supports small businesses instead of catering primarily to massive corporations. Read on to learn more about Gusto as well as nine other top payroll companies for small businesses.
- Best small-business payroll software: Feature comparison
- Best payroll software for small businesses
- Our methodology
- How to choose the best payroll software for your small business
- Frequently asked questions
Best small-business payroll software: Feature comparison
|Free trial||Starting base price||Per-payee price||International payroll|
|Gusto||None||$40/mo.||$6/mo.||Contractors only||Try Gusto|
|ADP||3 months||Custom||Custom||Add-on||Try ADP|
|SurePayroll||6 months||$19.99/mo.||$4/mo.||No||Try SurePayroll|
|OnPay||30 days||$40/mo.||$6/mo.||No||Try OnPay|
|QuickBooks||30 days||$45||$5/mo.||No||Try QuickBooks|
Plan and pricing information up to date as of 7/24/2023.
Best payroll software for small businesses
Gusto: Best overall small-business payroll software
Our star rating: 4.1 out of 5
Gusto takes first place in nearly any best-of payroll software list, and once you dig into its details, it’s not hard to see why. Gusto’s automated payroll minimizes the amount of work you have to do to pay your employees — is ideal for first-time employers who need to devote the bulk of their time to managing business operations.
Although its primary focus is payroll, Gusto also offers add-on HR services that make it a one-stop shop for busy small-business owners. For instance, Gusto’s brokerage can match you with a competitive, cost-effective health insurance plan that integrates with payroll at no extra cost.
Additionally, Gusto’s lower-tier plan pairs feature-rich time-tracking software while its higher-tier plans include built-in time tracking. And as a workers’ compensation insurance brokerage, Gusto ensures you don’t have to look to a third party to find coverage that works for you or that integrates seamlessly with your payroll software.
Gusto’s three plans include the following:
- Gusto Simple: $40/mo. + $6/person paid. Includes automated payroll, benefits administration and employee self-service onboarding.
- Gusto Plus: $80/mo. + $12/person paid. Adds next-day direct deposit, multi-state payroll and time tracking.
- Gusto Concierge: Custom pricing. Adds on-demand HR support, compliance updates and HR library access.
Gusto also offers an international contractor add-on that allows U.S.-based companies to pay contractors in 120 countries. Pricing is determined by which country each contractor is based in.
- Autopilot option for pre-scheduling consistent payroll runs.
- Easy onboarding via employee self-service portals.
- Mobile-friendly site enables on-the-go payroll runs.
- Third-party app integration with popular small-business accounting software.
- No additional fees for benefits integration or administration.
- Unique employee benefits such as financial wellness tools and on-demand pay.
- Custom admin permissions for easy, secure task delegation.
- Gusto-brokered health insurance and workers’ compensation insurance.
- No time-tracking or project-tracking tools with cheapest plan.
- Compliance features limited to most expensive plan only.
- Next-day direct deposit unavailable with cheapest plan.
- Health insurance coverage is unavailable in 13 states.
See our Gusto review for more information.
ADP: Best for complex business models
Our star rating: 3.9 out of 5
ADP’s wide spectrum of payroll plans and products ensures it can accommodate any type of small business, from localized micro-businesses to companies with 250 remote workers scattered around the globe. Its offerings include (but aren’t limited to) the following:
- Roll by ADP, a chat-based payroll app for the smallest of small businesses.
- RUN Powered by ADP, a small-business payroll system with some HR tools.
- ADP TotalSource, an outsourced PEO (professional employer organization) solution.
- ADP Workforce Now, a comprehensive payroll and HR product for slightly larger or more complex small businesses.
- ADP Global Payroll, a payroll tool that pays employees and contractors in dozens of countries.
For the most part, ADP doesn’t list prices for any of its products online. Nearly all of its payroll software tools, including RUN Powered by ADP and ADP Globalsource, require potential customers to request a custom quote.
However, Roll by ADP, an AI-powered app for employers with just a handful of employees, has one plan with straightforward pricing: $29 per month + $5 per person paid per month.
- Automated, integrated time-tracking software.
- Optional PEO service, international payroll plans and add-on health benefits.
- Health insurance benefits in all 50 states.
- General ledger interface and native accounting software integration with QuickBooks Online and others.
- Three-month free trial for new customers.
- Diverse product range can accommodate microbusinesses and global enterprises alike.
- Useful combination of HR and payroll tools with every plan and product.
- Access to HCM-style tools like applicant tracking systems, learning management systems and employee handbook templates.
- Limited transparent pricing on site.
- Additional fee for end-of-year W-2 and 1099 tax form preparation.
- HR help desk access limited to higher-tier plans.
See our ADP review for more information.
SurePayroll: Most affordable payroll software
Our star rating: 4.2 out of 5
Plenty of small-business owners need simple, affordable payroll software — not multi-plan software with complicated (and expensive) add-ons like learning management systems or applicant trackers. If that sounds like your situation, SurePayroll was designed with you in mind.
The software bundles essential payroll services with employee benefits, basic onboarding tools and HR assistance, and it manages to do so without compromising either quality or pricing. In fact, only its top competitor, Patriot Payroll, comes close to beating SurePayroll’s price.
Crucially, though, SurePayroll has far fewer add-on fees (and far more HR tools) than Patriot Payroll — making SurePayroll the cheapest payroll software for small businesses that pay both employees and contractors.
SurePayroll has a self-service plan and full-service plan:
- Self Service: $19.99 per month + $4 per person paid per month.
- Full Service: $29.99 per month + $5 per person paid per month.
Apart from the price, the only difference between the two plans lies with who files and deposits payroll taxes. Self-service payroll calculates taxes but leaves the actual filing up to you while full-service payroll software takes care of calculating, filing and depositing payroll taxes on your business’s behalf.
SurePayroll has a handful of additional fees for optional services:
- Multi-state tax filing costs an additional $9.99 a month for full-service customers.
- Local taxes are filed free with the full-service plan in every state except Ohio and Pennsylvania, which cost an extra $9.99 for local tax filing.
- Built-in integration with free time-tracking apps.
- Optional health insurance benefits and workers’ compensation insurance.
- Unlimited monthly payroll runs, including off-cycle runs with any pay schedule.
- Free two-day direct deposit with both payroll plans.
- Six-month free trial for new customers.
- Live customer service agents available with extended weekday and weekend hours.
- Functional payroll apps for employers and employees.
- Tax-calculation guarantee with self-service plan.
- Two plans only may be less scalable for rapidly expanding businesses.
- No international payroll add-ons.
See our SurePayroll review for more information.
OnPay: Most comprehensive payroll features
Our star rating: 4.2 out of 5
OnPay’s single plan is remarkably comprehensive, especially for the price. OnPay has far fewer add-on fees than key payroll competitors like Paychex Flex and Patriot Payroll — crucially, it includes small-business-friendly features like automatic payroll runs, wage garnishment and benefits administration for no additional fee.
OnPay is also one of the few small-business payroll programs to tailor its plans to specific industries. Farms, dental practices, churches, nonprofits and other niche industries can work with OnPay to set up payroll software with industry-specific tax forms, tip distribution services and other more niche payroll features.
OnPay’s single plan costs $40 per month + $6 per person paid per month.
- Unlimited multi-state payroll runs.
- Mobile-friendly site for on-the-go payroll processing.
- HR library access with labor law compliance tools.
- Built-in integration with accounting software (QuickBooks Online and Xero).
- Free professional account migration and setup.
- Industry-specific plans for farms, manufacturers, churches, nonprofits and more.
- 30-day free trial.
- Comprehensive software with comparatively limited add-on fees.
- A single plan leaves little room for expanded services for growing businesses.
- 24/7 customer support unavailable.
- No mobile payroll app for employers.
See our OnPay review for more information.
Paychex Flex: Best HR management features
Our star rating: 3.5 out of 5
Most small-business payroll software skews toward payroll features while skimping on payroll-adjacent HR tools that are just as essential for small businesses as for international enterprises. In contrast, Paychex Flex combines HR and payroll into a tidy, customizable software package that supports small-business owners and their employees equally.
For instance, Paychex’s most expensive package includes learning management system access, an applicant tracking system, job site posting, performance management features and a dozen other robust employee-focused features. Rather than requiring small businesses to upgrade to a much more expensive plan to access these features, Paychex offers many of them as add-ons — which means businesses end up with uniquely customized packages where they’re paying only for the features they need.
For the most part, Paychex lacks transparent online pricing information. The only exception is the base price for the cheapest Paychex Flex plan, Paychex Essentials, which costs $39 per month + $5 per person per month. While the website specifies that multiple features are only available for an additional fee, it doesn’t explicitly clarify their cost.
- Well-reviewed mobile payroll app for iOS and Android users.
- Multiple employee pay options, including on-demand pay and paper checks.
- Financial wellness employee tool.
- Comprehensive HR resources, including access to Paychex’s extensive HR document library.
- 160+ customizable reports with valuable business-growing insights.
- Flexible plan options and payroll services, including Paychex’s professional employer organization service.
- Competitive, high-quality employee benefits, including unique features like on-demand pay and employee discounts.
- Top-tier plan has more small-business-friendly HR features than many Paychex competitors.
- No free general ledger reporting or accounting software integration with the two cheapest plans.
- Generally poor customer service reviews.
See our Paychex review for more information.
Justworks: Best domestic PEO
Our star rating: 3.7 out of 5
Justworks is one of the best PEOs for small businesses that operate solely within the United States. As an outsourced HR solution, Justworks removes benefits management, hiring, firing, payroll and other human resource tasks from business owners’ plates.
Justworks’ transparent online pricing is a rare exception among PEO providers, most of whom require customers to request a custom quote:
- Justworks Basic: $59 per person paid per month.
- Justworks Plus: $99 per person paid per month.
Neither of Justworks’ plans has a monthly base fee. Additionally, the per-payee cost for each plan drops by $10 from your 50th employee onward.
Justworks Hours is a separate time and attendance software solution that costs an additional monthly fee.
- Workers’ compensation insurance and 401(k) options with both plans.
- State unemployment insurance tax management (FUTA taxes) at no extra cost.
- Employee benefits, including traditional health insurance and unique perks like fitness memberships.
- Straightforward pricing model with limited add-on fees.
- Comprehensive human resource management solution.
- Potential discounts for minority and female small-business owners through Just Thrive.
- No health benefits available with Basic plan.
- Additional fee for time and attendance tracking.
See our Justworks review for more information.
Papaya Global: Best international PEO
Our star rating: 3.7 out of 5
While Justworks’ PEO solution manages payroll and human resource tasks for U.S. companies only, Papaya Global’s PEO service supports companies with workers in more than 160 countries. It’s also (perhaps) surprisingly affordable for an international payroll service: Its contractor payroll plan starts at just $2 a month for contractor payments, which makes Papaya easily one of the cheapest payroll solutions on any market, global or domestic.
Papaya Global’s international payroll service pays employees in their local currencies and remits taxes to the appropriate tax agencies in each country. While Papaya necessarily doesn’t have as many HR features as Paychex or ADP, Its recently released payroll app includes an employee directory so workers across different countries and time zones can get in touch to build a collaborative company culture.
Papaya’s wide range of prices and plans can accommodate small-business budgets and enterprise-level needs. Starting prices are as follows:
- Employer of Record service: $650 per person paid per month.
- International contractor management: $2 per contractor paid per month.
- Payments-as-a-Service: $3 per person paid per month.
- Full-service international payroll: $12 per person paid per month.
- Payroll platform licensing: $3 per person paid per month.
- Competitive localized, culture-specific benefits in dozens of countries.
- Compliance specialists with international legal expertise.
- Employee immigration and relocation assistance.
- Integration with Expensify, Oracle Netsuite and other third-party accounting software services.
- Multiple international payroll solutions offer maximum flexibility for growing businesses.
- Extremely affordable international contractor payment plan.
- AI-powered compliance alerts.
- Services may be too expensive for some small business’s payroll budgets.
- Relatively new payroll app with limited features.
See our Papaya Global review for more information.
Rippling: Best for tech-heavy companies
Our star rating: 3.8 out of 5
Rippling’s small-business payroll platform includes full-service tax administration, optional health benefits and fully automated payroll runs. But what truly sets Rippling apart is its comprehensive finance, IT and HR system that tracks every aspect of personnel management — from remote device activation to employee expense tracking and reimbursement — on one user-friendly platform.
Rippling’s unique approach requires customers to build custom packages that are typically pricier than one-size-fits-all or single-plan solutions like OnPay. However, the higher price and more complex software means business owners can manage most employee-related tasks without searching for third-party HR companies with additional fees.
Rippling’s payroll plan starts at $8 per person per month on top of an unspecified monthly base fee for Rippling’s software platform, Rippling Unity. All other features require potential customers to request a custom quote.
- International employee and contractor payments.
- Optional PEO service.
- Employee self-service portals with surveys, benefits management and learning management.
- Built-in financial platform keeps HR, payroll and IT data on the same page.
- One-stop-shop solution for all things finance-, technology- and HR-related.
- Flexible solutions — PEO options, international payroll, in-house software and so forth — for diverse businesses.
- Extremely scalable software can accommodate any number between two and 1,000 employees.
- Customer complaints of frequent software updates with little advance notice.
- Potentially long setup time.
- Pricing could be too expensive for many small businesses.
See our Rippling review for more information.
QuickBooks Payroll: Best for Intuit users
Our star rating: 3.6 out of 5
Intuit’s cloud-based products, including Intuit QuickBooks Payroll, were developed specifically for non-accountant business owners. As a result, Intuit’s payroll and accounting software both have comparatively low learning curves.
The straightforward interface ensures business owners can process payroll without needing a complicated math and finance background — and the process is even easier for business owners who already used QuickBooks Online prior to hiring employees. If you already use Intuit’s excellent accounting program, adding QuickBooks Online Payroll might be the simplest payroll solution for your business.
QuickBooks Payroll has three payroll plans with upfront prices:
- QuickBooks Payroll Core: $45 per month plus $5 per person paid per month.
- QuickBooks Payroll Premium: $75 per month plus $8 per person paid per month.
- QuickBooks Payroll Elite: $125 per month plus $10 per person paid per month.
If you opt out of a 30-day free trial with QuickBooks Online Payroll, you’ll receive 50% off your payroll plan’s base price for the first three months. This knocks QuickBooks Payroll’s starting base cost down to $22.50 for Payroll Core, $37.50 for Payroll Premium and $62.50 for Payroll Elite.
- Next-day or same-day direct deposit, dependent on plan.
- 1099 and W-2 e-filing and payment.
- Mobile time and project tracking (with higher-tier plans only).
- 401(k) plan access.
- Low per-employee fee keeps costs low for businesses with 25+ employees.
- Brokerage partnership for health insurance and workers’ compensation insurance.
- Seamless QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Time (formerly TimeTrex) integration.
- Workers’ compensation integration and administration costs extra with cheapest plan.
- Limited third-party integrations.
- Generally poor customer service reviews of Intuit.
- Potential extra fees for contractor direct deposits and employee benefits integration.
See our QuickBooks Payroll review for more information.
Remote: Best for distributed teams
Our star rating: 3.8 out of 5
Like Papaya Global, Remote is an international payroll solution for small businesses — but unlike Papaya Global, Remote isn’t a PEO. Instead, it’s a cloud-based payroll software system that puts international payroll in employers’ hands. Its user interface and comprehensive country-specific payroll guides make hiring employees in different countries less intimidating while keeping costs low (especially compared to international PEO costs).
While employers can use Remote’s software and in-depth resource guides to hire employees in multiple countries, small-business owners can also use Remote’s Employer of Record service to hire workers in countries where they don’t have a physical presence. Both the EOR service and global payroll software include optional employee benefits in dozens of countries.
Remote lists pricing for two of its four services online:
- International Contractor Management: $29 per contractor paid per month.
- Employer of Record: $599 per employee per month.
Contractor management plans may be paid month to month and come with a 30-day free trial. In contrast, Employer of Record services must be paid for annually, not monthly.
Remote’s two other services, Global Payroll and Enterprise Payroll, require customers to request a custom quote and personalized demo.
- One-click international contractor invoicing.
- Payments made in local currencies.
- 24/7 customer support.
- 30-day free trial for contractor payroll plan.
- Flexible solutions that support small businesses, growing companies and international enterprises.
- Competitive country-specific employee benefits.
- Potentially pricey international contractor payroll plan, especially compared to competitors like Gusto and Papaya.
See our Remote Payroll review for more information.
To determine which payroll providers were best for small-business owners, we assembled a list of the 20 most popular payroll apps. We then narrowed down our list to the 10 best providers based on how small-business-friendly each provider was, among other factors. Our opinions were based largely on in-depth research, our own hands-on testing (via free trials and custom demos) and verified user reviews.
We also used an internal algorithm to calculate star ratings, rank software and decide which software qualified as the best for small businesses. The algorithm scores brands in five weighted categories:
- Price/affordability (25% of the total).
- Features (35% of the total).
- Ease of use (15% of the total).
- Customer service (15% of the total).
- Our expert’s overall experience with the software (10% of the total).
How to choose the best payroll software for your small business
To choose the best payroll software for your small business, ask yourself a series of questions about your business’s needs as well as your workforce’s makeup. For instance, think about how much you can afford to spend on payroll generally (and on payroll software in particular), how large your current workforce is, how and when you plan to expand your business, which HR tools you need and so on.
Along with reading reviews like ours, we recommend consulting one on one with a small-business accountant. They can offer a personalized perspective on which payroll software would work best for your company specifically, not just for small businesses generally.
Additionally, sign up for free software trials or schedule free demos whenever possible. Once you’ve experienced the software for yourself, you’ll have a better understanding of what exactly you want — and don’t want — in a small-business payroll provider.
Frequently asked questions
What is small-business payroll software?
Small-business payroll software is software that calculates employee paychecks and pays employees (usually through direct deposit) so employers can direct their time and energy elsewhere.
At its most basic, small-business payroll software should calculate gross paycheck amounts and any paycheck deductions, such as payroll taxes, benefits premiums and wage garnishments. Full-service payroll software typically withdraws and deposits deductions with the appropriate tax or legal bureau.
In contrast, self-service payroll software calculates most deductions but turns the actual deduction and filing over to the business owner.
What are the benefits of using small-business payroll software?
Since small-business payroll automates the most tedious, complicated aspects of payroll, its main benefit lies in how much time and money it can save busy business owners.
For example, without payroll software, business owners have to track their employees’ hours worked over a given pay period by hand. They must correctly translate those hours into monetary compensation and ensure payroll taxes are deducted from employee paychecks and remitted to the IRS.
With payroll software, paycheck calculations and deductions become automatic. Business owners just have to hit “approve” to verify that payroll data is correct, and then the software generally takes care of the rest, including distributing employee paychecks.
Payroll software also saves business owners money compared to more expensive solutions like outsourced accounting or in-house payroll departments. Plus, payroll errors can have massive financial repercussions, including fines levied by the IRS. By integrating with time-tracking software and employee benefits, payroll software minimizes the risk of incorrectly entering payroll information.
How much does payroll software cost for a small business?
Thanks to free payroll software, payroll doesn’t have to cost anything more than the price of compensating employees for their labor and time. However, most free payroll software (such as Payroll4Free) is only available for businesses with 25 or fewer employees. Depending on the interface and payroll provider, free software can be less secure and reliable than paid payroll software.
Paid plans through providers like Square Payroll can cost as little as $5 per person per month, though prices this low usually apply solely to businesses that pay contractors (not employees). The cheapest options include Patriot Payroll at $17 per month plus $4 per employee and SurePayroll at $19.99 per month plus $4 per employee.
Read next: The Best Payroll Software for Enterprises
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