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QuickBooks Payroll Core offers excellent tools for managing payroll, but it lacks some of the functionality and flexibility found in competitors. While it offers tight integration with QuickBooks Online, it can also be used on its own.
As you might expect, QuickBooks Payroll Core integrates with QuickBooks Online accounting software exceptionally well, but it can also be used as a standalone payroll-processing service. No other online payroll service offers such a successful partnership with an accounting app, except Patriot Software. Intuit, which runs QuickBooks Payroll, has added features and functionality to it in the last year, including a more flexible Auto Payroll feature, assistance with IRS notices, improved online help resources, a new Contractor Payments report, and easier importing of competitors’ payroll data.
How Much Does QuickBooks Payroll Cost?
QuickBooks Payroll is the most expensive payroll solution I’ve reviewed. There are three subscription levels. I reviewed QuickBooks Payroll Core, the least expensive version at $45 per month plus $4 per employee per month. Its primary features include unlimited payroll runs, automated payroll taxes and filings, health and retirement plans, next-day direct deposit, and reports.
QuickBooks Payroll Premium ($75 per month plus $8 per employee per month) adds same-day direct deposit, workers’ comp administration, integration with QuickBooks Time (with a separate fee for a QuickBooks Time subscription), expert review, and the HR Support Center.
QuickBooks Payroll Elite is the highest tier, at $125 per month plus $10 per employee per month. It includes everything mentioned so far, plus 24/7 expert product support and a customized setup. It also offers a personal HR advisor, remote project tracking, and Tax Penalty Protection.
At the time of this writing, Intuit is running a promotion on all its payroll subscriptions; the base price is 50% off for three months. There’s also a 30-day free trial.
QuickBooks Payroll Core’s price is roughly comparable to Gusto’s when you consider the differences in base and per-employee charges. But QuickBooks Payroll is more expensive than OnPay, which costs $36 per month plus $4 per employee per month.
Early Assistance With QuickBooks
Onboarding is by far the most challenging and complex part of using any payroll system. QuickBooks Payroll Core offers extra assistance with it. If you’re using the site to pay your first employees and don’t have any previous payroll data, you may be able to go through the setup on your own. Still, chat and phone support are available from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. PST Monday through Friday.
A setup wizard asks if you’ve paid any employees previously in your current business. If not, it asks for your next pay date and payroll contact. Then it opens the site’s main screen, which shows you a series of steps you need to complete, such as entering employee records and tax information.
If you’ve already been paying employees through a different payroll service like ADP or Gusto, you can upload payroll reports into QuickBooks Payroll, where key information is validated and pre-filled.
You can also enter historical data on your own using pay stubs and reports from past payrolls. If you live in a state that has complicated payroll tax requirements, you can request help from a payroll agent or consult the QB Assistant bot. I found a helpful step-by-step guide to entering historical data by searching QuickBooks Payroll’s help files and a video through the bot. But many of the answers I received were about accounting service QuickBooks Online or related to other aspects of payroll. For the most part, responses are not prioritized by usefulness either. Further, many were posted by Intuit representatives, but others came from unverified people in the user community, which aren’t necessarily accurate.
The QuickBooks Payroll User Experience
QuickBooks Payroll Core is one element of an all-encompassing small business accounting website, QuickBooks Online. So, if you subscribe to QuickBooks Payroll as a standalone application, you won’t see all the entries in the QuickBooks Online navigation pane (like Expenses, Sales, and Banking). The toolbar looks quite bare in this case.
The QuickBooks Payroll User If you’ve used or are currently using QuickBooks Online, QuickBooks Payroll Core’s screens should look familiar. The user interface and navigation scheme are very similar. Most of your work gets done by clicking the Payroll menu, which opens to a series of sub-menus. A link in the upper right takes you to settings and tools. And the site’s dashboard, called Overview, includes links to common tasks, a countdown to the next payday, a to-do list, and links to any remaining setup tasks.
Even if you’re new to Intuit accounting websites, you probably won’t have any difficulty finding your way around. Payroll is serious business and doesn’t need excessive adornment, but the site has graphics sprinkled throughout, and working screens are easy to read and understand.
Adding employees is the most time-consuming step of getting set up. Some online payroll services, including OnPay, use separate areas of the site for tasks like creating pay schedules and defining benefits and other withholdings. Others, including QuickBooks Payroll and Square Payroll, take care of those tasks in the employee records. QuickBooks Payroll Core presents one lengthy screen for entering all your employee information, though when you go in to edit or view an existing record, the site divides the screen into three sections.
Basic Employee Data
The first section, Pay, is the most involved. You enter a name, hire date, and email address, and then move on to the pay schedule. Here, as in other areas of the site, QuickBooks Payroll Core uses simple language to describe each item, often posing it as a question, like, “How often do you pay Dave?” You choose an answer and enter the next pay date and the last day of work for that period. This information will already be there if you’ve run a payroll previously. If you want to use that payday for other employees you plan to enter, you can check a box to do so. You can run an unlimited number of payrolls.
Employee Pay and Benefits
“How much do you pay Dave?” is the introduction to the next task, where you indicate whether Dave is paid an hourly rate, salary, or on commission only. If Dave’s work schedule is generally the same, you can set it as the default and change it during payroll when necessary. You then choose any other earnings types that might apply, such as overtime, bonuses, and reimbursement. QuickBooks Payroll Core offers the most common pay types and lets you create an unlimited number of your own.
If you provide benefits like paid time off, you have to fill in the blanks and choose from lists to describe how they are accrued (per hour? each pay period?) and how many hours are added at that point. Deductions or contributions and garnishments are next. QuickBooks Payroll lists HSA plans, health insurance, retirement plans, and Flexible Spending Accounts, though you can add loan and cash-advance repayments and other deductions.
If you’re bringing your own health insurance plan, you enter the percentage or dollar amount that the employee and employer will be contributing and indicate whether the benefit is taxable or pre-tax. These amounts will be deducted from wages when you run payroll. QuickBooks Payroll Core also has benefits partners that can handle all your needs, like SimplyInsured and Guideline. But it can’t compete with Rippling’s overall employee management tools and resources. Rippling’s benefits and human resources administration capabilities are unrivaled in the group of websites I reviewed here.
The final three questions are easy. QuickBooks Payroll asks for the employee’s W-4 withholding information, date of birth, and payment method (direct deposit or check).
The next two tabs open screens that are far less complicated. You add contact information under the Profile tab (custom fields like OnPay offers would be welcome here) and details such as hire date and work location under Employment. All the data you just entered appears under the Employee Details tab on the Employee screen. The other tab, labeled Paycheck List, opens just that.
Employee Access to Information
You can invite employees to access their W-2 and paycheck information from a separate, password-protected site. Patriot Software offers more data and tools for employees on its desktop portals.
Almost all that’s left to set up is your federal, state, and local payroll tax information, which can be quite a challenge. QuickBooks Payroll submits the filings and payments, but you have to supply the background details. Patriot Software offers a lot of help in this area, including links to state and local agencies that can help provide the required minutia. Gusto will even complete your state registration for you. QuickBooks Payroll lacks some of this onsite support, but the company’s payroll agents can help with this element of the onboarding process if you can’t find the necessary details on your own.
Contractors are separate entities in QuickBooks Payroll. You create their records—which are far more abbreviated than those of employees—on a separate screen. You also have to do a separate payroll run for them. OnPay, for one, lets you handle both types of workers in the same procedure.
As is true of all online payroll services, actually running a payroll in QuickBooks Payroll Core should only take a few minutes, depending on how many employees you have and how varied their earnings types and hours are. You click the Run Payroll link from either the Overview or Employees screen to open your list of employees. If you have established multiple pay schedules, you’ll need to select the one you want to run first. If that’s the case, click Continue after you’ve chosen, and that list of workers appears.
There are six default columns on the Run Payroll screen: Employee, Pay Method, Regular Pay Hrs., Memo, Total Pay Hrs., and Total Pay. If you’ve assigned additional pay types to any employees, like Bonus or Overtime, columns will appear for them, too. To see everything else that goes into each paycheck, you have to click the pencil icon at the end of the row. It opens a screen that displays collapsible lists of everything: Pay, Employee taxes, Employee deductions, Employer taxes, and Company-paid contributions. If there are alternate or additional earnings types, they appear in a table under Pay.
Check the box in front of every worker who needs to be included in that run and enter the number of hours in the box in the appropriate column (regular pay, holiday pay, commission, and so on). You’ll also see any default hours you’ve set up. Click the employee name if you need to see their record.
The least expensive Core version of QuickBooks Payroll does not integrate with QuickBooks Time (formerly TSheets), Intuit’s exceptional time-tracking system, which is unfortunate. If you’re a Premium or Elite subscriber you can integrate with QuickBooks Time, and hours should appear in Payroll automatically if you’ve approved them. If not, a link takes you to QuickBooks Time so you can approve them. If you make changes directly in QuickBooks Payroll, they synchronize with QuickBooks Time. To get this integration, you need a separate QuickBook Time subscription, which starts at $20 per month plus $8 per employee per month.
Preview and Approve Payroll
Click Preview payroll (or Save for later) to look over that payroll before you approve it. At the top of the page is your total payroll run cost. QuickBooks Payroll breaks down the numbers by net pay, employee, and employer in a pie chart. Below that is a table listing employees paid in that run with columns for Pay Method, Total Hours, Total Pay, Employee Taxes and Deductions, and Net Pay.
The final column, labeled Compare to Last, opens a small table that does just that. It compares the current paycheck to the previous one. You can also click the pencil icon next to Net Pay to see an updated version of the list of compensation and withholding that appeared on the previous page. This is an exceptionally thorough screen that lets you edit an employee’s hours and pay, plus includes a YTD column for those totals.
If, for some reason, that paycheck should not accrue vacation and sick leave, you can uncheck that box. At the bottom of the screen are totals for used and remaining time-off hours, as well as employee taxes and deductions and employer taxes and contributions. Click OK after you finish making changes or click Cancel (or the big X in the upper-right corner) to close and get back to the Run Payroll page.
QuickBooks Payroll warns you about possible problems before you submit the payroll. I had entered sick and vacation hours that the employee hadn’t accrued yet, and a message suggested I back up and fix that if it was incorrect.
The final step occurs when you click Submit Payroll. All that remains is to enter check numbers (if necessary), print pay stubs, and then click Finish Payroll to go back to the Overview. Links at the bottom of this screen take you to payroll reports and to the export tool.
Automated Payroll Runs
Like many competitors, QuickBooks Payroll Core offers automatic payroll, which saves a lot of time if your payroll is often the same. You can now set a future start date for individual employees and schedules. And the site has an unusual feature that I haven’t seen anywhere else—the ability to turn off automatic payroll tax payments if, for example, a company needs to suspend local taxes.
Reports are impressive in QuickBooks Payroll. There are 20 of them, some of which offer good customization options. The payroll reports include Employee Details, Payroll Summary, Total Payroll Cost to Workers’ Compensation, among others. Once you’ve customized one, you can save the format as a custom report. You can print them or export them to Excel. Gusto offers more options with its reports, however.
If you’re using QuickBooks Payroll Core integrated with QuickBooks Online, you’ll have access to many more reports, some of which intersect with payroll.
W-2s, 1099s, and Taxes
QuickBooks Payroll Core automatically prepares and files your W-2 forms. It, of course, has the information you need for 1099s, which it dispatches electronically for free. (Formerly, it charged quite a bit for them.) This process has become much simpler.
The site has a Payroll Tax Center that allows you to see the status of your payroll taxes at a glance. This clearinghouse for payment and filing information makes it easy to see past and anticipated activity at a glance. Intuit has added a particularly useful tool since my last review. Employers can now upload IRS notices they’ve received into QuickBooks Payroll and receive assistance and updates on the notice’s status. No one else offers this.
QuickBooks Payroll on Mobile Devices
QuickBooks Payroll is available as Android and iOS app, but neither app is nearly as comprehensive as the desktop site, nor as thorough as OnPay’s and Gusto’s mobile experiences.
The Android app now supports the ability to create additional paychecks. It opens to three icons. You can enter hours and run a payroll, but you can’t make any other changes to the run. You can, however, preview your payroll and see what checks and direct deposits need to be or will be processed. The Pay History icon opens a list of previous payrolls. You can drill down on these dates to see underlying detail. In addition, you can see and edit very abbreviated employee records—just contact and basic pay information.
The iPhone app works differently. It opens to your list of employees, with a bar graph showing totals for the most recent four payrolls. Clicking on an employee’s name opens the same brief record as in the Android version, and a Payday link in the upper-right takes you to a payroll run. You click on a worker’s name to enter hours, click to preview, and click to approve.
From the navigation menu, you can access tax information, payroll history, and settings. The settings let you set up a passcode, toggle sounds and contact photos on and off, and opt to have the app remember your payroll hours.
Employees can access their own pay stubs, and W-2s by creating an account on the Workforce portal (on both desktop and mobile), which has been redesigned and enhanced recently. They can now enter and edit more of their personal profile and security information, and access YTD pay and available sick pay and PTO. During setup, employees are invited to join Credit Karma Money (integrated checking and savings accounts with special perks), and Early Pay (instant access to funds between paydays). Some competitors like Gusto also offer specialized banking options. And many offer more in their worker versions. OnPay, for example, includes a company directory and conversation feature, as well as company files and forms.
Slowly Ramping Up
QuickBooks Payroll Core is a good option for businesses that also use QuickBooks Online for their accounting. QuickBooks Payroll is fleshed out enough to successfully run a complex payroll, and it’s very usable. However, the site is missing some of the flexibility and depth of sites like Gusto and Rippling, such as robust employee portals, focused online help, custom fields (and more detail) in employee records, and a meatier mobile presence.
Among online payroll services, we have three Editors’ Choice winners. They are Gusto, Rippling, and OnPay. We recommend Gusto Core to businesses and startups with 10 or fewer employees. For a variety of reasons, Rippling appeals to larger organizations who need speed, versatility, and exceptional integration options. We recommend OnPay to businesses with 100 employees or fewer and those in vertical industries.