The 5 Best Payroll Services and How to Decide

When your small business starts growing beyond just a handful of employees, it’s a significant milestone—that comes with significant responsibilities.

Your employees still expect to receive their salaries on time. The government still expects you to calculate payroll properly and pay the right taxes. But suddenly, with a growing workforce, you have many more dependencies to juggle.

If you find yourself spending too much time on payroll or you’re not sure what you’re doing, then it’s time to outsource it to someone who is.

Online payroll services will take your employment data, then take care of the rest for you.

Outsourcing your payroll may seem like a big step for your business, but it’s a natural progression. Once you find the right payroll service for your business, you’ll find that it saves you so much time and hassle, you’ll wonder why you didn’t outsource payroll sooner.

Below, we’ve reviewed the best payroll services on the market, including pros, cons, and pricing (or estimated pricing, where you have to call sales).

The 5 Best Payroll Services: Reviews


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Gusto is one of the best payroll services for businesses that rely on more freelancers than full-time employees.

If you hire a lot of freelancers, you may find yourself sending payments at various times throughout the month, rather than all at one time as done traditionally. Gusto allows this with minimal hassle.

It’s easy to use, and delivers an impressive mobile app for managing your payroll from anywhere.


  • Easy-to-understand pricing structure
  • Excellent features for managing freelancers
  • Strong mobile app


  • Prices recently increased quite a bit for Gusto’s services


  • Contractor: $6 per month per person
  • Core: $19 per month introductory price ($39 regular price per month) plus $6 per month per person
  • Complete: $39 per month plus $12 per month per person
  • Concierge: $149 per month plus $12 per month per person


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For small businesses with relatively simple payroll needs looking for something affordable, OnPay has a straightforward pricing structure that runs below average. And it doesn’t sacrifice much in terms of service.

OnPay doesn’t place a limit on how many times you run payroll each month, which is helpful if you have freelancers. You can set up permission levels within the cloud-based software, so certain employees only have access to certain parts of the service.

OnPay handles all the basics well, but it may struggle if you need advanced features. There’s also no mobile app, although the web portal is mobile-friendly.


  • Excellent value
  • No payroll limits
  • Stronger overall performance than you may expect for basic features


  • No mobile app


  • $36 per month plus $4 per month per person (up to 1,000 employees)


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Paychex is great for midsize businesses. This payroll service includes impressive features, covering nearly every aspect of payroll you can think of.

The more employees you have, the better the deal, which means it may not be the best payroll service for businesses with only a few employees. The service tailors itself well to the needs of larger businesses, with extremely helpful customization features.


  • Impressive features for businesses with 100+ employees
  • Customize the service to your needs
  • Easier to use than you’d expect


  • Not great value for businesses with 20 or fewer employees


  • Estimated at $100 to $500 per month along with a one-time setup fee (must contact Paychex for a pricing quote)

QuickBooks Payroll

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Already using financial software from Intuit and QuickBooks? It makes sense to integrate those with QuickBooks Payroll for efficiency, as well as a familiar interface.

Even for anyone who isn’t familiar with QuickBooks, the QuickBooks Payroll web platform is extremely easy to use, so you won’t have to spend a lot of time getting up and running. No need to worry about making mistakes, either. QuickBooks does an excellent job of error-checking and flagging anomalies.

QuickBooks Payroll’s prices are on the higher side compared to other payroll services on this list. But it can get away with charging a premium, thanks to the well-known Intuit brand name behind it.


  • Extremely easy to use
  • Easily integrates with other QuickBooks and Intuit software
  • Accuracy guaranteed


  • Above-average pricing


  • Core: $13.50 per month introductory price ($45 regular price per month) plus $4 per person per month
  • Premium: $22.50 per month introductory price ($75 regular price per month) plus $8 per person per month
  • Elite: $37.50 per month introductory price ($125 regular price per month) plus $10 per person per month

Sage Payroll

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For businesses with needs that may change from month to month, Sage Payroll has the flexibility you’re looking for.

Sage does a nice job tracking all the unknowns that go along with having employees, like vacation time, sick hours, retirement benefits, overtime, and flexible spending accounts. Despite that, the service remains relatively easy to use.

For businesses with 10 or fewer employees, the pricing is easy to understand. Costs become far more complex beyond 10 employees, though, including a charge each time you run payroll.


  • Easy to use
  • Flexible
  • Track a wide range of employee situations


  • Charges each time you run payroll with more than 10 employees


  • Essentials: $49.95 per month (up to 10 employees)
  • Full Service: Estimated at $100 to $500 per month (custom pricing quote required for more than 10 employees)

How to pick your payroll service

The best payroll services offer an array of features. Some of these won’t apply to your business, though, so you will want to think about which features are most important to you. Don’t pay for what you don’t need.

Keep the following guidelines in mind as you compare solutions:

Basic features

Any respectable payroll service should include:

  • Calculating pay
  • Calculating Social Security and other withholdings
  • Filing payroll taxes
  • Withholding income taxes for each employee, based on his or her filing status
  • Sending payment

To save a bit of money and perform some of these services on your own, you may be able to pick and choose which of these services you pay for. But it’s far easier to just let the payroll service take care of all the basics for you.

Contract terms

Some online payroll services require that you agree to an annual contract, locking you into using the service for 12 months. Others may allow you to operate without a contract on a month-to-month basis.

For your small business, having to sign a contract may be a deal breaker, especially if you’re still trying to figure out whether you even want to use a payroll service.

The majority of payroll services don’t offer free trial periods, but you may get a free month or two of service when you agree to an annual contract. Some services also offer introductory prices.


Unfortunately, payroll services are pretty expensive, which means you want to pay close attention to the features offered and how much you’re paying for them.

For example, some payroll services charge you a fee each time you run payroll, while others allow for unlimited pay runs. The best plan for you might depend on whether you pay your employees weekly, biweekly, or monthly.

Expect to pay a monthly fee for each employee of somewhere between $4 and $15, along with the base monthly fee. You may have to pay a setup fee too.

There may even be charges for things you consider par for the course, like calculating your payroll taxes or generating W-2 forms at the end of the year. Again, make sure you aren’t paying for services you won’t use.

Employee web portal

With some payroll services, employees can access their pay stub information, tax forms, and other benefit information any time they want directly through a web portal. This is an important feature that may be a deal breaker for you.

Mobile apps

The service should also have a web portal that you, as the payroll administrator, can use when you’re in the office.

But if things come up when you’re on the road, you want to look for a service that includes a mobile app you can use to check and make changes to an employees’ status and their hours worked for the week.

Trust me—for a business owner who spends a lot of time out of the office, having a mobile app to manage payroll is more helpful than you might expect.

Payroll reports

A cloud payroll service should be able to generate reports about your company’s payroll, helping you track various aspects of your business performance. You should be able to call up these reports automatically through a web portal or through the app.

Ask the vendor about what types of reporting they offer and pay attention to whether these reports are easy to generate and understand.

Summary: Putting the best payroll services to work

You may have been able to handle payroll for your business manually when you had only a few employees. As you’ve grown, though, the manual work grew in complexity, increasing your chances of making costly errors.

Tracking things like overtime pay, bonuses, vacation time, and other employee benefits further complicates the process, not to mention calculating payroll taxes.

Although the best payroll services are expensive, they take these challenging tasks off your plate. You’ll have more time to focus on the business and your growth path.

Even better: your employees will be happier when it all runs smoothly. And a happy employee is a productive employee… we hope.

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Bryan Wise
Bryan Wise,
Former VP of IT at GitLab

Incredible companies use Nira