Accounting software is fundamental to any business’s success. The right accounting tool helps you keep tabs on your income and expenses, manage bills, mark crucial financial milestones and chart a path to your business’s growth.
QuickBooks Online is one of the best accounting solutions for businesses of all sizes and in any industry. However, it’s not the right financial solution for everyone — especially if your top priority is budget-friendly bookkeeping. Learn more about QuickBooks and other top solutions below, where we compare each accounting software option’s pricing, plans, features, pros and cons.
Top accounting software: Feature comparison table
|Top payroll integrations
|Up to 25 users
|Free for life
|SurePayroll, Zoho Payroll
Plan details up to date as of 11/17/2023.
The best accounting software for business
QuickBooks Online: Best overall accounting software
QuickBooks logo. Source: Intuit QuickBooks
QuickBooks Online is hands-down one of the best, most popular accounting software for small and midsize businesses. As Intuit’s flagship cloud product, QuickBooks Online packs an impressive array of features into one extremely user-friendly software solution.
Along with basic accounting features like bank reconciliation, income tracking and expense tracking, each QuickBooks Online plan emphasizes correct tax categorization to streamline tax deductions at the end of the year. It integrates natively with more third-party apps than any other online accounting service provider besides Xero (which syncs with 1,000+ apps compared to QuickBooks’ 700+ apps).
Plus, with four plans, QuickBooks’ software works just as well for freelancers as it does for midsize businesses. Each plan includes basic contractor management and access for one user plus free accountant access, but the higher-tier plans support up to 25 users with advanced features like inventory management and profitability tracking by project.
Our QuickBooks Online review can help you decide if QuickBooks will work for you.
QuickBooks Online has four main accounting software plans:
- QuickBooks Simple Start: $30 per month. (Access for one user + accountant.)
- QuickBooks Essentials: $60 per month. (Access for three users + accountant.)
- QuickBooks Plus: $90 per month. (Access for five users + accountant.)
- QuickBooks Advanced: $200 per month. (Access for 25 users + accountant.)
Each plan includes either a 30-day free trial or a 50% discount for three months. If you decide QuickBooks isn’t for you after trying it free for 30 days, make sure to stay on top of canceling your account. QuickBooks will automatically charge your card the day after the trial’s last day, and the service doesn’t offer prorated refunds.
Top accounting features
- Fully automated billing, invoicing, expense tracking and income tracking.
- Useful expense categorization for easier business tax filing.
- User-friendly mobile app with mileage tracking, receipt scanning and on-the-go invoicing.
- Sales and sales tax tracking.
- Up to 25 users included with highest-tier plan.
- Contractor management.
- Advanced features like automated workflows, Excel data syncing and employee expense management.
QuickBooks’ pros and cons
FreshBooks: Best invoicing software
FreshBooks logo. Source: FreshBooks
FreshBooks’ low starting price and extremely customizable invoice templates make it an ideal accounting program for service-based businesses. Each FreshBooks plan, including the cheapest, comes with built-in time tracking that can be easily synced to customer invoices to ensure accurate payment.
Although each FreshBooks plan comes with unlimited customizable invoices, you can only invoice a set number of clients with each plan. For instance, with the cheapest FreshBooks plan, you can invoice just five clients a month (though you can invoice those clients an unlimited number of times during the month). The mid-tier plan expands your reach to 50 clients a month while two top-tier plans will let you invoice an unlimited amount of clients.
Plus, while FreshBooks starts out cheaper than most other accounting software programs, the price climbs immensely if you want to add more users to your software plan: Each extra user costs $11 a month. Worse, FreshBooks’ cheapest plan doesn’t come with free accountant access. If you want to share your books with your accountant month over month, your starting price increases to $28 — nearly as high as QuickBooks Online.
Our FreshBooks review can help you decide if FreshBooks will work for you.
FreshBooks has four plans, three of which have clear online pricing:
- FreshBooks Lite: $17 per month or $204 per year.
- FreshBooks Plus: $30 per month or $360 per year.
- FreshBooks Premium: $55 per month or $660 per year.
- FreshBooks Select: Custom pricing only.
With FreshBooks, you can choose to pay either month to month or annually. If you pay yearly, you’ll save 10% off the base cost.
FreshBooks also has frequent, better-than-average discounts. For instance, as of this writing (November 2023), FreshBooks is offering 80% off for four months, which lowers its starting price to $3.40 a month or $129.20 a year.
While FreshBooks has a lower starting price than most other paid accounting software services, it also charges more for additional users than its top competitors. While Zoho Books charges $3.50 per month per additional user, FreshBooks charges $11 per month per additional user.
Top accounting features
- Unlimited invoices with a rich library of fully customizable invoice templates.
- Basic income and expense tracking.
- Integration with Gusto payroll and 100+ other third-party business apps.
- Unlimited users (additional monthly fee).
- Client collaboration portal.
- Built-in time tracking and project tracking.
FreshBooks’ pros and cons
Xero: Best freelance plan
Xero logo. Source: Xero
Xero is easily one of the most user-friendly online accounting systems available. Its accessibility and starting price of $15 a month make Xero ideal for first-time business owners, freelancers and solopreneurs alike. Additionally, since Xero allows for free unlimited users, it’s also a good fit for multi-person LLCs, partnerships and bigger businesses where more than one person has eyes on the business’s finances.
SEE ALSO: Best Practices for Choosing the Right Accounting Software (TechRepublic)
Xero’s cheapest plan will likely work only for the smallest businesses (including freelancers) since it limits users to sending just 20 invoices or quotes per month. If you send more than 20 invoices each month, you’ll want Xero’s Growing plan, which costs $42 a month (more than double the cost of its cheaper plan) or an accounting provider like QuickBooks Online that doesn’t limit the number of invoices you can send by plan.
Luckily, since Xero has three plans, it’s relatively scalable. Solopreneurs can start out with Xero Early or Growing, then expand to Xero Established. This higher-tier plan comes with advanced features like employee expense tracking and reimbursement, multi-currency support, project tracking, in-depth analytics and bulk transaction reconciliation.
Our Xero review can help you decide if Xero will work for you.
Xero has three plans and includes transparent, upfront pricing for all three of them online:
- Xero Early: $15 per month.
- Xero Growing: $42 per month.
- Xero Established: $78 per month.
Xero also offers a 30-day free trial, but new customers can also benefit from Xero’s frequent months-long discounts. For instance, as of this writing, Xero is currently offering 50% off for three months. Xero also has discounts for organizations using Xero to manage multiple entities.
Unlike FreshBooks, Xero must be paid for on a monthly basis. There is no option to pay annually.
Top accounting features
- Automatic bank reconciliation.
- Invoices and quotes (limited to 20/month with cheapest plan).
- Bill and receipt capture through Hubdoc.
- Cash flow tracking.
- Unlimited users for easier collaboration.
- Built-in inventory management with all three plans.
- Well-reviewed, fully featured mobile accounting app.
Xero’s pros and cons
Wave Accounting: Best free software
Wave logo. Source: Wave
Wave Accounting is a fully featured, completely free accounting plan for freelancers and small-business owners. Although it doesn’t cost anything, Wave’s business accounting software system tackles more accounting tasks than some paid starter plans, including QuickBooks Self-Employed ($15 a month), FreshBooks ($17 a month) and Sage Business Accounting ($10 a month).
As a freelancer or small-business owner, you can use Wave Accounting to track your finances by syncing it with any and all of your business bank accounts and credit cards. You can also invite an unlimited number of people to collaborate with you on your business finances, including your accountant and any business stakeholders, and create multiple free Wave accounts to manage multiple businesses.
Wave’s key limitation is its scalability. With just one plan, there isn’t much room for growing businesses that have more and more complex accounting needs over time. Still, if you’re looking for an affordable solution that saves time while offering crucial accounting insights in the form of crucial reports, Wave is the best option.
Our Wave Accounting review can help you decide if Wave will work for you.
Wave is completely free for life. You won’t pay anything for its invoicing, accounting or receipt-scanning features. If you accept payment through Wave Accounting, you’ll pay an industry-standard transaction fee.
Top accounting features
- Automated income tracking, expense tracking and bank reconciliation.
- Mobile accounting app with receipt scanner.
- Chart of accounts and general ledger.
- Integration with Wave Payroll.
- Billing, invoicing and payment acceptance.
- Optional add-on bookkeeping, accounting and payroll coaching.
Wave Accounting’s pros and cons
Zoho Books: Best free plan for small businesses
Zoho Books logo. Source: Zoho
With six plans total, Zoho Books is easily the most scalable accounting software on our list. Brand-new businesses that currently make less than $50K USD in revenue per annum qualify for Zoho Books’ free plan, which is more fully featured than most other brands’ cheapest paid plans.
The free plan’s freelance-friendly features include mileage tracking, recurring invoices, a client portal and free accountant access. Other small-business owners can benefit from free features like 1099 contractor management and access to a chart of accounts.
If your business eventually outgrows the free plan, it’s easy to scale up to Zoho’s $15 a month paid plan — or to any of Zoho’s four other paid plans. The priciest plan, intended for enterprises with complex finances, includes a suite of advanced tools like in-depth reporting and advanced inventory management.
Our Zoho Books review can help you decide if Zoho Books will work for you.
Like FreshBooks, Zoho Books lets you choose between paying annually or paying month to month. Annual subscriptions cost between $5 and $35 less per month than a month-to-month subscription, depending on the plan:
- Free: $0 (available only to businesses with an annual revenue of >$50K USD).
- Standard: $20 per month or $15 per month billed annually.
- Professional: $50 per month or $40 per month billed annually.
- Premium: $70 per month or $60 per month billed annually.
- Elite: $150 per month or $120 per month billed annually.
- Ultimate: $275 per month or $240 per month billed annually.
Each plan includes a set number of users and free accountant access, but you can add more users to any plan for $2.50 per user per month billed annually or $3 per month billed month to month.
Top accounting features
- Automatic recurring invoices with multi-language support.
- Chart of accounts and journal entries (manual entries with cheapest plan, automatic with all other plans).
- Mileage, expense and income tracking.
- Multiple payment gateways, including Stripe and PayPal.
- Built-in integration with G Suite, Microsoft 365, Slack, Dropbox, Evernote, Avalara, Zendesk, SurePayroll, Zoho products and more through Zapier.
Zoho Books’ pros and cons
Sage Intacct: Best for midsize businesses
Sage logo. Source: Sage
Sage Intacct is an intelligent, complex accounting solution for growing businesses with comparatively complicated finances. Its core accounting features include advanced, real-time reporting, accounts payable and and accounts receivable. Sage Intacct also boasts an intelligent, AI-powered general ledger that can parse thousands of recorded transactions in just a few minutes to give you clear, trustworthy insights into your business’s finances.
SEE ALSO: Vendor Comparison: Small Business Financial Accounting Software (TechRepublic Premium)
Along with Sage Intacct, Sage offers accounting solutions tailored to smaller and larger businesses alike. If Sage Intacct seems too hefty for your needs, we recommend Sage 50, a combined cloud- and desktop-based solution with small-business accounting basics like expense and income tracking, billing and invoicing.
Sage Intacct’s plans are available at custom prices only. Contact the company directly to request a quote.
Top accounting features
- AI-powered intelligent general ledger.
- Multi-business management.
- Customizable, in-depth reporting.
- Accounts payable and receivable.
- Built-in integration with 350+ third-party software options.
- Advanced plan expansion options, including global accounting.
Sage Intacct’s pros and cons
NetSuite: Best ERP
NetSuite logo. Source: NetSuite
Most of the accounting software on our list can accommodate growing businesses, up to and including enterprises. But at some point, accounting software like Xero or QuickBooks might not be complex enough for your enterprise’s complicated financial needs. If you’ve outgrown your accounting software, it’s time to level up to an enterprise resource planning solution (ERP) like NetSuite.
NetSuite’s cloud-based solution integrates and automates your business’s most essential services, from accounting to inventory management, warehouse management to intensive analytics and reporting. Like most ERPs, NetSuite’s customizable system can be made industry-specific with unique solutions for advertising, retail, healthcare, manufacturing and wholesale distribution companies, among others.
Our NetSuite review can help you decide if NetSuite will work for you.
Enterprise-level accounting programs like NetSuite are thoroughly customizable and incredibly complex. As a result, interested customers will need to contact NetSuite directly to request a custom quote.
Top accounting features
- Automated journal entries, account reconciliation, invoicing and payment processing.
- Automated processes for accounts payable and accounts receivable.
- Customizable general ledger.
- Extensive reports with real-time cash flow insights.
- Built-in integrations with hundreds of inventory, expense, reporting and tax compliance apps.
- API framework for custom integrations.
NetSuite pros and cons
More payroll coverage
To find, rate and review the best accounting brands, we looked at more than a dozen of the most popular accounting software options, then narrowed down our top picks using the following criteria:
- Pricing, which included weighing each brands’ highest and lowest price points, considering any free trials and being aware of potential add-on fees (including for extra users, essential services and integrations).
- Basic accounting and bookkeeping features, which included expense and income tracking, invoicing, billing, free accountant access, true double-entry accounting and journal entries/general ledger access.
- Advanced accounting features available with higher-tier plans, which included inventory tracking, advanced reporting, unlimited users, bill management and vendor management, among others.
- Scalability, which included the number of plans available, their affordability and their add-on features to support bigger businesses.
- Customer service, which included modes of contact for customer support, additional fees for premium customer service, expanded support hours and verified user reviews regarding customer service response times.
- Ease of use, which included mobile app access, interface design, overall user experience (based on our expert’s hands-on testing as well as verified user reviews), ease of third-party integrations and more.
Our expert’s experience researching and testing the software — including how easy it was to contact the company and gather clear information about each brand’s services — also impacted how we reviewed and rated software for this piece.
How to choose the best accounting software for your business
Choosing the right accounting software boils down to a few basic questions:
- How much can you afford to spend on accounting software?
- Which accounting features are most essential for meeting your business’s goals?
- Do you want software with multiple plans you can scale up to as you grow, or are you okay planning for a future where your business eventually outgrows a solution?
- Do you want a software provider that can connect you to a wider network of bookkeepers, or are you fine handling accounting yourself (or finding a financial professional on your own)?
Most small-business accounting programs offer free trials, though opting for a free trial usually means waiving any discounts you would otherwise lock in. If you’ve never used accounting software before (and even if you have), we encourage you to check out as many free trials as possible. Eventually, you’ll find an accounting program with the interface, features, integrations and plans you need.
While mid-tier and enterprise-level plans don’t usually come with free trials, they should include free demos or product walkthroughs. Feel free to schedule a custom demo and don’t be afraid to ask your sales rep your most pressing questions, including what their customers’ biggest pain points are and how the company plans to resolve them.
Frequently asked questions
What software do accountants use the most?
QuickBooks, Xero and Sage are some of the top accounting software for accountants. Some bookkeeping companies use proprietary accounting programs developed in-house, but many use more popular solutions (like those above) to simplify client collaboration.
Is QuickBooks still the best accounting software?
Intuit QuickBooks Online is one of the best accounting software solutions for business owners. With multiple plans, QuickBooks is extremely scalable. It’s also very fully featured: Its higher-tier plans include advanced features like built-in inventory management, bill pay and custom admin permissions for up to 25 users.
However, QuickBooks might not be the best accounting tool for you. You might prefer a cheaper solution like Xero, a more invoice-centric tool like FreshBooks, a free app like Wave Accounting — or another accounting program entirely.
So while QuickBooks is definitely worth checking out, don’t feel like you have to use it just because it’s popular.
Can I use Excel for accounting?
Yes, you can use Excel for basic bookkeeping and accounting functions. But unless you’re a solo individual managing a tiny business — and honestly, even then — accounting software is usually a better option.
For one thing, Microsoft Office costs a monthly fee while accounting programs like Wave are completely free. For another, most accounting programs automate functions like expense tracking, which saves you time and ensures accuracy.
Still, if you’re more comfortable using spreadsheet software like Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets, you can definitely use it for basic budgeting and bookkeeping. If you go this route, we recommend downloading a free spreadsheet template that simplifies spreadsheet-based accounting.
What is the best accounting software for businesses?
Xero, QuickBooks, FreshBooks, Sage and Zoho are among the best accounting software for businesses. Most business accounting providers offer free trials, so we recommend signing up for one. Testing the software yourself is the best way to find the ideal accounting company for your unique organization.