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Kathy Yakal

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Kathy Yakal

The Best Small Business Accounting Software for 2019
If you’re running a small business, keeping a tight grip on finances is critical for success. Our reviews cover the best online accounting apps and services to help keep your company in the black.

Best Small Business Accounting Software

Keep Your Business Running With an Online Accounting Service

According the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 20 percent of small businesses fail before they complete their second year. Among the many potential culprits for this widespread demise is the lack of effective money management and bookkeeping. Small business accounting software can do a lot to prevent your business from falling into this trap, keeping you on the right side of that grim statistic.

Financial bookkeeping is complicated and time-consuming. Business owners find it challenging enough to cover the basics—paying the bills and tracking incoming revenue—let alone answer critical questions such as these: Are we profitable? Why or why not? Can we make required tax payments? Should we invest in new equipment? Do we need to explore financing? Will we hit our budget numbers? Where can we cut expenses?

A good small business accounting website can answer these questions in seconds, based on the input you provide. Once you’ve populated a site with information about your financial accounts, your customers and vendors, and the products or services you sell, you’ll be able to use that data to create transactions. These feed into reports, which can provide critical insight. Instant search tools and customizable reports help you track down the smallest details and see overviews of how your business is performing. Android apps and iOS apps for the services give you access to your finances anywhere that you have wireless connectivity.

QuickBooks Online’s advanced implementation of technology, its skillful blend of features, its customizability, excellent mobile apps, and user experience have made it our Editors’ Choice again this year. We’re not crazy about the recent price increase, but Intuit services are often heavily discounted.


Setting Up Bookkeeping

Depending on how long your business has been operating, getting started with an accounting website can take anywhere from five minutes to several hours after signing up for an account. Accounting services charge monthly subscription fees and usually offer free trial periods. The more you need the site to do, the longer your setup tasks will take (and the higher the monthly payment).

First, you’ll need to supply your contact details. If you want your logo to appear on sales and purchase forms, you can upload a file containing it. Some accounting service sites ask whether you plan to use specific features like purchase orders and inventory tracking, so they can turn them on or off. You may also be asked when your fiscal year starts, for example, and whether you use account numbers.

Do you want access to the transactions you have stored in online financial accounts (checking, credit cards, and so on)? Enter the user name and password you use to log on, and the accounting site will import recent transactions (usually 90 days’ worth) and add them to an online register. Would you like to let customers pay with credit cards and bank withdrawals? You’ll need to sign up with a payment processor like Stripe or PayPal (extra charges will apply).

Intuit QuickBooks Online customer info

Your People and Your Stuff

One of the really great things about using an accounting website is that it reduces repetitive data entry. Once you fill in the blanks to create a customer record, for example, you’ll never have to look up that ZIP code again. When you need to use a customer in a transaction, it’ll appear in a list. The same goes for vendors, items or services, and employees. No more card files or messy spreadsheets.

Once you’ve completed a customer record and started creating invoices, sending statements, and recording billable expenses, all of those actions will appear in a history within the record itself. Some sites, like Zoho Books, display a map of the individual or company’s location and let you create your own fields so you can track additional information that’s important to you (customer since, birthday, and other things like that).

If you have employees that you’ve been paying using another method, payroll setup can take some time and effort, since you’ll have to enter payroll history information. Even when you’re starting fresh with employee compensation, there’s a lot of ground to cover. The site needs very precise details about things like your payroll tax requirements, benefits provided, and pay cycles. Many accounting solutions offer personal assistance with this task, and they all make it clear exactly what needs to be done before you run your first payroll. (Note, however, that some of the products here don’t offer payroll capability.)

It is possible to do minimal setup and then jump into creating invoices, paying bills, and accepting payments. All of the services included here let you add customers, vendors, and products as you’re in the process of completing transactions (you’ll need to do so anyway as you grow and add to your contact and inventory databases). You just have to decide whether you want to spend the time up front building your records or take time out when you’re in the middle of sales or purchase forms.

Most small business accounting sites offer the option to import existing lists in formats like CSV and XLS. They provide mapping tools to make sure everything comes in correctly. This procedure works better in some products than others.

Zoho Books

Moving Money and Products

Accountants like to use phrases like accounts receivable and accounts payable to describe the primary elements of accounting: recording and tracking income and expenses, or sales and purchases. Small business solutions are designed to appeal to people who don’t use the same kind of language as accounting professionals, avoiding such terminology.

The services let you easily create any transaction that a small business is likely to need. The most common of these are invoices and bills, and all the services we reviewed support them. Applications like Xero and Zoho Books go further, allowing you to produce more-advanced forms, such as purchase orders, sales receipts, credit notes, and statements. They provide templates for these online forms that resemble their paper counterparts. All you have to do is fill in the blanks and select from lists of customers and items.

Once you’ve completed an invoice, for example, you have several options. You can save it as a draft or a final version and either print it or email it. If you do the latter and you’ve established a relationship with a payment processor, your invoice can contain a stub explaining how the customer can return payment via credit card or bank withdrawal. You can create a PDF version of the invoice, copy it, record a payment on it, or set it up to recur on a regular schedule.

All forms on these sites work similarly. These solutions also pay special attention to your company’s expenses—not bills that you enter and pay, but other purchases you make. This is an area of your finances that can easily get out of control if it’s not monitored. So accounting websites monitor them, divide them into expense types, and compare them with your income using totals and colorful charts.

If you’re traveling and have numerous related expenses on the road, for example, you can take pictures of receipts with your smartphone. Some sites just attach these receipts to a manually entered expense form. Others, like QuickBooks Online, actually “read” the receipts and transfer some of their data (date, vendor, amount) to an expense form.

As we mentioned earlier, one of your setup tasks involves creating records that contain information about the products and services you sell so you can use them in transactions. These vary in complexity, so you need to understand the differences before you go with one site or another. Some, like Kashoo, simply allow you to maintain descriptive records. Others, like QuickBooks Online, go further. They ask how many of each product you have in inventory when you create a record and at what point you should be alerted to reorder. Then they actually track inventory levels, which provides insight on selling patterns and keeps you from running low.

Banking and Reports

While much of your daily accounting work probably involves paying bills, sending invoices, and recording payments, you also need to keep a close eye on your bank and credit card activity. If you’ve connected your financial accounts to your accounting service, this is easy to accomplish. For one thing, their balances will often appear on the site’s dashboard, or home page. You’ll also be able to view each account’s online register, which contains transactions that have cleared your bank and been imported into your accounting solution (along with those you’ve entered manually).

You can do a lot with these transactions once they appear in a register. For one thing, they should be categorized (office expense, payroll taxes, travel and meal costs are some examples) so you know where your money is coming from and where it’s going. Every service guesses at how at least some transactions might be categorized; you can change these if they’re incorrect and add your own. Conscientious categorization will result in more accurate reports and income tax returns.

You can also match related transactions, such as an invoice that was entered in the system and a corresponding payment that came through. Again, some sites make educated guesses here. You can split transactions that should be assigned to multiple categories, make notes, and reconcile your accounts with your bank and credit card statements.

Read It in a Report

Reports are your reward for keeping up with your daily work and completing it correctly. Every accounting website comes with templates for numerous types of insightful output. You select one, customize it using the filter and display options provided, and let the site pour your own company data into it. It only takes a few seconds to generate a report after you’ve defined it.

There are really two types of reports. The bulk of them are the type that any small businessperson could customize, generate, and understand. They tell you who owes you money, which of your products and services are selling well, whether you’re making money, which expenses and services haven’t yet been billed, which customers are buying the most, how much you owe in sales tax, and more.

There are other reports, though, that aren’t so easy to view and understand. These are considered standard financial reports, and they’re the kind of documents you’ll need if you ever want to get a loan from a bank or attract investors. They have names like Balance Sheet, Statement of Cash Flows, Trial Balance, and Profit & Loss. Accounting websites can generate them, but you really need an accounting professional to analyze them and tell you in concrete terms what they mean for you company.

How Accounting Sites Work

Accounting probably doesn’t make the list of things you like to do as a business owner. It can be complicated, and it needs to be done correctly. So, the makers of online accounting solutions have worked hard to present this discipline as simply and, well, pleasantly as possible. Some—including QuickBooks Online, Zoho Books, and ZipBooks—have been more successful at this than others.

If you’ve ever used a productivity application online, you shouldn’t have any trouble understanding these services’ structure. They all divide their content into logical modules by providing toolbars and other navigation guides. Sales tasks are grouped together, as are purchase, inventory, reporting, and payroll activities. There’s always a Settings link that takes you to screens where you can specify preferences for the entire site; these include your setup chores and settings you may need to modify at times, such as restricting additional users to specific areas.

A site’s dashboard homepage provides a real-time overview of the financial information you need to see frequently, including charts comparing income and expenses, account balances, and invoices and bills that need immediate attention. There are often links to areas of the site where you can take action.

You use standard web conventions to navigate around each site and enter data. Along the way, you’ll encounter lots of buttons and arrows, drop-down lists and menus. Color is sometimes used to signify related information, while graphics and fonts are well chosen to make the sites as aesthetically pleasing as possible.

Accounting Software for Simpler Businesses

If you’re a sole proprietor or freelancer, you probably don’t need all the features offered by full-featured small business accounting websites. You might want to track your online bank and credit card accounts, record income and expenses, maybe send invoices, and track time worked (if you’re service-based). Maybe you need to track mileage. You might need help estimating your quarterly income tax obligation, and you certainly want mobile access to your financial data.

There are numerous sites that can do a combination of these things. They’re easy to use, inexpensive (totally free in the case of Wave), and they overwhelm you with functionality you don’t need.

Our Editors’ Choice this year in this category goes to FreshBooks. This beautifully designed website started life as a simple online invoicing application, and it’s since added more tools, including basic time- and project-tracking, expense management, estimate and proposal creation, and reports.

FreshBooks lacks some features that others offer, though. It doesn’t help with quarterly estimated taxes, while GoDaddy Bookkeeping and QuickBooks Self-Employed do. It doesn’t have its own integrated payroll-processing application like Wave does (though it integrates with payroll Editors’ Choice Gusto and dozens of other related web services), and it’s not a true double-entry accounting like Billy is. Wave also lacks QuickBooks Self-Employed’s real-time mileage tracker and it doesn’t automate as many processes as Less Accounting.

Note that while we did review Less Accounging, it didn’t make the cutoff for this roundup of the top ten services. The same is true of Sage Business Cloud Accounting and ZipBooks.

The Accounting Software Your Business Needs

Whether you need one of these entry-level financial management websites or your business is complex enough that you need to start with one of the small business accounting options, we think you’ll find that this year’s batch of solutions offers enough variety that you can find the right fit for your business.

While you’re thinking about your money, you might also like to consider our reviews of online payroll services and tax software.

  • Intuit QuickBooks Online

    Pros: Excellent user interface and navigation. Flexible contact records and transaction forms. Customizable reports. Comprehensive payroll support. Hundreds of add-ons and integrations. New project-management support.

    Cons: Expensive. Poor online documentation.

    Bottom Line: QuickBooks is the best online accounting application for small businesses, thanks to its depth, flexibility, and extensibility. It’s easy to use, well designed, and built to serve a wide variety of users, but it’s also pricey.

    Read Review

  • FreshBooks

    Pros: Exceptional user experience. New team collaboration tools, estimates, and projects. Multiple businesses. Context-sensitive settings.

    Cons: No product records. No inventory tracking. Lacks expansive customer records.

    Bottom Line: The new FreshBooks is a polished, intuitive online accounting system. It’s the best choice for freelancers and sole proprietors, though it still lacks inventory tracking and a few other features from the previous version.

    Read Review

  • Zoho Books

    Pros: Affordable. Excellent user interface. Superior depth in records and transaction forms, including numerous custom fields. Multiple payment gateways. Good project- and time-tracking. Document management. Generous support options. Excellent mobile version.

    Cons: Integrated payroll feature limited to California and Texas.

    Bottom Line: Zoho Books is an excellent choice for cloud-based small business accounting, with an excellent interface, an attractive price, and a rich set of tools. Its limited payroll offering may cause some users to look elsewhere, however.

    Read Review

  • Intuit QuickBooks Self-Employed

    Pros: Exceptional user interface and navigation. Easily tracks expenses and income. Automatic mileage tracking. Can assign business transactions to Schedule C categories. Estimates quarterly income taxes. OCR capability.

    Cons: Lacks direct integration with e-commerce sites. No data records, time tracking, project tracking, or recurring transactions. Invoices not customizable or thorough. No estimates or sales tax.

    Bottom Line: The simplicity of online accounting service QuickBooks Self-Employed may make it a good fit for some freelancers and independent contractors, but others will miss standard features like time tracking, project tracking, and estimates.

    Read Review

  • Billy

    Pros: Excellent user experience and dashboard. Double-entry accounting. Easy to establish different sales taxes. Supports both quotes and estimates.

    Cons: Some operations involve dealing with debits and credits. No timer or dedicated time-tracking. Few reports. No full mobile app. Only one third-party add-on.

    Bottom Line: Billy’s combination of tools and usability make it a good choice for freelancers and sole proprietors who need to track income and expenses and invoice customers. It doesn’t offer a lot of reports or third-party add-ons, however.

    Read Review

  • GoDaddy Bookkeeping

    Pros: Inexpensive. Good invoicing tools and overview. Simple time tracking. Calculates estimates for quarterly taxes. Direct integration with PayPal, Amazon, eBay, and Etsy.

    Cons: No project tracking or bill payment. No individual logins for other users. Lacks multi-currency support. Minimal client information in records. No auto-categorization.

    Bottom Line: GoDaddy Bookkeeping’s direct integration with Amazon, eBay, and Etsy make it a terrific tool for entrepreneurs who sell at those sites, but its overall bookkeeping depth and flexibility doesn’t match FreshBook’s.

    Read Review

  • Xero

    Pros: Affordable. Thorough record and transaction forms. Approval levels. Inventory tracking. Customizable reports. Online quotes. Smart Lists. Updated expense tracking. Exceptional online support.

    Cons: Payroll not available for all states. Time tracking still in beta. Lacks phone and chat help. Weak mobile apps.

    Bottom Line: Double-entry accounting app Xero excels at inventory management, payroll, and many other functions critical to keeping the books of a small business.

    Read Review

  • Wave

    Pros: Free, though payments and payroll incur fees. Smart selection of features for very small businesses. Excellent invoice- and transaction-management. Good user interface and navigation tools. Multicurrency. Payroll.

    Cons: No dedicated project- or time-tracking features. No comprehensive mobile app.

    Bottom Line: Wave is priced like a freelancer accounting application (it’s free) and it’s an excellent service for that market, but it also offers enough extras that a small business with employees could use it-with some caveats.

    Read Review

  • Kashoo

    Pros: Simple, clean user interface. Good income and expense management. Project cost-tracking. Free email, phone, and chat support. Integrates with SurePayroll.

    Cons: Doesn’t use a standard dashboard. Lacks time and inventory tracking. No Android app. Few add-ons.

    Bottom Line: Online accounting service Kashoo’s strengths are income and expense management, usability, and support. It’s a simple, speedy choice for smaller businesses that don’t need product inventory tracking or robust time billing tools.

    Read Review

  • WorkingPoint

    Pros: Customizable dashboard. Good user experience. Capable inventory tracking. Estimates quarterly taxes. Schedule C report. Includes simple company website.

    Cons: No mobile version. Recurring invoices are dispatched without review. Inflexible user permissions. Few add-ons. No built-in payroll or integration with payroll services.

    Bottom Line: WorkingPoint is an easy-to-use double-entry accounting service with unique features like quarterly estimated tax calculation and a mini site builder, but it has no mobile version or payroll feature.

    Read Review