Gusto vs. QuickBooks Payroll: Which Is Best for You?

Compare Gusto and QuickBooks Payroll to determine which one might be right for your small business.

Randa KrissOct 28, 2020
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Gusto and QuickBooks Payroll are both are online-based, automated payroll platforms that allow you to set up and process payroll, manage employee benefits and file payroll taxes. In general, QuickBooks Payroll is a more affordable option, while Gusto offers more features specific to human resources. Here's how they stack up.

How they compare

Top Gusto advantages:

  • More features: Looking at the capabilities included in Gusto vs. QuickBooks Payroll on the whole, Gusto offers a wider variety of included features — with things like employee profiles, offers and onboarding, time-off requests organization charts and employee surveys. Plus, within the Core plan, Gusto offers automatic new hire reporting, 1099 filings, multiple state tax filings and more that either require a higher-level QuickBooks plan or additional fees.

  • Integrations: Regardless of which plan you have, Gusto allows you to integrate with third-party software, including time tracking tools, POS platforms and even accounting software (QuickBooks Online included). With QuickBooks Payroll, on the other hand, you’re limited to Intuit tools unless you use your software with QuickBooks Online. In this way, if you don’t use QuickBooks Online for accounting, you’ll have to manually input data from your accounting software into QuickBooks Payroll.

  • HR-specific features: Gusto goes beyond your typical payroll service and integrates many tools often associated with HR software or HCM (human capital management) software. Therefore, if you don’t want to spend money on two separate platforms, you can manage the majority of your payroll and HR tasks in the same place.

  • Lack of extraneous fees: Although Gusto may be more expensive overall, they also have more features included and don’t charge many additional fees. Whereas QuickBooks charges fees for contractor direct deposit, multiple state tax filings, 1099 filings, etc. all of these are already included in the price of Gusto Core.

Gusto also offers more HR-specific features than QuickBooks Payroll, like the ability to create and maintain a business organizational chart.

Gusto

on Gusto's site.

Top QuickBooks Payroll advantages:

  • Connection with QuickBooks Online: When it comes down to it, one of the biggest strengths of QuickBooks Payroll is its direct connection to QuickBooks Online. QuickBooks Online is one of the most popular and fully functional accounting software solutions on the market — so if you already use this software, it’s quick, easy and convenient to set up and run payroll in QuickBooks.

  • Price: The lower monthly per-employee cost associated with each of the QuickBooks Payroll plans makes it, on the whole, a more affordable solution compared to Gusto. Plus, QuickBooks usually offers a promotion with their payroll plans, whether you purchase it with or without a QuickBooks Online subscription.

  • Next-day/same-day direct deposit: With Gusto, you need to make sure you run payroll at least two business days before you want your employees to be paid. QuickBooks Payroll, on the other hand, can accommodate next-day direct deposit for Core users and same-day direct deposit for Premium and Elite users. If you want the option to pay your employees on a shorter timeline, this is a notable benefit.

  • Dedicated mobile app: Although Gusto is mobile-friendly, they do not have a dedicated, downloadable mobile app for their software. QuickBooks Payroll, however, offers a fully functional mobile app available for both iOS and Android. This app is included free with your subscription and is particularly noteworthy if you want the ability to manage your payroll from anywhere.

You can view payroll expenses, enter employee hours, file taxes and pay with direct deposit — all on the QuickBooks Payroll mobile app.

QuickBooks

on QuickBooks' site.

Gusto

QuickBooks Payroll

Monthly cost

Core: $39 per month + $6 per employee per month.

Complete: $39 per month + $12 per employee per month.

Concierge: $149 per month + $12 per employee per month.

Core: $45 per month + $4 per employee per month.

Premium: $75 per month + $8 per employee per month.

Elite: $125 per month + $10 per employee per month.

Payroll processing

Unlimited payroll runs in all 50 states, customizable schedules, multiple pay rates, employees and contractors included.

Unlimited payroll runs in all 50 states, customizable schedules, multiple pay rates, direct deposit for employees only (contractors require additional fee).

Direct deposit

Available for both employees and contractors on four- or two-day processing schedule.

Available for both employees and contractors (requires an additional fee) with options for next-day or same-day deposit.

Payroll taxes

Automatic filing and payment for federal, state, and local taxes, including filings across multiple states.

Automatic filing and payment for federal and state taxes; no local tax filings; additional fee required for multiple states without the Elite plan.

Employee portal

Included with all plans.

Included with all plans.

Employee benefits

Health benefits and workers comp administration included in all plans with no administration fees.

Health benefits included with all plans but may require additional fees; workers comp payment service available for additional fees.

Integrations

Can integrate with third-party tools as well as Gusto partner add-ons for benefits like 401(k) and 529 college savings.

Can integrate with QuickBooks Online and other Intuit tools; requires a QuickBooks Online subscription for additional software integrations.

Mobile app

Mobile-friendly, but no dedicated app.

Software subscription includes access to dedicated mobile app for iOS or Android.

Customer support

Unlimited phone, chat, or email support available Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT; premium support available with Concierge plan.

Phone and chat support available Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. PT; premium support available with Elite plan.

Features

Both Gusto and QuickBooks Payroll are online-based solutions (although QuickBooks also offers a separate desktop solution for their Desktop users) with three subscription plans to choose from. The subscription plan you choose will dictate the capabilities you receive within your system; the more expensive plans come with more features.

Even so, Gusto stands out with its outstanding HR features. Although it's first and foremost a payroll solution, the platform extends its reach beyond simple payroll processing. In this way, Gusto is an optimal service for all-in-one HR and payroll management, especially if you opt for either of the top-tier plans.

With Gusto, you can choose from their Core, Complete and Concierge plans. Gusto also has a new option for contractor-only employers, who simply pay the $6/employee rate and no base price. Although the Core plan is the most basic version of Gusto, it offers the essential tools you need for payroll, benefits and tax management. Specifically, this software includes:

  • Unlimited payroll: Run payroll (with direct deposit) as frequently as you want based on your schedule. Payroll is automatically calculated based on your setup and can accommodate multiple pay rates, employee types, contractors, bonuses and more.

  • Tax filing and payments: All payroll taxes (federal, state and local) are calculated and filed automatically; state new hire reporting is filed; W-2s and 1099s are also issued and filed.

  • Time off tracking: Manage time-off accrual and policies, including holiday pay, sick time and corresponding reporting.

  • Reporting: View and export reports for payroll, benefits, taxes, employees, PTO, etc.

  • Employee portal: Allow employees have access to their own portal with payroll setup, paystubs and tax forms.

  • Employee profiles: Setup employee information and add teams, departments and managers. Allow employees to e-sign their I-9 and W-4 forms.

  • Benefits: Manage health benefits and workers comp with online enrollment for employee health insurance, as well as billing and estimate support for workers comp administration.

  • Integrations: Integrate Gusto with accounting software and time-tracking solutions.

  • Customer support: Access unlimited phone, email and chat support during regular business hours.

As you can see, even within the Core plan, Gusto provides significant functionality for managing your payroll and related small-business HR processes. With their higher-level plans, however, they offer a wider range of tools for onboarding, time management and professional support.

This being said, in addition to everything listed above, the next plan, Gusto Complete also includes:

  • Permissions: Customize permissions for account administrators, as well as for managers to access information for their direct reports.

  • Employee offers and onboarding: Send online offer letters, store and maintain employee documents and allow employees to e-sign custom documents.

  • Time management tools: Utilize simple time tracking, allow employees to submit time-off requests (and managers to monitor them), sync time tracking to payroll and create custom holidays.

  • Employee directory: Create an organization chart and employee directory; add customized fields to employee profiles.

  • Employee surveys: Send out anonymous surveys to employees and track trends over time.

Finally, with the last plan, Concierge, you receive everything in Core and Complete, but you also have access to greater human resource tools and premium support. Overall, Complete offers:

  • Certified HR pros: Receive live, unlimited access to HR professionals to receive assistance with payroll compliance, employee issues and more.

  • HR resource center: Access guides and templates for managing your team, including employee handbooks, job descriptions, policy updates, etc.

  • Dedicated support: Utilize a dedicated Gusto support team with a direct line for phone support.

QuickBooks Online Payroll is also available in three subscription plans — however, the capabilities included in each of these plans are a little different.

To start, it’s important to mention that QuickBooks offers this payroll software in conjunction with their accounting software, QuickBooks Online, although technically it doesn’t have to be used as part of a QuickBooks Online subscription.

This being said, the first QuickBooks Payroll plan, also called Core, includes the following:

  • Payroll processing: Run payroll with automatically calculated paychecks adjusted for taxes, garnishments, deductions, etc. Receive the option to set up auto payroll for salaried employees on direct deposit.

  • Payroll taxes: Federal and state taxes are calculated, filed and paid automatically. This plan does not offer local tax payments and filings or automatic filings for new hire reporting.

  • Next-day direct deposit: Submit payroll up to 5 p.m. the day before payday and your employees will receive their direct deposit the next day. Direct deposit for contractors will require an additional per-person fee.

  • Health benefits: Work with SimplyInsured to find the right health insurance for your business; will require additional fees.

  • Workforce portal: Give employees access to QuickBooks Workforce to view their pay stubs, W-2s, PTO balances and withholdings online

  • Payroll reports: Create and download reports for payroll, PTO, taxes, contractor payments and more.

  • Product support: Access customer support via phone and chat during regular business hours.

  • QuickBooks integrations: Connect QuickBooks Payroll to QuickBooks Online, as well as other Intuit tools like TSheets, 1099 service and more. Unless you’re using QuickBooks Payroll with QuickBooks Online, you won’t have access to any third-party integration options — meaning if you use different accounting software, you’ll need to manually input that data.

As you can see, in comparison to Gusto’s Core plan, the Core plan from QuickBooks Payroll is almost solely focused on payroll processing and doesn’t include as many other HR-related services. This being said, however, perhaps the most notable feature that QuickBooks Payroll offers that Gusto does not is next-day direct deposit. All direct deposit payroll with Gusto is processed on a four-day or two-day timeline.

With this in mind, the next plan that QuickBooks offers is their Premium plan. Like Gusto Complete, QuickBooks Payroll Premium provides greater functionality within the payroll platform. Specifically, this plan offers:

  • Same-day direct deposit: Pay employees with direct deposit the same day, as long as payroll is submitted before 7 a.m. on payday (this service is not available for contractor payments).

  • User permissions: Set permission levels for users; add, change or remove access at any time.

  • Automatic state new hire reporting filings: Unlike the Core plan, the Premium (and Elite) plan includes filings to fulfill state new hire reporting requirements.

  • HR support center: Access an online support resource with information on compliance and HR best practices; customize job descriptions, onboarding and performance tools.

  • Expert review: Request that an expert reviews your account setup to check for common payroll mistakes, tax issues and correct data transfer (if applicable).

  • TSheets mobile access: Use the QuickBooks TSheet mobile app to manage employee hours; let employees track their time on the app.

While the Premium plan expands on the features of the Core plan, overall, the features still mostly focus on payroll, with just a few tangential HR capabilities (although this plan does include online-based HR resources).

The last QuickBooks Online Payroll plan is the Elite plan. This plan includes all of the features of both Core and Premium, as well as:

  • Customized setup: Receive professional payroll setup and ensure that data is transferred correctly if switching providers.

  • Time and project tracking: Track project hours and labor expenses; set up geofencing alerts for workers to clock in or out; view activity feed with notes, photos and project updates.

  • Tax penalty protection: If you receive an IRS penalty from your payroll tax filings, QuickBooks will pay all penalty fees and interest up to $25,000 per year — plus, the QuickBooks tax resolution team will represent you and help resolve any issues with the IRS.

  • 24/7 support: Access premium, U.S.-based payroll support experts via phone and chat with callback support to avoid waiting on hold.

  • Personal HR advisor: Work with certified HR advisors by phone or chat to answer questions, sort through issues and create custom handbooks and policies.

Ultimately, even though QuickBooks increases the functionality of their payroll software with additional tools in the Premium and Elite plans, their service is, on the whole, more focused on payroll — in comparison with Gusto, which extends your reach into tasks involving employee onboarding and broader human resources management. This being said, however, the features included with QuickBooks Payroll are more compelling if you already use QuickBooks Online or plan to purchase the two software subscriptions together.

Pricing

Both Gusto and QuickBooks Payroll offer their three plans on a subscription basis, meaning you’ll pay a monthly base fee, plus a monthly per-person fee, which will depend on how many employees you add to the system.

Let’s say you have 20 employees. In this case, if you enrolled every employee and went with the basic plan, your monthly cost would be $159 for Gusto Core and $125 for QuickBooks Payroll Core. If you opted for either of the middle-tier plans, you’d pay $279 per month for Gusto Complete and $230 per month for QuickBooks Payroll Premium. If you choose the highest-tier plans, you’ll pay $389 per month for Gusto Concierge and $325 per month for QuickBooks Payroll Elite.

Based on this example, QuickBooks Payroll would be the more affordable option. Ultimately, however, the more affordable option will depend on how many employees you have, what you’re looking for within your payroll software and if you’ll incur any additional fees. Although QuickBooks’ lower per-employee fees are beneficial in terms of pricing, they also charge for many features that are included within a Gusto plan (like contractor direct deposit payments and multiple state filings for business taxes).

To start, Gusto prices their three plans as follows:

  • Core: $39 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.

Each of these plans includes the corresponding features mentioned above.

With this in mind, it’s important to note that if you utilize the workers' comp and health benefits features that Gusto offers, you’ll only pay for the premiums on those policies and won’t pay any administration fees to find the plans you need and integrate them with your payroll platform.

Moreover, on top of their three standard plans, Gusto does offer a handful of add-ons for fringe benefits, at associated costs, including:

  • 401(k) retirement plans: Starts at $39 per month plus $8 per month per participating employee

  • 529 college savings accounts: $6 per month per participant, $18 per month minimum

  • Health savings accounts: $2.50 per month per participant, no minimum

  • Commuter benefits: $4 per month per participant, $20 monthly minimum

  • Flexible spending accounts: $4 per month per participant, $20 monthly minimum.

All of this being said, Gusto also offers a one-month free trial of their payroll service and there is no long-term contract.

Although QuickBooks Online Payroll, like Gusto, offers standard pricing for their three plans, it’s worth mentioning that they also typically run promotional offers — either for QuickBooks Payroll on its own or in conjunction with a QuickBooks Online subscription.

Keeping this in mind, standard pricing for QuickBooks Payroll is as follows:

  • Core: $45 per month plus $4 per employee per month

  • Premium: $75 per month plus $8 per employee per month

  • Elite: $125 per month plus $10 per employee per month.

If you want to add a QuickBooks accounting subscription to your payroll platform, plans start at $25 per month for Simple Start and range up to $150 per month with Advanced.

This being said, it’s also important to note that, unlike Gusto, QuickBooks Payroll requires an additional fee to pay contractors by direct deposit — $4 per month per contractor payment for the Core plan, $8 per month per contractor payment for the Premium plan and $10 per month per contractor payment for the Elite plan. Moreover, whereas Gusto doesn’t charge fees for multiple state tax filings (unless you have the Elite plan), QuickBooks will charge $12 per month for each additional state filing you require.

Moreover, QuickBooks also notes that use of their health benefits features and workers comp benefits may require additional fees, but doesn’t specify how much these fees are. They do, however, state that there is currently a $5 monthly fee for QuickBooks Payroll Core users to utilize the workers comp payment service.

Finally, you also have the option to add the following services to your QuickBooks Payroll plan:

  • TSheets: Although TSheets mobile access is included with the Premium and Elite plans, if you want full online access for either of those plans or any access with the Core plan, you can add this service for a $20 base fee, plus $8 per user per month.

  • 1099 E-filing: $14.99 for three forms; additional forms are $3.99. If you have more than 20 1099 forms, QuickBooks will include them at no additional charge.

  • Labor law posters: $87.99 for an annual subscription.

Like Gusto, QuickBooks offers a 30-day free trial of their payroll software; however, using this trial usually excludes you from taking advantage of one of their promotional offers. Nevertheless, there is no contract requirement for QuickBooks payroll and you can cancel at any time.

A version of this article was first published on Fundera, a subsidiary of NerdWallet.