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Known as the industry standard for small-business accounting software, Intuit’s QuickBooks Online is a solid choice for a variety of businesses, especially those that plan to regularly work with bookkeepers or accountants. Its range of features can support very small operations as well as growing companies that need granular reporting tools to assess different areas of their business.
Although QuickBooks Online is user-friendly, there can be a learning curve, particularly if you’re unfamiliar with the basic principles of accounting. Additionally, QuickBooks can be expensive for many businesses, even more so if you add on time tracking or payroll. Competitors can offer simpler, more affordable alternatives.
QuickBooks Online at a glance
Has robust reporting tools and report customization options, invoicing for an unlimited amount of clients, inventory tracking in higher tier plans, plus a capable mobile app.
Ease of use
Includes tools that help automate the reconciliation process, along with a global search function and customizable dashboard; however, there is a learning curve.
Offers four plans to accommodate a range of businesses with different needs; each plan limits the number of users, though.
Ease of sharing with accountants
Includes audit trails and easy accountant access; has millions of users so your accountant will likely be familiar with it.
Integrates with more than 750 apps and offers live, in-house bookkeeping.
All plans include 24/7 live chat support; phone support is available 5 a.m. to 6 p.m. PST Monday through Friday, and 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. PST Saturday and Sunday.
Plans start at $30 per month.
Includes project tracking tools in higher tier plans; has transaction tracking tags; lacks industry-specific reports; users with multiple businesses must pay for separate subscriptions.
How does QuickBooks Online work?
After you sign up for QuickBooks Online, you’ll be able to log in to your account and access the main dashboard view. If you’re moving to QuickBooks from another accounting software, you can import your existing files to your new account.
The main dashboard will give an overview of your QuickBooks account, showing your profit and loss overview, invoices, expenses and sales.
Using the Banking tab on the left side of the dashboard, you can connect your bank and credit card accounts so that QuickBooks automatically imports transactions and categorizes them for you. Later, when reconciling your books, you’ll be able to review these transactions in the For Review tab within the Banking menu.
Next, you can customize invoices, set up automatic sales tax tracking (if necessary) and learn how to enter mobile receipts and bills. You can edit all of your business’s account settings using the gear icon in the upper right corner.
If you want to invite your bookkeeper or accountant to your QuickBooks Online account, you can do so using the My Accountant tab or the Manage Users page in Settings — you can also search for an accountant if you don’t already have one.
This video helps explain how to set up and navigate QuickBooks Online.
» MORE: What is accounting software?
Pricing and features
Promotional discounts may apply. All plans include access to QuickBooks Online mobile apps, customer support and third-party app integrations. Add-on services — including QuickBooks Payroll and QuickBooks Payments — will incur separate costs.
$30 per month.
$60 per month.
All the features of Simple Start, plus:
$90 per month.
All the features of Essentials, plus:
$200 per month.
All the features of Plus, in addition to the following:
Need accounting software for your side hustle? QuickBooks offers a separate product — QuickBooks Self-Employed — designed for freelancers and independent contractors, with plans starting at $15 per month. If you’re considering desktop offerings, try exploring QuickBooks’ other small-business products and checking out our full breakdown of QuickBooks pricing.
» MORE: QuickBooks Online vs. Desktop
Benefits of QuickBooks Online
Robust feature set
QuickBooks Online ranks high for its selection of features, which includes reporting, invoicing, inventory management and mobile app functionality. Here are a few features, in particular, that stand out:
Record-keeping and reporting: It’s easy to keep thorough, detailed records with QuickBooks Online. When you’re adding an expense, for example, you have the option of adding reference numbers, permit numbers, attachments and memos. You can also split the expense into multiple categories or items.
You aren't required to fill out every field in an expense or income entry, but the more detailed your records are, the more useful certain reports can be. For example, with QuickBooks Online Plus and Advanced, you can track inventory and do job costing — that is, you can figure out how much you spent to complete a certain project.
Even without those higher-level plans, you can create custom tags and run reports to show where you make and spend the most money. These features can help you organize your finances and provide insights such as cost-cutting opportunities or sales trends that you can use to improve and grow your business.
Inventory management: With QuickBooks Online Plus and Advanced, you can track inventory and cost of goods, and set up reorder points. You can also create purchase orders, manage vendors and sync your inventory with third-party platforms like Amazon and Shopify.
Competitors like Xero and FreshBooks offer basic inventory tracking for less, but it isn’t as advanced.
Integrations include live, in-house bookkeeping
QuickBooks Online gives you access to a marketplace of over 750 apps, including third-party tools as well as QuickBooks add-ons. One of those add-ons is QuickBooks Live for bookkeeping. The solution is ideal for business owners who’d like to step away from day-to-day bookkeeping tasks and outsource them elsewhere to save time.
QuickBooks Time (formerly TSheets), another add-on, lets you track employee time directly inside QuickBooks and approve timesheets. Other apps can help you prepare for taxes, get business funding, run payroll, manage customer accounts and generate various financial reports and insights. Some apps (including QuickBooks Time and QuickBooks Live) have associated fees, whereas others are free.
Easy to find QuickBooks resources
Whether you decide to manage your bookkeeping on your own or work with a professional, you’ll have no trouble accessing online resources for QuickBooks Online. The company offers video tutorials, webinars and training classes, as well as community forums, support topics and other resources on its website. You have the option of contacting QuickBooks customer support directly for any help you may need too.
You can also use QuickBooks’ ProAdvisor network to find certified accountants and bookkeepers. Given QuickBooks Online’s number of users, accountants outside of the network should be familiar with the software.
Drawbacks of QuickBooks Online
Monthly plans can be expensive
QuickBooks Online Simple Start costs $30 per month, includes only one account user (plus access for two accountants) and does not offer billable hours tracking, bill pay or inventory management. For multiple users, bill pay and the ability to add billable hours to invoices, you’ll need to upgrade to the Essentials plan, which costs $60 per month. For inventory management, you’ll need to opt for the Plus plan at $90 per month.
Competitors can offer plans with lower monthly fees and similar features. For example, Xero ranges from $13 to $70 per month and includes unlimited users and basic inventory management in all plans. Similarly, FreshBooks ranges from $17 to $55 per month, with time tracking in all plans.
Though QuickBooks Online has a handful of convenient features that can speed up your workflow and even automate some of it, the software can be complex. You'll get the most out of it if you have some knowledge of basic accounting concepts. Whereas you might be able to use some software alternatives without explanation, it may take some time to get the hang of QuickBooks.
Watching tutorials, reading support pages or consulting experts for advice are all great options to learn how to use QuickBooks Online for your business.
Awards for QuickBooks Online
QuickBooks Online earned a spot as one of the best products in NerdWallet roundups for these categories:
QuickBooks Online alternatives
Pricing: Lite plan starts at $17 per month.
Pros: With a robust mobile app, FreshBooks is a strong option for freelancers and independent contractors, as well as self-employed professionals on the go. All FreshBooks plans have a client self-service portal, estimates, invoices, time tracking and expense tracking. This software also offers mobile mileage tracking, basic inventory tracking and live phone support.
Cons: With the Lite and Plus versions of FreshBooks, you’re limited to five and 50 billable clients, respectively. Additionally, double-entry reports and accountant access don’t come with all plans, and you have to pay to add team members to your account: $11 per person per month.
» MORE: FreshBooks vs. QuickBooks Online
Pricing: Early plan starts at $13 per month.
Pros: Like QuickBooks Online, Xero is a powerful and fully functional accounting software. Xero offers lower-priced plans with unlimited users and inventory management included in each. Additionally, Xero is known for its user-friendly and intuitive setup and design.
Cons: With Xero’s Early plan, you can send/approve only 20 quotes and invoices and enter five bills. It also includes time tracking only in the highest-level plan — the Established plan ($70 per month). Finally, Xero’s customer service is lacking. There is no live chat support and while a representative will call you if necessary, the company doesn’t provide a phone number to customers.
» MORE: Xero vs. QuickBooks Online
Pricing: Free. Add-ons will have associated costs.
Pros: Wave is one of the only truly free accounting software options on the market. It’s easy to use and offers unlimited invoicing, income and expense tracking, bank and credit card connections and account users. The Wave Payments add-on also allows you to accept credit card and ACH payments and set up recurring billing.
Cons: Wave does not offer some of the more advanced features that competitors can provide — such as third-party integrations or project profitability. Additionally, it only offers self-serve support through its Help Center or chatbot, unless you subscribe to a paid Wave service like Wave Payroll. In that case, you can chat online with a live agent.
» MORE: Wave vs. QuickBooks Online
NerdWallet’s accounting software ratings favor products that are easy to use, reasonably priced, have a robust feature set and can grow with your business. Ratings are based on weighted averages of scores in several categories, including range of features, cost, ease of use, accounting standards compliance, scalability, ease of sharing with accountants, integrations, customer support, pricing transparency and availability of a free trial period. Learn more about how we rate small-business accounting software.
These ratings are meant to provide clarity in the decision-making process, but what’s best for your business will depend on its size, growth trajectory and which features you need most. We encourage you to research and compare multiple accounting software products before choosing one.
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