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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 four plans and add-on services offer a high level of functionality, flexibility and scalability.
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.
$30 per month and up.
Maximum number of users
Ease of sharing with accountants
Excellent. You can invite your accountant to QuickBooks Online via email and they will have access to all of the features of your account, at no additional cost to you. Most accountants and bookkeepers are familiar with the software, and the company’s ProAdvisor network can help you find QuickBooks-certified professionals.
Excellent. You can upgrade your QuickBooks Online account as your business grows and use other Intuit products, like QuickBooks Payroll or QuickBooks Point of Sale, to cover a wider range of business needs.
Ease of use
Good. QuickBooks Online has a clean, intuitive interface. The software is most user-friendly if you have some basic accounting knowledge.
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 cash flow, invoices, expenses, sales and more.
Using the Banking tab on the left side of the dashboard, you can connect your bank and credit card accounts so that QuickBooks automatically downloads 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 — 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.
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, QuickBooks Time and QuickBooks Payments — will incur separate costs.
QuickBooks Online Simple Start
$30 per month.
QuickBooks Online Essentials
$55 per month.
QuickBooks Online Plus
$85 per month.
QuickBooks Online Advanced
$200 per month.
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.
Benefits of QuickBooks Online
Robust feature set
There’s a reason that QuickBooks Online is the industry standard for small-business accounting software. Here are a few features 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 based on where you make and spend 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 low stock alerts. 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.
Hundreds of app integrations
QuickBooks Online gives you access to an impressive marketplace of over 650 apps — including third-party tools as well as QuickBooks add-ons.
With QuickBooks Time (formerly TSheets), for example, you’ll be able to 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) 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.
Drawbacks of QuickBooks Online
Monthly plans can be expensive
QuickBooks Online Simple Start costs $30 per month, includes only one account user and does not offer time tracking, bill pay or inventory management. For multiple users, time tracking and bill pay, you’ll need to upgrade to Essentials — $55 per month — and for inventory management, you’ll need to opt for Plus at $85 per month.
Competitors can offer plans with lower monthly fees and similar features. For example, Xero prices range from $12 to $65 per month and include unlimited users and inventory management in all plans. Similarly, FreshBooks ranges from $15 to $50 per month, with time and inventory tracking in all plans.
QuickBooks Online is easiest to use 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. You’ll get more out of this powerful system, however, if you understand the full functionality of the product.
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 $15 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. FreshBooks has a client self-service portal, unlimited estimates, invoices, time tracking and expenses included in all plans. This software also offers mobile mileage tracking, basic inventory tracking and both phone and online customer 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: $10 per person per month.
Pricing: Early plan starts at $12 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 provides 24/7 online support and 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. Additionally, Xero includes time tracking only in the highest-level plan — the Established plan ($65 per month). Finally, although Xero offers 24/7 online support, it does not provide phone-based customer service.
Pricing: Free. Add-ons will have associated costs.
Pros: Wave is one of the only truly free accounting software options on the market. Wave is easy to use, offers unlimited invoicing, income and expense tracking, bank and credit card connections, as well as account users. It 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 time tracking 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.