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QuickBooks Online and Wave are two entirely different accounting software products meant for distinct types of businesses. Choosing between them mostly comes down to whether you need a solution that can scale with your business.
Growing businesses with more than a handful of employees will be better off subscribing to QuickBooks Online because of its array of features and integrations. While Wave shines as a free option for freelancers, independent contractors and microbusinesses, it’s not meant for businesses that might expand their operations.
Wave vs. QuickBooks Online at a glance
Strong invoicing feature competes with that of paid products; app lets users send invoices on the go; offers significantly fewer reports than competitors; no inventory tracking.
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; auto-categorizes transactions for you, but you can’t set up your own bank rules; no global search function.
Includes tools that help automate the reconciliation process, along with a global search function; however, there is a learning curve.
Ideal for very small service-based businesses, freelancers or contractors; allows an unlimited number of users.
Can support larger small businesses with dozens of employees; highest-tier plan includes 25 users.
Ease of sharing with accountants
Easy accountant access, but no audit trail.
Includes audit trails and easy accountant access; has millions of users so your accountant will likely be familiar with it.
Only integrates with in-house apps, like Wave Payments and Wave Payroll; does not integrate with card readers for in-person payments.
Integrates with more than 750 apps and offers live, in-house bookkeeping add-on.
Support for non-paying users is limited to the chatbot and self-service Help Center.
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.
Wave Accounting is free.
Plans start at $30 per month.
Can manage multiple businesses for free under one account; lacks project tracking tools, industry-specific reports and transaction tracking tags.
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.
» MORE: Best small-business apps
Why QuickBooks Online wins
Despite the fact that Wave supports unlimited users, businesses that continue to hire employees or expand their operations will quickly outgrow it. On top of not having an audit trail to keep larger small businesses accountable, it doesn’t offer multiple plan tiers with additional capabilities. QuickBooks Online’s capabilities scale up with each plan tier, and its highest-tier plan’s 25-user limit should be sufficient for most small businesses. Its Plus plan is the most popular among small businesses and includes the ability to sync with all online sales channels, manage inventory and track project profitability. Wave does not offer these features.
Wave’s feature set is limited to bank reconciliation tools, income and expense tracking, invoicing, basic reporting, and a mobile app for sending invoices on the go. This might be more than enough for freelancers and very small service-based businesses. Larger businesses, however, might prefer QuickBooks Online for its transaction tracking tags for more in-depth reporting, custom bank rules for easier reconciling and inventory management.
Wave offers its own in-house payroll and payment processing, but it doesn’t integrate with third-party apps. This can be limiting for small businesses that use separate software for inventory management, customer relationship management or payroll. Additionally, it doesn’t integrate with card readers for in-person payments, which rules it out as an option for many retail stores and pop-up shops.
QuickBooks Online integrates with more than 750 third-party apps, and has multiple direct integrations with point-of-sale systems and payroll software.
When you might choose Wave instead
If Wave has everything your small business needs, it’s hard to beat free. And QuickBooks can be expensive with plans starting at $30 per month. If you need software that’s more robust but less expensive than QuickBooks Online, consider Xero, which starts at $13 per month, or Zoho Books, which has a free plan plus paid plans starting at $20 per month.
You own a microbusiness
For very small businesses that rely mostly on invoicing, QuickBooks Online’s additional features might be overkill. In that case, committing to Wave could be a great way to save money. While it’s not necessarily convenient to switch accounting software products down the road, it’s also not impossible.
Wave and QuickBooks Online alternatives
Pricing: $15 per month and up.
FreshBooks is similar to Wave in that it’s best for freelancers and independent contractors. However, it has a better feature set with basic inventory management, project tracking, a mobile app that lets you snap pictures of receipts and dozens of third-party integrations. While it doesn’t quite compete with QuickBooks Online’s feature set, it has strong invoicing capabilities and is less expensive.
» MORE: FreshBooks vs. Wave
Pricing: $13 per month and up.
Xero is the most similar to QuickBooks Online in terms of scalability and feature set. It supports an unlimited number of users and has a simple layout that some business owners might find less overwhelming than QuickBooks Online. If you’re unsure which is a better fit, it could be worth taking a test drive of QuickBooks Online and starting a free trial of Xero to see which user interface is preferable.
NerdWallet’s accounting software ratings favor products that are easy to use, have a robust feature set and can grow with your business. Ratings are based on weighted averages of scores in several categories, including scope of features and integrations, customer support and cost, among others. 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. Simplicity doesn't always translate into ease of use. Less scalable products are typically simpler, but diminished functionality can cause headaches down the road for growing businesses. We encourage you to research and compare multiple accounting software products before choosing one.
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