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Best Accounting Software for Small Business in 2021

By
Donna Fuscaldo
,
Business News Daily Staff
| Updated
Dec 02, 2021

We researched dozens of accounting software applications and recommend these vendors as the best accounting software and invoice generators of 2021.
Best for Small Businesses
Easy to set up and use
Pricing that starts at $7/month
Integration with several apps
Best for Invoicing
Quick, professional invoicing
Pricing that starts at $15/month
Automated invoicing
Best ERP Tools
Robust ERP features
Customizable pricing
Payment management system
Best for Microbusinesses
Automation of accounting tasks
Pricing that starts at $9/month
Client portal
We researched dozens of accounting software applications and recommend these vendors as the best accounting software and invoice generators of 2021.

The Best Accounting Software Providers


  • Small businesses that need basic invoicing and reporting capabilities will do fine with free or low-cost cloud-based accounting software. As your business grows, you can add more features and functionality.
  • Businesses that have more complex needs have a lot of choices for accounting software. Your business's specific needs will determine which accounting application is the best fit.
  • Businesses should look for accounting software vendors that are transparent about their pricing.
  • This article is for business owners who are looking for accounting and invoicing software.

When you start a business, accounting software is one of the first business applications you need to get. The best accounting software helps you create invoices, record incoming and outgoing payments, identify and follow up on past-due receivables, and run reports that help you analyze your financial health and other aspects of your business.

To help you find the best accounting software for your business, we examined more than 100 applications. We looked for affordable, easy-to-use accounting programs with time-saving features, such as automated bank feeds, automatic payment reminders, and online invoicing and payment acceptance. We also searched for software with comprehensive, customizable, real-time financial reporting, because that is crucial for monitoring and understanding your business finances.

Here are our best picks and details about our selection process. Learn more about what you should look for in accounting software by reading our accounting software cost and buyer's guide.

Accounting Software Review Summary

Accounting software providers considered 31
Minimum monthly cost Free
Maximum monthly cost $350 per month
Free trial available 30 day

Compare Our Best Picks

Accounting software Use case Starting price Free trial period Mobile applications Integration options Bill pay tools
QuickBooks Small businesses $15 per month 30 days Yes Yes Yes
FreshBooks Invoicing $4.50 per month 30 days Yes Yes Yes
Zoho Books Microbusinesses $9.00 per month 30 days Yes Yes Yes
Oracle Netsuite ERP tools Custom N/A Yes Yes Yes
Zarmoney Transparent pricing $15.00 per month 14 days Yes Yes Yes
GoDaddy Online merchants $4.99 per month No Yes Yes Yes
Wave Financial Free option Free N/A Yes Yes Yes
Sage Business Freelancers/self employed $10.00 per month 30 days Yes Yes Invoicing
Xero Growing businesses $11.00 per month 30 days Yes Yes Yes
Melio Free accounts payable Free N/A No Limited Yes
Plooto Automating accounts payable $25.00 per month 30 days No Limited Yes

Our Reviews

Intuit QuickBooks Online: Best for Small Businesses

QuickBooks Online has accounting features to meet the needs of businesses of all sizes, including the ability to craft invoices, send and accept payments, and manage and track expenses.
QuickBooks' Live Bookkeeper provides professional help.
If you have the self-employed plan, you can't upgrade to one of the small business plans.

What can't QuickBooks do? The extremely popular accounting software is used by small businesses across the country. Accountants are quick to praise the application for its affordability, ease of use and effectiveness. It's hard to find many flaws with QuickBooks, especially considering the needs of small businesses today. QuickBooks Online offers small business owners a feature-rich accounting platform that integrates with tons of business applications and doesn't break the bank. Many businesses find it helpful to connect their credit card processing provider to their accounting software to close the loop on their sales. We like that the software is cloud-based and updated regularly.

Editor's score: 9.5/10

We chose QuickBooks Online as our best pick for small businesses for several reasons. With this accounting software, you can create professional invoices, accept payments, track expenses and keep a steady eye on your cash flow. And that's just with the Basic plan; the higher-priced plans let you send batch invoices, engage in deep analytics and even access a dedicated accounting team. QuickBooks Online integrates with several popular business apps, including Bill.com, Salesforce and HubSpot.

With QuickBooks, you don't have to create financial reports from scratch, thanks to the software's built-in reports, which include the trial balance, general ledger and 1099 transaction detail reports you'll need at tax time. You can mark the reports you use most as favorites so you can quickly find them at the top of the Reports page. You can also set up the software to automatically run and email reports to you, and schedule them for a specific time of day and frequency, such as daily, weekly, monthly or quarterly. QuickBooks offers some of the best reporting options of any accounting software we reviewed.

Another advantage of QuickBooks Online is its versatile support. Whether you are the DIY type or prefer more hands-on help, QuickBooks delivers. With its Live Bookkeeping service, you can get help from a bookkeeper who will set up your software, categorize transactions, reconcile your accounts and close your books monthly and yearly. Even better, you don't get charged for services you don't need; the pricing for Live Bookkeeping depends on your needs.

If you already have an accountant, it's easy to collaborate with QuickBooks. The software lets you give your accountant access for free; all they need to do is accept the invitation. You can remove access anytime. QuickBooks offers all types of small businesses a ton of accounting features without breaking the bank, and its reputation and adoption rate stand out in the market.

August 2021: QuickBooks recently rolled out a new payment device that enables small businesses to accept card payments on the go. The small contactless card reader integrates with QuickBooks Payments. The company said the new device is in response to a shift in the way small businesses accept payments since the pandemic.

Intuit has announced it is acquiring Mailchimp, the marketing platform used by millions of small and medium businesses. The accounting software company plans to integrate data from Mailchimp with QuickBooks so customers have actionable information to grow their business. The acquisition furthers Intuit’s goal to offer small businesses the digital tools necessary to support their growth.

April 2021: Intuit has launched a new DocuSign feature for QuickBooks that lets small businesses sign estimates directly from its online platform. The DocuSign eSignature Connector speeds up the process of sending estimates and enables you to track your estimates' progress.

May 2021: QuickBooks Online is making it easier for business owners and accountants to manage their finance apps with the integration of Docyt. Docyt is an AI-powered tool that enables business owners to pay bills, manage expenses, capture receipts, and run reports from one location. Docyt's integration with QuickBooks reduces the number of apps a business owner has to deal with to manage their finances.

Read Intuit QuickBooks Online Review

FreshBooks Accounting Software: Best for Invoicing

FreshBooks lets you easily craft invoices, accept payments through invoices, track expenses and send automatic reminders.
You get a full suite of accounting tools to do everything from track time and expenses to run financial reports.
If you need to add several team members, it can get expensive.

If you need to create and send invoices, it can be challenging to find a small business accounting app that matches your needs. Some solutions excel at invoicing but offer no accounting features; others include solid accounting services but lack quality invoicing tools. FreshBooks, on the other hand, succeeds at both.

Editor's score: 9/10

Although all accounting software products have invoicing tools, FreshBooks is incredibly easy to use, which is why we picked it as the best accounting software for invoicing. The format is intuitive, and with just a few clicks, you can add billable time and expenses, customize the look of the invoice, and set up recurring invoices, automatic payment reminders and late fees.

This accounting software connects to your bank, generates several reports, tracks time and helps you manage projects. As a bonus, FreshBooks lets you give clients the option to pay bills through invoices, which speeds up the process of getting paid. If you have clients who are late in paying bills, FreshBooks lets you gently nudge them via reminders and alerts when bills are due or past due. You'll know when customers receive and open invoices with this accounting software.

Beyond invoicing, there are a lot of other attributes of FreshBooks that made it one of our best picks. For example, you can track time spent on projects, as well as snap pictures of receipts and log them on the go. Plus, the double-entry accounting features ensure you don't make mistakes that could throw off your ledger. With automatic checks and balances, you can rest assured that your debits and credits will balance out. This software also integrates with more than 80 popular business applications to give you a better overall view of your business.

FreshBooks gives you all of the features small businesses need in an accounting and invoicing software application. Although it's not as comprehensive as some of the other options on the market, FreshBooks offers tremendous value as accounting software with strong invoicing capabilities. The ability to combine accounting software tools and invoicing tools is rare, but FreshBooks does the job effectively. For businesses that don't send invoices, other accounting solutions make more sense, but freelancers and project-based businesses will naturally be drawn to the features and affordability of FreshBooks.

Read FreshBooks Accounting Software Review

Oracle NetSuite Accounting Software: Best ERP Tools

NetSuite offers a variety of features, including enterprise resource planning tools.
The software focuses on automation, making it simple to send and collect invoices.
The website isn't clear about pricing, so you need to contact a sales representative to determine the cost.

Oracle's NetSuite is a great choice for small business owners who want to get a complete picture of their business while automating aspects of accounting. With this software, you can manage all aspects of your business from one dashboard, making NetSuite our pick for the best accounting software with enterprise resource planning (ERP) tools.

Editor's score: 8.5/10

NetSuite is a full-featured accounting and ERP program geared toward businesses with more complex needs. You can make and receive payments, run a slew of reports and manage taxes. NetSuite has embraced automation, making it easy to send invoices and receive payments, and it has robust tax management tools that support all currencies and exchange rates. If you have international sales, the software automatically processes sales and payments based on the local laws you're selling or operating in. There's also a revenue recognition management solution that helps business owners meet accounting standards and report financial results on time.

Cash flow management is also simple thanks to a robust set of features that provide insight into your cash, making it easier to optimize cash, control bank accounts and remain compliant with rules and regulations. NetSuite's payment management system centralizes payments, while the planning and budgeting features unify data to help you plan. It's also easy to create budgets and forecasts, plan for what-if scenarios and run reports on many aspects of your business. To keep you in control, NetSuite lets you set permissions.

NetSuite also has numerous ERP tools to manage finances, inventory, production and the supply chain, and the ERP functionality also helps you plan for the future. Because NetSuite comes with so many features and tools, it's difficult to get an accurate price without reaching out to a NetSuite sales representative. There's an online form you can fill out to set up a free demonstration.

NetSuite may not make sense if you are self-employed or a microbusiness without complex needs. But if you require a more holistic approach to accounting and want to be able to budget, plan and forecast, NetSuite deserves serious consideration.

Read Oracle NetSuite Accounting Software Review

Zoho Books Accounting Software: Best for Microbusinesses

Zoho Books has apps for popular operating systems and devices – including Apple, Android and Windows – allowing you to send invoices, reconcile accounts, and accept payments on the go.
Through Xero, you can track and manage bills and vendor credits.
Xero has a limit of 5,000 transactions per month, which isn't enough for some businesses.

Microbusinesses need simple accounting software, and that's where Zoho Books comes in. Zoho Books offers all of the basic features that microbusinesses need, as well as advanced tools such as project billing and time tracking. It also has integrations, so you can continue using the software as your business grows. We selected Zoho Books as the best accounting application for microbusinesses because of its simplicity and value.

Editor's score: 8.75/10

With its Apple, Android and Windows mobile apps, Zoho Books makes it easy for business owners to send invoices and manage their books on the go. There are even dedicated apps for the Apple Watch and Android smartwatches. The ability to create and send invoices from the app means that, as soon as you finish a job, you can bill a client, instead of waiting to get back to the office.

When you use simple accounting software, you don't want an outdated user interface or features that are so basic you can't glean important business insights from the data. That's what makes Zoho Books stand out: While the platform is easy to use, it doesn't lack features, and the interface is modern and sleek. It can also speed up many business processes via automation, which is a nice time-saving feature.

You can set recurring invoices and send automatic payment reminders, and if you link your payment processor with Zoho Books, you can accept payments in invoices. You can automate reporting, too; Zoho Books lets you schedule when to run reports and then automatically emails them to you.

Another feature that sets Zoho Books apart from its rivals is the company's client portal, a website your customers can visit to view invoices, make comments and pay online. This is a particularly helpful feature for businesses that work closely with their clients on projects. If you want feedback from your customers, you can set up the portal to allow them to review your services.

Zoho also has its own suite of integrated business apps, including customer relationship management (CRM) software, email marketing and social media marketing solutions, spreadsheet editors, and other productivity tools. Like its competitors, Zoho Books integrates with third-party productivity apps and business solutions, including Google apps, the Square point-of-sale (POS) system, several credit card processors, and tax services Tax1099 and Avalara. It also has a Zapier integration, which allows you to connect to more than 1,000 third-party apps. With all those features and services, it's easy to see why Zoho Books is our pick for the best accounting software for microbusinesses.

September 2021: Aiming to help small business owners as they emerge from the pandemic, Zoho made its Zoho Invoice platform free to its customers. In addition to sending bills, the software lets you track time, manage project billing, and access more than 30 features and tools to help you get paid and collect past-due bills.

Read Zoho Books Accounting Software Review

Xero: Best for Growing Businesses

Xero offers more than 700 app integrations to manage all aspects of your business.
You get support via email and live chat 24 hours a day.
Xero isn't as well known as QuickBooks, which may affect your accountant's learning curve.

Although many businesses start small, they don't always stay that way. You want accounting software that can grow alongside your business, and Xero does exactly that.

Editor's score: 8.5/10

Unlike accounting programs that base pricing on the number of users each plan supports, Xero's subscription plans support unlimited users. So, as your business grows, you can add new employees to your account at no additional cost. All plans include most features, such as estimates, inventory tracking and recurrent invoicing. The software supports more than 700 app integrations, and it comes with 24/7 email and live chat support.

There's another reason we chose Xero as the best accounting software for growing businesses: The pricing plans were created for different stages of a company's growth. Xero has plans for freelancers, solo traders, business owners just starting out, more established small businesses and even enterprises.

Xero can run over 50 reports, including profit and loss statements and a general ledger. You can customize reports, view them as charts, search date ranges and apply other filters. Once you're done running a report, you have the choice to print it or export it as a PDF, Excel spreadsheet or Google Sheet. 

Like other accounting software, Xero lets you manage inventory, which is extremely helpful if your business sells and stocks a lot of products. You can track items in real time, monitor inventory and spot trends in your sales. Through its recent acquisition of LOCATE Inventory, Xero is making it easier for users to automate inventory tasks, better manage supply and demand, and enhance pricing.  Xero customers also have access to new channels to sell their products.

Xero also provides mobile access via apps for the iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch. This accounting software is also easy to use, thanks to an interactive dashboard that tells information such as when invoices are due and which bills still need to be paid.

On top of all that, you get project management tools if you sign up for the Established plan. Using these tools, you can track tasks, expenses, budgets, billable time and payments, as well as collaborate with other users on specific projects and invoice customers through the software.

We believe that Xero's assortment of features, combined with its customer support, makes it one of the better options on the market. When you add in the mobile app, you get an ideal accounting software for growing businesses.

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ZarMoney: Best for Transparent Pricing

The ZarMoney website clearly lays out pricing.
ZarMoney connects with more than 9,600 banks in the U.S. and Canada to automatically import bank transactions.
You can't send recurring invoices yet.

With ZarMoney, there are no secrets about pricing. The company's website states exactly how much you'll pay monthly, which is why we chose it as our pick for the best accounting software for transparent pricing. Far too often, it's hard to determine how much an accounting program will cost, making it difficult to comparison-shop. ZarMoney, by contrast, prides itself on being straightforward, and that's reflected in the clearly laid-out pricing plans.

Editor's score: 8.25/10

ZarMoney has simple pricing plans geared toward entrepreneurs, small business owners and enterprises. The entrepreneur plan is $15 a month for one user and supports unlimited transactions, and the small business plan covers unlimited transactions and two users for $20 a month. Each additional user on those plans costs $10 a month. For large businesses that want more than 30 users, ZarMoney charges $350 a month. All plans provide customer support in the U.S.

ZarMoney has a toolbar that shows you how much the software costs per month based on the number of users. We like that you can add and remove users based on your business's current needs. If you add another user, the account is automatically updated, saving you time because you don't have to contact customer service to make a change.

ZarMoney includes many accounting features at an affordable rate. Through the software's accounts receivable solutions, you can manage the status of estimates and sales, accept online credit card payments, and provide different payment terms and early-payment discounts. Soon, you will be able to send recurring invoices.

ZarMoney connects with more than 9,600 banks in the U.S. and Canada, which means there's a good chance it supports your bank. With these connections, ZarMoney automatically imports bank transactions daily for you to approve and/or edit. You can also make batch deposits, calculate sales tax and easily transfer funds.

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Plooto: Best for Automating Accounts Payable Processes

Plooto's payment platform lets you manage payments, approvals, reconciliation and reporting from one central location.
The software provides accounts payable and accounts receivable automation, speeding up payments.
Plooto syncs with only QuickBooks and Xero, which could be limiting.
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Most small businesses are crunched for time, so anything they can automate is welcome. Plooto gives small businesses a whole lot of that for a low price, which is why we selected it as the best accounting software for automating accounts payable processes.

Editor's score: 7.75/10

Plooto is a payment platform that enables small businesses to manage their payments in one central location, thus giving business owners a clear picture of their financials and more control over them. Payments, approvals, reconciliation and reporting are unified under one dashboard.

The software includes smart approval workflows and secure electronic payments, which reduce errors and speed up the accounts payable process. In addition, Plooto offers business accounts payable and accounts receivable automation, which helps small businesses collect on past-due bills.

While lots of payment platforms offer similar features, Plooto stands out for providing  an affordable way to automate all accounts payable tasks. You can use the same system to pay all vendors, even if they are located outside the U.S., as well as add payees in seconds, either by searching Plooto's network of 120,000 suppliers and vendors or by adding them manually.

Plooto also speeds up payments by automating invoicing and allowing you to accept payments within invoices. Once a customer pays, the payment is automatically reconciled. Another plus is that Plooto integrates with QuickBooks and Xero, two popular accounting programs, giving you clearer records of payments, audit trails and easier reconciliation. You can pay electronically or via check with the integrations, as well as make batch payments, search records and set payment approvals.

When it comes to managing accounts receivable, you want a program that is easy to use, affordable and transparent. Plooto checks off all those boxes, which is another reason it made our list of best picks. Plooto charges $25 a month for 10 domestic payments and 50 cents for each additional domestic transaction. Each international transaction costs $9.99, and each check payment is $1.99. There are no limitations on the number of users, approvers, customers, vendors or bank connections, and there is no charge for an accountant to collaborate. Plooto recently added the ability to accept credit card payments via its Credit Card Acceptance offering. This speeds up the time it takes to get paid. In many cases, this service can get money into your bank account in just two business days. Plooto charges 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction.

Plooto is a good choice for small businesses that need an affordable way to enhance their accounts payable and accounts receivable and save time. It also stands out for its automation and integrations with QuickBooks and Xero, making it great accounting software for business owners who work with those accounting plans.

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GoDaddy Online Bookkeeping: Best for Online Merchants

GoDaddy Online Bookkeeping integrates sales data from Amazon, Etsy and PayPal. You can generate reports and make business decisions based on real-time information.
There are three pricing plans that cater to different-sized businesses and merchants.
GoDaddy Online Bookkeeping was designed for sole proprietors and limited liability companies; larger businesses may need a program with more accounting features.

The sales channels are blurring for small business owners who must manage both online and offline sales, which is why it's important for those businesses to have an accounting program that can keep all of those transactions together. GoDaddy Online Bookkeeping stands out in that regard, thanks to integrations with marketplaces such as Amazon , Etsy and PayPal; the ease with which you can send invoices and accept payments; and the ability to run a slew of reports. Plus, you get all of those features at an affordable price, making GoDaddy Online Bookkeeping our choice for the best accounting software for online merchants.

Editor's score: 7.75/10

Online merchants need a lot from their accounting software. In addition to the typical features, online businesses need a way to sort online versus in-store sales. GoDaddy Online Bookkeeping enables business owners to track all their data in one location. You can import your accounts from Amazon, eBay, Etsy and PayPal, and run a slew of reports to give you real-time data and deep insight and analysis. Like the other accounting software we reviewed, GoDaddy Online Bookkeeping is cloud-based, which means there's nothing to download and you can sign in from any internet-connected device.

In addition to online sales data integration, this accounting software has many features small business owners need, including the ability to send invoices and estimates, process payments via a mobile device, schedule recurring invoices, and track mileage and time.

GoDaddy has three affordable pricing plans. The basic plan is $4.99 a month, the midtier plan is $9.99 a month and the premium plan is $14.99 a month.

GoDaddy had sole proprietors and limited liability companies in mind when creating this accounting software, which is another reason we selected it as the best accounting software for online merchants. Online retailers that are just starting out may have a great product they want to sell but not a lot of business and accounting know-how. GoDaddy's accounting software is simple to get up and running and is very easy to use. There aren't a lot of complex features that you'll never use, but there are many helpful ones that will save you time and money.

Some of those useful tools include tax features. GoDaddy automatically categorizes transactions into different IRS tax buckets, as well as tracks estimated tax payments that are due and sales tax your business collected. When it comes time to file with the IRS, you'll have all the information at the ready.

GoDaddy Online Bookkeeping doesn't have a ton of bells and whistles and an expensive price tag to go along with them, but it does have a lot of online-merchant-focused features that make it stand out. For online merchants that want to centralize their online sales, send invoices, track expenses and run reports, GoDaddy Online Bookkeeping checks off all the boxes.

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Wave Financial: Best Free Option

Wave links with bank accounts and credit cards, so you can track expenses automatically.
Wave gives you standard bookkeeping services for free.
Wave's integrations are more limited than some of its rivals'.

Wave Financial offers many important, quality accounting features for free. It connects to your bank accounts in real time, and offers payroll and invoicing features and unlimited accountant connections. Those are just a few of the reasons we selected Wave as our pick for the best free accounting software.

Editor's score: 8/10

With Wave, you don't have to worry about monthly or annual fees, nor do you have to license software. Wave is completely free unless you select optional add-ons. That means that, if you want to send invoices, run reports and integrate with popular business apps, you don't have to pay a penny. There are no limits on the number of transactions, invoices you send and users who access your Wave account. If you want to accept invoice payments, Wave charges a flat rate of 2.9% plus 30 cents per credit card transaction. For ACH bank transfers, Wave charges 1%, and there's a $1 minimum fee. The company also has additional payroll and bookkeeping services that business owners can access for a fee.

Wave easily holds its own when compared with paid accounting software. This program automates many aspects of accounting, thereby saving business owners precious time. Through the cloud-based accounting program, you can create and schedule recurring invoices and payments, as well as set up automatic payment reminders and automatic syncing with your bank, credit card and PayPal accounts.

Wave's reporting capabilities also stand out. You might think a free accounting application wouldn't have many reporting features, but that's not true of Wave. You can run dozens of reports on everything from cash flow to profits and losses, as well as track expenses and upload receipt images. Wave integrates with Etsy, PayPal, Shoeboxed and Zapier, which gives you access to hundreds of third-party apps.

Small businesses should seriously consider using Wave. The platform is easy to use and offers many of the features included in the best paid accounting software programs at a similar level of quality. Wave Financial might not be as comprehensive as some accounting programs, but it's still a step ahead of other free accounting software.

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Sage: Best for Freelancers/Self-Employed

Sage lets you create and send invoices, track payments, and automatically reconcile bank entries.
It offers 24/7 support via live Q&A chats with experts at Sage, as well as one-on-one sessions with an accounting expert.
The software integrates with only one POS system.

Freelancers and self-employed people need an affordable accounting program that can help them send invoices and get paid. Sage Business Cloud Accounting offers that and much more, making it our pick for the best accounting software for freelancers and the self-employed.

Editor's score: 7.5/10

Sage Business Cloud Accounting is inexpensive accounting software that packs a lot of punch. With the entry-level plan, you can create and send invoices, track payments and automatically reconcile bank entries.

Sage has another plan that costs $25 a month for unlimited users. With it, you can send invoices, quotes and estimates; run reports and conduct analysis to forecast cash flow; manage purchase invoices; and automatically snap and post receipts. Sage makes that service free for the first three months, and the company is currently running a promotion that gives business users 50% off the higher-tier plan for six months.

We also like that Sage offers a free 30-day trial. Sage also makes it easy to cancel; there isn't a long-term contract that costs extra to break, but you do have to give the company advance notice of cancellation. Another reason we chose Sage for freelancers and self-employed people is that it is easy to set up and navigate. The software automates a lot of the accounting processes that are typically manual, such as posting expenses and payments and sending invoices and reminders about past-due bills. Thanks to its integrations and apps, Sage is easily expandable as your business grows. The company operates an online app marketplace and integrates with a slew of apps, including AutoEntry, Draycir, Avalara and Credit Hound.

Sage's customer service is very accessible, which is good news for freelancers and self-employed people who don't have accounting expertise. If you have questions or need help, you can access customer support 24/7 by chat and live Q&A sessions. Sage also offers one-on-one help through online sessions with Sage accounting experts.

For self-employed and freelance workers, it's essential to be able to quickly and easily send invoices and track payments. With Sage Business Cloud Accounting, you get an affordable way to keep cash flowing, making it a great accounting program for freelancers and self-employed individuals.

Read Sage Review

Melio: Best Free Accounts Payable Software

It's free to make and accept payments from bank accounts.
You can easily schedule and track payments and control who has access to your accounts payable and receivables.
Melio charges a 2.9% fee for credit card transactions.

Some business owners don't need complex accounting software. If you just need to send invoices and receive payments, you should seriously consider Melio. We chose this free accounts payable software as one of our best picks because you can make and accept payments, manage bills and integrate with QuickBooks for free.

Editor's score: 7.25/10

With this cloud-based software, there's no charge to make payments through a bank transfer, but there is a 2.9% fee to pay by credit card. It's free to accept payments from clients via check or bank transfer.

Melio is also very easy to use. Adding vendors to pay and schedule payments is quick and intuitive. Melio lets you enter a vendor's information manually, upload a file with that date or snap a photo of an invoice. You can invite both internal users and accountants to use the software and then assign roles and permissions, so you know who is accessing your information and what they are doing with it at all times.

We also like that Melio helps you manage your cash flow better. You can set approval controls for transactions, thus preventing you from overextending yourself or having a cash flow shortage issue because you paid a bill early.

Another reason we selected Melio as the best accounts payable software is its integration with QuickBooks, which is our best pick for small businesses. Melio is excellent as a stand-alone program, but its integration with QuickBooks makes it even more impressive. Through the integration, you get deeper insight into your cash flow, and the two-way syncing is quick and easy.

Melio may not check off all the boxes for big businesses that need a lot of complex accounting features. But for small businesses that want to manage accounts payable for free, Melio should be a top consideration.

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ACCOUNTING SOFTWARE PRICING

Accounting software helps business owners streamline billing and accounting, and it doesn't have to cost a lot of money. Most programs offer several plans to accommodate your needs and budget.

There are typically two types of pricing models for accounting software: perpetual licensing or a recurring subscription. With a perpetual licensing model, you make a one-time payment for unlimited access to the software. With a subscription pricing model, you pay a monthly or annual fee for access to the software.

For subscription pricing, expect to pay anywhere from $4.99 per month for a basic starter plan to as much as $60 per month for a more advanced service plan. Other factors, like the included features and number of users, will affect the monthly cost as well.

Regardless of the pricing model you select, watch out for hidden fees, which can include added charges for customization options, installation or setup services, integrations, and maintenance or support services.

If your business is on a really tight budget, you might want to consider free accounting software. Wave, for instance, offers many of the accounting and invoicing features you would find in paid programs.

When you're choosing accounting and billing software for your business, we strongly encourage you to take advantage of any free trials to test out the solutions and see which one offers the features and tools you need. Plus, spending time with the software beforehand helps you feel more confident in your decision.

KEY FEATURES OF ACCOUNTING SOFTWARE

There are many aspects of accounting software that help make it a useful tool. As a small business owner, it's important to know which features to look for. Most online accounting software offers accounts receivable, accounts payable, banking and reporting features. Some programs include inventory management, project management, time tracking and payroll tools.

Here are some of the core features to look for in accounting software:

Bank Feed

This feature connects the software to your business bank and credit card accounts to receive a daily update of your transactions. This saves you time, because you will not have to upload transactions manually. It also gives you a daily, rather than monthly, overview of your accounts. A real-time bank-feed feature can assist with reconciliation, allowing you to make it a small daily task rather than a monthly ordeal.

Dashboard

When you log in to your account, you'll be greeted by a dashboard that shows you an overview of your account activity and key metrics, such as cash flow, profit and loss, account balances, expenses, accounts payable and receivable, and sales. Some accounting programs allow you to customize what you see first by rearranging the information.

Online Invoicing

If your business sends invoices, the ability to email them and accept online payments helps you get paid faster. Some accounting programs integrate with third-party payment processors; others require you to use their in-house processing services. It's a plus for accounting software to also serve as an invoice generator.

Recurring Invoices

With this feature, you can schedule the system to automatically generate and send invoices for recurring charges, such as subscriptions. You can choose how frequently invoices are sent – daily, weekly, monthly or annually – and indicate whether there's an end date to the billing.

Automatic Payment Reminders

This feature helps you remind customers about upcoming and past-due payments. Some have sample email text that you can use as is or customize. You can then choose when you want the reminders to be sent. Some programs give you the option to send thank-you emails to customers after you receive their payments.

Bank Reconciliation

Smart reconciliation tools identify potential matches between your bank transactions and the bills and invoices you've entered into the accounting software, saving you the hours it would otherwise take to sift through your bank account for this information. You can then approve or deny the suggested matches. The best applications suggest potential matches as you reconcile your accounts, and a few include a reconciliation tool in their mobile apps.

Financial Reporting

Every accounting program can generate financial reports. But some are more basic than others, and some require you to subscribe to a pricier plan for advanced reporting. If you need specific types of financial reports, you'll want to make sure they're included in the software application and plan you choose. Detailed reports can help you interpret your financial data to make informed business decisions.

Mobile Apps

Not all accounting and invoicing programs have mobile apps, but the best ones do. There is, however, quite a range in the capabilities of mobile apps. Some can only capture receipts for expense tracking, some allow you to create and send invoices, and others have almost every feature the web-based software does. It's worth checking if the software you're considering offers a mobile app and, if so, what features are included in the app that will help you manage your business while you're away from the office.

Integrations

The ability to connect your accounting software to other business programs you use saves you valuable time because you don't have to manually transfer data from one system to another. Payroll, payment processing, POS systems and CRM software are just a few of the popular types of integrations that are available with accounting software. Integration with systems you already use also cuts down on training time for employees who will use the software.

Tracking for Billable Hours

If you're a consultant or your business bills clients by the hour, you need software that allows you to track and bill your time or that integrates with the time-tracking program you already use. This is an important feature for freelancers.

Inventory Management

If you have a retail, e-commerce or distribution business, you need an application that helps with inventory tracking and purchase orders. You may need to subscribe to a top-tier plan to get this feature. If you need more advanced inventory features, look for software that integrates with a dedicated inventory management system.

Project-Based Billing

Firms, freelancers and consultants who work with clients on projects or jobs should look for accounting software that helps them track their projects' tasks and budgets. The software should allow you to invoice customers for tracked time and bill them for project expenses.

Support for Multiple Businesses

Several programs we evaluated let you add more than one business to your account, though some companies charge extra for this convenience. Also, the types of accounting tools that are important to you will depend on the specific needs of your business. For example, if you run a small freelance business, project-based billing might be the most important feature on your list. Or, if you plan to do some work on your mobile device, a full-featured mobile app might be at the top of your list.

BENEFITS OF ACCOUNTING SOFTWARE

Managing your finances is vital to the success of your business, and choosing the right accounting software can make that a whole lot easier. There are a lot of benefits from swapping out pen and paper or an Excel spreadsheet for accounting software. Here's a look at a few of them.

Improves organization

Small businesses can't afford not to have their finances in order. Whether it's time to pay the tax bill or forecast for the next year, it can be difficult to get the information you need if you are not organized. Accounting software helps you stay on top of your financial data. It organizes financial information, stores it in one location and automates many time-consuming accounting processes, thereby freeing you up to focus on running your business.

Doesn't break the bank

Thanks to cloud-based offerings, the price of accounting software has come down a lot over the years. Today, small business owners have a lot of choice: Accounting software costs range from free to $350 a month. The size of your business and your accounting needs dictate how much you pay. But if that monthly cost means you'll optimize cash flow, meet tax obligations and identify growth opportunities, it's probably worth it.

Ensures best practices

Taxes are part of running a business, and many accounting software vendors are well aware of that. As such, they've designed programs that calculate sales tax, prepare tax forms and even file taxes with no intervention on your part.

FAQs

How does accounting software work?

Accounting software records transactions and tracks different accounting metrics. You can set up the software to automatically receive financial information from your bank or use an extremely basic version that might require manually inputting the data. We encourage you to use software that automatically receives financial information from your bank and credit card provider to track your business's finances. Further, most software solutions store the information in the cloud, so your data will be secure and safe if your computer crashes or you experience other technical issues.

Which small business accounting system is best?

Based on our research, QuickBooks Online is the best small business accounting system. But, depending on the specific needs of your business, another system may be a better fit or better value. For example, if your business provides a service and sends a lot of invoices, FreshBooks might be the best choice for you because of its robust invoicing features. See our best picks above for our specific recommendations for different business sizes and needs.

What do you need from your accounting software?

You need accounting software that tracks the money moving in and out of your business, with both accounts payable and accounts receivable features. Some software solutions don't include both accounts payable and accounts receivable information. Also, accounting software should connect to your bank and credit card accounts and automatically download your transactions. If your business is service based, you may need project management tools. If your business sells products, you may want an accounting solution that has inventory management features. Last, look for software solutions that offer greater advantages by connecting to other business applications you already use, such as your point-of-sale system, customer relationship management system or email marketing software.

Do you need online bookkeeping software instead of accounting software?

For small businesses, the term "online bookkeeping software" is usually interchangeable with "online accounting software." (However, there is a difference between bookkeepers and accountants.) The best online accounting programs for small businesses have bookkeeping capabilities that allow you to record debit and credit transactions, as well as accounting features that let you run reports and analyze your business's financial performance. Look for more than just a bookkeeping solution; accounting software should include more detail and let you generate invoices and detailed reports.

Should your accounting software also act as an invoice generator?

It depends on your business. If you generate (or expect to generate) a lot of invoices to send to clients and customers, we recommend that you find a comprehensive accounting application with invoice-generating features. Freelancers should consider using accounting software that can generate invoices.

What does an online accounting service do?

Online accounting services can perform a wide range of tasks for busy business owners. Some focus on bookkeeping duties, such as entering and categorizing transactions, reconciling accounts, and generating financial statements and reports that you can take to your CPA at tax time. Others provide payroll and tax preparation services. Some – such as virtual controllers, chief financial officers and CPAs – provide high-level accounting services, like internal audits and financial planning and analysis.

How much should a small business plan expect to pay for accounting software?

For some small business owners, an accounting platform that tracks expenses and sends invoices is all that's needed. For others, advanced reporting, inventory management, and e-commerce are more important. The camp you fall into will dictate how much you pay for accounting software. Some accounting software options are free, while paid versions can cost as much as $25 per month, per user. The total cost of what you spend will be determined by the complexity of the software you choose and how many employees you want to have access to it.

Should small businesses look for certain accounting software attributes?

Small business owners should look for accounting software that is easy to install, simple to use, easily integrates with third-party apps, and provides a bevy of features and functionality including invoicing and inventory management. The best accounting software enables easy collaboration between you and your accountant.

Community Experts

When searching for accounting software, it is important to find a solution that not only offers all the features and tools you need but also fits within your budget. Candace Galiffa, the founder of NewWay Accounting, said she chose QuickBooks Online because it checked both of those boxes. 

Not only does Galiffa feel the software is affordable, but it also has a number of key features that stand out to her, such as its ability to connect with banks and its invoicing platform. 

"At the end of the day, most business owners are on a cash basis, and we want to make business banking as simple as possible," said Galiffa. "This really allows business owners not to miss any deductions." 

QuickBooks' customer service was also a plus to Galiffa. Their representatives offered guidance on using the software, which made the accounting program easier to navigate.  

FreshBooks was the software of choice for Katie Thomas, CFO of Diamond J Accounting. One aspect of the software she finds particularly appealing is its bank reconciliation process. This is a key function she looks for in accounting software, because business owners receive automatic transaction updates.  

However, one concern Thomas had with FreshBooks was the lack of customization available with the software's features. "As small business owners, you want something that is going to be easy to use, accessible and can grow with you," Thomas said. "Just because you're a small business doesn't mean you have to think small. You want something that can adapt and something that offers project tracking."  

Thomas referred to Xero as a fair program because of its open API and project management software integrations. For Thomas, these features were worth mentioning because they help make operations more organized and streamlined.

What to Expect from Accounting Software in 2021

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the accounting software market has continued to grow as businesses migrate to the cloud. More of the same is expected in 2021 as businesses of all sizes look for ways to reduce costs and complexity. According to market research firm Gartner, worldwide information technology spending is forecast to hit $3.8 trillion in 2021, up 4% from 2020. Enterprise software is projected to see 7.2% growth, and that includes cloud accounting applications.

Working from home was the only option for many people during the pandemic and will continue to be popular with workers and employers across the globe in 2021. Accounting software vendors are responding by automating even more aspects of accounting.

Accounting software providers are increasingly relying on artificial intelligence and machine learning to reduce manual data entry. That trend is expected to accelerate in 2021. For example, BlackLine, which makes accounting automation software, recently inked a $150 million deal to buy AI company Rimilia, which operates a software-as-a-service platform that simplifies cash flow and collection.

In 2021, the COVID-19 pandemic, which has hurt small businesses deeply, will continue to affect business owners. Accounting software vendors have responded by providing deals and discounts to help small business owners. If there's another shock to the economy due to the pandemic, we can expect accounting software providers to step up again.

Our Methodology

To determine the best accounting software for small businesses, we spent dozens of hours researching the top applications. Here is an explanation of our selection process.

Locating the Best Services

We began our research by asking business owners which accounting software they use, what they love about it and what they think makes it the "perfect" application. We also researched popular accounting apps that frequently appear on reputable review websites, top lists and business websites.

Choosing the Best Services

We then created an extensive list of accounting software that included the apps we identified from our research, applications we were already familiar with and vendors that have pitched their software to us.

We narrowed this list further based on different use cases and a wide range of criteria, including cost, features and limitations. As a part of our research, we studied user reviews, watched tutorials and checked out customer resources, such as knowledgebases, blogs and guides.

Researching Each Service

Next, we evaluated each program by signing up for a trial or demo account and testing the software ourselves. This firsthand experience helped us understand how the features work, whether the programs are worth their price tags and if the software really is as easy to use as the vendor claims it is. To further inform our decisions, we contacted each vendor to measure the quality of its customer support.

Analyzing Each Service

We started with more than 100 accounting software products on our list; however, following our research and evaluation, only 11 made it to our short list: Billy, FreeAgent, FreshBooks, Intuit QuickBooks Online, Kashoo, OneUp, Sage One, Wave Financial, Xero, ZipBooks and Zoho Books. Our picks for the top accounting software programs are QuickBooks Online, FreshBooks, Xero, Zoho Books and Wave Financial.

Additional reporting by Bennett Conlin.

Donna Fuscaldo
Donna Fuscaldo
Business News Daily Staff
Donna Fuscaldo is a senior finance writer at business.com and has more than two decades of experience writing about business borrowing, funding, and investing for publications including the Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones Newswires, Bankrate, Investopedia, Motley Fool, and Foxbusiness.com. Most recently she was a senior contributor at Forbes covering the intersection of money and technology before joining business.com. Donna has carved out a name for herself in the finance and small business markets, writing hundreds of business articles offering advice, insightful analysis, and groundbreaking coverage. Her areas of focus at business.com include business loans, accounting, and retirement benefits.
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