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Quickbooks Online vs Desktop: Which Is Right For You?

When it comes to accounting software, Intuit’s QuickBooks seems to be a top pick for many small business owners. This isn’t surprising when you consider that more than 4.3 million customers worldwide rely on this popular product to track income and invoices, and manage bills.

Small and medium-sized businesses and accountants are among the software’s core customer base. QuickBooks has expanded greatly since it launched more than 20 years ago. Instead of only having a version that’s installed on your desktop, an online version has been added to the mix.

QuickBooks Desktop is a one-time purchase software that’s installed on your office desktop or laptop computer, while QuickBooks Online is a cloud-based monthly subscription service. Before you can compare the advantages of using QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Desktop, you should compare the pricing tiers of each one.

QuickBooks Online overview

QuickBooks Online, a cloud-based software, was introduced in 2001 and has grown to have more than 1 million paid subscribers. Cloud-based accounting systems are becoming more popular because they offer a level of convenience that isn’t available with desktop programs, such as the ability to access to your financial information while out of the office. You see this with QuickBooks Online, which allows you to create an account by signing in from your web browser or via application download for Mac or Windows.

QuickBooks Online offers four plans: Simple Start, Essentials, Plus and Self-Employed. The best one for your business will depend on your specific accounting needs, budget and type of business. All versions allow you to track income and expenses, capture and organize receipts with your smartphone, invoice and accept payments from your smartphone, and run reports such as your profit and loss statements and balance sheets.

Self-Employed: As its name suggests, the Self-Employed option is geared toward independent contractors or sole proprietors who file a Schedule C 1040 Form when filing their taxes. The Self-Employed version is the cheapest at $10 per month (it’s currently on sale for $5 per month for the first three months) and offers the basic functions that the other versions perform. This version categorizes business and personal trips so you can track your mileage and estimate your quarterly taxes. Take notice, however, that this plan doesn’t upgrade to the small business version.

Simple Start: Like the Self-Employed version, the Simple Start option offers the bare minimum of the QuickBooks Online plans. This plan, which is $10 per month for the first three months and $20 per month thereafter, will send estimates and track sales and sales tax in addition to the benefits previously listed. This is the least expensive plan available for small businesses that need accounting, but can manage without the features offered in the higher tiers.

Essentials: This option allows you to manage your bills more efficiently by allowing you to track bill status, record payments and create recurring payments. You can also add up to three people to access your books and track employee hours and billable hours. The Essentials plan is $17 per month for the first three months and $35 per month thereafter.

Plus: This is the deluxe version of the QuickBooks Online plans, offering the most of all plans. The Plus plan, which is $30 per month for the first three months and then jumps to $60 per month, allows you to do everything the other plans offer, plus track all your individual projects and inventory and manage all of your 1099 contractors. The Plus Plan also allows five or more users on the account. Intuit advertises this plan as its most popular.

For an additional fee, you can add on an Enhanced Payroll feature to any plan that will pay employees and contractors free 24-hour direct deposit on unlimited pay schedules and types. It can also pay and file federal and state payroll taxes and print and file W2s at the end of the year. This feature is currently half-price for the first three months, at $19 per month, and will then increase to $39 per month.

A Full-Service Payroll plan has all of the basic features that the enhanced version offers, but it comes with free same-day direct deposit and QuickBooks experts will arrange, file and pay payroll taxes for you. This upgrade costs $49 per month for the first three months and is $99 per month afterwards.

QuickBooks also has another tier: its Online Advanced option, which includes the cost of QuickBooks Online Training, allows for 10 or more users, and gives you membership to its new loyalty program, Priority Circle. It’s $75 per month for the first three months and $150 per month thereafter.


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Quickbooks Desktop overview

Unlike the monthly fee you’d incur with QuickBooks Online, you’d only have to purchase the software for QuickBooks Desktop program once. Like the online plan, the desktop version offers four plans from which you can select from.

QuickBooks Desktop Pro 2019: QuickBooks Desktop Pro 2018 is currently listed as $219.95, down from its original $299.99 price. This user-friendly software doesn’t require you to be an accounting whiz. In fact, it allows you to track your businesses performance, has simple tools and setup, and allows you to perform various functions such as importing data from a spreadsheet, tracking income and expenses, scheduling automatic reporting (like profit and loss), and paying 1099 contractors. Your can install this software on up to three computers.

QuickBooks Desktop Premier 2019: In addition to the perks mentioned in the lower-priced desktop versions, this plan also offers forecasting, helps you manage tasks unique to your industry and lets you install the software on up to five computers. Instead of paying the original price of $499.95, you can get the Premier option for a one-time payment of $379.95.

QuickBooks Desktop Enterprise 2019: By now you’ve probably figured out that the more expensive a QuickBooks software program is, the more features it has. So at $990 per year (originally $1100), Enterprise offers the most benefits out of all of the QuickBooks Desktop products. You get everything offered in the aforementioned versions, plus mobile inventory barcode scanning, membership to QuickBooks Priority Circle and the ability to install the software on up to 30 computers.

If you want a Payroll feature similar to the one that QuickBooks Online offers, it’s currently on sale for $315, down from $450.


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Quickbooks Online vs. Desktop: How they compare

The online and desktop versions of QuickBooks have some of the same basic features; both allow you to create professional invoices, track sales and expenses and manage accounts payable. However, only QuickBooks Online allows you to have instant access to your files, automatically schedule and send invoices, and work from a desktop, laptop, smartphone or tablet at anytime. This type of accessibility and convenience is important for someone who wants to work from anywhere, wants to give their accountant access from anywhere, or just prefers less data entry.

When you compare the desktop and online versions, it’s very apparent that Intuit is making the cloud-based subscription service a priority and they really want you to as well. As with anything, there are some drawbacks to using online accounting software.

For one, you need an internet connection to do any work, which isn’t required for the desktop version. You also won’t be able to work if there are any glitches with the website. Though more than 1 million paid customers use the online version, the majority of QuickBooks users use the desktop version. Cost could also also play a role in this since the desktop version offers one-time payment options.

Cost: Quickbooks Online vs Desktop
Online Desktop
Simple Start: $10/month for the first 3 months, $20 thereafter

Essentials:  $17/month for the first 3 months, $35 thereafter

Plus:  $30/month for the first 3 months, $60 thereafter

Self-Employed:  $5/month for the first 3 months, $10 thereafter

QuickBooks Pro 2019: $219.95 (one-time payment)

QuickBooks Premier 2019: $379.95QuickBooks Enterprise 2019: $990 each year

Features: Quickbooks Online vs Desktop
Online Desktop
Simple Start :

  • Track income and expenses
  • Capture and organize receipts
  • Maximize tax deductions
  • Invoice and accept payments
  • Run basic reports
  • Send estimates
  • Track sales and sales tax


  • All the perks of Simple Start
  • Manage bills
  • Multiple users (up to 3)
  • Track time


  • All the Perks of Essentials
  • Multiple users (5+)
  • Track projects
  • Track inventory
  • Manage 1099 contractors


  • Track income and expenses
  • Capture and organize receipts
  • Estimate quarterly taxes
  • Invoice and accept payments
  • Run basic reports
  • Track miles
QuickBooks Pro 2019:

  • Track income and expenses
  • Invoicing
  • Run reports
  • Send estimates
  • Track sales tax
  • Manage bills and accounts payable
  • Track time
  • Track inventory
  • List limits
  • Pay 1099 contractors
  • Up to 3 users

QuickBooks Premier 2019:

  • All the perks of Pro
  • Forecasting
  • Industry-specific features
  • Up to 5 users

QuickBooks Enterprise 2019:

  • All the perks of Premier
  • Mobile inventory barcode scanning
  • QuickBooks Priority Circle Loyalty Program
  • Up to 30 users

The bottom line

Have you reviewed the pros and cons of QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Desktop, but find you’re still unsure which version to choose? Remember, it’s important to choose a plan based on your business and accounting needs, accessibility requirements and budget. The desktop version offers one-time payment options (except QuickBooks Desktop Enterprise 2019), while the online version has a monthly subscription price. You can also do a 30-day trial of QuickBooks Online to see if it works for you.


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