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QuickBooks Online vs. Desktop: Which Is Right for You?

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Touting more than 7 million users, Intuit’s QuickBooks continues to be a top choice among business owners looking for comprehensive accounting tools. QuickBooks offers both online and desktop accounting software that helps business owners manage a host of financial tasks, including tracking income, invoicing customers and tracking sales. But when it comes to QuickBooks Online versus Desktop, which one is right for you?

QuickBooks Online overview

QuickBooks Online is a cloud-based software system that was introduced in 2001 and has grown to have more than 4.5 million paid subscribers. QuickBooks Online, like other cloud-based accounting services, have become increasingly popular due to features like application integration and the ability to access and manage data from anywhere. QuickBooks Online allows you to create an account by signing in from your web browser or via application download for Mac or Windows. You can also access the portal through an app on a smartphone.

QuickBooks Online offers five plans: Simple Start, Essentials, Plus, Advanced 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.

Simple Start

The Simple Start option is the most basic QuickBooks Online plan. It allows a single user to run general reports; track income and expenses; invoice and accept payments; track sales and sales tax data and capture and organize receipts. Users can also use the Simple Start plan to itemize their tax deductions and potentially increase savings at tax time, as well as managing 1099 contractors and tracking mileage. This plan is $12 per month for the first three months and $25 per month thereafter. This is the least expensive plan available for small businesses that need accounting but can manage without the features offered in the higher tiers.


This Essentials plan allows up to three users access to all the features available under the Simple Start Plan (with the ability to produce more enhanced reports) and adds the ability to track bill status; record payment; create checks on-demand, from anywhere; and set up recurring payments. This plan also allows you to keep track of employee hours and track billable hours by client or employee, as well as integrating data with TSheets by QuickBooks, an employee scheduling and time tracking app to manage bills. The Essentials plan is $20 per month for the first three months and $40 per month thereafter.


This is the most popular of the QuickBooks Online plans. In addition to the features and functions available in the Essential Plan, the Plus plan allows up to five users and the ability to track project profitability and inventory. The Plus plan is $35 per month for the first three months and then jumps to $70 per month.


QuickBooks also offers the Advanced option, which includes a dedicated account manager, on-demand online training and business analytics and insights, as well as the option to import and send batch invoices and the ability to automate workflows. This plan also allows for up to 25 users and account access can be customized by user role. The Advanced plan, which includes membership to QuickBooks Priority Circle, is $75 per month for the first three months and $150 per month thereafter.


As its name suggests, the QuickBooks Self-Employed option is geared toward independent contractors or sole proprietors who file a Schedule C 1040 Form when filing their taxes. In addition to many of the same basic functions provided by the QuickBooks Essential plan, this plan also helps self-employed users separate business and personal expenses and calculate quarterly estimated taxes. The Self-Employed version is the cheapest plan, at $7 per month for the first three months and $15 per month thereafter. (Take notice, however, that there is no clear path that allows for an easy upgrade from the Self-Employed plan to one of the QuickBooks Online business plans.)

QuickBooks Online add-ons


For an additional fee, you can add on one of the following QuickBooks Online payroll services:

Core: Payroll Core offers users basic payroll services, including autopay for salaried employees, automated payroll tax payment and filing, payroll reports and garnishment and deduction management functions. In addition, this plan also provides access to a workforce portal that provides employees with access to their W2s, pay stubs and PTO balances.

QuickBooks Online customers can add this plan on for $22.50 per month for the first three months and $45 per month thereafter. There is an additional $4 per month fee for each employee on the plan.

Premium: In addition to the basic features offered by Payroll Core, the Premium plan offers same-day direct deposit, HR support and expert setup review. In addition, this plan provides mobile time tracking, allowing employees to clock in or out on any device.

When paired with QuickBooks Online, the Premium plan is available for $37.50 a month for the first three months and $75 per month thereafter. Each employee on the plan is an additional $8 per month.

Elite: Payroll Elite is the top-tier payroll service solution currently offered by QuickBooks. In addition to the features available under the Premium plan, the Elite plan allows users to track labor expenses and project hours in real time, geofencing alerts that remind workers to clock in or out after entering or leaving a job site and IRS tax penalty protections. In addition, Elite comes with white glove customized account setup and a personal HR advisor.

The Elite service is available for $62.50 per month for the first three month and $125 per month thereafter. There is an additional $10 per employee fee per month.

Expert setup

QuickBooks Online users can also opt to add on Expert Setup for an additional $50. This one-time session is led by a certified bookkeeper who can help you set up your accounts according to your individual business accounting needs. The bookkeeper will also assist you in connecting your bank accounts and automating relevant accounting processes.

QuickBooks Desktop overview

One of the major differences when comparing QuickBooks Online versus Desktop is the fee structure. Unlike the monthly fee you’d incur with QuickBooks Online, you only have to purchase the software for QuickBooks Desktop program once. While the online plan offers five plans to choose from, the desktop version offers three options:

QuickBooks Desktop Pro 2020

This software allows you to track your businesses performance, income and expenses; perform various functions, such as importing data from a spreadsheet; scheduling automatic reporting (like profit and loss) and paying 1099 contractors. The newest version also offers automatic customer payment reminders, the option to consolidate multiple invoices into a single email and an enhanced customer service experience, with easy access to help content while using the product and live expert advice. QuickBooks Desktop Pro 2020 is currently listed as $299.95 and can be installed on up to three computers.

QuickBooks Desktop Premier 2020

In addition to the features mentioned in the lower-priced desktop version, this plan also offers forecasting and industry-specific features that make it possible to track profitability at the client, project or product level and run industry specific reports. QuickBooks Desktop Premier 2020 is listed at $499.95 and can be downloaded on up to five computers.

QuickBooks Desktop Enterprise 2020

QuickBooks Enterprise 2020 gets an increased number of features. In addition to the features offered in the Premium version, the Enterprise version includes mobile inventory barcode scanning functions, access to QuickBooks Priority Circle and enhanced picking, packing and shipping management features. In addition, it can be downloaded on up to 30 computers.

The Enterprise version is available as as an annual subscription and can be purchased at the Silver, Gold and Platinum level:

  • Silver: This version offers advanced reporting capabilities that can help users further understand key metrics like job costs, completion costs, inventory valuations and gross margins by item. This version retails for $1091.70 for the first year and $1213 per year thereafter.
  • Gold: In addition to the features included in the Silver software, this level also offers enhanced payroll functionality. This feature helps users create unlimited paychecks, file payroll taxes and generate W-2s, among other common payroll requirements. Pricing for this version starts at $1419.30 for the first year and $1577 per year thereafter.
  • Platinum: The Platinum QuickBook Enterprise software includes even more features with the addition of advanced inventory capabilities and advanced pricing features. These include the option to set up first in, first out (FIFO) inventory costing; track items across multiple locations using items like serial numbers, lot numbers or bin numbers; automatic calculations based on existing pricing rules and the ability to change pricing at any time. Pricing for this version starts at $1746 for the first year and $1940 per year thereafter.

QuickBooks Desktop add-ons

Upgrade to Plus

If you’re considering purchasing QuickBook Pro or QuickBook Premier, the Upgrade to Plus option will give you access to additional features. These features include unlimited support and access to QuickBook experts, automated data back-up and recovery and access to new software versions when available. Quickbook Plus features are automatically included when you purchase QuickBooks Enterprise.

For QuickBooks Pro, the upgrade to Plus will drop the price to $199.95 for the first year and $299.99 per year thereafter. For QuickBooks Premier, the price drops to $299.95 for the first year and $499.95 per year thereafter. It’s important to note that when you purchase QuickBooks Pro or QuickBooks Premier without the upgrade, you’ll make a single, one-time purchase. Upgrade to Plus is a recurring annual purchase.

Pay employees

The Pay employees add-on allows you to make free direct deposits, create unlimited paychecks, pay and file federal and state payroll taxes from your QuickBooks software and print W2s. This feature is included in QuickBooks Enterprise Gold and Platinum versions but must be added to Pro, Premier and Enterprise Silver versions.

The Pay employees add-on is $315 for the first year and $450 for each additional year. There is also a $2 per employee per month fee.

Remote hosting

Remote hosting provides users with low-cost networking and hosting. This makes it possible to store data on the cloud and access business information from any device. It also provides ongoing IT maintenance. Quotes for remote hosting pricing can be obtained by calling the QuickBook sales department at 1-800-224-0952.

QuickBooks Online vs. Desktop: How they compare

QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Desktop have many of the same basic features. Both allow you to create professional invoices, track sales and expenses and manage accounts payable. Both online and desktop versions also allow users to customize their experience by choosing from numerous tiers of service (e.g., Pro, Premium and Enterprise). The primary difference and, therefore, the deciding factor for some may be how information is accessed. QuickBooks online is cloud-based, making it easily accessible from wherever you are as long as you have an internet-connected device. This type of accessibility and convenience is important for someone who wants to work from anywhere or wants to provide remote access to an account manager or their accountant.

QuickBooks Desktop isn’t without benefits, however. The software is downloaded directly to your laptop or desktop and operates without internet availability, which means you’ll have access to your financial information whether or not you have internet. Further cloud-storage and backup features are available to QuickBooks Desktop users when they add the Intuit Data Protect for $9.95 a month or upgrade to Plus. It’s also worth noting that once you purchase and install QuickBook Desktop, it can be used to manage multiple companies. This is not the case for QuickBooks Online, which requires a separate subscription for each company.

Another consideration when debating QuickBooks Online versus Desktop is cost. All QuickBooks Online services will require an annual financial obligation. Quickbooks Desktop Pro and Premium versions, on the other hand, require just a single payment, though the Enterprise version and some add-ons will result in an annual fee. Determining the right one for your business means taking into account functionality, as well as your immediate and long-term financial needs.

Cost: Quickbooks Online vs. Desktop
Online Desktop
Simple Start: Starting at $12/month for the first 3 months, $25 thereafter QuickBooks Pro 2020: Starting at $299.95 (one-time payment)
Essentials: Starting at $20/month for the first 3 months, $40 thereafter QuickBooks Premier 2020: Starting at $499.95 (one-time payment)
Plus: Starting at $35/month for the first 3 months, $70 thereafter QuickBooks Enterprise 2020: Starting at $1,091.70 for the first year, $1,213 thereafter
Advanced: Starting at $75/month for the first 3 months, $150 thereafter
Self-Employed: Starting at $7/month for the first 3 months, $15 thereafter
Simple Start Essentials Plus Advanced Self-Employed Pro Premier Enterprise
Number of users 1 Up to 3 Up to 5 Up to 25 Up to 3 Up to 5 Up to 30
Access from any device
Access with or without internet access
Track income and expenses
Manage business and personal expenses
Capture and organize receipts
Maximize tax deductions
Track mileage
Invoice and accept payments
Run reports
Send estimates
Track sales tax
Manage 1099 contractors
Profitability tracking
Bill management
Dedicated account manager
QuickBooks Priority Circle membership

Quickbooks Online vs. Desktop: Which is right for you?

Both QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Desktop offer users a wealth of tools and features that make it easy to perform a variety of operational tasks, including track performance, invoice and receive payments and tax management. If you’re wondering which is better for you — Quickbooks Online or Desktop — the answer will likely be found after analyzing your needs and your budget.

QuickBooks Online offers account access no matter where you are, which makes it a good option for business owners who are always on the go or have a remote workforce. And, since QuickBooks Online offers a 30-day free trial, it’s easy to take an in-depth look at the features and functionality that the service offers before deciding.

QuickBooks Desktop, however, may be a good option for business owners who don’t want to rely on internet connectivity to access their financials. Further, QuickBooks Desktop may be a more budget friendly option for accountants or business owners who have multi-company finance needs or don’t want to worry about recurring payments (not including QuickBook Enterprise 2020 or add-on features).


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