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Best Accounting Software for 2020

Susan Honea

Susan Honea – 8 years experience helping businesses with bookkeeping, tax preparation and auditing

Last updated: August 10, 2020

If you are a contractor, self-employed or run a small business accounting can be daunting. We take a look at the best accounting software (free and paid) to keep your finances in check.

best accounting software

Running a business brings with it the job of watching finances. Accounting software helps an owner manage the company finances by tracking income and expenses and helping with preparing to file taxes. Since accounting software can be expensive, and it can take a lot of effort to learn how it all works, we hope the list below will help you choose an option that is best for you.

There are myriad offerings to choose from these days, so before you choose an accounting product, you’ll want to identify the needs of your business. Each software has its own benefits, and one size does not fit all; for example, certain products are better for small businesses than others, and other products have significantly more features than you may need. Some questions to ask yourself include the following:

  • How many people need to have access to your books?
  • Do you prefer cloud accounting, mobile accounting, desktop accounting, or a combination?
  • What price range can you afford?
  • Do you need something that’s scalable and can grow with your business?
  • Do you have employees for whom you need to prepare payroll?
  • Do you need a built-in client relationship management system?
  • What level of support and training do you need?

Take a moment to consider what you need in accounting software, and then read on to learn more about the features of some of the most popular options.

  1.  Intuit QuickBooks: Best overall accounting software. There are reasons QuickBooks remains ever popular—it’s easy to use and affordable. It’s also the best-known of the products on this list, and its spacious, aesthetically pleasing look sets a high bar for what business money management apps can do.
  2. Oracle NetSuite: Most flexible. Sophisticated, scalable, and customizable option for small to mid-sized enterprises (SME). NetSuite is considered the #1 cloud-based enterprise resource planning system. With its integrated financials, client relationship management, and e-commerce platforms, it can do nearly anything you need it to do.
  3. FreshBooks: Best accounting software for the self-employed. Primary features are invoicing clients and receiving payments and paying bills. Simple but plenty powerful enough for anyone who is self-employed or runs a micro-business.
  4. Accounting by Wave: Most cost-effective. A free product (yes, free!), Wave is cloud-based, offers a simple interface and easy setup, and allows for project-based accounting and fixed asset management. The goal is to help the business owner prep for tax time. It’s simple, reliable, and secure with a lot of focus on data security protocols.
  5. FinancialForce: Best for sales-focused organizations. A cloud-based enterprise resource planning (ERP) system built on the Salesforce platform. If your business is customer-centric, and you already use Salesforce to manage your client relationships (or are considering it), FinancialForce’s robust opportunity pipeline may be your best choice.
  6. Sage 50cloud Accounting: Formerly known as Peachtree Accounting, Sage 50cloud Accounting has a proven track record over nearly four decades. Features include the power of a desktop solution with remote access, easy compliance with tax and payroll laws, and powerful inventory management.
  7. Xero: This simple to use accounting software integrates with 500+ third-party apps and supports multi-currency transactions, job costing, inventory management, legal billing, quoting/pricing management, and depreciation schedules for fixed asset management.
  8. Zoho Books: More than just bookkeeping, Zoho Books meets accounting needs like bank reconciliations, invoicing, expense tracking, timesheets, projects, recurring transactions, and sales approvals—all as part of a comprehensive business ecosystem.
  9. Sage Intacct: Sage Intacct is a good option for businesses that have outgrown other products’ capabilities. Intacct includes core financial functions, multi-entity management, industry-specific dashboards, budgeting and planning tools, and HR and sales product integrations.
  10. 17Hats: Organized, simplified, and streamlined business functions help users eliminate repetitive tasks. Through a standardized workflow management system, all client communications—including invoices, estimates, contracts, and emails—become professional, efficient, and consistent.

Need more information about each? Read on for longer reviews that include the following:

  • Ease of Use
  • Who’s It Best for?
  • Pros and Cons
  • Cost Considerations

Best Accounting Software

1. Intuit QuickBooks: Best Overall Accounting Software

Price from $8.00/mo
Free Trial 30 Days

Ease of use

The clean, crisp design and resulting ease of use makes QuickBooks Online the overall most popular choice among accounting software options. The interface and navigation form the basis of a user-friendly experience. Users will find it flexible with add-on options, as well. The QuickBooks website offers the opportunity to “test drive” the product with a sample company, along with an extensive catalog of video tutorials, plus webinars and training classes, to help you learn the ropes. Plus, the odds are that you know someone who is already using and knows how to navigate QuickBooks.

Who’s it best for?

Almost anyone can find a suitable version of QuickBooks as there are different levels of functionality—from a SelfEmployed version all the way to a comprehensive Advanced package. Typical users range from micro to midsize businesses. However, companies that are growing quickly may outgrow QuickBooks Online quickly, too.

Current QuickBooks Desktop users own the software without recurring fees each month, have full use of it offline, avoid storing company data at Intuit, and can seamlessly move data out of Desktop and into QuickBooks Online. On the other hand, users who started with or migrated to QuickBooks Online currently have no way to move data into QuickBooks Desktop.

In addition, QuickBooks Online is limited to one company per subscription, and while it’s not ideal for accountants or bookkeepers with multiple clients, QuickBooks Online Accountant provides that umbrella functionality.

Cost Considerations

QuickBooks offers a 30-day free trial for the cloud-based version, which is ample time to get a good sense of what the product can do for you and what you can do with it. QuickBooks currently offers five tiers of plans, with each tier increasing features, number of users, and cost. The Advanced level offers users the benefit of a dedicated account manager and online training on demand.

Play your cards right, and you may be able to get a “Limited time only” discount for the online version. If you are working with an accountant, you may be able to save money by purchasing your subscription through that firm instead of directly from Intuit.

QuickBooks also offers desktop versions that can be bought outright. If your Internet connection or speed or stability are not always the best, this may be the right choice for you. The Windows versions are scalable, so they are good options for growing businesses. The Mac version is not scalable and is functionally limited compared to the Windows version.

Things we liked:

  • iOS and Android mobile apps
  • Customizable reports
  • Clean user interface
  • User-level permissions
  • Multiple pricing levels
  • Easy reconciliation process

Things we didn’t like:

  • Becomes expensive with increasing functionalities
  • Can’t move data from Online to Desktop

2. Oracle NetSuite: Most Flexible Accounting Sofware

Ease of Use

NetSuite is more than just accounting software. It’s a powerful ERP platform. User consensus indicates that implementing NetSuite successfully is dependent upon finding a good provider to partner with. NetSuite has a bit of a learning curve, and users frequently mention the CloudFoundation’s free NetSuite course.

NetSuite also streamlines overall business processes, simplifying reporting, analytics, and decision-making while also incorporating operations, HR, and marketing functions into a central platform. Even with the learning curve, having this dashboard type view of the business is attractive to business owners because it makes overall management tasks easier to accomplish.

Who’s it best for?

If your business has inventory, or if you’re a manufacturer or need purchasing capabilities, NetSuite is an all-in-one solution for you. The robust supply chain and order management processes help business owners reduce costs and improve profitability.

Oracle NetSuite bills itself as “the #1 Cloud Business Platform.” It is a customizable, flexible, and scalable option that can grow with a business. Fast-growing businesses that want a fully-integrated yet customizable system will appreciate NetSuite; however, any company that wants software on premises will not be pleased with NetSuite’s cloud-only focus.

Cost Considerations

Because NetSuite offers unique product configuration, determining the price can be challenging. Oracle does not post its pricing online. A free demo is available.

Keep in mind that NetSuite offers a one-stop solution for financial management, project management, inventory management, and payroll, so money spent on integrating other systems will be saved.

Things we liked:

  • Fully integrated platform
  • Powerful ERP solution
  • Fully scalable
  • Automated and customizable processes
  • Fixed asset management

Things we didn’t like:

  • Expensive
  • Only available in a cloud version
  • Steep learning curve and marginal support

3. FreshBooks

Price from $10.00/mo
Free Trial 30 days

Ease of Use

The FreshBooks website touts this software as “Ridiculously Easy to Use.” Living up to the hype, FreshBooks was designed specifically as an invoicing software for business owners, not accountants. As such, it is intuitive and known for its usability.

Recently, FreshBooks was redesigned (“New FreshBooks”) to include double-entry accounting, along with other features. However, the new version seems to be more difficult to use than FreshBooks Classic (as the older version is called). FreshBooks has responded to these challenges by updating the new version regularly and significantly improving the issues users have reported.

FreshBooks is also known for its friendly customer service. If you have a question, FreshBooks is quick to respond, and every FreshBooks employee is required to serve in an in-house customer service role for a period of time so that they all understand what customers need and want and where they need help. Clearly, FreshBooks wants to help its users succeed with the software.

Who’s it best for?

FreshBooks is popular among small to midsize businesses (SMBs) and freelancers. The website targets both entrepreneurs and teams. Startups and consultancies with minimal accounting needs—primarily invoicing and expense tracking—will love the ease of FreshBooks and its almost non-existent learning curve. For companies with multiple users, FreshBooks might not be the best choice given that the monthly subscription plans only allow one user, and there are no permission controls for additional user profiles that can be purchased.

Cost Considerations

FreshBooks’s prices increase with the number of billable clients. More than 500 clients requires Custom Pricing, which comes with a personal account manager, customized training, and lower rates for credit card transactions. As with QuickBooks, users can watch for sales to secure as much as half-price savings. These plans serve one user; adding more users adds to the cost.

FreshBooks isn’t the cheapest option out there, but the 30 day free trial should help users decide if it’s worth the investment.

Things we liked:

  • Fantastic customer service
  • Simple and easy to use
  • Automated bank feed
  • Continuous product improvement efforts

Things we didn’t like:

  • Project-level budgeting only
  • Most plans only allow one user
  • No accounts payable feature or native payroll

4. Wave: Most cost effective

Price from FREE/mo

Ease of Use

Navigation is easy with Wave, and the dashboard provides a good overview of one’s business. Wave automates and simplifies several aspects of a business’s financial functions, including recurring invoices, converting estimates to invoices, and rules for expense tracking and bank downloads. Wave also includes a basic contact management system, so there’s no need to have separate software for that purpose.

Wave provides multiple customer support options, but if you need an immediate answer, you’ll likely need to self-serve in the Help Center. Recently, the Wave Community launched, and users are now helping each other, which can be both good and bad.

Who’s it best for?

Small businesses and start-ups are the most likely candidates for Wave. It’s not really scalable, so larger businesses won’t find it as useful. It integrates directly with Etsy, Wix, Squarespace, and WordPress, making it an ideal solution for bloggers and small eCommerce businesses. It’s also a good solution for companies that work with contract employees; its new 1099 module is a welcome addition for small consultancies and other service-based businesses.

Wave is best for companies with smaller budgets for software; the good news is that Wave is likely plenty of accounting power for the vast majority of lower-budget organizations. Plus, payroll, payment processing, and live bookkeeping, accounting, and tax support are available for reasonable fees if your company needs those functions.

Cost Considerations

Wave is free, so that’s a price that’s hard to beat. In addition, it’s ad-free. The only extras for which users would incur costs are payroll options, payment processing, access to an advisor (one-time or monthly), and Workers Comp.

Things we liked:

  • The basic platform is free
  • Supports multiple companies
  • Easy to learn navigation
  • Strong multi-currency support
  • Regional sales tax/VAT features

Things we didn’t like:

  • Not scalable for a growing business
  • Limited to a single user
  • Insufficient mobile apps

5. FinancialForce

Ease of Use

Users familiar with Salesforce should find FinancialForce easier to learn than those who aren’t existing Salesforce users. The interface may not be as intuitive as other software, and some users—again, such as those unfamiliar with Salesforce—may find it complex and even overwhelming at first. The FinancialForce website provides extensive support in the form of training materials (videos, webinars), guides, and community access. Also, “Success Plans”  include a free Standard plan and a Premier plan available by subscription to keep users and software working together efficiently. The reporting app can be difficult to navigate but is the only way to customize reports for specific audiences and purposes.

Who’s it best for?

Users who want smooth integration with Salesforce, with the ability to easily share customer records and common workflows across departments, will be drawn to FinancialForce. Direct database manipulation ability and API integration provide tremendous flexibility for customization. Combined operations and finance functions offer insight into business health, and FinancialForce streamlines financial management through automation. Role-based access is helpful in larger organizations where many people need to be able to see their area’s specific functionality but not that of other areas. Through the Chatter collaboration tool in FinancialForce, users can comment on workflows and cooperate productively on projects, a handy feature for a larger business with scattered personnel.

The efficiency of adding FinancialForce to Salesforce will appeal to some organizations. Typical customers appear to range from mid-size businesses to global entities. In addition, FinancialForce is ideal for multinational businesses. Although FinancialForce is designed for larger companies, small companies may like its sales-focused functionality.

Cost Considerations

Like Salesforce, FinancialForce is easily customizable, but costs for customization can be steep and implementation can be difficult. Upgrades are frequent and can be buggy and subsequent testing can be difficult. Therefore, in-house development staff and/or an administrator may be required, further adding to the cost. Price can vary because FinancialForce comes with as few or as many options as the user wants. In addition, types of users and level of access for users can impact price. Potential users will need to contact FinancialForce to learn more.

Things we liked:

  • Built in integration with the Salesforce platform
  • Highly customizable
  • Powerful inventory management function
  • Multiple dashboards and filters
  • Supportive staff

Things we didn’t like:

  • Prone to user error; training is essential
  • Initial setup lengthy and challenging
  • Learning curve

6. Sage 50cloud Accounting

Price from $50.58/mo

Ease of use

Sage 50cloud features strong accounting functionality. It is a versatile product that can be used by almost any business type. Sage provides graphic workflows and online tutorials to help new users understand processes. It is a robust solution for a growing business.

The wrinkle here is that Sage 50cloud may be too simple for a large company, but the product is clearly designed primarily for accountants. Companies without at least one accountant on staff (or a CFO with accounting experience) may find Sage50cloud challenging to use. In addition, while reporting capabilities are comprehensive, users will sometimes have to run multiple reports and combine them manually to get the information they want or need.

Who’s it best for?

Sage 50cloud Accounting is ideal for companies of 1-50 employees. Although fully cloud-based, Sage 50cloud offers no mobile apps. However, it requires minimal customization to get up and running.

Limited documentation and poor overall support mean that the user will need more accounting capabilities to succeed. If your company doesn’t employ an accountant, Sage 50cloud might not be the best product for you.

Cost Considerations

Like most accounting software offerings, Sage 50cloud offers a range of packages that increase in price with number of users. Another pricing consideration is that updates and upgrades are expensive.

Things we liked:

  • Strong accounting functions
  • Strong reporting capabilities
  • Supports multiple companies
  • Versatility

Things we didn’t like:

  • Steep learning curve
  • Tax code formulas calculate inconsistently
  • Sometimes challenging to integrate other software

7. Xero

Website www.xero.com
Price from $9.00/mo
Free Trial 30 days

Ease of use

Xero is super easy to use with no technical or accounting skills necessary. With its clean and clear layout, the user interface is effortless to navigate. The automatic bank feed function makes managing daily transactions easy and fast. Xero often offers multiple ways to do the same functions (which can be good or bad). Xero does offer excellent user guides and training, along with customer support. Xero offers good accountant integration for end-of-period activities, and regular updates and upgrades are automatically pushed to users.

Xero is accessible by cloud and mobile (Android and iOS), but the search feature within Xero is limited and may prove frustrating for some users. User feedback suggests that Xero could benefit from better chart of accounts setup instructions or a wizard.

Who’s it best for?

Small to medium sized businesses, including start-ups with no accountant on staff, can benefit from Xero. While it’s not technically designed for accountants, some accountants do use Xero, and there is a certification process (as does QuickBooks), which is attractive to accountants and bookkeepers. Freelancers may also find this software suitable, as well. As a company grows, it may find that it outgrows Xero’s capabilities, though. Another feature some businesses may appreciate is the user-driven access that allows administrators to limit feature access or grant full visibility.

Cost Considerations

Xero is a cost-effective and affordable option, with even the most expensive plan coming in under the cost of most software. Xero will allow you to try the software for free for 30 days.

Things we liked:

  • Excellent audit trail functionality
  • Completely paperless capability
  • Strong cash flow reporting functionality

Things we didn’t like:

  • Some functionality limited compared to other products
  • Limited multi-currency functionality
  • Not scalable

8. Zoho Books

Website www.zoho.com
Price from $9.00/mo

Ease of use

For Zoho ecosystem users, Zoho Books will be their best option—by far. Zoho Books offers ease of API integration within the ecosystem and integrates with other Zoho modules seamlessly; however, integrations outside of the Zoho ecosystem may require significant programming. Zoho Books offers cloud and mobile (Android and iOS) access, as well. Regular updates and upgrades have made Zoho Books more robust, but the updates are sometimes too frequent and are not automatic.

Even for Zoho ecosystems users, the interface can seem clunky, cluttered, and difficult to navigate and may take time to adjust to.

Who’s it best for?

Zoho Books is a good option for small to medium businesses, resellers, service industries, freelancers, and startups. It does not handle multiple clients in the company, so it’s not an ideal solution for accountants or bookkeepers. Again, the primary focal point is the Zoho ecosystem, and it’s not really usable outside of that.

Cost Considerations

Zoho Books is an overall cost effective option, offering a range of plans. Each plan includes more features than the previous one. Zoho also offers add-ons each month such as adding users, sending snail mail, and auto scans for additional charges.

Things we liked:

  • Good recurring transaction automation
  • Cost effective complete ecosystem
  • Includes default charts of accounts

Things we didn’t like:

  • May require developer/programmer for customization
  • Not scalable
  • Limited custom reporting features

9. Sage Intacct

Ease of use

Sage Intacct is easy to use, but some users have noted that Sage Intacct’s simplicity may cause careless user mistakes. The interface may seem clunky or not designed for accountants, and the software needs an update or visual refresh. Sage offers limited support for non-accountant users; customer support can be slow to respond, as well. Endorsed by AICPA, Sage Intacct has strong fixed asset management capability, which is perhaps its best overall feature. If fixed asset management is important to your business, Sage Intacct is definitely an accounting package to consider.

Who’s it best for?

Sage Intacct will work best for CPA firms and mid-sized organizations with a CFO or accounting or finance teams. Ironically, while Sage Intacct may have more functionality than a company actually needs, it is scalable, but it can also be outgrown. It’s hard to figure out the sweet spot for a Sage Intacct user.

Those who find Sage Intacct to be a good fit will appreciate its data slicing function, which makes for easy integration with other software. Also, Sage Intacct does not allow for “almost right” accounting, and it requires the user to figure out why things are unbalanced. The fixed chart of accounts is both good and bad in that it eases tax preparation, but it is not customizable, leading to frustration for users who want to make Sage Intacct work within their existing process flows.

Cost Considerations

Potential clients need to contact Sage Intacct to request a price quote via their website. The website does claim that their “award-winning US-based support” means that users will not need to engage IT resources, which saves on expenses.

Things we liked:

  • Robust reporting functionality
  • Fully customizable, easily integrated with other software
  • Cloud only

Things we didn’t like:

  • Too much functionality for small businesses
  • Not enough functionality for larger businesses
  • Poor customer support

10. 17Hats

Website www.17hats.com
Price from $25.00/mo
Free Trial 7 Days

Ease of use

17hats is a complete, centralized ecosystem in one software package offering functions ranging from communications with clients and client management to bookkeeping to project management.  One of the best benefits of 17hats is the time-saving aspect because all business functions are in one place, and it is easy to set up and get started. The dashboard view allows the user to monitor the health of the business easily. 17hats also Includes lots of templates and automated workflows to streamline and simplify day to day operations, but templates are only applicable to some industries.

The dashboard cannot currently be customized, but client-facing communications (e.g., invoices, emails, proposals, etc.) can be branded easily. 17hats includes a client scheduling module, but it’s clunky and needs improvement (e.g., sometimes calendars don’t sync properly). That said, 17hats is known to provide excellent customer service and training materials.

Who’s it best for?

Small entrepreneurial companies will find 17hats simple, though not robust. The simplicity of the architecture behind the software may hinder growth, so businesses hoping to grow quickly may not want to invest in this ecosystem. Limited recurring payment functions (e.g., clients can’t set up a recurring payment to a company) and the lack of auto-billing are important considerations for businesses needing those functions. Users who want options behind a cloud-only software will probably want to look elsewhere.

Cost Considerations

Pricing for 17hats is relatively straightforward. Costs will increase with new or expanded features, so it can be expensive compared to other, more robust products. 17hats also offers 30-day money back guarantee.

Things we liked:

  • Ecosystem is a one-stop shop
  • Wide range of functions
  • Professional-looking client-facing documents

Things we didn’t like:

  • Doesn’t include lead tracking
  • Does not integrate well with products outside the ecosystem
  • Can easily be outgrown

FAQs

Can accounting software file my taxes for me?

No, but it can help you be significantly more organized come tax time.

How much do I need to know about accounting to use accounting software?

Naturally, knowing at least a little about accounting is going to be helpful. Even knowing some basic terms [link to accounting terms document] can give you a leg up. Even if you are a novice, there is a software option out there for you. Do your homework by reading the reviews we offer and taking advantage of any free trials available for each software. Refer to the questions above to consider the features you need and don’t need. Take note of providers that offer online videos and training materials, as well.

Why do small businesses need accounting software?

It’s a good idea for a small business to use accounting software. Trying to maintain accounts for your business with paper and pencil is time consuming and leaves you vulnerable to accounting errors. In addition, if you plan to grow at all as a business, you will be glad later that you began with software initially rather than having to play catch-up down the road. Software can help you in maintaining compliance with tax laws, too. Software can also help you maintain control over your business’s  finances rather than giving that control to another person.

What is cloud-based accounting software?

Like any cloud-based software, cloud-based accounting software uses applications to access the internet and connect to data stored on remote servers.

Why would I want to store my data in the cloud?

The main reason you want to store your data in the cloud is accessibility. You can access your information easily from different devices and different locations, as long as you have internet access. You’re not tied to the hard drive on a computer. Software updates are easier, and backing up data is automatic. If security is your concern, consider that a computer can be stolen, lost, or broken, and a USB drive used to move information around is vulnerable in the same ways. Cloud-based accounting software companies have a vested interest in maintaining your security. As more and more software providers move into the cloud, desktop accounting software will become obsolete in the near future. Plus, it’s a cheaper way to go.

Should I use free or paid accounting software?

This depends upon your needs. Sometimes free software doesn’t come with a lot of support, so it’s important to consider your own skills here. Also, free options may come with limitations. For example, Wave (free) does charge for account payments and payroll features. Visit the website of any free software you are considering, and study what’s included and what’s not. Does the software provide everything you need? Or will you need to pay for some features important to you? If so, how much?

Can you tell me which accounting software is the best?

Not really, but if you read the reviews, you will be able to make a more educated decision about which is best for you!

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