Best Payroll Software in 2019

by Bobby Chernev

Let’s not beat around the bush. Doing payroll is a time-consuming, soul-destroying task. And the facts and figures are there to prove it:

According to the NSBA Small Business Taxation Survey 2018, one-in-three small businesses that collect sales taxes report spending upwards of one full work week each year on payroll.

To alleviate the burden, 45% of companies now use a payroll service, and one-in-three small businesses spend more than $500 each month on it.

This is huge!

That’s why I’ve decided to test and review the best payroll software for 2019 to help you choose wisely from the huge number of available options. 

Here is the spoiler alert!

Payroll Software

Key Feature

Ranking

Link

gusto_best_payroll_software_techjury

Autopilot (automatically runs payroll)

4.5/5

Visit Website

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Great for small&mid-size businesses

4.5/5

Visit Website

adp_best_payroll_software_techjury

Automated deductions

4/5

Visit Website

isolved_best_payroll_software_techjury

Mojo (employee engagement tool)

4/5

Visit Website

payroll4free_best_payroll_software_techjury

Best free payroll

3.5/5

Visit Website

patriot_software_best_payroll_software_techjury

Great low-cost solution

4/5

Visit Website

ceridian_best_payroll_software_techjury

Great for big and multinational businesses

4/5

Visit Website

bamboohr_best_payroll_software_techjury

Great knowledge base

4/5

Visit Website

brightpay_best_payroll_software_techjury

Best payroll for the UK&Ireland

4.5/5

Visit Website

And this is how I did it:

Methodology

First, I read a large number of reputable independent company payroll software reviews as well as customer ratings and feedback to come up with an appropriate list of payroll providers.  

Second, I studied their websites and tried to sign-up for a free trial, if available.

Third, I explored the software and ran payroll.

I assessed each software for the following factors:

Products, Prices, and Features 

What is the company’s range of products?

What is each product’s target audience?

What are the payroll software prices, and how do they stack up against those of the competition?

Can you actually find pricing, or do you have to request a quote?

Is there a free payroll software version available?

What are each product’s key features?

Ease of Use

How easy is it to sign up? Is the interface intuitive and easy to navigate, or is it clunky and cumbersome? Can you tell how far along the process are you? Is there an indication of what the next steps are?

Service and Support

Is customer service available for all products, or do you have to pay extra with some? What types of support are there – live chat, email, phone, etc? How good is the knowledge base?

Excited to get cracking? I bet you are.

How to Choose the Right Payroll Software for Your Company

There are numerous benefits to using affordable payroll software solutions. Among other things, payroll software increases efficiency, improves labor management, decreases the potential for mistakes and errors, and provides employees with access to past and present data. Click To Tweet

However:

It’s easy to get lost in the vast jungle that is the payroll software industry. Capterra lists 191 providers, and this number grows each year.

You’re probably wondering:

“So, how  do I compare payroll software and choose the right one for my business?”

I recommend taking the following steps:

1. Targeted businesses – check what the providers’ target audience is – small, medium, or large businesses. Most vendors will list at least some of their clients and/or include clients’ testimonies that include employee numbers. 

2. Geographic range – check if the provider can deal with the tax rules and laws of all 50 US states. If you have offices outside the US, check if the provider offers services in multiple countries and which ones they are.

3. Free Trial – if available, sign-up for the free trial. This will give you an opportunity to test each product’s key features and important elements. You’ll also get a good comparison of the apps’ capabilities. 

4. Pricing – compare company prices and see what fits your budget. While this sounds fairly straightforward, it can get a bit tricky because the pricing of even some of the best payroll software providers is quote-based or hidden in some obscure section of their website. So, before you can simply crunch the numbers, you’ll probably have to make a few phone calls to their sales reps. Bear in mind that payroll software solutions pricing structure in the US starts with a per month per user figure plus a base price. Some companies offer additional perks at an extra cost.

But before you start doing any of that, make sure you read our thorough reviews. 

1. Gusto

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Founded in 2011 as ZenPayroll, Gusto is a company that provides a cloud-based payroll, benefits, and HR management software for over 100,000 US-based businesses in all 50 states. It’s also Xero’s preferred payroll partner in the US, so if you’re looking for payroll software on Xero’s US website, you’ll be invited to sign up with Gusto.

Products, Prices, and Features

All Gusto products come with a one-month free trial, which is fairly standard with payroll software free trials. You can customize any plan by adding extra benefits like pay-as-you-go workers’ comp, health benefits, 401 (k) retirement, and 529 college savings. Gusto calculates, files, and pays automatically all local, state, and federal payroll taxes.

It gets better:

There’s an Autopilot feature, which automatically runs payroll for you one day before your payroll deadlines. Nice! Gusto is clearly a leading payroll automation software

Here’s what you can choose from:

Core is an easy-to-use payroll for smaller teams that want to keep it simple. It’s priced at $6/mo per person plus a $39 base price. You get full-service payroll, employee profiles and self-service, health benefits administration, workers’ comp administration, best-in-class support, and paid-time-off policies.

Complete, which is the company’s recommended product, is aimed at busy, growing businesses. It costs $12/mo per person plus a $39 base price. You get everything in Core plus permissions, employee offers and onboarding, simple time tracking, PTO policies and time-off requests, and employee directory and surveys.

Concierge, priced at $12/mo per person plus a $149 base price, is Gusto’s premium product, which provides payroll and certified HR support to protect your business and team by certified HR pros and an HR resource center. 

Ease of Use

Setting up an account with Gusto payroll is easy and hassle-free. The interface is pared-down and intuitive, and you know exactly how far along the process you are and what to expect next. You can even invite your employees to enter their own personal information to save yourself the bother. 

Before you move on to the next step, you get a bulleted list with all the necessary information and/or documents you need to have handy (for example, company bank routing and account number and online banking credentials for step 5, adding a bank account). And should you need help, there’s a link that takes you straight to the relevant article in the Help Center. 

What’s more:

You’re told approximately how long each step takes, so you can plan ahead. You can skip steps and come back to them later, which is pretty convenient. You don’t have to commit to a plan until the very end of the setup. Then again, you wouldn’t expect anything less from one of the top 10 payroll software options on the market.

And once you’re done with the setup, you’re good to go! The software is sleek and easy to navigate. Everything is broken down into easily manageable steps, and the dashboard allows you to find your way around without any trouble.

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Service & Support

The GustoBot offers to put you through to a friendly human if you want to discuss pricing, which is a nice touch. You can chat or speak on the phone with one of the company’s reps from the San Francisco or Denver offices Monday through Friday, 6 am to 5 pm PST. There’s a ticketing system, but you need to create a Gusto account before you can use it. 

Apart from that, the help center is well organized and packed with useful information, as is the FAQ section. 

You can also read customer stories to get some personal feedback. They’re all from small business owners, which gives you a pretty good idea of Gusto’s target audience. 

Lastly, there’s a really neat interactive demo that lets you explore the software’s various features using a fictitious company. You need to have an account to access, but it’s available immediately once you’ve registered, even if you haven’t finished the setup process. You can check out both the admin and employee profiles.

2. QuickBooks Pro

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QuickBooks pro proudly proclaims itself the number one payroll software for small businesses. An impressive 85% of its 1.4 million customers recommend it.

Is it really the best, though? Let’s try to find out.

Products, Prices, and Features

You can choose from one of several Self Service and Full Service options, each one with a one-month free trial option. The main difference is that Self Service won’t do payroll taxes and same day direct deposit or file and send W-2 forms.

Here are the actual products:

Self Service

All three plans start at $4/mo per person. Self Service Payroll will set you back $35 per month, Self Service Payroll with QuickBooks $55, and Self Service Payroll with QuickBooks Plus $105. The good news is you can get each plan for half price for the first three months.

They all come with the basic payroll functions – 24-hour direct deposit, calculating employee paychecks, calculating and filing year-end forms, and unlimited payroll runs. Self Service Payroll with QuickBooks will also track income and expenses, maximize tax deductions, run reports, and invoice and accept payments. The premium product will manage bills and 1099 contractor forms and track inventory on top of that.

Full Service

Once again, the three available plans start at $4/mo per person and are priced at $80, $100, and $150, respectively, with a 50% discount for the first three months. The key feature in all of them is same day direct deposit, which can make all the difference in the world for small business owners.

Ease of Use

Creating a new account with QuickBooks payroll takes no time at all. You’re up and running straight away, and the software greets you with friendly, conversational language and helpful encouragements. 

In fact: 

The whole process is a breeze. On top of that, the dashboard comes with charts and graphs that help you visualize your invoices and expenses.

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As an accounting software that does payroll management as well, QuickBooks allows you to keep track of income, expenses, banking, and much more. 

Service & Support

As a top 10 payroll software, QuickBooks has useful online tutorials to guide you through the process. The company’s YouTube channel is particularly entertaining and helpful at the same time – a rare combination indeed. Apart from a large number of educational step-by-step guides, there is a series of 15-second long “Danny DeVito Teaches” videos. Apparently, he thinks doing payroll with QuickBooks Pro is so easy, he doesn’t even need the full 15 seconds to guide us through the process – “this is just dead air.” 

Sure, buddy. Whatever you say.

QuickBooks’s resource center is also on point, with plenty of informative articles packed with great tips and the most recent crucial stats and facts.

Like Gusto, QuickBooks has a fully set up demo account – but I couldn’t get access to payroll!

3. ADP Workforce Now

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ADP started off as a manual payroll processing business called Automatic Payrolls way back in 1949. The company proudly boasts that mid-size companies rely on it more than on the next five most-popular payroll and HR providers combined. 

Sounds impressive, right? Let’s see what features help this old-timer rank as one of the best payroll software in 2019.  

Products, Prices, and Features

Prices are quote-based. I requested a customized demo from their website but didn’t actually get one. Alternatively, you can call a toll-free number to talk to a sales rep directly.

Now:

Real-time analytics is one of ADP’s outstanding features. It provides metrics, reports, and dashboards on costs, overtime, productivity, and absences, allowing for smarter workforce management. 

Ease of Use

The interface is easy to navigate and nicely organized. I found the dashboard particularly impressive, as it’s packed full of information without being overwhelming.

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Service & Support

There are several demos to help guide you through the process, though they’re really step-by-step tutorials. There’s also an Articles & Insights section, which features guides and blog posts on various aspects of payroll. Sadly missing is a FAQ section; a list of alphabetically-organized topics would also come in handy.

Apart from that, the Resources section has three useful tools:

  • Salary paycheck calculator – does all the gross-to-net calculations to estimate net take-home pay in any part of the US.
  • 401(k) Planner – estimates the future value of retirement savings based on the interest rate, contribution amount, and current balance.
  • Tax guides and forms page – a comprehensive repository of tax and compliance-related forms and materials. 

4. iSolved

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In January 2019, iSolved acquired Sage Payroll Solutions, the US-based payroll outsourcing business of The Sage Group, which services more than 45,000 small- and mid-size companies. Sage Payroll now comes as part of a full human capital management (HCM) solution. So, if you’re browsing this best payroll software providers list looking for Sage 50cloud – this is it!

Products, Prices, and Features

I spent nearly half an hour trying to find a list of products in vain. And prices? “Fuggedaboutit,” as the mobsters in the 1997 crime drama Donnie Brasco kept saying. 

Citing an unnamed third-party site, FitSmallBusiness state that pricing starts at $8/mo per person for small businesses and companies with up to 75 employees. In any event, I’m not sure I can easily trust a company which isn’t upfront with its pricing or doesn’t offer a quote.

In terms of features, all iSource products come with “Mojo,” a multi-directional engagement tool that provides a personalized dashboard, feed wall, and tools for idea and knowledge sharing like pulse surveys and crowdsourcing. I bet Austin Powers would have enjoyed the “Ready to get your Mojo going?” prompt immensely.

Ease of Use

As you may have gathered by now, it’s not easy to find your way around iSolve’s website.

You have to sign up to watch the online iSolved HCM demo, but you get a link as soon as you do, as with Gusto and QuickBooks Pro. The interface design is somewhat outdated and not particularly eye-catching. However, being able to drag and drop boxes around allows users to customize their dashboard to ensure the most intuitive navigation. This is the sort of stuff that makes a great personalised payroll software.

Because iSolve is a complete HCM solution, the ability to access the specific information you need – in this case, payroll reports and other documents – is absolutely crucial. Luckily, the software comes with filters, which makes this task straightforward.

Service & Support

You can contact one of the company’s seven US offices by phone during regular business hours Monday through Friday (check first because for some reason business hours are not standardized across offices) or use the online ticketing system.

The Resources section isn’t all that resourceful, especially if you’re not already a user. There’s a blog, but it had a grand total of 5 payroll-related posts as of August 2019.

That being said, things get better once you’re a user.

First, you can rely on iSolved University, a full learning management system (think BlackBoard or Moodle), which offers online courses for business owners, managers, and employees. If you’re into e-learning, it’s ideal for you.

Second, the software admin dashboard lists your account reps (customer service and implementation) and how best to get in touch with them (phone or email), so you know who to contact when you need help.

5. Payroll4Free

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When it comes to online payroll management solutions, Payroll4Free.com is the only provider of free payroll – as long as your business pays no more than 25 people. The company started in a Cleveland suburb in 2012 with two local clients and has since attracted customers in nearly all 50 US states. Sounds too good to be true. Or is it?

Products, Prices, and Features

As you’d expect, there’s just the one free product, which you can upgrade by adding a couple of paid services.

It comes with all payroll processing, direct deposits to employees when using your own bank, tax calculations and forms, vacation tracking, outside software integrations, human resource functions, extensive reporting options, and unlimited live customer service and support.

What’s more:

The software supports both W-2 employees and 1099 contractors and allows you to set up 401 (k) deductions and contributions. It can also export your payroll information into many common accounting packages, such as QuickBooks.  

These are two optional paid services: 

Payroll4Free will deposit and file all payroll taxes (you’ll have to do it yourself otherwise) for $12.50 per month. You can also use Payroll4Free’s bank to transfer direct deposit funds to your employees rather than your own bank for $12.50 per month.

At the end of the day, even a free payroll software isn’t free all the way if you want a bit of extra help.

Ease of Use

Unfortunately, I couldn’t actually asses the software’s design and interface and assess ease of use because you can’t do the setup yourself. Instead, once you’ve signed up, you get an email with setup instructions. Basically, you need to fill out manually several forms (Federal Form 8655, New Employee Set up Form for each of your employees, and so on), get copies of several other forms, and return the lot as email attachments. 

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Let’s face it:

That’s not exactly an ideal setup process. Then again, you can only expect so much for free, so any payroll software comparison should take that into account.

Service & Support

There’s no knowledge base as such, but the FAQ page provides answers to some of the more generic questions. Apart from that, customer service is available via phone (no hours specified), email, and ticketing. According to customer feedback, the support is quick and helpful. 

6. Patriot Software

patriot techjury review

Founded in 1986, Patriot Software is yet another company which bundles accounting and payroll software, targeting small businesses. Customers are particularly impressed with its payroll software, giving it an astonishing 4.9/5 average rating based on 544 reviews. 

Is such high praise warranted? Let’s check.

Products, Prices, and Features

Patriot offers some of the most affordable payroll software solutions.

Basic Payroll starts at $4/mo per employee plus a $10 base price. You get the basics to run your own payroll (direct deposit, employee portal, unlimited and flexible portals, and so on), but you have to file and deposit Federal, State, Local, and year-end taxes by yourself.

Full Service Payroll starts at $4/mo per employee plus a $30 base price. Turns out the software will handle your taxes for a mere 20 bucks extra a month.

You get a free 30-day trial with both available packages. Not enough? You can add Time&Attendance and/or HR Software for additional monthly fees.  

There’s a neat slider calculator which lets you see the exact monthly price depending on the number of employees you have. If you have 56, for instance, Basic will cost you $234 and Full Service $254. 

Ease of Use

It takes all of 30 seconds to get a free, self-guided demo account – and you don’t even have to verify your email. That’s what I call quick and efficient. It’s a feature any company claiming to offer the best payroll management software should have.

Now:

The interface isn’t exactly the sleekest out there, but it’s easy to navigate. I was able to run payroll quickly and without any hassle.

Except I’m not quite sure President Jefferson would appreciate his hourly rate.  

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Service & Support

Free customer support via phone, email, or chat is available 8 am – 8 pm EST, Monday through Friday. The average wait time for an email query is 2 days, so Patriot’s customer service isn’t exactly first out of the blocks.

But there’s no need to get easily disappointed.

The Help Center on the company’s website is really well set up. There are in-depth how-to guides, training videos, and a fantastic blog. Top marks! 

7. Ceridian Dayforce

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Ceridian Dayforce is a Canadian company founded in 2008. It has several famous clients, including the Denver Broncos football franchise, so you shouldn’t be surprised to find it listed among the best payroll software services providers. You can even watch a short video exploring the Broncos’ relationship with the company.

Not a bad start! Moving on to:

Products, Prices, and Features

A list of products and prices is not readily available on Ceridian’s website. I had to submit a form but got no email reply.

In terms of features:

The ability to set up payroll in different countries using local currencies is particularly useful for large, multinational businesses, which operate in several countries.

Another powerful feature is the payroll preview flyout, which allows you to see a live preview of an employee’s earning statement at any point in the pay cycle. This way, you can easily catch any potential mistakes or errors. 

What’s more: 

Audit reports let you quickly and easily resolve any issues, so your employees can get paid on time. In turn, employees can access their information on PC, tablet, or mobile 24/7.

Ease of Use

The Ceridian website prompts you to watch a demo once you’ve entered a business email and your current country of residence. 

Except you can’t. 

I tried multiple email and country combinations, and none worked out. VPN didn’t help either. 

Not cool, Ceridian, not cool. It’s not something I expected from a company that claims to provide the best payroll software in 2019.

What’s worse is that you can’t chat or email them about it – you have to ring.

What you can watch is a short but extremely helpful video guide which takes you through the software’s key features. While the design isn’t particularly fancy, the interface is intuitive and straightforward to navigate. 

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Service & Support

With support teams across the globe, support is available 24/7, 365 days a year. Again, this is quite convenient if your business operates in multiple countries across different time zones. Offices in Toronto (GMT-5) and Edinburgh (GMT)? No worries – Ceridian’s got you covered.

The support portal lets you submit new tickets, review past/closed tickets, access Dayforce user guides/documentation, view all release notes, and review the Dayforce maintenance schedule. On the downside, the support portal is only available to clients, so I wasn’t able to see any of it. All you get is a reasonably detailed FAQ section.

Should you require immediate support, you can opt for Ceridian’s premium support package, which provides enhanced response times for urgent issues and expanded hours in addition to what’s included in the standard support package.

8. Bamboo HR

bamboo hr payroll software techjury review

Founded in 2008, BambooHR is an American technology company that provides human resources software, including payroll, to over 13,000 small and medium businesses. It has a 4.5/5 rating on Capterra, based on an impressive 991 reviews. Could that make it the best payroll software?

Products, Prices, and Features

Prices are quote-based, and you can request one by filling out a form or calling the company’s sales team.

There’s a 7-day free trial. You can sign up for it quickly and without much hassle, and it will tell you the exact day and time it expires. Mobile Apps for iOS and Android are available.

In terms of features, the software comes with 401(k) tracking, benefits management, direct deposit, payroll reporting, a self-service portal, tax compliance, vacation/leave tracking, W-2/1099 preparation, and wage garnishment. However, it does not support check printing.

Ease of Use

Bamboo HR is incredibly user-friendly and easy to use. In fact, it’s one of the easiest payroll software to use. The interface is intuitive, and you can easily switch back and forth between the various HR service solutions the company provides. Not much to fault here.

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Service & Support

The company prides itself on being the 2018 Stevie Silver Winner for Sales & Customer Service.

So, what’s the big deal?

Call, email, and chat customer service is available during regular business hours. You can access the Help Center as soon as you sign up for your free trial.

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The knowledge base is particularly helpful – there’s a blog; a content library packed full of e-books, infographics, whitepapers, video guides; a webinar library; and an HR glossary. Well done, Bamboo HR!

The software also comes with interactive tutorials. Bamboo HR’s YouTube channel is also helpful and well organized.

9. BrightPay by Thesaurus Software

brightpay techjury review

Thesaurus is an Ireland-based company which provides payroll, HR, and accounting software to over 100,000 businesses in the UK and Ireland. While quite a few of the companies I looked at have international versions of their software, BrightPay by Thesaurus is definitely one the best payroll software solutions in the UK and Ireland. It’s rated a full 5/5 on Capterra, based on 277 user reviews. Customers clearly love it! 

What’s more:

BrightPay won the “Payroll Software of the Year” at the 2018 AccountingWEB’s Software Excellence Awards.

Let’s see what the company has to offer in 2019.

Products, Prices, and Features

For the purposes of this review, I examined the UK product range for the 2019/20 year. All products come with a 60-day free trial for new customers.

BrightPay 2019/20 Standard starts at £49. It’s aimed at a single employer with multiple employees.

BrightPay 2019/20 Bureau starts at £249. It’s aimed at multiple employers with unlimited employees.

BrightPay Connect – Backup & Self-Service (2019/20) starts at £49. It’s an add-on that enables automatic backup of payroll data to the cloud and a web-based self-service dashboard for employees and employers.

Standard features include additions and deductions, P11d’s (expenses and benefits) and payrolling for benefits, holiday accruals, analysis reporting, RTI submissions, HMRC payments, automatic enrolment/API submissions/CSV pension uploads, employment allowance, and journals exports.

Ease of Use

Even though Brightpay is definitely one of the best payroll software options out there, its interface isn’t particularly snazzy and won’t win any graphic design awards. Frankly, it looks a bit outdated. That being said, it’s intuitive, well set up, and easy to use. You can skip steps and/or go back to previous steps in the process, and you can easily tell how far along you are. 

One thing I found a bit unpleasant was the small size of the font – unless you enjoy squinting, you might have to zoom in. 

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You’ll have to download and install the software after purchasing, but you can backup your reports on the cloud after you’ve done them.

Service & Support

Free customer service is available via phone, email, and online from 09:00-13:00 and 14:00-17:00 Monday through Friday. There’s also an extensive knowledge base, which comes with a FAQ section, video tutorials, online documentation, and guides and whitepapers. 

I found the video tutorials particularly informative and insightful. What makes it even better:

There are tons of them! Make sure you start with the 38-minute long, in-depth BrightPay Payroll Demo to get a clear picture of what you can expect from the software.

One final thing:

In case you’re going to contact customer service via phone, make sure you’ve worked on your Irish accent comprehension. As one customer review noted, “I did call once over an Irish bank holiday and spoke to a chap I found difficult to understand because of his beautiful soft Irish accent…” To avoid this pitfall, I recommend watching all three series of Father Ted, preferably in one go. 

Hilarious Irish comedy and a guide to the best payroll software out there? What more could you possibly want? But as Father Ted’s Father Dougal McGuire wisely put it:  “Careful now!” 

 

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is payroll software?

A: Payroll software calculates employees’ and contractors’ salaries and deposits them directly into bank accounts, cuts deductions, produces tax forms and payslips, and possibly much more. It helps reduce manual errors as well as the overall times spent on running payroll. 

Q: Who provides payroll software? 

A: Some of the best payroll software providers focus solely on this service. However, a few of the best accounting software solutions come with payroll software as part of their packages. Some HR technology vendors also offer payroll software, and it can be included in an ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system.

Q: When should a company start using payroll software?

A: Even if you have a single employee, you should start using payroll software straight away. A quick and early start will help you avoid complications further down the road as your business grows. It’s easy to set up and use. In addition to saving you time and eliminating potential errors, payroll software offers benefits such as secure financial transactions, efficient handling of employee data, and easy access to detailed reports on staff payroll. 

In fact, the majority of firms with more than five employees now use an external payroll company. And now that you know what the best payroll software companies are, you won’t find it hard to choose the best one for your business needs and join their ranks.

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