If you’re running a small business or startup, managing your payroll can be an administrative and bureaucratic nightmare.
We’ve looked at the best payroll software for Mac and Windows PCs for small to medium-sized businesses to help take the stress out of payroll management.
All of the applications rated here are suitable for anything from just one employee up to several hundred so no matter the size of your business, you’ll find something here to solve your problem.
We found the best payroll software in 2021 is QuickBooks Payroll (50% Off) due to its flexibility both online and offline, integration with the QuickBooks Accounting Software and all round ease of use.
- Why Use Payroll Software?
- What To Look For In The Best Payroll Software
- Desktop vs Cloud Payroll Software
- 1. QuickBooks Payroll (50% Off)
- 2. Gusto
- 3. Sage
- 4. BrightPay (Best UK Payroll Software)
- 5. CheckMark
- 6. Patriot Payroll
- 7. Xero
- 8. Aatrix
- 9. Iris (Best Free UK Payroll Software)
- 10. Lightening (Best Australian Payroll Software)
Why Use Payroll Software?
To do payrolls properly, you need dedicated software.
One of the biggest reasons for this is because payroll administration is notoriously complex due to ever changing payroll tax laws which make it very easy to get caught out.
And getting your payroll wrong can be extremely costly. The IRS calculates it fined businesses a massive $4 billion for mistakes with payroll accounting.
Advantages to using your own in-house Payroll solution include:
- Doing payroll yourself is much cheaper than outsourcing
- You’re less likely to make mistakes calculating state taxes using Payroll software
- It’s much quicker – pay schedule templates and payroll runs can be executed instantly with payroll software
- It gives you full control of your payroll including the ability to fix payment problems quicker.
- You’ll make far fewer errors than doing things via spreadsheet
- It’s more secure than doing things via Excel or other spreadsheet apps
- Most payroll tools can be accessed on mobile via apps or browsers which allow you to execute pay runs anywhere
- Payroll software allows you to go paperless in your office
What To Look For In The Best Payroll Software
Ultimately, the task of good payroll software is to simplify the process of paying your employees correctly, on time and make sure the right income tax rate is applied depending on the State they are in.
However, some features to consider when choosing a payroll solution for your business include:
- Creating payslips
- Calculating deductions
- Calculate employee benefits
- Calculating or filing taxes both state and federal in accordance with current regulations
- Processing (and voiding) direct deposit payments to staff bank accounts
- Ability to differentiate between salaried employees and those contracted by the hour
- Ability to share your accounts or payroll with accountants and other financial professionals
- Track employee holidays, public holidays and birthdays
- Complying with national and state payroll regulations
- Producing reports
- Printing checks (although you may be better using specialized check printing software for this)
- Printing IRS forms
- Creating employee profiles to quickly see data such as pay rate, salaried status, time off, tax band etc.
- Mobile or online access for when you can’t be in the office – very useful for running payrolls on the move
Desktop vs Cloud Payroll Software
Payroll software usually falls into two types:
- Desktop standalone apps or “on premise” solutions which you can download onto your Mac or Windows PC
- SaaS (Software as a Solution) Cloud based apps which work online on any platform in any browser.
Whichever you choose, almost all payroll apps use a monthly subscription model.
This is increasingly common in the software industry and although it may seem inconvenient, it avoids the need for costly upgrades further down the line.
Be aware too that most payroll apps do pricing per employee or per how many payroll runs you do.
Keeping up to date with the latest payroll laws at local, state and federal level is a big job alone and payroll software is one of those areas where a subscription makes particular sense.
Note that most payroll software is aimed at US-based businesses and therefore only comply with US payroll laws and regulations.
However, in these reviews we’ve also highlighted the best payroll tools for UK small businesses.
You May Also Like:
- The Best Accounting Software For Mac
- The Best CRM Software For Mac
- The Best Personal Finance Software For Mac
With this in mind, here is the best payroll software for Mac and Windows PCs of 2021 in order of ranking.
QuickBooks Payroll is the best payroll software on the market thanks to its incredible ease of use and integration with a wide range of accounting packages.
QuickBooks accounting software is one of the most widely used and respected in the industry, so much so that almost all the other payroll solutions featured here offer optional integration with it.
Although there’s no QuickBooks Payroll desktop app, it can be used via the QuickBooks Desktop Mac 2021 accounting software desktop as an added module if you subscribe to it.
However, we recommend subscribing to QuickBooks Payroll online as Intuit is slowly discontinuing the desktop versions of its products.
You also get the useful QuickBooks Payroll mobile app which gives you the power to run payrolls, pay taxes, file forms and view your employee’s salary history.
The ability to execute payroll runs away from your Mac in particular is really useful if you can’t be in the office or at your desk for any reason.
Other nice touches include integrated time tracking so it can be used as a billing tool too, employee access so they can check pay stubs and automatic tax liability calculations.
There are 3 different versions of QuickBooks Payroll: Core, Premium and Elite (formerly known as Basic, Enhanced and Assisted Payroll).
- Core ($22.50 + $4 per employee/month) which is suitable for small teams but only pays taxes for employees in one state, not multiple states.
- Premium ($37.50 + $8 per employee/month) which is aimed at small to medium sized businesses that also need HR support and same day deposits. It also provides access to the HR Support Center which includes onboarding tools, state and federal overtime laws, job descriptions etc.
- Elite ($62.50 + $10 per employee/month) which is aimed at large businesses also seeking tax penalty protection and a personal HR advisor. It also supports payments to employees in multiple states.
If you want an easy to use payroll software that integrates with a wide range of accounting software and takes care of everything from tax filing to salary payments, QuickBooks Payroll is the perfect solution.
You can also try QuickBooks Payroll for free to judge for yourself.
You can also check out our full review of QuickBooks Payroll.
If you’re looking for something that can handle Payroll and HR but make it extremely easy, look no further than Gusto.
Gusto is used by over 60,000 companies to run their business and it’s easy to see why it’s become such an attractive solution to small and medium-sized organizations struggling to keep on top of things as they grow.
Gusto cleverly simplifies the complexities of running a small business and makes it incredibly easy to keep things under control.
Gusto covers everything from running pay runs and keeping up to date with payroll legislation to automatically filing taxes and even onboarding new employees into the system.
What we like most about Gusto is the modern, streamlined approach it takes to Payroll. In fact if Google made some kind of Payroll solution (and in fact Gusto is backed in part by Google Capital), Gusto is probably what it would look and feel like.
Even those with no experience in Payroll should be able to set up Gusto to manage payrolls quickly and the average pay run takes no more than 10 minutes.
You can ask Gusto to do pay runs manually or automatically. Manually allows you to administer the system yourself while AutoPayroll does everything for you from executing pay runs at a specific time to filing taxes.
It will even automatically report new-hires to government, calculate child support garnishments and automatically adjust wages to comply with the FLSA Tip Credit minimum wage requirement.
Gusto is constantly updated with payroll tax laws and regulations for 50 States including federal and local taxes. You can run unlimited pay runs, it automatically files W-2s and 1099s and there’s an employee portal to allow staff to check pay stubs and pay history.
The added HR features are something that stand out in Gusto compared to solutions like QuickBooks. Gusto even takes care of online onboarding when you recruit new employees.
This not only reduces paperwork but also time spent integrating new staff members into your payroll system. Once in the system, employees are also notified by mobile when they are paid.
There are 3 Gusto plans: Concierge, Complete and Core starting at $6 per month.
All plans include full service payroll, employee self-service, health benefits and workers comp administration and support for paid off time policies. You can also customize plans with things like 401(k)s and FSA.
You can get started now for free with Gusto to judge for yourself.
Sage is an all round accounting solution with a Business Cloud Payroll solution suitable for small, medium and large businesses. Since it’s Cloud based, it can be used on any platform including Mac, Windows and mobile.
Sage Payroll can be used as a standalone product or alongside its own accounting solution Sage Cloud. Alternatively, you an also use it with QuickBooks accounting software.
Sage Payroll automatically files local, state and federal taxes and even takes care of any notifications from government for you. Sage has professional staff certified by the American Payroll Association (FPC) that can give professional advice on any payroll issues you may have.
Sage Business Cloud Payroll includes free 24 hour support and is automatically updated each year for changes in payroll legislation so it’s always up to date. There are no limits on the number of transactions or pay runs you can make either.
Because it’s based online, Sage works on all platforms including Mac, Windows and mobile. Sage also offers a desktop payroll application but its Windows only.
You can request a free demo of Sage to try before you buy.
Note that users in the UK must go to the Sage UK site to try its payroll solution.
BrightPay is an award winning UK based desktop payroll software that works on both macOS and Windows.
BrightPay officially endorsed by HMRC, supports all RTI submission types and includes auto enrollment. This mean however that BrightPay is only suitable for UK small businesses – it does not work in the USA or other countries.
BrightPay now integrates with a most major accounting software and even allows you to to batch process multiple employers at the same time.
BrightPay also has a Cloud version called BrightPay Connect which syncs with both the desktop client and can be used in any browser.
BrightPay Plans start at 49 pounds for up to 3 employees going up to 199 pounds for unlimited employees.
BrightPay offers a generous 60 day free trial so you can fully test it out before purchasing.
CheckMark is one of the few payroll solutions that offers both a Mac and PC desktop download. Unlike QuickBooks Payroll however, it can’t be used online and there’s no mobile application.
CheckMark has been in the accounting and payroll business since 1984 so it’s an extremely solid product with a good track record.
What we like about CheckMark Payroll is that it integrates not only with its own accounting package MultiLedger but also with QuickBooks (see review above) and many other popular accounting systems so it doesn’t try to lock you in.
Some of the best features of CheckMark Payroll are:
- Unlimited Payroll run processing
- Unlimited employee processing
- Printing and E-filing of W2s, W3s and more to the SSA
- Direct Deposit payments to employees
- Emailing of pay stubs to employees
- MICR encoded check printing
- Back-up your Payroll to the Cloud (costs extra)
Another big plus is that if subscription based software isn’t for you, CheckMark doesn’t require any monthly payments although it doesn’t come cheap at $429 for CheckMark Payroll Pro and $499 for the Pro+ version.
If you want a purely desktop payroll solution for both Mac and PC, CheckMark Payroll is an excellent choice although the price will put off many small businesses.
You can try it free for 60 days before deciding whether it’s the right tool for you.
Patriot Accounting software is an easy to use accounting and payroll solution that works online.
You can choose to either run payroll yourself with the Patriot Payroll Basic solution or let Patriot handle everything from tax filing to payments with Full Service Payroll.
The Basic Payroll service is very reasonably priced at $10 per month although there’s a $4 per employee charge on top. This includes, payroll setup, check printing, unlimited payroll runs, flexible pay schedules and printable W2s.
The Full Payroll service costs $30 per month plus $4 per employee but includes all tax filing including W2, W3, federal, state and local taxes. If you’re based in one State but have employees in another State, Patriot Payroll can also handle that although it costs an extra $12 per month.
Employees can also check their payments and payslips by logging into the Patrot Payroll employee portal.
Since Patriot Payroll runs on any device, it can easily be used on iPhone and iPad too.
If you want an easy to use online payroll tool, Patriot Payroll is extremely straightforward. It’s ideal for small businesses although since billing is done per employee, medium-sized firms may find that the cost adds up.
You can sign-up for a free trial of Patriot Payroll (a credit card is required for this though) or request a free demo.
Xero is a complete accounting and payroll solution designed specifically for Apple devices. Xero is actually Cloud based but the look and feel is very much of an iOS/macOS oriented product.
Xero is a complete accounting package and payroll is just one aspect of it. Xero doesn’t have all the features you’ll find in dedicated payroll software like QuickBooks and CheckMark Payroll but it’s extremely slick, clean, easy to use and works on any platform.
Xero can perform pay runs, generate payroll reports and create payroll journals.
However, it’s more focused on providing an overall accounting solution including reports, invoicing, payment processing, inventory management and more.
If you want a complete accounting package that has simple payroll support and looks great on any platform, Xero is worth checking out.
Pricing for Xero starts at $15 for the Starter Plan although this puts limited on the number if invoices you can issue, bills you can pay and transactions you can reconcile.
You can also try Xero for free to decide whether it’s for you.
Aatrix Payroll solutions are aimed at small to medium-sized businesses and the company offers two different apps depending on the size of your company.
Aatrix Top Pay is aimed at small businesses but only tracks deductions, employee contributions, vacation, sick time and holiday time. For pay runs, it requires QuickBooks which it can automatically post pay run data to.
Aatrix Ultimate Payroll is designed for larger businesses and handles all payroll itself. Aatrix also offers a useful eFile service which allows users your customers to eFile payroll reports for processing.
You can request a free demo of Aatrix to try first but you’ll need QuickBooks already installed to use Aatrix Top Pay.
Iris is a payroll solution for UK businesses that’s free for up to 10 employee payrolls.
Iris also offers good value Cloud based payroll software for businesses of all sizes starting at £96 per year.
Iris is HMRC recognised which means it’s up to date with all UK tax accounting requirements, laws and procedures.
If you’re based in Australia, the options are even more limited but you can try Lightning Payroll which has both a Mac and Windows desktop client.
Lightening is ATO and Fair Work compliant, includes free support and costs $199 with a free 30 day trial.
We hope this guide to pay roll solutions for Mac users have been helpful. If you’re just get started out in doing payrolls for your business, we also recommend CheckMarks’s useful guide to Payroll for beginners.
If you need something to manage your customers or client base on your Mac, you may also find our guide to the top CRM solutions for small business owners on Mac useful too.
If you have any other questions, suggestions or experiences regarding the software featured here, let us know in the comments below.