ADP's payroll offering is a great way for businesses to pay their employee salaries, with strong features, great analytics, and broad functionality that extends to HR resources as well as payroll. But its custom pricing options could be better, and its help and support options are just okay.
ADP is the biggest payroll service in the US. But it's not quite the best.
QuickBooks and Gusto in particular stood out in our research — They offer a better overall service than ADP. QuickBooks has unbeatable features and support, with very good pricing and analytics, and Gusto has the best analytics in addition to great features and functionality.
ADP has six high-quality competitors for payroll software: QuickBooks, Gusto, Paychex Flex, Square Payroll, Heartland Payroll, and Sage 50cloud Accounting. Depending on your business needs, any one of these might be a more appealing option for you.
We don't mean to say that ADP isn't worth getting: It remains one of our favorite payroll services. But you should consider all your options. Here's our deeply researched look at why each competitor service might be worth getting instead.
Our #1 pick
Bespoke quote only
Core: $45 a month, plus $4 for each employee
Core: $39 a month, +$6/employee
Go: $59 a month, plus $4 for each employee
Employee tier: $29 a month, plus $5 for each employee
Pro tier: Starts at $911
Assistance with health insurance, workers' comp, and retirement plans
Same-day direct deposit
Free service to help users claim business tax credits
Supports Affordable Care Act (ACA) reporting
Bundled with accounting software
QuickBooks Online Payroll is the best payroll software solution on the market: It offers unbeatable core features and support, plus an intuitive interface, great pricing, and a lot of integrations. The only factor that isn't stellar, according to our research, is the service's range of analytics — but even these are perfectly adequate and should be more than enough for the service's target audience, small businesses.
Basic features of the service include payroll, payroll tax filing, and support for employee health benefits and workers' comp. Higher plans also include perks like role-based access, same-day direct deposit, and time tracking.
QuickBooks Online Payroll comes in three plans, with a 30 day free trial and a money-back guarantee.
- Core – $45 per month, plus $4 per employee per month
- Premium – $75 per month, plus $8 per employee per month
- Elite – $125 per month, plus $10 per employee per month
The Core or Premium plans are likely the best options, as Elite's large price hike mostly just gets you tax penalty protection and some professional setup assistance while setting everything up.
Pros & Cons
QuickBooks has a lot of benefits. Its range of features lets each business decide how to customize their payroll workflow, from adding an employee self-service portal to same-day direct deposit or HR functionality. A mobile app for administrators, unlimited payroll runs, and automated tax filing and payroll processes make it easy on the manager-side as well. Paid software training is available in addition to 24/7 customer support.
The downsides are worth noting, though: Users can't create custom reports, there's no option for a mobile app for employees, and HR documents can't be stored within the system itself. If these constraints are a serious concern, it's worth thinking twice before picking this otherwise top-tier payroll software.
ADP vs QuickBooks Payroll
ADP Payroll and QuickBooks Payroll share a few standout qualities: They both offer a great range of features. Granted, QuickBooks is slightly better at a few functions, most noteably the ability to handle same-day deposit, while ADP's fastest deposit time is 48 hours. They're also intuitive and easy to use, though ADP integrates with more than 100 apps, compared to QuickBooks' more than 650.
QuickBooks pulls far ahead in two categories, support and pricing: ADP doesn't provide pricing on their website, has no money-back guarantee, and doesn't provide any software training.
Does ADP best QuickBooks in anything? Yes, as mentioned earlier, QuickBooks' lack of custom reports puts ADP solidly ahead when it comes to analytics. On the whole, however, QuickBooks‘ features and support options make it the clear payroll winner in our view.
Gusto is a Human Capital Management (HCM) platform for small businesses — basic plans focus on payroll features, but if you upgrade to a higher plan down the road you'll be able to handle general HR functions through the interface as well.
It's a good interface, too: Gusto ranks at or near the top of our charts when it comes to core features, including analytics. It's easy to use, letting users cancel at will and offering free support for data migration, aiding users who are switch providers.
One big reason to pick Gusto over all the other options are the service's benefits management features. Gusto supports 401(k)s, commuter benefits, worker's comp, dental, vision, paycheck splitting and either health reimbursement or a small group health insurance plan. Plus, it gives employees a self-service portal that lets them view their paystubs and place time-off requests.
Gusto offers four payment plans, though one is aimed entirely at paying contractors, not employees:
- Contractor – $6 per contractor per month (no upfront free)
- Core – $39 per month, plus $6 per employee per month
- Complete – $39 per month, plus $12 per employee per month
- Concierge – $149 per month, plus $12 per employee per month
Core will give you the basic features, while Complete adds next-day direct deposit, time tracking and project management tools, and Concierge bundles in HR resources.
Pros & Cons
In addition to its benefits features, Gusto's software supports a host of useful features, from time-tracking to one-day direct deposits to unlimited payroll runs. The wide range of reports and HR functionality make Gusto a versitile option — you'd be hardpressed to find a payroll-related core tool that Gusto doesn't offer.
The service does have two areas that it's not as great in, though. First, the pricing doesn't come with user-friendly perks like a money-back guarantee. Second, support is a little lacking, with no options for software training or live setup support. If you'd feel safer with someone to walk you through the software, you won't find it here.
ADP vs Gusto
Adding up all our research categories, we'd say that Gusto is the superior alternative to ADP. The two services are evenly matched for features and analytics (both terrific), and both offer similar support benefits (sub-par), as neither provides software training.
Gusto is better when it comes to the costs, though, as Gusto's transparent pricing structure puts it ahead of ADP's very opaque pricing, and since neither of them have a money-back guarantee, that's a wash.
Likely the biggest reason to pick Gusto over ADP are the employee work and health benefits that the system supports — if your business wants to help its workers stay at their peak performance, Gusto can help provide the benefits that will keep them happiest.
Taxes: So confusing, so essential. Any decent payroll software will let you file payroll taxes, but if you want a service that can help guide a small business through it all, Paychex Flex is the best option.
Another small business centered system, Paychex recommends users don't surpass 49 employees. Those employees will get a worthy range of features, great analytics, and tax prep tools that include print tax forms, plus tax calculation and automated filing at the State and Federal levels. And while that's nothing unusual for payroll software, Paychex goes the extra mile with a free service that guides users as they claim business tax credits.
This payroll system uses three plans, one with fixed pricing, and two quote-based ones, each with more features than the last. As with Gusto, HR functionality becomes available on the higher plans.
- Go – $59 per month, plus $4 per employee per month
- Select – Custom price; quote needed
- Enterprise – Custom price; quote needed
While plenty of business softwares offer a custom-priced Enterprise plan, leaving a set price off of two out of your three plans is a rare move. Free trials aren't offered, but a demo can be scheduled through the website.
Pros & Cons
Paychex Flex offers plenty of pros beyond tax prep guidance. Standout features include a mobile app for employees and administrators both and integrations with 190 apps. Other useful benefits include an employee self-service portal, a wide range of reports, employee onboarding functionality, benefits management, data migration assistance, and same-day direct deposit. One missing feature? Automated payroll.
The service's pricing aren't great, due to the lack of a free trial, a money-back guarantee, or public pricing for the best plans. Support is also subpar, as there's no software training provided.
ADP vs Paychex Flex
Toe to toe, ADP is likely just a little better on the whole than Paychex Flex, although it's a close call. The two services both have great data analytics and reporting options, but ADP pulls slightly ahead when it comes to features, support and even pricing.
That doesn't mean that ADP is the clear choice, though. Any small business that needs tax prep help will appreciate the free service Paychex provides, and it offers such a great range of features and reporting abilities that they won't lack for anything else. If you need payroll tax guidance, Paychex Flex is for you.
Square's tiny white Point-of-Sale kiosks are familar to anyone who's been in a farmer's market or ice cream shop in the last five years. But the company does payroll services as well, and they've retained one of the strategies that makes them so popular for their digital cash registers. They offer very flexible pricing plans. This means you can get your payroll service up and running with little-to-no upfront fee.
If you have contractors, Square Payroll will only charge you $5 per contractor each month, and if you have employees, it's a $29 monthly fee first, then $5 per employee per month. You'll get a respectable swath of features, support, and analytics for the price.
If you need a particularly flexible plan — say, you want to pay a single contractor and you have just five dollar to spare — Square Payroll is the clear choice.
Square operates with two different types of plans, one for contractors and one for W-2 employees. They don't mess around with their naming system, either: Those plans are named “Pay Contractors Only” and “Pay Employees & Contractors”
- Pay Contractors Only – $5 per contractor per month (no upfront fee)
- Pay Employees & Contractors – $29 per month, plus $5 per employee per month
If you'd like a free trial of the service, just sign up for Pay Contractors Only and don't actually bill any contractors — you'll never be charged.
Pros & Cons
Square supports most big benefits a business wants from a decent payroll service, from custom reports to unlimited payrolls to a mobile app on iOS and Android, plus automated tax filing. Limited HR resources are supported, including onboarding documents and employee profiles. Assistance with the system setup is available over the phone, though no other software training is offered.
Other downsides include the limited integrations, which must cramp your business's ability to customize and combine other third-party softwares it uses. There's no data migration service, either, and no option for quick direct deposit payments.
ADP vs Square Payroll
Whether you want to pick ADP or Square Payroll depends on your needs. It's easier to keep costs lower when starting up a business with Square Payroll. But if you're starting a less-small business, and you want a payroll software with expanded support options, ADP is the better choice.
The two services are both worth considering in their own right, with a good range of features, as well as reporting and analytics (though ADP offers more customization options). If you wind up picking Square Payroll, it will very likely be the impressively flexible pricing. But, once you've signed on for it, Square Payroll should serve you well.
Small businesses don't always stay that way. If you have big plans for expanding or even franchising, Heartland Payroll is a payroll system to consider. Unlike most of the options on this page, it's aimed at accomodating different business sizes beyond just small companies.
It's a bespoke product, with prices customized to each user's business needs, and this structure means that the service can be easily scaled up to support changing business needs. Users can build their own personal software package consisting of other HR software provided by Heartland.
The same thing that makes Heartland Payroll's pricing great is what makes it hard to sum up: It's a bespoke software package, so it's impossible to give plan costs that accurately sum it up. The lack of public pricing isn't great, but seems unavoidable, given their scalable approach to serving their customers.
Pros & Cons
Heartland Payroll stands out for its flexible, scalable pricing plans. But has a wide range of available features, including HR functionality, time-tracking, an employee self-service portal, payroll and tax filing automation, and a range of report templates. It also supports Affordable Care Act (ACA) reporting. Help and support is good, with the setup process completed on behalf of the user and even an option for live software training.
Downsides to the service include some functionality limitations: There's no mobile app, and third-party integrations aren't supported. Plus, the lack of public visiblity around pricing might be frustrating, and there's no money-back guarantee offered.
ADP vs Heartland Payroll
Heartland's feature set is decent: Not as great as ADP, QuickBooks, or Gusto, but on par with Square Payroll and Paychex. Heartland's analytics are top-tier, though, and the service's help and support options are better than all but QuickBooks — including some perks that are rare even for top payroll services, most notably its live software training.
ADP is solidly ahead of Heartland in one major category, general software functionality, due to Heartland's lack of a mobile app or integrations. This is made worse by Heartland's focus on scalability: If your business doesn't need an app or integrations now, but might in the future, you'll run into problems with Heartland. But if you don't forsee those problems areas being a concern, Heartland is a flexible option that will expand and grow with your company better than ADP's plans will.
Sage 50cloud is primarily an accounting software, with payroll only available as an add-on. In other words, the core payroll audience for Sage 50cloud are those who also need a full accounting service to go with it. But that's most businesses, given how quickly the essentials of accounting (billing, invoicing, inventory, reporting, and taxes) can turn into a confusing mess of paperwork without a software greasing the wheels.
The accounting side of Sage 50cloud is modeled around incoming and outgoing cash flow, letting managers see profits and expenses at a glance. You'll be able to track expenses, bills, late payments, and more. Payroll is integrated, and with it, all payroll checks and taxes are auto-trackable as well. Tips can be included, and vacation or sick days are supported. Time tracking is part of both accounting and payroll.
Payroll costs are based on the accounting software payment plan, number of users, and number of employees — so there's a range of potential costs for each plan. Here's what those ranges look like for each of the three plans that payroll can be included in (the payroll features themselves remain the same across each plan):
- Pro – $911 to $1168
- Premium – $1194 to $2548
- Quantum – $1748 to $4013
Sage is transparent about how much it will cost. You can scroll through a dropdown menu on Sage's website to see how much the payroll add-on will cost you, depending on the number of users and employees. For instance, the $911 starting price for Pro covers between one and ten employees, managed by one user.
Pros & Cons
Sage includes a number of service benefits that help make their payroll easy to use. Users will get paid software training in addition to a setup e-learning course, unlimited payrolls, and assistance with data migration. They can cancel at any time, with a money-back guarantee.
Downsides include a lack of a payroll mobile app, no employee self-service portal, and no support for off-cycle payments (although users can send a check to make up for this). And as good as the service is for accounting, it doesn't include HR functionality at all, so it's not a one-stop-shop for your small business.
ADP vs Sage 50cloud Accounting
Our research found that ADP beats Sage 50cloud in several categories. It offers better functionality in areas including HR and mobile apps, better features (largely due to Sage 50cloud's lack of support for an employee self-service portal), and better analytics.
But Sage 50cloud's edge lies in its flexible pricing. Payroll for Sage 50cloud is an add-on, not a standalone function as it is for many softwares on this page. And the big benefit could also be seen as the biggest downside, depending on what you need. Do you need to prioritize accounting? Sage 50cloud is the best option. Do you just need a great payroll solution? ADP might be for you — although in that case we'd recommend QuickBooks first.
How we ranked ADP's competitors
No guesswork went into this article. Tech.co's researchers analyzed all the top software options using a five-category system to conclusively determine which software solutions rivaled ADP.
We scored each payroll vendor in a scale of 1 to 10 across five categories: Software Attributes, Help and Support, Pricing, Compensation, and Analytics. Software Attributes refers to mobile functionality, integrations, and functions other than payroll. Compensation and Analytics each cover different aspects of the features each software had to offer.
Once we figured out each software's scoring across each category, we added the numbers up and divided by five to get the full score for each one. By that metric, ADP ranked as the third best overall software, with QuickBooks at the top and Gusto as the second best.
But that doesn't mean all the other top software competitors aren't worth considering too — As we've mentioned in the entries above, each one stands out for a specific quality, like Sage 50cloud's accountancy functionality or Square's flexible pricing.
Verdict — Which ADP competitor is best?
If QuickBooks isn't for you, we'd suggest Gusto. Features and data reporting are great for both Gusto and ADP, but Gusto offers an unbeatable range of employee work and health benefits.
That said, ADP is a fine option, and has far more third-party integrations than even QuickBooks. The best payroll service ultimately depends on your specific business needs. Don't commit without taking a look at what a custom quote for all the top services has to offer you today.
Similar payroll software services do make their prices public. QuickBooks starts at $45 a month, plus $4 per employee per month, while Gusto starts at $39 a month, plus $6 per employee per month. Square Payroll is the most flexible, starting at just $5 per contractor per month.
That said, Paychex can easily be the more attractive choice for some, as it offers much better free tax preparation aid than other top payroll services. It's a great choice for any small business that needs payroll tax guidance.
Tech.co is reader-supported. If you make a purchase through the links on our site, we may earn a commission from the retailers of the products we have reviewed. This helps Tech.co to provide free advice and reviews for our readers. It has no additional cost to you, and never affects the editorial independence of our reviews. Click to return to top of page