What Is QuickBooks Software? A Guide to Choosing the Right Solution

on March 28, 2016

When you hear “small-business accounting software,” you probably think of QuickBooks. Since Intuit launched its flagship product over 20 years ago, the financial management platform has dominated the accounting software marketplace.

Currently, QuickBooks software holds more than 80 percent of the small-business market share. If you’re researching small-business accounting solutions, clearly QuickBooks will be on your list.

But which version is right for you? On-premise or cloud? With payroll or without?

QuickBooks has a product for nearly all your accounting needs, but sorting through the options can feel like an insurmountable task.

To simplify your search, we’ve created the following QuickBooks comparison, which outlines the different versions. Watch the short video below to see a quick summary or read our in-depth report for more details.

In this report, we’ll cover:

(Click any of the links below to jump directly to that section)

Solo entrepreneurs seeking cloud-based accounting:

Small businesses seeking cloud-based accounting:

Small to medium businesses seeking desktop accounting:

Additional products:

QuickBooks Self-Employed

The newest edition of the QuickBooks product line is a cloud-based financial management service designed for self-employed and/or freelance individuals (e.g., anyone who contracts out their services, such as an Uber driver).

Home screen in QuickBooks Self-Employed
Pricing: Available through a monthly subscription that includes the cost for phone support, data backups and system maintenance.


The solution comes in two packages: Self-Employed and Self-Employed Tax Bundle.

QuickBooks Self-Employed allows users to:

  • Connect to bank and credit card accounts
  • Track income and expenses, separating transactions as business or personal
  • Categorize and track IRS Schedule C tax deductions and expenses
  • Calculate quarterly taxes

QuickBooks Self-Employed Tax Bundle offers the same functionality as Self-Employed with a connection to Intuit TurboTax, allowing users to:

  • Pay quarterly taxes online
  • Export Schedule C deductions to TurboTax

Benefits: A mileage tracker—users can log trips by entering the date, purpose and miles driven. The software calculates the deduction automatically.

Drawbacks: Lack of invoicing capabilities with no connection to a payment gateway.

QuickBooks Online

In 2014, Intuit reported a major turning point for QuickBooks products: For the first time, more new customers chose QuickBooks Online over desktop versions.

Since then, QuickBooks Online has grown to over 1 million subscribers, signaling that small businesses are growing more confident hosting their accounting solutions in the cloud.

Customer overview in QuickBooks Online

Pricing: Available through a monthly subscription that includes the cost for support, automatic data backups and upgrades.

QuickBooks’ cloud-based solution is designed for small-business users and comes in three packages: Simple Start, Essentials and Plus.


QuickBooks Online Products: Common Capabilities

Accounts payable and accounts receivable Monitor and manage income and expenses.
Billing and invoicing Send unlimited estimates and invoices. Essentials and Plus also offer recurring invoices.
Expense management Track and process work-related expenses such as travel and supplies.
Financial reporting Simple Start has over 20 pre-built reports, Essentials has over 40 and Plus has over 60 (includes sales and tax reports).


The QuickBooks Simple Start package includes:

  • One user license
  • Data import from Excel or QuickBooks desktop versions
  • Access for up to two accounting professionals (accountant and/or bookkeeper)

QuickBooks Essentials includes the above capabilities as well as:

  • Three user licenses
  • Ability to set user permissions (accountant, bookkeeper etc.)
  • Ability to postdate bills and payments

QuickBooks Plus includes all of the above and more. Additional offerings include:

  • Five user licenses
  • Inventory tracking
  • Creating and sending purchase orders
Benefits: Connectivity—mobile apps are available for iOS, Android and Windows devices. Additionally, easy integration with third-party applications such as PayPal and Shopify is available.

According to user reviews on SoftwareAdvice.com, QuickBooks Online lacks some functionality available in QuickBooks Desktop products. As one user points out:

“The online version does not allow you to run more than [one] company. The PC version allows multiple tax IDs.”

Jeremiah from Camp Curiosity, Curiosity Stables

QuickBooks Desktop Products

It’s important to note: while QuickBooks Online will be the best choice for many small-businesses due to ease of use and access, the online version is not identical to the desktop products.

They offer similar capabilities, but the breadth and depth of the features differ. For example, the most report options included online is about 60—with QuickBooks Online Plus—while the desktop products start at 100 with industry-specific options available.

There are several QuickBooks products under the Desktop umbrella. In this article, we are discussing the 2016 version of each. They include:

    • Mac: Designed for small businesses using Apple OS (not scaleable).
    • Pro: A good fit for small business just starting out (can scale to Premier and Enterprise.
    • Premier: Aimed at small businesses with industry-specific needs (can scale to Enterprise)
    • Enterprise: Designed for small to midsize businesses (SMBs) that need a flexible business and financial management solution.

The desktop products have a similar base feature set, with functionalities becoming more advanced as the packages scale.

QuickBooks Desktop Products: Common Capabilities

Core accounting Accounts receivable, accounts payable, general ledger and bank reconciliation.
Payroll (limited) Track employee hours and print checks and deposit slips. Enhanced payroll is available for an additional fee (calculates payroll taxes and files tax forms).
Billing and invoicing Automates creating and sending invoices as well as payment collection.
Inventory management Tracks orders, sales and deliveries to maintain product supply levels.
Financial reporting Tracks and visualizes trends, evaluates KPI and profitability, such as profit and loss (P&L) statements, balance sheets etc.


QuickBooks Mac Desktop

Businesses should note; however—QuickBooks’ Mac desktop product is not scalable, whereas the Windows versions of Pro, Premier and Enterprise are.

Income Tracker in QuickBooks Mac Desktop
Pricing: User licenses are sold outright for a one-time fee. This package supports up to three concurrent users, but requires a unique user license for each. 24/7 phone support is available for an additional fee, sold on recurring 90-day support plans.

In addition to the common desktop capabilities listed above, Mac Desktop includes:

  • The “Income Tracker” dashboard, which displays unpaid invoices
  • Project accounting to invoice for projects in phases
  • Budget management to create fiscal year budgets and track progress

Benefits: Built from the ground up for Mac OS, it gives dedicated Apple users access to QuickBooks in their native Mac environment. It integrates easily with built-in OS X applications such as Contacts and Calendar.

Drawbacks: There is no accountant’s copy included in QuickBooks for Mac. Mac users can share data with Windows users through a data conversion processes known to QuickBooks for Mac users as Round Tripping.

QuickBooks Pro

QuickBooks Pro is designed for small businesses that are just getting started. It’s simple enough for business owners that lack advanced accounting knowledge, and makes it easy for them to share files and data with their accountant.

Bill Tracker in QuickBooks Pro
Pricing: Businesses with an existing IT infrastructure can purchase Pro through a one-time payment. Phone support, data backups and product upgrades can be purchased for an additional fee.

Pro can also be purchased as a “Plus” package through an annual subscription—which Intuit calls an “active subscription.” With an active, annual subscription, businesses receive new features and upgrades as they become available. It also includes 24/7 phone support and data backups.

Businesses without an existing IT infrastructure—or those who wish to reduce their overall IT costs—can purchase Pro and opt to use a cloud hosting service (for an additional fee). This allows for remote access through a virtual desktop, which provides greater connectivity (anytime, anywhere access on any device).

Pro allows up to three users to work within QuickBooks at the same time (requires separate user licenses). The Pro package offers the common capabilities listed in the table above, as well as the following:

  • The “Bill Tracker” dashboard lets users see unpaid bills, purchase orders etc. all in one place
  • Tracks sales and expenses in multiple currencies
  • Easy data import from Excel, Quicken and older QuickBooks versions

Benefits: Pro can manage over 14,000 list entries, i.e., the number of names/custom fields supported, in lists of employees, customers, inventory etc.

Drawbacks: Automatic downloading of bank and credit card transactions is available, but for an additional cost. This feature is available for free with QuickBooks Online.

QuickBooks Premier

QuickBooks Premier targets small business users that have industry-specific needs. It is especially beneficial for those in industries such as, non-profit, retail, professional services, contractors and manufacturing.

Home Page in QuickBooks Premier
Pricing: Premier can be purchased outright for a one-time payment. Support, upgrades and data backups are available for an additional fee.

Businesses can also opt to purchase Premier as a “Plus” package through an annual subscription. The annual subscription includes the cost for phone support and data backups.

Customers can also choose to purchase Premier and pay an additional fee for cloud hosting. This allows businesses to access Premier remotely through a virtual desktop.

Premier supports more concurrent users than Pro or Mac: Up to five users can work in QuickBooks Premier at the same time (requires separate user licenses).

Premier has all the features of Pro, as well as:

  • Job costing and estimating
  • Budgeting and forecasting
  • Industry-specific reports (including the ability to run a P&L by job or client)

Benefits: With over 150 industry-specific financial reports, business owners can use Premier in the way that suits their unique needs.

Drawbacks: There is an additional cost to set up electronic invoicing and online customer payments (e.g., bank transfers and credit card processing).

QuickBooks Enterprise

QuickBooks Enterprise is Intuit’s most comprehensive business and financial management solution, because it includes several applications, such as QuickBooks Payroll (see QuickBooks Apps below). Enterprise is designed for both small and midsized businesses, supporting up to 30 user licenses.

Advanced Reporting in QuickBooks Enterprise
Pricing: Enterprise is available as an annual subscription. Users can opt to pay their annual subscription in equal payments over 12 months. The annual subscription includes the cost for support, upgrades and data backups.

Businesses can also pay an additional fee for the cloud hosting service. This allows access to Enterprise through a virtual desktop, which provides remote access and greater connectivity (users can connect to Enterprise anytime, anywhere on any device).

Enterprise is sold in three packages: Silver, Gold and Platinum. Each Enterprise package includes the same capabilities as the Pro and Premier packages along with several others, including:

  • Up to 14 predefined user roles (admin, accountant etc.)
  • Multiple users can access files at the same time
  • “Expanded list” allows businesses to track over 100,000 employees, customers, vendors and inventory items (Pro and Premier allow 14,500)

Features unique to the QuickBooks Enterprise packages:

Benefits: It’s a comprehensive solution designed to manage all aspects of SMBs’ financial and business needs. At time of publication, QuickBooks Enterprise has 65 reviews, making it the most reviewed accounting software solution on SoftwareAdvice.com, with an overall rating of 3.3 out of 5 stars.

Drawbacks: Enterprise solution is a significant investment. For example, one user license on the Silver package is three times the cost of the most advanced QuickBooks Online package (which allows up to 5 concurrent users remote access—in Enterprise, remote access and multiple users each require an additional fee).

QuickBooks Apps

Intuit has several branded applications designed to enhance the functionality the above mentioned platforms. Businesses can purchase these add-ons for an additional fee:

    • QuickBooks Payments: Allows businesses to email invoices and accept payments online via credit card or ACH transfers.
    • QuickBooks POS: A cloud-based, iPad point-of-sale (POS) system. Allows businesses to ring up sales, accept credit cards and keep track of inventory from the POS dashboard.
    • QuickBooks Payroll: Allows businesses to pay up to 50 employees by check or direct deposit. Automatically calculates state and federal tax and files year-end W-2 tax forms.


QuickBooks has established itself as a major player in the small to midsize business accounting market. Whether you’re just starting out, or you’re expanding and have more advanced accounting needs, QuickBooks has a solution designed to fit your business.

If you’re looking for more information about QuickBooks products or other leading accounting solutions, here’s what you can do next:

  • Read our product reviews: We have hundreds of accounting solutions on SoftwareAdvice.com that have been reviewed by real users. Find out how your peers have rated each platform’s customer support, ease of use and more.
  • Take an online questionnaire: If you’re still not sure if QuickBooks is the right solution for you, answer a few questions online and we’ll provide you with a shortlist of vendors whose financial management solutions can help support and drive your business.

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