Finding the right accounting software usually means slogging through endless review sites and a lot of trial and error.
To make your search easier, we’ve sorted our accounting software picks for small business owners into seven categories: best overall, for beginners, for retail businesses, for freelancers, free software, and spreadsheet-based software.
Best overall small business accounting software
One of the reasons why accounting software is so tedious and time-consuming is because accounting is tedious and time-consuming. That’s why our picks for best overall small business accounting software either simplify the accounting process, or make it easier for someone else to do your accounting for you.
Xero: if you want a simplified accounting dashboard
Not ready to hand your books over to someone else? Want powerful accounting software that doesn’t overwhelm you like some other programs (ahem, QuickBooks)? Then you should try Xero.
Xero offers you a full suite of accounting tools that can handle anything from accounts payable and receivable, to bank reconciliation, to project management and budgeting, to financial statements. It’s also got lots of features built with small business and freelancer in mind, including invoice management, purchase orders, expense tracking, and payroll management.
It’s essentially Quickbooks-lite. It has all the features you need, minus all those unnecessary add-ons that make financial management software so bloated and unusable.
Best of all, Xero is inexpensive compared to similar tools, starting at just $9/month and going up to $30/month for a five-employee setup.
If you’re looking for manual accounting software that is as powerful as QuickBooks, but simplified and at a fraction of the price, Xero is the way to go!
QuickBooks: if you’re getting help from your accountant
Intuit QuickBooks is one of the go-to tools for accountants. There’s a reason for that: it’s made for people who know what they’re doing. So while it may not be designed for the average business owner, QuickBooks Online is still one of the most popular accounting programs in America, and it still might be a good option, especially if you’re having someone else do your accounting for you.
Like it or not, most accountants these days are familiar with QuickBooks. If you’re handing most of your accounting work off to one, and they prefer working in QuickBooks, you can save both of yourselves a whole lot of trouble by using the same software.
Bench: if you want to offload your accounting entirely
In a perfect world, someone else would be handling all of your accounting for you. Bench (that’s us) is as close to a perfect world as you’ll ever get, at least when it comes to cloud accounting and bookkeeping software.
We’re a simple service that only does bookkeeping and tax filing, and we do it really well (check out our reviews on Capterra).
We’ll give you your own bookkeeper, take in all of your business’ transactions, set up your general ledger for you, and provide you with monthly financial statements, all while giving you unparalleled customer support.
If the idea of catching up on your bookkeeping, getting ready for tax time or taking care of your finances alone sounds daunting, Bench can take that stress off your plate—for good.
Best accounting software for beginners
Not everyone has time to learn about the finer points of double-entry accounting. If you’re a complete beginner to bookkeeping, accounting and financial planning, you might actually want to steer clear of full-blown online accounting software at the beginning.
A simpler budgeting or expense tracking app will usually get you 80 percent of the way there, and could save you a lot of time and stress. And once you master one of these apps, you’ll have a much easier time switching to more advanced accounting applications.
You Need A Budget: if you’re focused on financial planning
If you’re focused on planning and budgeting for the future, You Need A Budget is the app for you.
YNAB is easy to set up, syncs with all your bank and credit card accounts, and will literally guide you through the process of creating your first budget. The New York Times’ Wirecutter blog says it’s “the closest thing to having a positive-minded professional help you make your own budgeting spreadsheet,” and “the only budgeting app we’d spend our own money on.”
If you’re looking for ways to get your company’s financial act together, but have no idea where to start, start with YNAB. They offer a free 34-day trial, and the service is $84 a year if you sign up for the full version.
Mint.com: if you’re focused on expense tracking
Mint is a simple tool that lets small businesses track where their money is going. If your biggest worry is keeping track of all your spending, Mint is the app for you.
Mint’s main draw is its powerful algorithms, which automate a lot of the grunt work involved in real-time expense management. While other personal expense trackers let your “uncategorized” expenses pile up in a big heap, Mint’s algorithms automatically categorize all of your bank feeds and financial data.
Mint also lets you create budgets, tracks your credit score, and will send you weekly email summaries of your finances and reminders for unpaid bills. You can access all of this data through an easy-to-read dashboard, so you know your standing at any time.
If you’re looking for a financial planning tool that is quick to set up and is strong on the expense-tracking front, it’s hard to beat Mint. It lives online in your browser, puts all of your financial accounts in one place, and lets you add new accounts in seconds. (Give it a spin here.)
Best retail and inventory-focused accounting software
Budgeting and expense tracking aren’t always top of mind, especially if you’re a retail business with inventory and sales to track. If you run a store, process lots of card payments, need to keep track of sales tax, and want to keep a close eye on inventory, these financial reporting tools should cover all your retail accounting needs.
One Up: if you want software focused on selling
If you’re looking for a tool that handles the nuts and bolts of accounting and recordkeeping well but don’t want to get bogged down in any extras, look into One Up.
It offers you a suite of tools focused on small retailers, including inventory management, invoice tracking, and an algorithm that will automatically categorize your transactions for you.
One Up is super focused on helping you track what you sell, billing your customers, and making sure your numbers are up to date. It’s also got one of the best mobile apps on our list, and was built for people focused on selling in-person.
Square: if you need a one-stop shop solution
Square isn’t accounting software. But if your business mainly processes card payments in-person or in a retail setting, needs a few basic business tools like inventory tracking and sales reports, and is looking for something that seamlessly integrates with an ecommerce presence, it might give you all the tools you need to stay on top of your money.
Square is built for small retail and ecommerce businesses that are just starting out and looking for a lost-cost, low-risk payment processing solution with no hidden fees.
It provides you with all the equipment you need, bundles it with software that supports mobile and ecommerce sales, gives you access to basic reporting and inventory management tools, and charges you a percentage of each transaction to pay for it all. (Usually somewhere between 2.7 and 3.0 percent.)
Best accounting software for freelancers and creatives
If you’re a freelancer or self-employed creative focused on invoicing clients, keeping track of your hours and staying on top of your income, you also probably don’t need full-blown corporate accounting software.
Solid invoicing and time-tracking software like the following could give you all the accounting features you need to stay on top of your finances.
FreshBooks: if you’re focused on invoicing and time tracking
FreshBooks has the entire freelancer accounting pipeline covered: from the first hour you work and track using its time tracking tools, to its seamless billing function, which automatically generates invoices, to its ability to accept card payments from clients.
Want to stay on top of billing and accounts receivable? FreshBooks lets you schedule automatic payment reminders, levy late fees, accept online payments, and even automatically generate recurring invoices.
Want to zoom out and look at the financial health of your business as a whole? FreshBooks can track your expenses for you, generate income statements, balance sheets and cash flow statements, and even generate activity reports that show you which projects are taking up the bulk of you and your team’s work hours.
Provided you don’t need any of the advanced small business accounting stuff that usually comes with QuickBooks like accounts payable, payroll services or tools that track inventory, FreshBooks is a solid accounting option for the average freelancer.
Billy: if you need something like FreshBooks, but simpler
Billy is a really simple user-friendly piece of software that lets you do four things: send quotes, track your expenses, invoice your clients, and get paid.
It’s by far the simplest DIY accounting software on our list. It works right out of the box, includes most of the basic features you would expect in an invoicing tool (including recurring invoices, payment reminders, card payments, etc.), and has an idiot-proof user interface. People who use it often say it’s the easiest accounting software they’ve ever used.
If you’re a freelancer focused on getting paid and want something even simpler than FreshBooks, ‘Billy’ is your guy.
Best free accounting software
Accounting software isn’t just complex—it can also be expensive! If you don’t have the budget for any of the options above, the following free solutions could do the trick.
Wave: if you want something that just works
Wave covers all of the small business accounting basics: receivables, income and expense tracking, financial reports, payment management, and so on.
It lets you create invoices, accept payments, and stay on top of payments with crystal-clear reporting. It also lets you track your income and expenses, helps you stay on top of your financial health with financial statements, and offers support for multiple users in case you need to let your accountant in on the action.
The only downside here is that if you want to access Wave’s more advanced card payment processing or payroll tools, you’ll have to pay up. (Wave charges a percentage of each transaction for card processing and a small monthly fee for payroll management.)
GNU Cash: if you want something powerful and open source
Not interested in flashy design? Work with a bunch of developers? Want something open source? Then GNUCash is the financial management and accounting solution for you.
GNUCash’s strength is that it lets you do basically anything you want. Whether it’s budgeting, expense tracking, reporting, double-entry accounting, GNUCash probably already has the tools to do it. It’s also secure, malware free, cost-free, and the team behind it has consistently released new features since the project was first launched in 1997.
If you want free software, want to support the open source community and are willing to climb the GNU learning curve, download GnuCash 3.5 here.
Best spreadsheet-based solutions
If at this point you’re wondering what happened to good old-fashioned, manual-entry spreadsheet accounting, these spreadsheet-based solutions might do the trick.
Our free spreadsheet: if you just want to use Excel
Our handy Excel template lets you set up a simple single-entry accounting system, record transactions, and perform basic calculations to create an Income Statement. All you have to do is enter all the categories of income, expenses, and cost of sale that you use in your business, input all of your transactions, and the spreadsheet will do the rest.
It’s perfect for someone who wants to start tracking basic financial information for their business, but isn’t ready to take the plunge into formal accounting software quite yet.
Tiller: if you want to run a 50-employee company with spreadsheets
If you’re spreadsheet-crazy and want something more advanced, there’s Tiller. It takes all of your information—your bank accounts, credit cards and investment accounts—and feeds them directly into a Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets file.
From there, you can design your own spreadsheets to your own liking, or use one of Tiller’s powerful customizable pre-made templates. Tiller offers a 30-day trial here, and the full version costs $59/year.