The Best Low-Cost (or Free!) Business Accounting Software
Welcome to the second installment of our Best Free (or Low-Cost) Tools Series – if the first post in the series, Alternative Funding, helped you find some cash, this post on free and low-cost business accounting software will point you towards some tools to help you keep track of it.
Small business owners need to keep a close eye on their money, but when you’re in charge of everything – IT, marketing, HR, inventory, customer service, and business accounting – it can be a challenge. For those of us who forgot to take Econ in college, it can be even more of challenge.
Once again, the Internet is here to help. Free and inexpensive tools to help business owners manage their cash abound. There’s time, mileage, and expense reporting, invoicing software, and, of course, inclusive accounting software. We’ll take a look at some of the best free and low-cost versions of these money management tools.
Track Expenses and Create Invoices
If you’re looking for a tool to track expenses and create invoices, there are some excellent options, most of which are not free. They are, however, affordable. And if you feel about numbers the way I do, you may find the fees for the services provided suspiciously cheap. There are far too many to list all of them, so we’ve narrowed it down a bit for you. Fortunately, getting free or inexpensive business accounting software doesn’t mean you have to skimp on quality or customer service.
Some of tools focus on tracking expenses, while others focus on invoicing, but there’s often a little overlap here and there. Each of the following tools offers a 30-day free trial except Hiveage and Harvest, which have 14-day trials. In order to pick the tool that’s best for you, you’ll need to figure out which features you need and which you don’t—or which you can live without.
The most comprehensive free option designed for businesses is Due, which tracks time, provides estimates and invoicing (including recurring ones), some integrations, and accepts payments (2.70% transaction fee for credit card processing). Mobile-friendly Due also offers a digital wallet feature that not only allows your customers to access their invoice and pay but also allows you to pay your bills.
Zoho offers a free and mobile-friendly invoicing product for up to 25 customers and with the exception of recurring invoices, includes all of the regular product’s features, like time and expense tracking, estimates, online payment, and a customer portal. The free version of Zoho Expense offers up to 5 GB of storage, 100 auto scans, and importing of credit and debit card statements. For $7/month, Zoho will track up to 50 customers.
Nutcache’s free version offers unlimited invoices and clients, along with an impressive variety of features in each of its categories: Project Management, Time Tracking, Project Collaboration, and Invoicing. Exclusions are mostly limited to administrative or managerial functions. For more features, Nutcache charges by user, starting at $5/month.
The tools that specialize in expenses are Expensify and Shoeboxed both track expenses, manage receipts, offer various integrations, and have an app. Expensify also offers some administrative and compliance features, while Shoeboxed provides some tax assistance. If you just can’t face that envelope stuffed with receipts, you can mail it in to Shoeboxed, and they’ll scan them for you. Expensify’s individual plan is free, and they charge $5 for every person creating a report after that, on a monthly basis. Shoeboxed offers a free (“DIY”) plan, but it only tracks 5 receipts a month. (It’s hard to imagine who would really find that useful in the long run.) The next level up is $9.95 a month and tracks up to 50 receipts per month.
InvoiceSherpa, pricier at $29/month, specializes in—you guessed it—invoicing. It provides billing, scheduling, reminders, and accepts payments, including recurring ones. It also provides a nifty Customer Portal where your customers can see and pay their invoices. The tool offers some integrations but does not yet have a mobile app.
Hiveage and FreshBooks do a bit of both expenses and invoicing. Both tools track time and expenses, offer invoicing, some integrations, accept payments, and have a mobile app. Hiveage (previously Curdbee) offers estimates and some administrative features—and a Lite plan at $2/month when billed yearly. It’s a good deal until you have more than 100 invoices, which hopefully you’d have pretty quickly. Their Starter plan is $15/month. FreshBooks lowest plan is a middle-of-the-road $12.95.
Like Zoho’s free plan, some free options limit the number of invoices either directly, or by the number of customers you’re billing. InvoiceOcean, Harvest, Invoicely, and The Invoice Machine all offer free plans and more comprehensive low-cost options under $12/month. Invoicely (previously Invoiceable) offers unlimited invoices and PayPal payments under their free plan, but no time or expense tracking. The Invoice Machine’s free plan offers almost all of their paid features, but only for 3 invoices per month. ($12 gets you 30.)
Apptivo offers free versions of their Invoice App, which includes over 50 templates, Expense Reports, and CRM, but for any significant features, you need to be at least at the Premium subscription ($8.33/mo). That gives you access to all their Apps, which integrate with each other, as well as some third-party products.
PayMo used to offer free time tracking, but it’s now an add-on to their paid project management platform, which is $8.95/month. Accounting services—online invoicing, payments, estimates, expense tracking, and project budgeting—cost another $9.95/month.
If you just want to track expenses or create a budget and want to start out really cheaply, you can try one of the free mobile apps like Mint, DollarBird, or BillGuard. If you just need to print up the occasional invoice, most office software provide templates and Billable has an easy one you can fill out and print or download. Just need a business calculator? Try one of these.
Accounting software generally includes at least some of the expense tracking and invoicing features of the above products, so be sure you don’t end up paying for overlapping services.
Free and Easy
Manager.io and Wave both offer free accounting software designed for small businesses. Manager.io’s single-user desktop edition is free. If you need cloud services, that’s a flat $19/month. Manager.io says their free desktop version is “the most comprehensive free accounting software.” It offers billing, invoicing, estimates in addition to the accounting features.
Wave was actually designed for businesses with nine or fewer employees, though it works for “bigger” companies as well. Wave’s product provides small business accounting and reports, receipt scanning, invoicing, and email support. If you need to pay employees, you can add an employee portal and direct deposit for $19/month. Need to accept credit card payments? Those are 2.90% + .30 fee per transaction (more than Due, especially with that .30 fee).
Not Quite Free
QuickBooks Online, from Intuit, dominates the market. It offers a package for the self-employed and independent contractors ($10/month) designed to help you coordinate your personal and business finances, syncing your bank accounts and apps. You can scan receipts and track mileage automatically. The product also helps with tax planning and can be upgraded to export to Turbo Tax (another Intuit product). The lowest-cost small business version ($13/month) includes tracking and invoicing, and some integrations. QuickBooks will support bill paying, inventory tracking, and 1099 forms for an additional cost, and can be integrated with QuickBooks Payroll options. Both QuickBooks and Payroll offer a 30-day free trials.
Zoho Books offers bank reconciliation, custom invoices, expense tracking, projects, customer portals, and timesheets. Their cheapest plan is $9/month ($90 if you pay per year) and it includes 50 contacts, 5 automated workflows and allows for two users. You can add billing, recurring transactions, and vendor credits at $19/month and purchase and sales orders and inventory at $29/month. Each price increase includes more contacts and users and 10 automated workflows. All have mobile options. Zoho also offers a CRM, expense reporting, and subscription services, which will integrate with their accounting product. Books has a 14-day free trial.
Xero‘s lowest-cost plan ($9/month) offers estimates and invoices, billing, bank reconciliation, worker tax forms, customized business reports, mobile apps, and “easy conversion from QuickBooks.” You can level up the services by adding tax filing, customizable purchase orders, and payroll for 5 employees ($30/month) or up to 10 employees ($70/month). Xero offers a 30-day free trial.
Before You Sign Up
When you’re choosing a company with whom to share your financial data, make sure to take a close look at their security protocols. SSL encryption is a baseline; two-factor authentication—which you should be using for everything—is better.
Most accounting software will deal with multiple currencies, but if this is essential for you (have remote workers?), make sure it’s included in the subscription level you’re considering.
Make sure that the product you want will integrate with the other products you use when you need it to. Integrations may include QuickBooks, Square, PayPal, Wave, Xero, Google, Gusto, Zapier, Harvest, and so on.
Similarly, most companies offer some form of support. Make sure you’ll get the support you need. Is it only via email? Is it 24/7?
Never discount the experience of using the product. You’re busy and you don’t need to spend time dealing with unfriendly navigation. The product’s site, including its design and language, should be a good indication of how easy it will be to incorporate the system into your routine.