These are tough times for businesses. Now, more than ever, it's vital to keep a very close watch on your company finances.

And that's where good accounting software can help, automating many of your business processes and producing detailed reports on precisely how you're doing.

Deciding you need an accounting package is the easy part, of course - picking the best one for you is a different matter.

One of the first issues to consider is the amount of support you'll need. If you're a total beginner then it may be wise to choose a commercial package where there's plenty of help available.

If you're a little more experienced, though - or you just want to play around and learn the basics - then there's a wide range of free accounting packages around, and we've highlighted eight of the best.

1. TurboCASH 5

Download TurboCASH 5

TurboCash is an open source small business accounting package, which the developers say has more than 80,000 users worldwide.

It has all the usual standard functions - stock control, invoicing, debtors, creditors, general ledger, VAT accounting, balance sheet and income statements, and plenty of reports - and also supports multiple users, and even multiple companies.

TurboCASH

As with any similar package, if you're new to accounting in general then there's a great deal to learn. TurboCASH does make things easier with example books, though, and a detailed online manual helps you to get started.

The program is also highly configurable, and it's also a relief to use a free accounting tool which isn't always demanding that you "upgrade".

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2. TAS Basics

Download TAS Basics

TAS Software (a division of Sage) sells several accounting packages, but gives Basics away for free. This means it has plenty of limitations - you can't record sales orders or create invoices, for instance - and there's no real support, but if you can live with that then Basics proves to be a very straightforward package.

TAS Basics

It can maintain customer and supplier records; you're able to maintain multiple bank accounts, recording the money in and out; simple reporting means it's easy to record who owes you money (and who you own money to), and you get useful help with your VAT return.

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3. GnuCash

Download GnuCash

First released back in 1998, the open source GnuCash has been constantly developed ever since, and it's now a very flexible accounting system.

A straightforward register makes it quick and easy to enter transactions, but there's also plenty of power here: customer and supplier tracking, invoicing and bill payment, scheduled transaction support, and a host of reporting tools.

GnuCash

Advanced features include budget management and stock portfolios, while each of your accounts can be in different currencies. Double entry accounting and a reconciliation tool help you uncover any errors, and with versions available for Windows, Linux and Mac (and even an Android app) you can run the program just about anywhere.

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4. NCH Express Invoice

Download NCH Express Invoice

Express Invoice is free only for businesses with less than five employees, and annoyingly you're asked to confirm that every time the program launches. That aside, though, Express Invoice is a very easy-to-use invoicing package.

After installation, you can create a quote or invoice immediately; just entering a customer's name, product details and so on creates those records for you, and you can print, email or fax the results from within Express Invoice.

ExpressInvoice

It's straightforward to schedule recurring invoices, you can track payments as they come in, and reports keep you up to date with outstanding invoices, item sales and more. If you only need invoicing then check out Express Invoice first.

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5. xTuple PostBooks

Download xTuple PostBooks

PostBooks is another open source tool with all the usual accounting features: general ledger, accounts payable and receivable, invoicing, bank reconciliation and more, all accessible via a well-presented interface. But that's just the start.