The best accounting software makes it easier to keep good account records of profit and loss, as well as tax liabilities.
Accounting software is a non-negotiable if you're trying to run your own business, and the sooner you deploy one of the best accounting software products the better.
However, while there are some very good paid-for accounting programs around, there are also a strong number of free accounting software solutions currently available, as well as bookkeeping software. While some of these are simply free tiers for paid software, others are freeware programs you can download and use without charge to help with budgeting. There are also time management apps that can integrate for consultants or freelancers who need to charge by hour.
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This can be very helpful for start-ups who want to keep their accounts organized without committing to a solution, while also reducing initial costs. Other businesses might simply prefer them because they often allow for a greater control of your data, by running on your own machines rather than on third-party clouds.
The best accounting solution will also integrate with any ecommerce software you're running, regardless of the theme installed.
Here we'll feature the best accounting software currently available on the market, and also include further options to consider, as you can opt for specific expense tracker apps or even customer accounts.
FreshBooks is a popular cloud-based accounting service designed specifically for small business owners.
The package has plenty of features – invoicing, expense tracking, time tracking, a host of business reports, even an option to take credit card payments – and a straightforward interface aimed at non-accountants ensures you'll be up-and-running right away.
Despite the simplicity, there's real depth here. You can bill in any currency, save time by setting up recurring invoices, allow customers to pay via credit card by checking a box, and even automatically bill their credit card to keep life simple for everyone.
If you need more power, the system integrates with many other services, including PayPal, MailChimp, Basecamp, WordPress, Gusto, Zendesk and more.
Management hassles are kept to a minimum. You're able to access and use the system from your desktop or its free iOS and Android apps, and because it's a cloud-based system there's no need to worry about backups.
If this sounds appealing, you can try FreshBooks for 30 days without using a credit card.
- Read our full FreshBooks review.
QuickBooks is an instantly recognizable name in the world of accountancy and bookkeeping. It’s owned by Intuit, which also has other options for small business and large ones too, with a diverse portfolio that includes Turbotax, Mint and Proconnect. QuickBooks also comes in numerous different varieties, from desktop editions through to the hugely popular Online edition.
Depending on your requirements, you can choose from QuickBooks Online, QuickBooks Self-Employed, QuickBooks Online Advanced, QuickBooks Live Bookkeeping, QuickBooks Desktop for Mac, QuickBooks Desktop Pro, QuickBooks Premier and QuickBooks Enterprise. However, it is possible to create a custom package using the help of the QuickBooks team if you need a more bespoke option.
Due to the sheer expanse of QuickBooks-based products it’s best to check out the website in order to get the latest update on pricing, versions available and also any deals that Intuit has on this vast range of accounting solutions. Basic difference between core packages are outlined in our reviews below.
- Read our full QuickBooks review
- Read our full QuickBooks Online review
- Read our full QuickBooks Desktop Pro review
Xero might grab your attention with its low-cost Early plan account but look closely and limitations soon become apparent – like being restricted to sending a maximum of five invoices, entering five bills, or reconciling only 20 bank transactions.
Still, if you can live with those restrictions there are some pluses here. The service offers smart expense tracking and management, optionally on your mobile with Xero's excellent app for Android and iOS. There are dozens of configurable reports, simple budgeting, and no limits at all on additional users or the accountants you might want to access the data.
If the invoice, bank or billing issues are a problem then the Xero Growing plan looks like a better deal. It's a lot more money, but you can issue as many invoices and enter as many bills as you like.
Xero offers plenty of functionality for any small business, including a handy "convert your QuickBooks files" service to help you get started, and it's certainly easy to use. But if you don't quite need all that power, there's better value to be had elsewhere.
- Read our full Xero review.
Sage Accounting makes a good first impression with its clear and gimmick-free pricing. The top Sage Accounting plan offers decent value and there is also a 30-day free trial.
For this, you get modules to manage quotes, invoices, handle and submit VAT online, smart bank feeds and reconciliation, cash flow forecasting, some detailed reports, multiple currency support, project tracking and more, all available from your desktop or via a mobile app.
All this is well presented and generally easy-to-use. If you run into trouble, detailed web help and video tutorials are only a click or two away, with the offer of “free unlimited 24/7 telephone and email support” that should help make any newbie comfortable.
Sage also has a more basic offering called Accounting Start. This doesn't include support for quotes, estimates or vendor bills, and has no cash flow forecasts, but it could be enough for start-ups as well as small businesses.
- Read our full Sage accounting review
Choosing an accounting package often involves browsing a complicated comparison table, looking for hidden catches and trying to figure out which is the best product for you. Kashoo avoids all that and delivers just about everything you're likely to need.
Kashoo shines when it comes to multi-currency support, an important feature for today’s global economy. It also supports credit card transactions for all the major carriers such as Amex, Visa and Mastercard – at a competitive fee.
You also benefit from unlimited invoices and connections to over 5,000 financial institutions to reconcile accounts online. We liked the uncluttered interface of this product, and the dashboard that provides a good summary of your current financial situation at a glance.
Kashoo also offers customer support across the gamut of email, phone, live chat and social media – this company will even respond to an old-fashioned letter! One current shortcoming to note, however, is that there is only a mobile app for iOS, leaving Android users out in the cold for the time being. Kashoo offers a 14-day trial for those looking to test the service out.
- Read our full Kashoo review
Zoho Books is just one small part of a much greater business concern based in India that offers all manner of solutions for anyone and everyone. With its clean and simple cloud-based interface Zoho Books makes a great cost-effective option if you’re a freelancer, sole trader or someone running a small business.
While the desktop route is a solid one Zoho Books also has an impressive app presence, making it a good mobile bet too. The basic plan offers a limited number of contacts (as in the maximum amount of customers or vendors you can create transactions for), 2 users (as in yourself and your accountant) and 5 automated workflows.
The most popular package is Standard, which comes with up to 500 contacts, 3 users and 10 automated workflows. Professional, meanwhile, is a full bells-and-whistles experience that offers 500 contacts, 10 users and 10 automated workflows.
Incidentally, sign up for a yearly package and you get 2 months off. Zoho does offer additional add-ons, more about which you can glean from its website. There’s also a free 14-day trial available.
- Read our full Zoho Books review.
KashFlow prides itself on keeping things simple, which is always good news when you’re dealing with your accounts and anything tax-related. This cloud-based software solution can be used from anywhere and at any time, just as long as you can get connected.
The service comes armed with a full suite of tools, which can not only let you tackle your accounting chores, but can also be used to take on payroll and HR duties too.
The Starter package is aimed at sole traders, contractors and small businesses. You can send unlimited quotes and 10 invoices, along with reconciling 25 bank transactions. Although it’s only a single user account it works with bank feeds, has a mobile app along with a customizable dashboard.
The Business edition is aimed at growing businesses and limited companies. This has the benefit of allowing unlimited quotes and invoices, plus you can reconcile unlimited bank transactions. It’s multi-user and lets you manage and submit VAT returns online.
Finally, KashFlow offers a Business and Payroll package, which has all of the aforementioned features along with added payroll functionality. At the time of writing KashFlow also had more competitive pricing based on an Annual payment plan, rather than the monthly costings shown above. If you’re happy to commit then that might offer savings.
- Read our full KashFlow review
Best free accounting software
ZipBooks offers accounting software that has a contemporary interface along with a robust feature set. It promises to make accounting easy so the user can save time, and get on with other tasks.
The Starter tier is available for free. It provides unlimited invoices to an unlimited number of customers, making it less restrictive than some other free accounting offerings. It can also be used for unlimited bookkeeping, and can accept payments from credit cards and PayPal.
Paid tiers include most of the features you'll ever need, including advanced ones such as smart tagging, with advanced reporting and intelligence.
- Read our full ZipBooks review.
Another superb open source tool, Money Manager Ex is well designed and packed with enough features to rival premium software. It's easy to understand, and you'll have your accounts and transactions set up in no time. Money Manager Ex's simplicity makes it a particularly good choice for sole traders or your own home finances.
This free accounting software is a portable app, so you can save and use it straight from a USB stick without even needing to install it. There's an Android app for updating your accounts on the move, too.
- Read our full Money Manager Ex review.
GnuCash is accounting software designed for individuals and small businesses, and was initially conceived as an open source alternative to apps such as Intuit's Quicken.
This app has been around since the late 1990s, and is available for Linux, GNU, OpenBSD, Android, macOS and Windows.
It handles invoicing and credit notes, accounts payable and receivable, employee expenses and some payroll features too, and it's quite happy with multiple currencies, cards and accounts. Its sheer flexibility makes it our top choice when it comes to accounting software for kitchen table businesses.
- Readee our full Gnu Cash review
TurboCASH is free accounting software that's been in continuous development since April 1985, and it's hugely popular in Europe, the US, Canada and Australia. It's available in 23 languages and boasts an online community of more than 100,000 users.
Designed for small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs), it's probably a bit much for freelancers or sole traders, but if you need something a bit more useful than a cash book TurboCASH can handle VAT, debtors and creditors, purchase orders, multiple companies and multiple users.
While TurboCASH is free and covers most of the basics needed with accounting software, there's a paid-for version available as an upgrade which provides more advanced features. This paid-for version allows for it be to run from the cloud, as well as providing budgets, payroll, PDF reports, and a ledger analyzer among other things.
- Read our full TurboCASH review.
With more than two million users, Wave is one of the most successful online accounting services - and it's completely free for accounting, invoicing and receipts, although if you want personal technical support you'll need to pay for it. Payroll isn't included in the free service either, and you do get the occasional advert – just as you do with pretty much any free online service.
It's a very well designed and carefully thought out application, and while it's probably a little basic for medium-sized businesses it's a good option for sole traders, freelancers and small firms.
However, note that while Wave is free to use, you still pay per transaction. For start-ups and businesses with low sales volume this may not matter, but for businesses with significant sales volume they may be able to find a more competitive pricing model.
- Read our full Wave review.
With versions for PC, Mac, iPad and Android, NCH Express Invoice caters for most kinds of businesses - and if you have fewer than five members of staff, you can have it for free without time limits or other restrictions.
It's designed to create invoices, quotes and orders easily, to automate recurring ones and to send them by email or fax, and there's a decent range of reports to pore over. The free accounting software is really just a front-end for a web-based service, but that's no bad thing unless your business struggles to get a decent internet connection.
- Read our full NCH Express Invoice review
It's not going to win any awards for aesthetics, but VT Cash Book isn't there to look good: its priority is to record day to day cash transactions with the least amount of fuss. It uses Autocomplete to speed up data entry, supports multiple bank accounts and bank reconciliation, can be used to prepare VAT returns and enables you to create profit and loss, balance sheets and ledgers.
The free accounting software installs alongside its companion program, the paid-for VT Transaction+, but you don't need to buy the latter to use the former.
- Read our full VT Cashbook review.
The free (Lite) version of Invoice Expert is limited to 100 customers/products, but it retains the features of the paid-for Advanced Edition, including inventory and customer management, invoicing and quoting, purchase orders and inventory management.
This free accounting software is a little bit intimidating at first glance, especially in the template-editing screens, but it's straightforward enough. It's an American program but it uses your Windows location to set the currency, so it should adjust itself accordingly for those outside the US.
- Read our full Invoice Expert review.
Adminsoft Accounts is a software accounting package that's powered by advertising to generate revenue, making it free to download and use. It delivers a surprisingly thorough free accounting system (and an refreshingly honest set of terms and conditions).
It can handle not just invoicing and statements but remittance advice, stock control, purchase orders, budgeting and some HR functions too. It's a UK program so the default is pounds sterling, but it works happily in other currencies too.
There is a paid-for version you can buy to run the software without advertising with a slightly higher cost if you also want to include AutoManager or Shop/Cafe Manager.
- Read our full Adminsoft Accounts review.
Designed specifically for non-accountants, QuickFile offers multiple free tiers for small businesses while still delivering automatic invoicing, purchase/receipt management, quotations and multi-currency support. Add in a fully branded client area, and this makes for a professional solution at a hard to beat price.
It’s cloud-based rather than a software download, and if you like the free version you can upgrade to an ad-free, more advanced version with bulk invoicing, revision history and a host of power user features for a modest fee.
- Read our full QuickFile review.
More small business accounting software choices
Certify is a solution for tracking expenses rather than full accounts, but could be very useful to have in addition to some of the platforms above, not least because not all of them can track expenses with such dedication. This is especially the case for small businesses with a number of employees, where expenses might not always be reported or submitted properly, even though there is a potential tax deductible saving for the business for doing so.
Financial Force is specifically designed to provide a cloud accounting and finance solution for Salesforce. This means full tracking of customer accounts across multiple workbooks, as well as recording assets, payables, collections, and more. This makes Financial Force less of a simple accounting platform and takes it into the realm of enterprise resource planning (ERP), and it is potentially very useful for those businesses already running Salesforce software.
Holded is another software platform aimed more at small and medium businesses, offering an ERP that brings together sales, accounting, inventory, project and time management into a single dashboard. However, despite these diverse elements, the accounting feature is fully developed, and includes automated billing, along with instant reports on profit/loss, and the balance sheet.
Tipalti is another big ERM platform and bills itself as the only end-to-end solution to automate the entire global payables operation in a unified cloud platform. At this point we're talking about a platform that goes well beyond accounting and into direct tax compliance and financial risk assessment, clearly intended for Fortune 500 companies that need full audit trails on a global scale, which is probably why Amazon is advertised as a customer.
- Take a look at the best personal finance software