The 6 best payroll providers for small businesses [2024]


Jun 3, 2024

Small business owners are used to wearing a lot of hats, especially when it comes to managing business-critical HR functions. Paying employees, for example, consists of largely manual tasks that eat away at your precious time unless you have a solution to automate them.

Enter payroll software: With the help of payroll software, you can manage, streamline, and automate the process of paying your employees—including tracking their hours and attendance, calculating their deductions, e-filing and paying their taxes, and issuing their payments on your behalf. For small business owners, this comes with big benefits, such as:

  • Saving time and money
  • Automating tedious, manual tasks
  • Reducing errors in calculations and deductions
  • Keeping your headcount low

With Rippling, you can manage all of your HR tools, including payroll, in one system. You’ll never have to calculate or manually enter data, like hours and deductions, again.

But before you choose a payroll provider, it’s important to consider your options. Here are some of the best payroll software for small businesses—including their pros and cons, key features, and more—so you can make the best decision based on your business needs.

1. Rippling

Rippling is a full-service payroll provider that offers instant and reliable payroll processing to pay employees and contractors across the US and worldwide.

With Rippling, payroll is fast, easy, and automated, so you can focus on what’s important: running your business. Rippling syncs all your business’s HR data with payroll to automate calculations and deductions for a seamless pay run every time. Compliance work is also automated, so you can rest assured that your tax filings are compliant with the right federal, state, and local laws. Additionally, Rippling ensures your tax payments are made to the IRS and local agencies accurately and on time.

Rippling brings together every tool your payroll system depends on, including employee time tracking, benefits administration, onboarding, recruiting, expense management, and more. How? Because Rippling is built off a single source of truth that unifies HR, IT, and Finance in the same place. You can even integrate Rippling with more than 500 third-party apps and tools, including bookkeeping and accounting software. That means having all the data you need to run your business and manage your employees in one system.

Rippling is built to support businesses of any size. It has all the tools you need to effortlessly onboard, manage, and pay your employees, reducing the time and manual effort of payroll and other HR processes so your small business can thrive. And for small businesses that need extra administrative support with their HR functions, Rippling offers a professional employer organization (PEO) service to automate running payroll, enrolling employees in benefits, managing compliance with labor and employment laws, and more.

Rippling’s G2 score

Rippling’s Capterra score

4.8 out of 5

4.9 out of 5

Rippling is innovative and easy. They get it. Human resources, payroll, and employee management can be challenging for a small business. Rippling has made it easy.

Rippling G2 reviewer

Rippling key features

  • Cloud-based, full-service payroll solution that syncs to your HR, IT, and Finance data
  • Automated payroll tax compliance, with taxes and payments filed on your behalf
  • Easy tracking for employee hours and PTO; both automatically sync to payroll with no manual data entry required
  • Mobile app with employee self-service features; employees can clock in and out, submit time off requests, view their pay stubs, and more
  • Automatic new-hire onboarding to payroll
  • “Pay-as-you-go” workers’ comp insurance
  • Employee and contractor payments all in a single pay run
  • Support for any wages garnished, paid on your behalf

Rippling pros and cons

Rippling payroll pros

Rippling payroll cons

  • Meets much more than just your payroll needs—Rippling syncs  HR, IT, and Finance data across one system.
  • Intuitive, user-friendly platform.
  • 500+ software integrations.
  • Powerful automation tools with “Recipe” templates you can use to quickly set up common workflow automations.
  • Customizable and scalable, with role-based permissions to determine data access, the ability to build fully customized alerts and approvals, and more.
  • Per-employee pricing can add up quickly, especially if your business has plans to grow.
  • While Rippling is intuitive and doesn’t require technical knowledge, it has so many features there may be a learning curve before new users can take full advantage of all its functionalities.

2. Gusto

Gusto offers basic payroll plans and other HR features aimed at startups and small businesses. Paying employees with Gusto is simple and straightforward, and you can customize many of its payroll features to suit your business’s needs. For example, you can set salaries or hourly wages and run payroll as often as you want with unlimited pay runs. Gusto even offers automatic payroll run on a schedule you pre-set with its Autopilot feature.

Gusto automatically calculates and remits payroll taxes and files tax forms on your behalf, including W-4s, W-9s, new hire reports, and year-end tax returns.

In addition to its payroll options and HR support, Gusto offers standout benefits management. Through its employer portal, you can find and purchase small-group employee benefits and design custom benefits packages to include health benefits, college savings, wellness stipends, commuter benefits, and more.

While Gusto gets great reviews for its ease of use, setting up your account and onboarding your employees is time-consuming. The platform requires you to manually input each employee’s information, which can be tedious and prone to errors. On top of that, Gusto’s basic payroll features leave much to be desired if you decide to grow your business: The solution is only meant for simple payroll actions on a small scale, meaning you’d likely need to switch payroll solutions as you grow. 

Gusto’s G2 score

Gusto’s Capterra score

4.5 out of 5

4.7 out of 5

Gusto key features

  • Manual and automated payroll for employees in all 50 US states
  • Customizable payroll options, including unlimited payroll runs and next-day deposits (available on certain plans)
  • Automated payroll tax calculations and filing at the federal, state, and local levels
  • Robust, customizable benefits offerings, including unique, in-demand benefits
  • Online employee portal with self-service tools for document management, signing tax forms, viewing pay stubs, and more
  • Integrations with some popular third-party accounting and bookkeeping tools, like Quickbooks Online and Xero

Gusto pros and cons

Gusto payroll pros

Gusto payroll cons

  • Customizable, with unlimited payroll runs.
  • Transparent pricing plans.
  • Simple, intuitive platform.
  • Mobile app with employee self-service features.
  • Mobile app features may be limited, depending on which plan you purchase.
  • No invoicing or accounts receivable.
  • Setting up your account is time-consuming and requires a lot of manual data entry.
  • Limited automation.
  • Only offers basic payroll and HR features for small businesses that have simple needs and can’t scale with you if you grow.

3. TriNet

TriNet now offers multiple payroll options for small businesses:

  • A PEO, similar to Rippling PEO, co-employs your workforce, allowing it to take on much of the administrative burden of running HR functions like payroll management, benefits administration, and compliance management. This can help small businesses free up their time and resources for more strategic work.
  • An all-in-one, cloud-based HR platform for small businesses that need support to run their HR functions in-house. TriNet HR (formerly Zenefits) is an HR, payroll, and benefits platform aimed at small to mid-sized businesses.

TriNet PEO handles W-2 filing and federal and state tax withholding on your behalf, making tax calculations easier, faster, and less stressful. It also offers a convenient self-service portal for employees to manage their own payroll. They can simply log in and access a wide range of payroll reporting and data, including W-2s, pay stubs, employment confirmation, and more.

However, if your business grows in the future, a PEO like TriNet could end up holding you back. If you reach a point where you’re ready to move your HR functions in-house or consider large-group benefits, you’ll have to rip out and replace the PEO system—a painfully inefficient and costly process requiring you to implement new tools.

TriNet HR is a more scalable option for growing businesses, with multiple tiers at affordable prices (starting at just $8 per employee per month). TriNet HR’s payroll function includes features like unlimited pay runs, multiple payment options (including mobile payments and direct deposit), and customizable payment schedules for different types of workers. Similar to the PEO, the HR platform also handles calculating and filing your payroll taxes, helping you stay compliant with federal, state, and local tax laws.

However, while TriNet HR is supposed to be an all-in-one platform, it doesn’t actually include payroll except for its most expensive tier; you’ll have to purchase payroll as an add-on in all the others. Its other functionalities are also limited compared to other all-in-one HR software platforms. TriNet HR doesn’t offer device, app, or expense management, with few options for customization or automation and limited reporting and analytics capabilities.

Online reviews also say that Trinet HR's customer support is lacking. A common complaint is that incorrect tax filings and other tax-related issues take too long for Trinet HR customer support to resolve.

TriNet’s G2 score

TriNet’s Capterra score

4 out of 5

3.8 out of 5

TriNet key features

  • Multiple payroll options to meet different business needs, from a PEO to an all-in-one HR platform
  • Handles W-2 filing and payroll tax calculation and filing so you stay compliant with federal, state, and local tax laws
  • Employee self-service portal that allows employees to manage their own payroll

TriNet pros and cons

TriNet payroll pros

TriNet payroll cons

  • Businesses can choose the payroll option that best fits their needs.
  • PEO can significantly reduce the administrative burden for your HR team.
  • Multiple tiers with transparent pricing.
  • Employee self-service portal and tools.
  • When you outgrow a PEO, the process to replace it is painful, inefficient, and costly.
  • TriNet HR has limited functionality compared to similar all-in-one HR platforms.
  • Payroll isn’t included in all plans.
  • Online reviews say customer support can be lacking.

4. Justworks

Justworks offers a few solutions that might fit a small business’s payroll needs: a PEO, for businesses that need more full-service HR support and Justworks Payroll, a lightweight payroll solution geared toward small businesses that operate in one or two states (note that Justworks Payroll is only available in certain US states, not nationwide).

No matter which solution you choose, Justworks can help you automate multiple parts of the payroll process, including 1099s and W-2 filing, payroll tax withholding at the federal and state levels, and direct deposit payments for both full- and part-time employees. You can customize your payroll setup, run payroll monthly or bi-weekly, and make payments for both hourly and salaried workers.

Justworks can automate a few payroll processes, but it doesn’t support the same level of automation and integrations as other payroll platforms. This is particularly apparent when you set up your business’s account; it takes a ton of manual work to onboard employees into Justworks’ system, which is both inefficient and time-consuming. Justworks also requires a lot of oversight to ensure all new hires are set up correctly and have access to all the tools they need—something many small business owners just don’t have time to do.

Justworks’ G2 score

Justworks’ Capterra score

4.6 out of 5

4.6 out of 5

Justworks key features

  • Multiple solutions for different small business needs: a PEO service and a lightweight, standalone payroll solution
  • Filing for tax documents and payroll tax remittance
  • Direct deposits
  • Modern UI (compared to legacy platforms that can be clunkier and more difficult to use)

Justworks pros and cons

Justworks payroll pros

Justworks payroll cons

  • Multiple payroll solutions to meet different business needs.
  • Customizable payroll setup.
  • Justworks Payroll is only available in some US states.

5. Sequoia One

Sequoia One is another PEO service where small businesses can outsource their payroll and other administrative HR tasks. One of its core offerings is rich benefits packages, which may appeal to small businesses that want to offer perks like high-quality health insurance to their employees.

Like many other PEO providers, Sequoia One makes it difficult to scale if your company outgrows its services. If you decide to bring your HR functions in-house (or just go a different direction than a PEO), you have to rip out the systems you have in place and start over from scratch.

It’s also worth noting that Sequoia One disclosed a data breach last year that compromised some of its customers’ sensitive information, including names, social security numbers, dates of birth, marital statuses, email addresses, and vaccine cards.

Sequoia One’s G2 score

Sequoia One’s Capterra score

4.3 out of 5

5 out of 5

Sequoia One key features

  • PEO that can help with the administrative burden of running many of your business’s HR functions
  • Competitive, high-quality benefits packages at lower rates than small businesses can typically access on their own
  • Employee self-service tools on both desktop and mobile app
  • Dedicated account managers

Sequoia One pros and cons

Sequoia One payroll pros

Sequoia One payroll cons

  • Competitive benefits packages.
  • Outdated technology platform that may slow your team down.
  • Non-transparent pricing with hidden fees.
  • Some customers report overpaying for benefits their employees don’t need or use.
  • Moving off the PEO requires ripping out the systems they put in place and starting over from scratch.

6. ADP Run

ADP is one of the largest and longest-running HR and payroll companies in the world. ADP Run is its smaller, more basic payroll platform for small businesses with fewer than 50 employees.

With ADP Run, you can run payroll online manually or automatically. It automatically calculates, deducts, pays, and files your payroll taxes at the federal, state, and local levels, helping you ensure your business stays compliant with all applicable tax laws.

While ADP Run is a basic payroll provider, you can add on their HR management tools. ADP offers benefits administration, time and attendance tracking, expense management, and more. And they can all be added to your payroll platform, making ADP Run more customizable than many other payroll providers.

With that said, many customers report that support can be lacking with ADP Run. If anything goes wrong, it can be difficult to reach someone to help. Hold times are often long for support specialists, even during setup or when trying to correct problems with initial pay runs.

On top of this, ADP Run’s pricing is quote-based and not transparent. It’s difficult to get an estimate or budget for the software, and prices can change over time as introductory deals end or new offers come out. Costs are generally per employee per pay run (rather than a simple base fee structure), but there are extra fees for implementation, end-of-year tax filing, add-on features, and more.

ADP Run’s G2 score

ADP Run’s Capterra score

4.5 out of 5

4.5 out of 5

ADP Run key features

  • Basic, standalone payroll aimed at small businesses, with multiple plans to suit a variety of business needs
  • Manual or automatic payroll that you can schedule ahead of time
  • Additional HR features, like benefits administration, time and attendance, and expense management, can be added on
  • Mobile app with employee self-service features like viewing tax documents and paychecks
  • Multiple payment options, including paper checks, deposits, and prepaid debit cards

ADP Run pros and cons

ADP Run payroll pros

ADP Run payroll cons

  • Manual or automated payroll.
  • You can customize your platform by adding on other HR management tools as needed.
  • Mobile app and employee self-service tools are well-reviewed.
  • Pricing isn’t transparent.
  • Adding HR tools on top of payroll costs extra.
  • Payroll isn’t synced to other HR data like time and attendance unless you add on extra features (and pay additional fees).
  • Customer support can be subpar, according to reviews.
  • Doesn’t support payments for contractor-only employers.

The best payroll software for small businesses

Whether you need a full-service payroll provider, a PEO, or an all-in-one workforce management platform, Rippling has a solution for every small business’s needs.

Rippling’s full-service payroll allows you to pay all your employees and contractors in just 90 seconds. Because Rippling automatically syncs your HR data to payroll, you never have to manually enter employee hours, deductions, benefits information, or any other employee data. And if you’re concerned about compliance work, don’t be: With Rippling, taxes are automatically calculated and filed for you, so your business is always compliant on the local, state, and federal levels. 

Looking for more than just payroll? Rippling gives you HR, IT, and Finance all in one place. It’s the only workforce management system that helps you manage everything from onboarding to employee devices and expenses. On top of that, Rippling offers a modern PEO service, perfect for small businesses looking to provide the best employee benefits (from healthcare to workers’ compensation and retirement plans). The best part is you can move seamlessly from the PEO to any other Rippling service if you ever decide to go in another direction; your HR, payroll, and employee data remains in the system, and all your integrations are preserved.

Regardless of the size of your business, running payroll, administering benefits, onboarding employees, or completing any business-critical function is seamless with Rippling.

Disclaimer: Rippling and its affiliates do not provide tax, accounting, or legal advice. This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide or be relied on for tax, accounting, or legal advice. You should consult your own tax, accounting, and legal advisors before engaging in any related activities or transactions.

last edited: June 12, 2024

The Author

Christina Marfice

Christina is a writer, editor, and content strategist based in Chicago. Having lived and worked in Argentina, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru, she’s bringing her expertise on hiring in Latin America to Rippling.