Don’t let flashy marketing get in the way of selecting the right payroll software. Bells and whistles are tempting, but all you really need are the basics – automated tax filing and payments, simplified compliance, and an interface that doesn’t get in your way.

Some people will tell you it has to be more complicated than that. Not true. If you go with one of my suggestions you’ll have everything you need now and as you grow. It really is that simple.

The Best Payroll Solutions – An Answer In Less Than Two Minutes

Whether you’re brand new to the world of payroll, just hired your first employee, or are running an established business with fewer than 100 employees, Gusto is our “go to” recommendation for all these scenarios. Managing payroll for more than 100 employees or need strong employee analytics and reports? Rippling is what we recommend. 

Gusto and Rippling offer the most reliable, elegant, and straightforward solutions in the payroll space today. They both work straight out of the box, don’t require a ton of ramp up time to learn, and offer simplified interfaces that never get in your way. 

Sure there are other solutions out there promising to do the same. But in our opinion, Gusto and Rippling stand head and shoulders above their competition. Nothing else is really worth your attention, unless you have some unique needs.

If you’re paying household employees, SurePayroll is a solid option. Managing an international team? Things can get complicated fast. In fact we highly recommend avoiding that situation if you can. If you can’t, check out our deep dive review of the Best International Payroll Services for options. 

Wondering Why You Should Trust Us?

We could just be another voice on the internet, so what makes us someone you should listen to about payroll software and services? We walk the talk.

We’ve hired hundreds of employees and freelancers over the years and managed payroll myself for most of them. During that time, we’ve tried almost every payroll service out there. We’ve also taught non-HR folks how to do it. 

We also run a blog dedicated 100 percent to HR topics, including payroll. It’s not a revenue-generating website, more of a passion project. Our goal with it is to cut through the online noise and help people get the answers they’re looking for.

To stay on top of things, our team has read countless HR text books from cover to cover over the past 12 months. We’ve dived headfirst into every topic we didn’t already know about from building successful companies and teams in decades-long professional careers

And while we do make money on this website, neither Gusto nor Rippling are recommended here because of how much they pay us. We recommend them both because we truly believe they are the best payroll management options out there.

Gusto Is the Best Payroll Software for Fewer than 100 Employees

We don’t just recommend Gusto, we use it to pay full-time employees and contractors. In fact it has been our payroll service of choice for many years. Why? We never have issues and don’t spend more than a few minutes processing payroll each cycle. What more could you want?

Once you connect Gusto with the proper tax agencies in the states where you have employees and contractors, you really don’t have to do much more. New hire reporting and tax withholding, remittance, and filing all happen automatically. Gusto works in all 50 states, so you never have to worry about location when you’re onboarding someone new.

Speaking of onboarding employees, that process couldn’t be easier with Gusto. The process is almost fully automated. All you need to do is enter the new hire’s name and email and the rest is done by Gusto with input from the employee. There are even onboarding checklists so new hires (and you) can stay on track.

Employee management is also a breeze. Everything you and your employees need, now and down the road, is available with just a few clicks, including:

  • Paid Time Off (PTO)
  • Holidays
  • Leave policies
  • Time tracking
  • Tip management
  • Automated W-2s
  • 1099 creation and distribution
  • Benefits administration
  • Retirement account management

There’s even an employee self-service portal where they can access pay stubs, request time off, and manage things like address changes. This means your HR team doesn’t have to spend time updating personnel records each time an employee moves or changes other contact information. And the employee self-service portal provides lifetime access to employees, even after they no longer work for you.

Running payroll for salaried employees is fully automated after you set up a new employee. It literally takes our HR manager less than five minutes each payroll cycle to approve and issue payroll to our employees. Contractor management is also easy and fast. It just takes a few clicks to approve invoices and issue payments, which are received within 24 hours if they have direct deposit set up.

Health insurance administration is an area that can sometimes be a big headache for a business, especially if you have employees scattered around the U.S. We did have a few hiccups when we first set up health insurance through Gusto, but their customer support team was on it and resolved the issues quickly. Since we’re a 100% remote company that’s spread out over the country, health insurance was slightly more complicated for us.

Now that our health insurance program is set up, everything runs seamlessly. New enrollments, major life change reporting, and changing plans are painless. Best of all, we know our team has the best possible insurance options, no matter where they live.

Gusto also has it dialed in when it comes to hands-on HR guidance. We can pick up the phone and talk through issues to get advice and resolution options, even for really thorny, one-off issues. While we have noticed a drop in customer service quality post-Covid (an industry-wide problem), we always get the help we need, even if it takes talking to multiple customer service reps.

There are a few Gusto options our team doesn’t use, like performance reviews, e-cards, and applicant tracking. But we have no reason to believe Gusto’s performance in these areas isn’t as stellar as everywhere else.

When it comes to price, Gusto is great value for money. Is it the cheapest option out there? Nope. But if price is holding you up, think about the headaches, time, effort, and energy you’ll save partnering with a rock-solid payroll software and service provider. 

If you’re at the point of paying people, you shouldn’t be worried about saving a few dollars a month on this essential service. Our team spends less than five minutes per payroll run, and none of them are payroll or HR experts. To us, that is money well spent.

More than 100 Employees? Go with Rippling Instead

When your business really scales and the employee count jumps over the magic 100 mark, Rippling is a great option to grow into. It is on our radar as the payroll solution we’ll move to when our company gets to that point. We’re not quite there yet.

Rippling does everything as well as Gusto, plus a lot more. It centralizes IT, HR, and finance data in one place. This makes it easy to compile and study the data and reports you’ll need when your workforce is larger. Rippling is also modular, meaning you can start with the basics and add on as your needs grow

All of this functionality is built on top of a powerful automation and analytics platform. This brings the data together in an elegant and easy-to-use and understandable way. For whatever reason, Rippling’s competition hasn’t quite figured out how to do that yet.

So what is the value of all this data? A lot.

  • Stronger performance and learning management 
  • More accurate headcount and compensation planning
  • Streamlined recruiting
  • Global EOR and payroll in select countries
  • Inventory and device management
  • Corporate credit card issuance and monitoring
  • Plus many additional features you will appreciate when managing a larger team

Rippling is a very robust payroll and employee management system. Which is also a bit of a downside. There’s a lot going on with Rippling and it can take a bit to get the hang of it all, understand how things work, and integrate it with your current needs.

But just because Rippling can do a lot doesn’t mean you have to jump in feet first and try using it all on day one. One big reason we recommend Rippling is because you can use what you need and save the more advanced functionality for when you need it down the road. Finding that balance can be hard, but once you dial it in you’re golden.

One thing Rippling struggles with is something most payroll service providers face these days–a drop in customer service over the past year. It can be hard to get in touch with someone quickly. But again, this seems to be an industry-wide issue and not specific to only Rippling.

The Two Payroll Providers We’d Never Recommend to Anyone

The whole point in partnering with a payroll provider for your business is to save yourself time and automate as many processes as possible. Any payroll provider that makes you pay and file taxes yourself–like Wave Payroll and Payroll4Free–are ones you should avoid. There are probably others, too. We recommend you don’t waste any time considering them.

Yes, they are inexpensive (or even free), but the extra work you have to take on yourself is just not worth the few dollars you’re going to save by going down this route. Do you really want to spend your time manually keeping up with regulations in different states, figuring out which forms to file and where to send payments, and all the other details that payroll requires?

Probably not. As a business owner with employees to pay, your time is better spent elsewhere, like marketing your services or making product improvements. Plus the risks that come with doing something wrong and facing the wrath of the tax authority is simply not worth any amount of money saved.

But wait, you say. Wave Payroll does have full-service payroll in 14 states. Yes it does, but Wave Payroll costs the same as Gusto and doesn’t offer nearly as much. Our advice is to go with Gusto and enjoy the comfort of knowing you can hire anyone in any U.S. state, plus everything else Gusto brings to the table.

What Really Matters When Choosing a Payroll Platform

Sales reps would like you to believe that everything matters when choosing a payroll platform. But the truth is that 99 percent of the time with payroll software, execution matters more than other features or functionality. 

Many services do most of the same things, actually. The difference is in how they work. Gusto and Rippling execute everything as close to flawless as you can get. And that is what you need the most. 

Beyond execution, filing and remitting taxes on your behalf is a priority, streamlined onboarding, and execution of the other functions that come with payroll, like PTO, benefits, and time tracking, are important. You’ll also want personalized assistance when you need it.

Both Gusto and Rippling have all these things dialed in. With either you get a payroll system you don’t have to worry about or even think about all that often. And that’s the ultimate goal.