With so many different free payroll software solutions available, figuring out which is right for you is tough. You know you want to manage payroll, tax, and compliance workflows on a budget, but need to figure out which tool is best. In this post, I'll help make your choice easy, sharing my personal experiences using dozens of different payroll tools with small teams and businesses, with my picks of the best free payroll software overall.
What is Free Payroll Software?
Free payroll software is usually offered by payroll vendors as a starter plan for small businesses. You can use free payroll software to cover the basics: employee deductions, tax calculations, pay stubs, and direct deposits. However, it may come with limitations on the number of employees or transactions it can handle.
Deel is an all-in-one global HR platform with advanced multicountry payroll functionalities. Their platform allows companies to hire and pay remote team members or contractors from anywhere in the world, with measures in place to ensure total compliance.
Why I picked Deel: Deel's platform is a great choice for small businesses because they offer their services for free to businesses with less than 200 employees. The free plan’s payroll capabilities are limited when compared with that of their paid plans, but the free plan still has enough features to help small businesses manage their payroll.
Deel Features and Integrations:
Features include the ability to run your payroll process for employees, contractors, and employer of record hires on autopilot; handle taxes; provide benefits; eliminate manual admin tasks with automated invoicing; give the team flexibility with over 15 global payment options; and have local, legal, tax, and accounting expertise.
Integrations are available natively with Ashby, BambooHR, Expensify, Greenhouse, Hibob, Netsuite, Okta, OneLogin, Quickbooks, SCIM, Xero, Workday, and Workable.
What's Free: Deel's platform is free to use for businesses with less than 200 employees. Beyond their free plan, Deel offers paid plans with flat rate pricing, as well as a free demo.
- You can pay employees in over 150 currencies, including crypto
- Includes up to $25,000 coverage if a misclassification or legal case arises
- Also offers employer of record (EOR) services
- No mobile app available
- No free trial available
Papaya Global is an online payroll and employee management software global hiring. It provides end-to-end global workforce management tools, with everything from employee onboarding to cross-border payments in over 160 countries.
Why I picked Papaya Global: This software manages all types of employees, including full-time and contractors, and can also serve as an EoR. It can send payments securely to remote and global staff, whatever type of employee they are. Payment delivery is guaranteed within 72 hours.
The software's bank rails were built in partnership with JP Morgan and Citibank with high reliability and compliance standards. Payroll anomalies and issues can be detected with the software’s artificial intelligence (AI), which automatically notifies admins. The reporting and analytics tools offer detailed payroll and business intelligence, and give you a real-time view of your funds.
Papaya Global Standout Features and Integrations:
Features include solutions for automating payroll and payments, tools to understand your total payroll costs, workforce planning tools, a dedicated HRIS system including onboarding tools, AI-based compliance verification features, international employee benefits administration, and assistance with global immigration issues.
Integrations include BambooHR, Expensify, Microsoft Dynamics 365, Namely, NetSuite, Priority Software, SAP Business One, SAP Concur, and SAP SuccessFactors. An API is also available to support additional custom integrations.
What's Free: While no free-forever plan is available, several pricing tiers are available to suit the needs of all business sizes. A free trial is also available so you can give it a test run before purchasing.
- Advanced forecasting features to predict costs
- Payments can be made in virtually any currency
- Extensive knowledge base
- Employee profiles could be more detailed
- No free-forever plan
OnPay is a full-service payroll and HR software designed to help small business owners save time when managing their company. The solution has a clean interface and is easy to navigate, allowing users to schedule and run payroll and automate their tax and payroll calculations.
Why I picked OnPay: Their software helps you create custom payroll reports so you can easily track your spending and your team’s activity. The tool’s mobile-friendly self-service portal allows your employees to access and update their information on the go.
OnPay Features and Integrations:
Features include unlimited pay runs, tax filings and payments, employee self-service, automated onboarding, direct messaging, PTO management, and benefits management.
Integrations include Deputy, Guideline, Mineral, PosterElite, QuickBooks Online, QuickBooks Time, Vestwell, When I Work, Xero, and others.
What's Free: OnPay is free to use for 30 days. After that period, their paid plans start at $6/employee/month plus a $40/month base fee.
- Custom reports
- Built-in notifications
- Simple payroll scheduling
- Mobile navigation can be improved
- No payroll automation
- It takes about five days for employees to receive their pay
QuickBooks Online is a cloud-based accounting software designed for small businesses and accountants. It offers a range of features to help you manage your company finances, including invoicing, expense tracking, and payroll management.
Why I picked QuickBooks Online: This software can be used to manage your company payroll in the United States, Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom. It can automate your payroll processing (you can review and approve before pay is sent out), as well as your tax deductions and filings. You can also manage deductions and garnishments with the software and set up employee portals.
In addition to its comprehensive payroll management features, the software also has more general accounting tools. You can use it to manage expenses and receipts as well as invoices and payments. It also has reporting and analytics tools to help you understand where money is coming from and going to at your business.
QuickBooks Online Features and Integrations:
Features include automated payroll, automated tax filings, employee portals, garnishments and deductions, payroll reports, unlimited payroll runs, health benefits administration, unlimited 1099-MISC and 1099-NEC forms, and expert support.
Integrations include over 450 business apps like Square, Stripe, Paychex, Insightly CRM, Mailchimp, Shopify, eBay, BigCommerce, Magento, Squarespace, Etsy, Katana, and ProjectWorks.
What's Free: While there is no free-forever plan available for QuickBooks Online, you can get a free trial for 30 days. Because the software is geared towards SMBs, the pricing is also structured to be within reach.
- Accounting and payroll in the same platform
- Caters specifically to small businesses
- Automates tax deductions and filings
- Not available globally
- No free-forever plan available
Homebase is a versatile HR platform that helps small businesses manage work schedules, time clocks, and payroll, all-in-one. It automates the payroll process and converts timesheets into hours and wages, calculates taxes, and sends correct payments to employees.
Why I picked Homebase Payroll: Their payroll system reduces data entry since the solution instantly calculates an employee’s regular hours, breaks, and overtime through their time clock and timesheet feature. This makes it easy for small businesses to run payroll without needing to double-check all the data.
Homebase Payroll Features and Integrations:
Features include automated tax payments and filings, access to W-2 and 1099 forms, employee self-onboarding, e-sign payroll forms, direct deposits, unlimited payroll runs, and free payroll transfer services.
Their mobile app gives employees access to their hours, schedules, earnings, and W-2 forms, and even includes communication tools so employees can help each other trade and cover shifts.
Integrations are available with a handful of popular HR platforms, including ADP, Gusto, Paychex, Quickbooks, Rippling, Square Payroll, and SurePayroll, as well as with several point-of-sale providers.
What's Free: Homebase's Basic service plan is free forever for unlimited employees at one work location, making it an ideal solution for small businesses (paid plans begin at $20/month). Their payroll services are available as an add-on to their free package, starting at $6/employee/month plus a $39/month base fee. New Homebase Payroll customer also receive their first three months for free when they add their payroll integration to any of their plans.
- Free plan covers timesheets/time clocks, scheduling, messaging, and hiring tools
- Includes early wage access for employees to help with unexpected, emergency expenses
- Mobile app is user-friendly for employees
- Payroll functions are only available as an add-on
- Purpose-built for USA-based organizations
Zoho Payroll is a payroll solution that helps small businesses with payroll processing and employee onboarding. The tool offers a self-service portal where employees can check their payslips and documents.
Why I picked Zoho Payroll: Their software automatically calculates earnings, deductions, taxes, and allowances. The software allows you to create recurring payroll routines and complete one-time payments in any pay period. The software’s termination payroll helps you manage the employee’s notice pay and other exit requirements.
Zoho Payroll Features and Integrations:
Features include automatic payroll calculations, direct deposits, income tax collection (IRS & CRA), detailed payroll reports, digital payslips, alerts, salary revision tools, predefined user roles, and employee loan management features.
Integrations are available with other Zoho tools, and with other solutions through a REST API.
What's Free: Zoho Payroll offers a free-forever version with limited functionalities for one work location with up to 10 employees. For larger teams, the software costs from $19/month plus $3/employee/month. A 30-day free trial is also available.
- Manages multiple payroll organizations
- Detailed employee database
- Easy to make salary adjustments
- Not currently available in all U.S. states
- Notes cannot exceed 200 characters, which can make it difficult to keep accurate records over time
- You cannot edit a single employee in a payroll that has run, so you have to reverse it entirely and run it again
TimeTrex is a workforce management and payroll solution that helps you with federal, state, and local tax calculations in Canada and the US. The software integrates attendance tracking and payroll, and allows you to pay your team via direct deposit or checks.
Why I picked TimeTrex: With TimeTrex, you can automate your time and attendance policies with custom rules regarding overtime, premiums, and multiple pay rates. The software helps your team members allocate their working hours to four levels of cost centers, so you can create different structures for people who work in the office or in the field, and so on.
TimeTrex Features and Integrations:
Features include a payroll calculator, direct deposit, garnishments, PTO tracking, time & attendance tracking, electronic pay stubs, tax reports, and full-service payroll support if you want payroll off your desk completely.
Integrations are available with several apps, including ADP, Ceridian, Sage, Paychex, and QuickBooks.
What's Free: TimeTrex offers a Community Edition that is open-source and fully free to use. They also offer a 30-day free trial of their Professional Edition with more advanced features. If you're happy with their software, they can provide you with custom pricing details after your free trial upon request.
- Simple time and attendance tracking
- Good automation features
- Versatile self-service portal
- Navigation could be improved
- Platform can lag at times
- Mobile app looks outdated
CheckMark Payroll is a payroll solution that allows small business owners to pay their employees via direct deposit or checks. The software’s check printing feature allows you to create branded checks for your business.
Why I picked CheckMark Payroll: Their payroll system allows you to create unlimited databases and companies, which can be helpful for small business owners managing multiple locations or accountants. The software is easy to set up and use, and offers all the instructions you need to set up your first payroll.
CheckMark Payroll Features and Integrations:
Features include unlimited employees, unlimited payroll runs, direct deposit or the ability to print checks, printed or e-filed W2s and W3s, and US-based customer support.
Integrations are available with multiple apps, including E-Syst, PROFITSystems, SilentPartner, TimeWolf, and Virtual TimeClock.
What's Free: CheckMark Payroll is free to use for 60 days. After that, the software charges a one-time fee starting from $509 making it a very affordable option for small business owners looking to avoid monthly SaaS subscription fees.
- Supports an unlimited number of employees
- Simple interface
- Little to no learning curve
- Making changes on checks can be difficult
- App can sometimes glitch on Macs
- Limited report customization options
Patriot is an online payroll and accounting solution that helps small businesses send payments, create custom reports, track time and attendance, and calculate their federal, state, and local taxes. The solution has a clean interface and is easy to use, allowing you to set up and run payroll without difficulty.
Why I picked Patriot: Patriot deducts and remits all unemployment, social security, medical, and related deductions to state and federal authorities, making each deduction easy to track. Patriot helps you calculate year-to-date totals and create tax liability reports with automation. The software helps you prepare your tax filings and its mobile-friendly design makes it easy to manage and run payroll on any device.
With Patriot, you can include independent contractors in your payroll, making it ideal for companies outsourcing work to freelancers. Using their direct deposit feature, you can streamline your payroll operations and pay your contractors and employees simlutaneously.
Patriot Standout Features and Integrations
Features include an employee portal, unlimited payroll runs, time and attendance tracking, 1099 e-filing, tax filing, PTO management, and employee information tracking.
Integrations are available with several tools, including GoCo, Plaid, QuickBooks Time, and TSheets.
What's Free: Patriot is free to use for 30 days. After that, their paid plans start at $4/employee/month plus a $17/month base fee.
- Unlimited payroll runs
- Multiple locations and pay frequencies
- Ease of use
- Tax handling costs extra
- Automated transfers that take place on weekends or national holidays cost extra
- Instructions could be better
ExcelPayroll is a spreadsheet-based payroll solution that transforms your Microsoft Excel into a payroll service.
Why I picked ExcelPayroll: The software is free to download and use, and it’s compatible with Windows and Mac devices, making it ideal for organizations that already use MS Excel in their day-to-day work. It's a good choice for small teams with no more than 50 employees.
ExcelPayroll Features and Integrations:
Features include the ability to prepare and print a variety of tax forms, including W3, 940, and DE9. The tool also helps you manage expense forms such as vacation accruals and deductions, keep track of employee hours, and calculate workers’ compensation.
Integrations are currently not available natively. However, the software works on Microsoft Excel, so you can import and export data with ease.
What's Free: ExcelPayroll is entirely free to use, with no strings attached.
- Free for up to 50 employees
- Great for people familiar with MS Excel
- Can print tax forms and computer checks
- Runs on MS Excel so you’ll need a license for that
- No employee portal
- No phone or live chat customer support
Best global HR platform with a free plan for up to 200 employees
Free demo available
|Flat rate user pricing, with a free version for businesses with up to 200 people||Website|
Best payroll and end-to-end workforce management in 160+ countries
Free trial available
|EOR from $650/employee/month or $2/contractor/month; Global payroll from $3 to $12/employee/month||Website|
Best full-service payroll software that tracks your spending using custom reports
30-day free trial
|From $6/employee/month + $40/month base fee||Website|
Best for payroll and other financial management tools
30-day free trial
Best free scheduling and time tracking software with additional payroll services via an add-on
Free plan available (unlimited employees)
|From $20/month (payroll add-on is $6/user/month + $39/month)||Website|
Best free payroll software for small teams with up to 10 employees
30-day free trial + free plan available
|From $19/month plus $3/employee/month||Website|
Best for a free and open-source Community Edition of their payroll software
30-day free trial + free plan available
|Pricing upon request||Website|
Best payroll solution for managing unlimited databases and companies
60-day free trial
|One-time fee of $509||Website|
Best simplified payroll software with a three-step payroll process
30-day free trial
|From $4/employee/month + $17/month base fee||Website|
Best free spreadsheet-based payroll software for businesses with up to 50 employees
Free to use
|Free to use||Website|
Here are some other affordable payroll software options that are also worth considering:
Free payroll and HR solution for businesses of all sizes
Best cloud-based payroll software with time-saving payroll automations
Best free payroll processing service for small businesses of up to 25 members
- Ceridian Powerpay
Best mobile-friendly small business payroll software for Canadian businesses
- Sage Payroll
Best online payroll solution with time-tracking and leave management tools
Best online payroll service provider with multiple payroll options
Best combined payroll, HR, and benefits management tool for hybrid or remote teams.
Best HRIS and payroll solution that helps with benefits administration, time tracking, and payroll processing
Best payroll software for paying employees and contractors with automatic tax calculations
Best staff management solution for employee schedules, PTO, and running payroll
Best HR tool for managing and paying a small to medium-sized team
Best payroll software with additional HR features
- Push Payroll
Best payroll software for the hospitality and restaurant industry
Best small business payroll and HR solution for onboarding new employees
Selection Criteria for Free Payroll Software
Wondering how I selected the best free payroll software for this list? I'm happy to explain my selection process in detail.
I started by reviewing recent payroll market data to create a long list of popular payroll systems with positive user ratings. I then examined each payroll provider's website in fine detail to determine what, if any, free options they offer users.
Some of the payroll systems in this list offer free forever plans (a.k.a. freemium plans) to help you get started. However, freemium plans only include enough features to cover basic payroll tasks. More advanced features, such as garnishments and advanced payroll reports, are restricted to their paid plans only. For that reason, I've noted above specifically which portions of each payroll software are free, and which aren't.
Next, I used my selection criteria below as a framework to narrow my list down even further. Lastly, I also drew on my years of personal experience using payroll software to pinpoint features that will help you process payroll properly.
Basic Features of Free Payroll Software
Here’s a short list of the key features you can expect to find within free payroll software or free/freemium plans:
- Payroll management: As a small business owner, you should be able to manage, schedule, and run payroll without wasting time.
- Direct deposit: The payroll software should allow you to make direct deposit payments so you won’t have to bother with paper checks.
- Automation: The tool should offer some automation features, allowing you to automate repetitive or time-consuming tasks. Key automations include calculating your payroll taxes or other employee entitlements.
- Self-service employee portal: Your employees should be able to check their timesheets, vacation time, and pay slips whenever they want.
In addition to these basic features, I also assessed the following characteristics of each payroll system as well.
The user interface (UI) of your payroll software is important because payroll is complicated enough without clunky settings slowing you down. I chose free payroll providers with intuitive, user-friendly interfaces so you can find all the right functions with ease.
Running payroll can sometimes be complicated. That's why I selected tools that offer ease of use and thorough training materials. That way, you can learn how to make the most out of them after a short onboarding period. Keep in mind, that using free payroll software often limits your access to customer support. That's why it's generally only recommended for organizations with fewer employees.
I picked payroll solutions that integrate with other popular tools for startups, such as time and attendance software, business tax software, accounting software, single sign-on (SSO) tools, and employee management systems. Some free software may also include access to their APIs, but others may charge an additional fee for custom integrations.
What is payroll software?
Is payroll software considered HR software or financial software?
Why is some payroll software free?
Do more expensive payroll providers offer better features?
More Advanced Payroll Options
If the free payroll providers in this list aren't quite satisfying your needs, don't fret. There are plenty of more sophisticated payroll options out there to choose from:
- Best Payroll Software
- Automated Payroll Software
- Payroll Software for CAD Businesses
- Payroll Software for Small Businesses
- Payroll Services for Small Businesses
- Global Payroll Services
Other Resources & Payroll Tips
Take a look at our other payroll resources to help you brush up on best practices:
- How To Manage Payroll For Small Business (for SMBs and startups)
- How to Run a Successful Payroll - Checklist (for first-time payroll warriors)
- Payroll Costs: A Comprehensive Breakdown and Tips to Reduce (to save $$)
- Or our detailed guides on Payroll Administration and Understanding Payroll Taxes (to ensure you're up-to-date on everything payroll-related)
Using a payroll solution is important because it enables you to pay your employees on time, which helps keep them motivated. As John Boitnott, Inc. journalist, said:
"Money isn't the only thing that motivates someone to perform well at their job, but it certainly factors in heavily."
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