If you are trying to decide which accounting software is best for your small business, you’ll want to compare QuickBooks Online vs. QuickBooks Desktop.  

Each version of Intuit’s flagship product provides slightly different features and options. How you want to use the software and how you want to pay for it will help determine which version is right for you.

QuickBooks Online vs. Desktop: A Comparison

If you have a business with extensive product lines or inventory tracking needs, QuickBooks Desktop may be your best bet.  

Indeed, the desktop version comes in industry-specific versions in addition to the general business version. If you do business in one of these five industries, QuickBooks Desktop is likely the better choice:

  • Contractor
  • Manufacturer and wholesaler
  • Nonprofit
  • Professional services
  • Retail

On the other hand, QuickBooks Online is ideal for small businesses that don’t have major inventory needs or want access to their accounting software on the go. The online version can be accessed from multiple devices and platforms. Also, It’s easy to set up and use.

Learn the pros and cons of quickbooks online vs. QuickBooks Desktop. 

QuickBooks Online vs. Desktop: Pros and Cons

Both versions of QuickBooks have their advantages and disadvantages.

Let’s review the desktop version:

QuickBooks Desktop Pros

  • Allows for industry-specific and advanced options only available on the Desktop version.
  • Isn’t dependent on an internet connection.
  • You own the software and the data stays on your computer. 
  • You can manage multiple company files.
  • Industry-specific versions are available.

QuickBooks Desktop Cons

  • It isn’t accessible online or on multiple devices
  • Higher upfront costs, but no monthly fees
  • Limited support without additional fees
  • No software updates without additional fees

The online version has its ups and downs, too:

QuickBooks Online Pros

  • Accessible on multiple platforms and devices.
  • No upfront investment, just monthly fees.
  • Free updates.
  • Unlimited customer support.

QuickBooks Online Cons

  • You’re renting the software and data is stored online.
  • Limited by internet access and speed.
  • Can manage only one company file.
  • There are no industry-specific versions.

You can always change versions at a later date (with help from an Intuit service representative). If you are switching from QuickBooks Desktop to QuickBooks Online, you’ll need to export all of your data out of the Desktop version and import it into the Online version.  

Note that the two versions value inventory differently. Online uses the “first in, first out” (FIFO) method. Desktop uses the average cost method.  

There is no integration between the desktop and online versions. You can’t use both and sync them. They use different platforms which don’t integrate.

A QuickBooks Comparison Chart

Here’s how the desktop and online versions compare:

FeaturesQuickBooks DesktopQuickBooks Online
Retail Cost$299.95-$1039.50*$20-$150 per month
Software or OnlineInstalled softwareOnline
ConnectivityNo internet neededRequires internet
Online BackupsNot IncludedIncluded
Data Access Installed computerMultiple platforms/devices
Data AnywhereAdditional hosting feesIncluded
Unlimited Tech SupportAvailable for a feeIncluded
Software UpgradesNot IncludedIncluded
30-Day Free TrialIncludedIncluded
Multiple Inventory TrackingRequires additional feeNot included
Industry-Customized VersionAvailable for a feeNot available

* Enterprise version of Desktop includes an annual fee

QuickBooks Online vs. Desktop: Features

As they say, the devil is in the details. Each version of QuickBooks offers features the other doesn’t. Here’s the rundown. 

QuickBooks Online Features

Features only available with the online version:

  • Automatically schedule and transmit transactions.
  • Attach documents, photos, and signatures to transactions using mobile devices or desktop.
  • Detailed audit log to review actions and track changes.
  • Track by location or class.
  • Relabel customers with additional label options.
  • Sync bank transactions automatically.
  • Unlimited time tracking & Unlimited reports.
  • Journal entries with multiple accounts payable and accounts receivable lines.
  • Multiple budgets per calendar or fiscal year.

The online version will automatically download and categorize bank and credit-card transactions. It also lets you capture receipts on your phone and allows remote access for your stakeholders or accountant.

QuickBooks Desktop Features

Features only available with the desktop version:

  • Industry-specific versions
  • Pay vendors online through an automated clearing house (ACH)
  • Create batch invoices, transactions, and timesheets
  • Mileage tracking
  • Job costing module
  • Mileage tracking
  • Estimates vs. actual job costing reports
  • Business planning, forecasting, and balance sheet by class
  • Advanced Inventory tools, including average cost valuation
  • Automatic inventory reorder planning

The enterprise version includes “enhanced pick, pack and ship” options as well as mobile inventory barcode scanning.  

You can add the following services for QuickBooks Desktop:

  • Checks
  • Point-of-sale integration
  • Email invoice and accept online and mobile payments
  • Mobile time tracking

QuickBooks Online vs. Desktop: Comparing Support

QuickBooks Online provides unlimited support and upgrades as part of the monthly fee. Customer support hours vary slightly by product.

Unlike the online version, QuickBooks Desktop doesn’t include unlimited support in its one-time fees for the Pro and Plus versions. Support, data backups and upgrades retail for $199.95 a year for Pro and $299.95 per year for Premier. The enterprise version includes customer support, upgrades, and data backups.

All versions include self-serve online support, featuring an online knowledge base, video tutorials and a community forum where QuickBooks users answer questions from users.

QuickBooks Online vs. Desktop: Comparing Tutorials

Both the online and desktop versions QuickBooks provide similar tutorials. Some are included in the software while others are available through the support page.

Learning the basics of QuickBooks is easy. You’ll likely be able to get up and running fairly quickly. Mastering the nuances of the software, the accounting methods and the right way to do industry-specific tasks may take some time.

QuickBooks Online vs. Desktop: Comparing Trials

Both versions of QuickBooks offer 30-day risk-free trials. 

The online version of QuickBooks allows you to access all features during the trial. There’s no software to install. You can sign up online to start using the free trial.

You’ll need to install QuickBooks Desktop on your computer to take advantage of the 30-day free trial of the Pro 2019 Desktop version or the full-blown QuickBooks Desktop Enterprise version.

If you opt not to continue after 30 days, you will lose access to the program but still will be able to recover your data in a read-only format for 90 days.

QuickBooks Online vs. QuickBooks Desktop: What is the pricing?

QuickBooks Online vs. Desktop Pricing

Which version you choose may come down to whether you want to pay a steeper fee upfront or a smaller monthly fee. 

Fees for QuickBooks Online

  • Self-Employed: $10 per month
  • Simple Start: $20 per month
  • Essentials: $40 per month
  • Plus: $75 per month
  • Advanced: $150 per month

You can choose the free trial for 30 days or get 50% off the first three months.  

You’ll also pay additional fees if you want to add full-service payroll or self-service payroll. Each has a base monthly fee plus a $4 per employee charge.

Intuit will sometimes offer discounts as high as 50% off and offers free trials of its software for 30 days. The fees are lower upfront than buying the offline version of the software but add up over time. The software version carries a much higher upfront cost, but no recurring monthly fees.

Fees for QuickBooks Desktop

  • Pro 2019: $299.95 upon purchase 
  • Premier 2019: $499.95 upon purchase
  • Enterprise: $1,039.50 per year

If you prefer, you can do an annual subscription for Pro and Premier. These plans offer Plus versions featuring unlimited customer support, data backups and software upgrades. The cost is $199.95 for Pro Plus and $299.95 for Premier Plus for the first year. After that, the annual charge increases to $299.95 for Pro Plus and $499.95 and Premier Plus. The Plus features are included in the enterprise version. 

The ability to pay employees through the software requires a one-time fee of $315 for the Pro and Premier versions plus a monthly charge of $2 per employee.

Still shopping for accounting software? Check out our comparison of FreshBooks vs. QuickBooks.