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QuickBooks Online vs. QuickBooks Desktop: Which Is Best?

By Paul Dughi Reviewed By Mike Lucas
By Paul Dughi
By Paul Dughi Reviewed By Mike Lucas

QuickBooks is one of the leading names in the accounting software world, and you might be weighing QuickBooks online vs. QuickBooks desktop for your small business.

Each version of Intuit’s flagship product provides slightly different features and options. Let’s review each version’s features, pricing and advantages to determine which is the best Quickbooks for your small business.

A QuickBooks Comparison Chart

Here’s how the desktop and online versions compare:

Features QuickBooks Desktop QuickBooks Online
Retail Cost $399.99-$1,275 (software only)
$299.95-$1,275* (software and services)
$25-$150 per month
Software or Online Installed software Online
Connectivity No Internet needed Requires Internet
Online Backups Not included Included
Data Access  Installed computer Multiple platforms/devices
Data Anywhere Additional hosting fees Included
Unlimited Tech Support Available for a fee Included
Software Upgrades Not included Included
30-Day Free Trial Included Included
Multiple Inventory Tracking Requires additional fee Not included
Industry-Customized Version Available for a fee Not available

Co-workers hold a meeting at a conference table, perhaps discussing QuickBooks online vs. desktop and which is best for their business.

QuickBooks Online vs. QuickBooks Desktop: Pros and Cons

There’s no single, correct choice for QuickBooks online or desktop versions. Your decision will come down to which version best meets your small business’s needs; each has its advantages and disadvantages.

Let’s review the QuickBooks desktop version:

QuickBooks Desktop Pros

  • Allows for industry-specific and advanced options that are only available on the desktop version. If you do business in any of these 5 industries, QuickBooks desktop is likely the better choice:
  • Contractor
  • Manufacturer and wholesaler
  • Nonprofit
  • Professional services
  • Retail
  • Can perform major functions without an Internet connection
  • You own the software and the data stays on your computer 
  • You can manage multiple company files
  • Best for a business with extensive product lines or inventory tracking needs

QuickBooks Desktop Cons

  • Higher upfront costs
  • Limited support without additional fees
  • No software updates without additional fees

The online version has its positives and drawbacks, 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
  • Manages only 1 company file
  • No industry-specific versions

While you can always change between QuickBooks online and desktop versions —with help from an Intuit service representative — you’ll need to export all of your data out of the desktop version and import it into the online version. There’s no integration between the desktop and online versions; you can’t use both and sync them.

Also, note that each version values inventory differently. Online uses the “first in, first out” (FIFO) method. Desktop uses the average cost method; however, you can switch to the FIFO method under Advanced Inventory Settings.  

QuickBooks Online vs. Desktop: Features

The difference between QuickBooks online and desktop versions comes down to their respective accounting capabilities. Here’s the rundown. 

QuickBooks Online Features

Features available only with the QuickBooks online versions:

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

This cloud-based QuickBooks version is accessible with a web connection, regardless of device or location. 

QuickBooks Desktop Features

Features only available with the desktop version:

  • Industry-specific versions
  • Job-costing module
  • 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 initial fees for the Pro and Plus versions. Support, data backups and upgrades retail for $299.99 a year for Pro and $499.99 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 Reviews 

Both the online and desktop versions are widely named among the top options for business accounting software. QuickBooks online reviews include high ratings (4 or 5 stars out of 5) for overall satisfaction, value and features. 

However, customer support is the biggest recurring complaint for users, with some reviews stating it could be days before they heard from customer service representatives for desktop support. 

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 2021 Desktop version or the full-blown QuickBooks Desktop Enterprise version.

If you opt not to continue after 30 days, you’ll lose access to the program, but you can recover your data in a read-only format for 90 days.

An arrow rests on woodcut letters spelling out "costs."

QuickBooks Desktop Pricing vs. Online

When you weigh QuickBooks desktop pricing vs. online pricing, it might come down to whether you want to pay a steeper fee upfront or a smaller monthly fee. 

Fees for QuickBooks Online

  • Self-Employed: $15 per month
  • Simple Start: $25 per month
  • Essentials: $40 per month
  • Plus: $70 per month
  • Advanced: $150 per month

You can choose the free trial for 30 days or get 50% off the first 3 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, $8 or $10 per employee charge.

Intuit will sometimes offer discounts as high as 50% off and offer 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 2021 (software only): $399.99 upon purchase 
  • Pro Plus 2021 (software and added services): $299.99 per year
  • Premier 2021 (software only): $649.99 upon purchase
  • Premier Plus 2021 (software and added services): $499.99 per year
  • Enterprise 21.0 (software and services): $1,275 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 $299.99 for Pro Plus and $499.99 for Premier Plus per year before promotional discounts. QuickBooks Enterprise features added capabilities, including 6 times the list capacity and up to 1 million customers, vendors and inventory items, 100,000 classes, 45 custom fields and up to 40 users.  

The ability to pay employees through the software requires either an annual fee of $500 or a $50 monthly fee, plus a $2 per employee monthly charge.

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

Paul Dughi Contributing Writer at Fast Capital 360
Paul Dughi has held executive management positions in the media industry for the past 25 years. He earned his master of business administration degree while working full-time as president of a multistation television group. He is the author of two books on marketing and management.
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