If you are in the market for an accounting solution for your business you have undoubtedly come across the popular choice, QuickBooks. Your next question, in reviewing the many variations of QuickBooks is undoubtedly: “Which is better QuickBooks Desktop or QuickBooks Online?”

In the beginning of my accounting career, I used to think the answer was nuanced depending on your business setup.  In fact, after learning the preferences of other accountants and new small business owners, it seemed the QuickBooks Desktop was the preferred program as they cited reasons such as price, security and features. Perhaps this is what you may have heard in the past too, or what you may currently believe. However, the more I have used QuickBooks Online and Desktop, the more I have noticed some distinct differences between the two.

Price

People usually give Desktop the win on price.  Without going into the specifics of pricing packages it seems like a simple decision; you pay once for Desktop and monthly for Online. The fear is that with monthly payments, you will eventually reach the price you would’ve paid for the Desktop version; and then you are left paying over and over again for the same product, right?  Well, let’s consider what’s going into these prices:

  • Upgrades
    One thing to note is that QuickBooks Online receives automatic updates and upgrades that improve functionality and user experience.  With QuickBooks Desktop, you pay for yearly upgrades (currently $299/year).
  • Users
    QuickBooks Online Plus allows for 5 users with the subscription. You can add additional users for a price. How does this compare to QuickBooks Desktop pricing for multiple users?  QuickBooks Desktop offers a single user license and a multi-user license (up to 5 users).  Also, different versions can allow for more users like QuickBooks Enterprise (up to 30 users), which of course increases the price. In comparing the non-discounted price of QuickBooks Online Plus ($50/month for 5 users) and the non-discounted price of QuickBooks Desktop Premier 2017 (varying at and above $1000 for 5 users), you can see that it will take a while to match prices.This is not taking into account the fact that for multiple users to work simultaneously in QuickBooks Desktop, there will be some setup involved.  You will have to setup the multi-user environment to allow for all users to be on the same network, with hosting of the QuickBooks Desktop company file. This will, of course, add either a time cost or a financial cost if you have someone else set this up for you. In contrast, using the QuickBooks Online cloud-based program, users can be across the world and still work simultaneously.
  • Technical Support
    Another price consideration is technical support.  Although you can find support for QuickBooks products from MANY different sources, sometimes you’ll want to hear it from the “horse’s mouth” so to speak.  They may not know accounting per se, but they should know their product.  Intuit support is included with the QuickBooks Online subscription, whereas it isn’t included with Desktop.
  • Cash flow
    Another consideration, that hits home to many freelancers and/or business owners starting out is cash flow. A monthly subscription model helps maximize the amount of spending power for a business.
  • Features
    Product features may be another aspect to consider when it comes to the price of QuickBooks Online. QuickBooks Online out-of-the-box features may not include necessary functionality for your type of business.  However, you can choose to integrate it with another program to flesh out your accounting solution. This may add to the price or not.

Product Features

Unfortunately, the QuickBooks Online out-of-the-box features may not always include all of the features you’re looking for. As such, the included features and integrations play a determining factor in choosing to use the Desktop or the Online program.

Ideally, we would all love to have an all in one solution to answer every need of your business. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. Just like when dealing with employees, the ideal business delegates people to their strengths. This is the situation we find when comparing QuickBooks Desktop to QuickBooks Online’s features. Desktop has more features available by default, but Online has many ways to integrate function-specific programs to enhance the accounting workflow.

When you don’t take into account ‘the cloud’ and integrations (which is a lot to not take into account), Online doesn’t match up to the depth of Desktop customizations and features (such as inventory management). However, by disregarding the integrations, you’re losing a huge portion of what makes QuickBooks Online powerful.

With those integrations, you can, in essence, “get the best person for the job.” Whether it be budgeting, reporting, job costing, or more; by going to apps.com (an apt name for the site) you can find a program addon that has its whole focus dedicated to that job.  It’s usually just a few clicks to integrate, and most offer a free trial. Adding integrations is far from a necessity, but they do take your processes to the next level.

Automation

From the perspective of an accountant, and the busy business owner, automation can be a lifesaver!

One such example involves the “Banking Feeds” process. In both versions, you can use bank feeds to import transactions from your bank, rather than manually entering them. With Desktop, some banks require you to pay for this service and have to manually refresh the feeds. QuickBooks Online allows you to automate this process with no connection fee for most, dare I say almost all, banking institutions. Additionally, you can set the feed to import and refresh automatically. This difference can be a key factor in setting up QuickBooks software well.

The automation doesn’t stop there: you can also establish “bank rules” that will automatically add transactions when they come through. The Desktop version does have a version of Bank Rules, but I haven’t seen this Auto-add feature, yet.

Both automated tasks can allow you, as a busy business owner, to put QuickBooks Online on a degree of “auto-pilot.” Obviously that is depending on the trends in which your transactions come through.

Flexibility/Mobility

We do have to address a very obvious fact: The large downside to the Desktop version is that is lacks the mobility of the Online version. With QuickBooks Online, you can access your company files from anywhere and from any smart device with their app. With greater mobility, your business workflow has a variety of new options such as:

  • On-the-go time-tracking and invoice creation for employees.
  • Remote workplaces
  • Easier communication between you and your staff as well as you and your accountant
  • Benefit from Intuit’s data security, IT support and automatic backup, protecting you from computer crashes and loss of data.
  • Easier collaboration allowing for simultaneous work and information sharing
  • Increased functionality when using the abundance of add on applications.

Shades of Gray

As you can see, both Online and Desktop have features that could sway a user one way or another. So how do we make sense of all of this information? Look at your current set up in comparison to your desired set up to understand which of the aforementioned features matter the most to you and to your team.

From an accountant’s perspective, I prefer QuickBooks Online. Put simply, it’s easier to make money with this version. From a client’s perspective, QuickBooks Online usually also seems easier to account for money. It also boasts a better user interface (You can test drive it here).

That being said, there are certain situations in which the Desktop version would be better. For instance, if you had multiple business (separate companies, not different locations), Desktop would allow you to have multiple company files in one program, whereas Online requires a unique subscription for each business. While this extra cost might seem frustrating, in my opinion, the flexibility of Online outweighs the cost. It should be noted that when you are managing multiple business, you will most-likely have a larger budget to play with, as each company could have their own unique operating budget.

No matter which version you go with, setting QuickBooks up well can mean less stressful money management for you. If you have questions regarding QuickBooks, how to maximize your use of it or how the set up can affect your tax season experience down the line, reach out us. We’d love to chat!