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As CFO’s, we work with different sizes of small businesses in many different industries. A large majority of those businesses use QuickBooks to monitor and manage their business’s financial data and performance. As QuickBooks Pro Advisors, we have worked with just about every edition of QuickBooks over the years and we know one size does not fit all. Intuit (the company that makes QuickBooks) has several charts and lists to help you choose the QuickBooks version that is best for you. Despite all of this information, it can be overwhelming to small businesses to sift and sort through all the options and choose the one that is best for you.

To that end, we have a few questions you should consider before you attempt to navigate the comparison charts available on the Intuit site (and many other sites). For more detailed information see This is one site we find to be very thorough and helpful.

At the highest level there are 3 main versions of QuickBooks available: QuickBooks Desktop, QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks for Mac. My purpose here is to compare the Desktop and the Online versions. The decision process for Mac is a little different and I will tackle that in a future blog.

Key Considerations:

Do I Need Remote Access to My Financial Data?

The idea of being able to access your financial data from any computer with internet access is appealing, but the question you need to ask yourself is if it is really necessary. Think about how often you have been somewhere and needed to access your financial data but couldn’t. If the answer is never or rarely, then the Online version might not necessary. If the answer is sometimes or often, then the Online version might be the best choice. If you do think you need remote access, there are other ways to achieve full or limited access with the Desktop versions, such as using an rdp (remote desktop protocol), vpn (virtual private network), the websites logmein or gotomypc, or with QuickBooks Connect (available with the QuickBooks Desktop Plus versions).

Do I Want to Try Before I Buy?

Some people like to try out a service before buying in order to make sure that it’s exactly what they need. The Online versions include 30-day free trials to try out the service. Keep in mind that while the Desktop software does not offer a free trial, they do offer a 60-day money-back guarantee in case you decide the software isn’t right for you after you purchase it.

Given that either option essentially allows you to try before you buy, there is not a substantial differentiator to either the Desktop or Online versions. What’s more important to consider here is the soft costs associated with just trying something out. In order to use either version, you must do some initial set up, learn how to use the software, and spend time entering real transactions to fully evaluate your purchase. It always better to be as well informed as possible before making your purchase, as the likelihood of changing within 30 or even 60 days is low.

Would You Rather Pay As You Go or Pay Upfront?

If your business is a start-up, you might be trying to save money anywhere you can. Both the Online and Desktop Plus versions allow you to pay monthly fees to access the full software. There are no contracts to sign, and anytime you wish to end your QuickBooks account you can without paying cancellation fees. That aside, if you think you will use the software for at least one year, the Desktop Plus versions now have the option to be bought on an annual basis, which will cost you less over that year as compared to the Online Essentials version; and what’s more with the Desktop Plus version you get more than double the reports, inventory tracking (if you need that), and industry specific reports.

While, the QuickBooks Desktop versions require you to pay for the entire software before accessing it, once you pay you can use it forever. Just be aware that while some features like online banking expire after three years, the majority of the bookkeeping and accounting capabilities are accessible in perpetuity. One final note is that while QuickBooks will encourage you to upgrade your Desktop version every year, we find that is rarely necessary. Many of our clients do this every 3 years or more, so the cost savings of the Desktop version take on a greater appeal.

How Much Customer Support Do I Need?

If you are new to QuickBooks, or accounting software in general, access to experts and customer support representatives might be important to help you get started and get the most out of your purchase. If this is important to you, you can get unlimited customer support, including phone, email, and live chat support with either the more advanced Online version and the Desktop Plus versions. If another version makes better sense for other reasons, you can still get 24/7 customer support with the Desktop versions, which costs about $150 per year.

Some Final Thoughts

QuickBooks is a powerful small business accounting software solution with many different versions and editions which can serve just about every accounting need a small business can have. With so many options though, it’s important to understand your needs are before making your choice. If after reading this and reviewing the details available on the Intuit site or other sites, you still feel overwhelmed with the choices, please contact us via phone or email. At Barba CFO, we have helped many small businesses make the most informed and best decision about what choice is best for you and your business. We can also help you to setup your new software and train your users to get the most from your purchase.

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