Zenefits vs. TriNet: Which Is Right for Your Business?

When it comes to HR for small business, entrepreneurs have an array of software options to help automate and manage the process–from administering payroll to managing health benefits and more. There are many reputable services out there that help make these tasks less tedious and more efficient. If you’re researching your options, two names you’re likely to encounter are TriNet and Zenefits.

Both organizations are worth your consideration, as they have lots of experience managing HR-related tasks for small businesses. Zenefits, which launched in 2013, offers a cloud-based tech-forward platform that helps more than 11,000 businesses manage payroll. TriNet, which began in 1988, has built up their business to the point where they now handle payroll for over 325,000 employees.

So which is better for your business? To answer that question, we’ll compare Zenefits vs. TriNet on four key criteria: features, cost, ease of use, and user reviews.

Let’s get started.

Zenefits vs. TriNet Overview

TriNet Zenefits
Features

Payroll administration, HR tools, benefits administration, expense management, time tracking and scheduling
Payroll administration, HR tools, benefits administration, time tracking and scheduling
Cost
Quote-based
Starting at $8 per employee/month (payroll and benefits services cost extra)
Ease of use
Cloud-based platform, employee portal, customer service between 6 a.m. and 12 a.m. ET Monday – Friday
Cloud-based platform, employee portal, customer service between 5 a.m. and 6 p.m. PT Monday – Friday

Zenefits vs. TriNet Features

The first point of comparison is the features included in each HR software platform. Note that not all these features are included in a standard plan, so we’ll differentiate between what comes standard and what you’ll have to pay extra for.

Zenefits Features

With Zenefits’ core features, you’ll get HR administration and time and scheduling tools. To add payroll and other features, you’ll have to pay an additional monthly fee. Here’s a breakdown of both Zenefits’ service plans and their additional add-on features, including payroll.

  • Zenefits Essentials
    • Send employee offer letters and onboarding documents
    • Create company organizational charts
    • Conduct an unlimited number of background checks via Checkr
    • Portal for employee self-service
    • Administer employee I-9s and W-4s 
    • Sign documents with digital signatures
    • Create employee profiles with contact information
    • Create employee schedules and track attendance
    • Track and approve PTO requests from employees
    • Automate HR reports and view analytics
    • Create, file, and update company handbooks, privacy policies, and other important company documents
    • Access to the Zenefits mobile app
  • Zenefits Growth (includes everything in the Zenefits Essentials plan, plus)
    • Receive data and tailored advice on managing employee compensation
    • Create dashboards and receive guidance for employee performance management.
  • Zenefits Zen (includes everything in the Zenefits Growth plan, plus)
    • Tools, dashboards, reports, and advice to optimize your employees’ well-being

Now, for the Zenefits add-on tools, including payroll and benefits administration:

  • Zenefits Payroll
    • Manage tax filings
    • Direct deposit paychecks
    • Automate payroll reminders
    • Allow employees to view digital paystubs with deduction breakdowns via the self-service portal
    • Issue bonuses and commissions
    • Administer tip credits
    • Issue payment to freelancers, consultants, and independent contractors
    • Access an automatic wage garnishment calculator
    • Offer prorated payments for new hires
    • View payroll reporting and analytics
    • Automatically sync with HR data (including scheduling, onboarding, PTO, and salary information)
  • Zenefits Employee Benefits
    • Integrate your benefits broker with the Zenefits platform
    • Administer medical, dental, vision, and life and disability insurance
    • Administer commuter benefits, retirement plans, and flexible spending and health savings accounts
    • Automatically sync with data on HR and payroll platforms (including scheduling, onboarding, PTO, benefits deductions and salary information)

Zenefits also offers you the ability to extend the functionality of your platform by integrating with a range of third-party apps, including Salesforce, Slack, QuickBooks, and Uber.

Lastly, for an additional fee, Zenefits will provide you with an advisory service of on-demand HR professionals who can assist you with all your HR needs.

TriNet Features

Like Zenefits, TriNet offers a modern cloud-based platform with robust offerings, as well as add-on options. Here’s a breakdown of what’s built into the TriNet platform:

  • Manage tax filings
  • Direct deposit paychecks
  • Receive paychecks via snail mail
  • Receive paychecks via prepaid Visa debit cards
  • Issue payment to freelancers, consultants, and independent contractors
  • Administer employee I-9s and W-4s 
  • Automate payroll reminders
  • Portal for employee self-service where they can view pay stubs, deduction breakdowns, and update their direct deposit and tax information
  • Administer medical, dental, vision, and life and disability insurance
  • Administer commuter benefits, retirement plans, and flexible spending and health savings accounts
  • Create library of important business documents, including employee handbooks and compliance information
  • View 20 different standard and customizable payroll reports
  • Dedicated payroll account manager
  • Access to the TriNet mobile app

trinet vs zenefitsTriNet HR services. Image source: TriNet

Now, this is just the software function of TriNet. What we haven’t yet mentioned is that TriNet is really a professional employer organization (PEO), which means they provide a wide range of services beyond the basics for small and medium-sized businesses for an added fee. Here’s a breakdown of those additional services:

HR Services

Zenefits provides HR software, but TriNet can actually provide your business with a team of industry-specific HR specialists that can assist with everything from recruiting and onboarding to performance tracking and employee relations.

With this service, you also get access to additional dashboards for recruitment, performance tracking, and a portal where employees can access over 500 different online educational programs.

Benefits Administration

Zenefits allows you to connect your software to your benefits broker, giving you the flexibility to manage everything from one platform. TriNet goes a step further and administers benefits themselves. This is made possible because, as we mentioned, TriNet is a PEO. Therefore, if you agree to work with them, they’ll actually become a co-employer for all your staff.

Being a PEO allows TriNet to group all their “co-employees” from all of their client companies together in order to leverage benefits providers into offering more affordable rates than each individual business would be able to secure on their own. Through TriNet, you can offer medical, dental, vision, and disability insurance, retirement plans, flexible spending accounts, pre-tax commuter benefits, gym membership discounts, employee assistance programs, and more.

As your PEO, TriNet will also oversee requirements related to the Affordable Care Act, COBRA, disability and workers compensation insurance, and state filings.

Expense Management

Another paid add-on service, TriNet’s expense management tool allows you to import expenses from a bank account, credit card statement, or by snapping a picture of a receipt from the TriNet Expense app. Your Expense app also comes with a mileage tracker. Expenses can be imported to your payroll platform for reimbursement and exported to your accounting software for bookkeeping purposes.

Time and Attendance

One feature that comes standard with Zenefits that you have to pay extra for with TriNet is time and attendance tracking. This feature allows you to create work schedules, approve PTO requests, and export the hours worked by each employee to your payroll software.

Verdict

Winner: TriNet

TriNet is the obvious choice for those looking for features. It’s simply a more built-up service compared to the much younger Zenefits. While Zenefits does offer a lot of the things SMBs need in terms of payroll and HR, TriNet is a one-stop-shop option and also highly scalable.

Zenefits vs. TriNet Cost

Features are nice, but most small business owners want to know how much they’re going to have to pay for them. Here’s the cost breakdown on Zenefits vs. TriNet.

trinet vs zenefitsZenefits pricing plans. Image source: Zenefits

Zenefits Cost

As we said earlier, Zenefits offers different service plans with varying costs. Here’s how those costs break down.

  • Zenefits Essentials: $8 per employee per month billed annually; $10 if billed monthly
  • Zenefits Growth: $14 per employee per month billed annually; $18 if billed monthly
  • Zenefits Zen: $21 per employee per month billed annually; $27 if billed monthly

Now, for payroll, you’ll also pay an additional $6 per employee per month. In other words, you could end up paying $27 per employee per month when you combine payroll with the Zenefits Zen plan (billed annually). The aforementioned benefits service costs another $5 per employee per month, and advisory services cost another $8 per employee per month.

So if you want everything Zenefits has to offer (the Zen plan, payroll, benefits, and advisory services), you’ll pay $40 per employee per month (billed annually). 

TriNet Cost

It’s hard to compare TriNet’s cost with that of Zenefits’ because TriNet’s pricing is quote-based. This is actually fairly common with PEOs, as clients tend to mix and match services to create a customized solution that works best for them. According to their website, “pricing can be complex given the various associated costs with delivering full-service HR.”

Generally speaking, the cost you pay to use TriNet will depend on the number of employees in your company and the selection of services you require. TriNet also provides a helpful table to give you an idea of what you might have to pay for:

trinet vs zenefits

Image source: TriNet

Verdict

Winner: Zenefits

If cost is your main concern, Zenefits will be your cheaper option. While TriNet’s price will vary from business to business, PEOs tend to be fairly expensive because of the high level of service they provide. That’s not to say Zenefits provides a low level of service. In fact, we feel Zenefits gives you a lot of bang for your buck.

Zenefits vs. TriNet: Ease of Use

You purchase payroll software to make your life easier. But if that software platform isn’t intuitive, then it’s not really doing its job. Here’s how Zenefits vs. TriNet compare in this regard.

Zenefits Ease of Use

The Zenefits platform is designed to make your life easier through a high-tech interface and simple onboarding features. When you sign up, you’ll be walked through a step-by-step process for setting up your payroll and learning the ins and outs of your system. This includes entering employee payroll information, importing tax and benefits information, and linking your business’s bank account.

Once your system is good to go, you’ll be able to navigate to all payroll and HR related tasks from your home dashboard. Zenefits’ interface features a tab-based structure where you can see your outstanding tasks and click through to your payroll, scheduling, and HR tools. On their website, Zenefits says that payroll can be run in a matter of three clicks.

If you ever run into issues, Zenefits provides new users with access to an Education Services team that can provide guidance on how to use your platform. You can also call Zenefits customer service between the hours of 5 a.m. to 6 p.m. PT Monday through Friday. You can also troubleshoot yourself by visiting the Zenefits Help Center.

TriNet Ease of Use

The setup with TriNet is pretty much the same as Zenefits: provide basic business and employee information, link your business bank account, and arrange your payroll schedule. Your TriNet account manager can also help walk you through this process.

trinet vs zenefits

The TriNet employee portal. Image source: TriNet

Like Zenefits, TriNet has a dashboard from which you will manage all payroll and HR responsibilities. From the dashboard, you can see open tasks you have to complete, your next deadline for submitting payroll, upcoming deadlines for employees (i.e. filing for benefits), holidays, and more. There’s also a sidebar where you can access other HR tools, like your benefits administrator, payroll reports, and compliance center. There’s even a link to TriNet’s blog at the bottom of the page.

Clicking into the payroll component of your TriNet dashboard will bring you to a screen where you can see a list of all your employees, including contractors. To run payroll, simply enter employee hours worked since the previous pay period (or import them from your Time and Attendance tool) plus any overtime and bonuses. TriNet will automatically determine what each employee is owed and make the appropriate deductions. 

If everything looks good, simply click the “Run Payroll” icon.

If you ever run into issues, you can contact your account manager for assistance. You can also contact the general support line between the hours of 6 a.m. and 12 a.m. ET Monday through Friday. If it’s outside of business hours, TriNet’s aforementioned blog features guides on how to perform essential functions. 

Verdict

Winner: TriNet

While the software platforms themselves are quite similar, we prefer TriNet for customer service because you get a dedicated account manager and more open hours of customer phone support. Having said that, Zenefits does provide a lot more documentation on how to use your system. Even still, nothing is better than being able to access an expert when you need help resolving an issue.

Zenefits vs. TriNet User Reviews

The last piece of our TriNet vs. Zenefits comparison will focus on what users have said about it. Here’s what public sentiment looks like:

Zenefits User Reviews

Zenefits earns a lot of praise from customers for their range of features and ability to be customized to the customer’s liking. Customers say it’s very easy to adjust pay, view deductions, manage bonuses, and perform other payroll-related tasks. The entire payroll process can be taken care of in a matter of five minutes. 

Other customers appreciate Zenefits’ time tracking and performance management tools, as well as the ability to build their company’s organization chart within the software. Zenefits also draws praise for their range of reports, which can be customized to track the things users care most about.

On the flipside, Zenefits receives some negative reviews for their customer service. Customers say that, even when using the Zenefits hotline, it can take a long time to speak to a professional (in some cases, customers said Zenefits didn’t follow up for over 24 hours). There are also complaints that Zenefits doesn’t offer 401(k) integration with enough providers. 

TriNet User Reviews

TriNet receives high marks for being a very easy platform to run payroll on and for offering excellent support services. Users point out that TriNet’s benefits, time tracking, and expense management tools integrate directly with payroll, making it very easy to keep track of payments and deductions. According to customers, TriNet is also very proactive in helping you manage important deadlines and stay compliant.

Perhaps most notably, users love the PEO aspect of TriNet, which allows them to secure competitive benefits packages for their employees. Users say that TriNet is capable of providing any type of benefit their business may want to offer, and pricing is always competitive.

In terms of downsides, some customers say the reporting tools are lacking and don’t provide them with the information they’re looking for. The fee for TriNet’s services can also be prohibitive to some. A few customers have said TriNet’s per-employee cost has affected their hiring plans. 

Verdict

Winner: Tie

Users have good and bad things to say about both TriNet and Zenefits. But we couldn’t find any feedback that made us think public opinion is clearly aligned with one product over the other. For this reason, it’s a tie, and the better product is really a matter of personal opinion.

The Final Verdict

When you take into account all the aforementioned factors, we feel that TriNet is a better payroll and HR solution for small business owners who are looking to scale their companies in the near future. While TriNet is the more expensive option, it’s likely a worthy investment to manage everything you need in regards to payroll, HR, scheduling, expense management, and more. 

At the same time, we don’t want to downplay the merits of Zenefits. It’s a more basic software, but sometimes that’s just what a small business owner needs. If you don’t want to make a significant investment in your payroll and HR tools, Zenefits presents an excellent alternative.

So in the end, it’s a decision based on your business’s specific situation. For a comprehensive solution, you may want to pick TriNet. But if you’re a smaller operation and are looking for a more basic solution, Zenefits may be the better option for you.

Matthew Speiser

Matthew is a former staff writer at Fundera. He has written extensively about ecommerce, marketing and sales, and payroll and HR solutions, but is particularly knowledgeable about merchant services. Matthew's writing has been published in Business Insider, The Fiscal Times, Best Company, and NJ.com, among others. Matthew was also a co-author for Startup Guide—a series of guidebooks designed to assist entrepreneurs in different cities around the world. He has a degree in journalism from the University of Delaware. Email: matthew.speiser@fundera.com.
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