QuickBooks Desktop vs. Online: Which Is Right for Your Business?

Updated on November 18, 2020

Overview of QuickBooks Online vs. Desktop

QuickBooks Online vs. Desktop is a common debate among small business owners hoping to choose the perfect accounting software for their business. The biggest difference between Online vs. Desktop is that QuickBooks Online requires no installation on a computer, operating as web-based software, whereas Desktop does—it’s a locally installed platform.

This being said, product-based businesses with inventory needs typically work better with Desktop, whereas service-based businesses or businesses that use multiple devices typically choose Online.

Today, there are more units of QuickBooks Desktop used by small businesses than QuickBooks Online. However, many small businesses are converting their Desktop to Online. Plus, 80% of new QuickBooks users are choosing Online over Desktop.

With this in mind, whether you’re starting to use QuickBooks for the very first time or you’re a loyal user considering converting from one version to another, it’s important to understand the differences between QuickBooks Desktop vs. Online.

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Summary of QuickBooks Online vs. Desktop

Before we dive into the details, you can use the QuickBooks Online vs. Desktop comparison chart below to get a quick look at the most noteworthy differences between these two platforms.

QuickBooks Online vs. Desktop Comparison Chart

QuickBooks Online QuickBooks Desktop
Four unique plan options
Three versions, each of which has individual plan options
Starts at $25 per month
Starts at $399.99
Notable Features 
– Cloud access with free mobile app
– Automatically downloaded bank transactions
– Automatic feature and product updates, as well as data backup
-Unlimited time tracking
– Locally hosted with options for cloud access and backup
– Calculate and rebill job costs
– Calculate discounts by customer
– Advanced inventory, reporting, and data entry tools
One to 25 based on plan
Three to 30 based on version
Mobile App 
Hundreds of third-party integrations, plus Intuit products
Limited third-party integrations, can integrate with other Intuit products
Customer Support 
Varies based on plan
Varies based on version and plan
Best for 
Small business owners who need a flexible, mobile, and scalable accounting solution; B2B and service-based businesses
Business owners who need more advanced features for job costing, inventory, and reporting; product-based businesses, especially larger ones

QuickBooks Online vs. Desktop Pricing

When comparing QuickBooks Online vs. Desktop, the first thing most business owners want to know is how their costs measure up.

Overall, QuickBooks Online is priced based on a monthly subscription basis. Each of the four plans has a monthly price that increases as the plan levels increase.

With QuickBooks Desktop, on the other hand, pricing is a little more complex. First, with QuickBooks Pro and Premier, you’ll have the option to pay a one-time fee for the basic software version, or opt for Pro/Premier Plus at an annual subscription fee.

Then, with QuickBooks Enterprise, pricing will be based on a few factors. First, if you choose Enterprise with hosting, you’ll have a monthly subscription fee. If you choose without hosting, on the other hand, you’ll pay an annual subscription fee.

Next, you’ll have to choose your plan level—Silver, Platinum, or Diamond—and prices will increase with each level. Last, you’ll choose the number of users you need—the more users, the higher the cost.

Cost of QuickBooks Online

This being said, based on your plan, the cost of QuickBooks Online breaks down like this:

  • Simple Start: $25 per month
  • Essentials: $50 per month
  • Plus: $80 per month
  • Advanced: $180 per month

For any plan, you have the option to use a 30-day free trial. If, however, you want to waive the free trial, you’ll be able to access a 50% discount for the first three months of your subscription.

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Cost of QuickBooks Desktop

As we mentioned, the cost of QuickBooks Desktop is a little more complex.

Let’s break it down based on the three different desktop versions:

  • Pro: $399.99
    • Pro Plus: $299.99 per year
  • Premier: $649.99
    • Premier Plus: $449.99 per year
  • Enterprise:
    • Gold plan, local only, one user: $1,577 per year
    • Platinum plan, local only, one user: $1,940 per year
    • Diamond plan, local only, one user: $3,825 per year
    • Gold plan, with hosting, one user: $175 per month
    • Platinum plan, with hosting, one user: $206 per month
    • Diamond plan, with hosting, one user: $363.79 per month

If you need multiple users with QuickBooks Enterprise, the price per year or per month will increase accordingly.

QuickBooks Desktop vs. Online: Features

Although it’s important to recognize how Intuit’s emphasis on QuickBooks Online will mean that product will get better faster, leaving QuickBooks Desktop behind, you still have to ask yourself whether or not QuickBooks Online is the right product for you now.

To do this, let’s look at the features. Where do Online and Desktop differ? Where does Online or Desktop excel? Let’s find out:

QuickBooks Online Features

As you’ll come to learn when we cover the features that Desktop has that Online doesn’t, Online has a few feature gaps. As Desktop has been around longer, it’s more powerful. But there are many, many third-party Quickbooks apps that you can access through Online that will fill those gaps. There’s an app to answer pretty much any hesitation a small business owner could have about choosing Online over Desktop.

Of course, you may not want to pay for third-party apps, and that’s something you have to evaluate when comparing the two. Below are the features supported by Online that you can’t find in any version of Desktop:

  • Automatically schedule and send transactions
  • Attach documents, images, signatures & more to transactions through mobile and desktop
  • Use audit log to review actions and track changes over time
  • Track by location in addition to (or instead of) by class with multiple location labels
  • Relabel your customers with seven additional label options
  • Automatic nightly bank transaction sync with undo option
  • Custom banking rules by dollar value, percentage, class, and location
  • Auto-add bank rule option
  • Unlimited time tracking
  • Unlimited reports-only users
  • Delayed charges and delayed credits to schedule future transactions
  • Journal entries with multiple AR/AP lines
  • Multiple budgets per fiscal year
  • Management reports create presentation-ready packages of reports
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QuickBooks Desktop Features

Generally speaking, QuickBooks Desktop beats out QuickBooks Online in managing large amounts of inventory (making it a great accounting option for retail stores) and job costing.

Desktop still offers the following feature sets that Online does not. If you can’t live without any of the below, then Desktop is most likely best for you. Keep in mind that some of the features below are only supported in QuickBooks Enterprise and Premier, and not QuickBooks Pro.

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Data Entry Features

  • Create batch invoices
  • Billing rate levels
  • Enter batch transactions
  • Enter batch timesheets
  • Pay vendors online through ACH

Job Costing Features

  • Job costing module
  • Estimate vs. actual job costing reports
  • Mileage tracking
  • Payroll job costing
  • Labor burden costing
  • Change orders on estimates
  • Markup column on estimates

Reporting Features

  • Multiple vendor ship-to addresses
  • Industry-specific reporting
  • Business planner by class
  • Forecasting by class
  • Balance sheet by class
  • Better report header and footer customization

Inventory Features

  • Average cost inventory valuation method
  • Set and maintain inventory reorder points
  • Receiving partially against purchase orders
  • Sales orders
  • Availability to promise
  • Build assembles or manufacturing features
  • Unit of measure


  • Backup and restore feature
  • Condense file
  • Period copy
  • Client data review tools
  • Fix unapplied payments and credits
  • Clean-up undeposited funds
  • Fix sales tax
  • QuickBooks statement writer
  • 1099 feature
  • Post to additional AR/AP accounts

QuickBooks Online vs. Desktop: Customer Reviews

As you can see, on top of the fact that QuickBooks Desktop is locally hosted and QuickBooks Online is web-hosted, the largest differences between QuickBooks Desktop vs. Online come down to the types of features each platform offers.

Generally, QuickBooks Online provides more accessibility, is more mobile-friendly, and although it has excellent features, QuickBooks Desktop is more advanced when it comes to detailed inventory-, job costing-, data-, and reporting capabilities.

This being said, if you’re still on the fence about how these two accounting solutions stack up against one another, it can be helpful to consult customer reviews to see what other business owners have to say about using the platform:

QuickBooks Online Customer Reviews

Overall, QuickBooks Online is highly rated by customers across the internet. On popular review sites, QuickBooks Online typically averages a rating of four stars or higher.

This being said, it seems that most QuickBooks Online reviews are skewed positively—with very few reviews skewing completely negative. Of course, there are generally positive reviews that also offer some criticisms of the platform.

On the whole, here are some of the most common benefits and drawbacks users list when it comes to their QuickBooks Online reviews:


  • Easy to use
  • User-friendly, intuitive interface
  • Flexibility to log-in and access data regardless of location
  • Customizable for your needs
  • Allows you to manage business bookkeeping, accounting, payroll, yourself


  • Expensive
  • Lacking some of the features that Desktop has
  • Reporting is too basic
  • Can be glitchy and have connection problems

Ultimately, you’ll see many reviewers report that they’ve switched from Desktop to Online in order to access their financial data on-the-go and from multiple devices. With this in mind, however, you’ll also see a number of reviewers report that they’ve switched back to Desktop because of some of the features missing from Online.

QuickBooks Desktop Customer Reviews

With QuickBooks Desktop, there will be some variation to customer reviews online based on which of the three versions you’re looking at—Pro, Premier, or Enterprise. In general, however, QuickBooks Desktop is also very highly reviewed.

Similar to QuickBooks Online, QuickBooks Desktop seems to average four stars or higher on review sites, with most reviews skewing positively.

This being said, here are some of the most common advantages and disadvantages you’ll find highlighted in QuickBooks Desktop customer reviews:


  • Excellent, customizable features
  • Ability to manage all accounting, payroll, banking, etc. in one place
  • Easy to set up and use
  • Reporting and job costing features are particularly noteworthy


  • Can be expensive
  • Can’t log in to your account remotely
  • Customer service is slow and unhelpful
  • Product can be glitchy, especially when upgrading to newest version from year to year

Interestingly enough, you’ll see a lot of overlap between the comments made in reviews of QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Desktop. The biggest difference, perhaps, is the web-based access, which QuickBooks Desktop lacks.

Alternatives to QuickBooks Online and Desktop

After comparing QuickBooks Online vs. Desktop, perhaps you’re not quite convinced that either of these QuickBooks accounting software options are right for your business.

Or, now that you know how Online and Desktop compare to each other, you simply might want to know how they compare to top alternatives.

Let’s take a look at some of the top QuickBooks alternatives:

Wave Accounting Software

For instance, if you want to access free accounting software for your small business, then neither QuickBooks Online nor QuickBooks Desktop will meet your needs. Your top alternative will be Wave accounting software. With Wave accounting, business owners are able to access the essential accounting features they need—for no monthly, annual, or one-off cost at all.

For free, you’ll be able to create a Wave account and attach an unlimited number or bank and credit card accounts. You’ll also be able to track income and expenses and invite guest collaborators. Plus, you’ll be able to access customizable sales taxes, add journal transactions, automatically generate accounting reports, and connect accounts like PayPal and Etsy.

Wave also offer add-on services, some of which are free and some of which are pay-as-you-go. For instance, you’ll be able to send invoices and digitize receipts for free with Wave. On the other hand, you’ll have to pay transaction fees to add online payments and monthly payments to add payroll.

QuickBooks Self-Employed

Alternatively, if you’re sole-proprietor looking for an accounting software option that caters directly to your bookkeeping needs, then consider QuickBooks Self-Employed your go-to alternative to QuickBooks Online and Desktop.

With QuickBooks Self-Employed, you’ll be able to separate your business and personal expenses, automatically track mileage, and send invoices on the go. QuickBooks Self-Employed also provides a quarterly estimate of just how much you owe in taxes. And perhaps most importantly, QuickBooks Self-Employed will help you to maximize your Schedule C deductions when it comes time to file your taxes.

QuickBooks Self-Employed will only cost $15 a month as a default price. However, for a limited time only, you can get a discounted price.

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Xero Accounting Software

Finally, if you’re looking for a similarly powerful option as QuickBooks Online or QuickBooks Desktop, then consider Xero accounting software another top option for your business.

Xero is a cloud accounting software that users can access from any device that connected to the internet. And when you compare Xero vs. QuickBooks Online, you’ll see that most of the core accounting features are comparable.

Xero is priced on a monthly basis, and its most basic plan—Xero Early—will start at just $9 a month. The two other plans—Growing and Established—will cost $30 a month and $60 a month, respectively.

QuickBooks Desktop vs. Online: Which Is Right for You?

At this point, you should have a better sense of the QuickBooks Desktop vs. Online comparison.

You might still be asking, however: How do I choose?

Ultimately, only you can determine which, if either of these two QuickBooks products is right for your business. Generally, though, much of your decision will come down to two factors—cost and features.

To help you through the decision-making process, therefore, we’ve created the following QuickBooks Online vs. Desktop comparison charts:

Costs: QuickBooks Online vs. Desktop Comparison Chart

QuickBooks Online QuickBooks Desktop
Simple Start: $25 per month
Pro: $399.99 (one-time fee); Pro Plus $299.99 per year
Essentials: $50 per month
Premier: $649.99 (one-time fee); Premier Plus $499.99 per year
Plus: $80 per month
*Enterprise, local only:
– Gold plan: $1,577 per year
– Platinum plan: $1,940 per year
– Diamond plan: $3,825 per year
Advanced: $180 per month
*Enterprise, with hosting:
– Gold plan: $175 per month
– Platinum plan: $206 per month
– Diamond plan: $363.79 per month

*Enterprise prices reflect access for one user, additional users will increase annual/monthly costs

Features: QuickBooks Online vs. Desktop Comparison Chart

Simple Start Essentials Plus Advanced Pro Premier Enterprise
Up to three
Up to five
Up to 25
Up to three
Up to five
Up to 30
Access from any device
Mobile app access 
Inventory tracking
Mileage tracking 
Bill management
Project tracking
Advanced job costing

Bottom Line

At the end of the day, in choosing between QuickBooks Online vs. Desktop, most business owners find that it comes down to web-based access, specific features, and of course, cost.

If you need some of the more advanced features that QuickBooks Desktop has that Online is missing, it might be worth investing in Desktop. Alternatively, if web-based access is particularly important to your business, you might see if you can find a third-party accounting app that can cover some of the gaps in QuickBooks Online.

In any case, if you’re having trouble deciding between Desktop vs. Online, you may choose to discuss the issue with your bookkeeper or accountant. These professionals will be able to give you their expert opinion and help you navigate the process of getting set up on either platform.

QuickBooks Desktop vs. Online: Frequently Asked Questions

Stacy Kildal
Contributing Writer at Fundera

Stacy Kildal

Stacy Kildal is a contributing writer for Fundera.

Stacy Kildal is owner/operator of Kildal Services LLC—an accounting and technology consulting company that specializes in all things QuickBooks. From 2012 to 2017, Stacy has been named one of CPA Practice Advisor’s Most Powerful Women In Accounting. 

Stacy is one of the three hosts for the QB Show and has also been featured frequently on Intuit’s Accountant Blog, Community “Ask the Expert” forums, at various Intuit Academy To Go podcasts, as well as hosting a number of Intuit Small Business Online Town Hall sessions. 

She is a big fan of working mobile and has been recognized by Intuit as being an expert on QuickBooks Online, having written Intuit’s original courses for the U.S., Singapore and Canadian versions.

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