QuickBooks Online vs. Desktop: Which Should You Choose?

QuickBooks Online vs. Desktop: Which Should You Choose?

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For small business owners who handle their own accounting, QuickBooks is often a popular and useful tool.

QuickBooks offers online, cloud-based software and a desktop program. One gives you the flexibility to access your files from any device, while the other enables you to store data and run reports from up to three desktop computers. Continue reading to find out which version — QuickBooks Online versus Desktop — would be better for your business and your budget.

Overview of QuickBooks Online

The cloud-based financial management software can help you create estimates and invoices, track sales and cash flow, and manage your customer orders and supplies. QuickBooks Online can also monitor your taxes and your company performance to make it easier to budget and plan for the future.

It does not require you to install any software. You can access the program from an internet browser on any computer or web device.

If you work with an accountant, you can give them immediate access to your QuickBooks files. They could remotely access your books to assist with any problems or answer questions. QuickBooks Online can automatically download and organize bank and credit card transactions. You also can import photos of receipts.


You can try QuickBooks Online for free for 30 days. After that, you’d need to choose from one of four subscriptions:

Simple Start

The first-tier plan starts at $10 a month for three months, then costs $20 a month. A Simple Start subscription gives you access to income and expenses tracking, receipt organization and basic financial reports. You could also send estimates, track sales and maximize your tax deductions.


The second most basic QuickBooks Online plan starts at $17 a month for the first three months, then costs $35 a month. However, the free trial makes you ineligible for the introductory price. The Essentials plan lets you track income and expenses and accept invoice payments. You’d also be able to run basic financial reports and track sales. The Essentials plan, which allows up to three users, also lets you manage bills and track time.


The third-tier plan starts at $30 a month for the first three months, then costs $60 a month. As with the Essentials plan, the free trial excludes you from the introductory discount. Plus has the same capabilities as the Essentials plan, as well as the ability to track inventory and projects and manage contract workers. You can give access to up to five users.


The highest-tier plan costs $60 a month for the first three months, then $150 a month. The free trial would not exclude the discount for this plan. The Advanced subscription provides the same services as Plus, as well as accelerated invoicing and customer permissions for users. It also comes with added reporting and customer care tools. The plan allows up to 25 users to access QuickBooks Online.

Pros and cons of QuickBooks Online

When considering QuickBooks Online, keep these benefits and drawbacks in mind.


  • Access QuickBooks files from anywhere
  • No software download necessary
  • Affordable options available


  • Cannot access QuickBooks files offline
  • Payroll only available as add-on for additional cost
  • Free trial negates promotional price for Essentials and Plus plans

Overview of QuickBooks Desktop

QuickBooks Desktop is a one-time purchase accounting software that is installed on a desktop computer. You can install the software on up to three computers.

QuickBooks Desktop can track income and expenses, run financial reports, send estimates, and manage bills and accounts payable. You could also track employee time and sales tax, as well as inventory.


You can choose from three programs depending on the accounting needs of your business.

Pro 2019

The latest version of QuickBooks Pro is listed at $219.95. The program comes with standard QuickBooks capabilities, such as income tracking, invoicing and estimates. Pro can run more than 100 financial reports based on your business’s data. Up to three users can have access. You can upgrade your software annually for an additional $299.

Premier 2019

The second-tier QuickBooks Desktop software costs $379.95. QuickBooks Desktop Premier provides the same services as Pro, plus financial forecasting and industry-specific features. It allows up to five users. Similar to Pro, you can upgrade your Premier software each year for an additional $299.


The most powerful QuickBooks Desktop is available at three price points, starting at the promotional price of $924 a year for the first tier of service. After the one-year promo, the first-level subscription would cost $1,155 a year. Besides the standard features, you could run more than 150 advanced financial reports and access mobile bar code scanning. Enterprise also comes with order fulfillment and shipping services, as well as unlimited access to 24/7 support, data backups and upgrades. Up to 30 users can access the software. For an additional cost, you could add a feature to pay employees.

Pros and cons of QuickBooks Desktop

Before choosing QuickBooks Desktop, consider these advantages and downsides.


  • Ability to generate advanced financial reports
  • Software available offline on more than one computer
  • Industry-specific features offered


  • Higher cost than QuickBooks Online
  • Payroll only included in advanced Enterprise programs
  • Annual upgrades are an additional cost

QuickBooks Online vs. Desktop: The differences

Both the online and desktop versions of QuickBooks software provide basic accounting services, like creating and tracking invoices and recording sales and expenses. Here’s a look at how the two programs differ.

QB OnlineQB Desktop
Create professional invoicesXX
Track sales and expensesXX
Manage accounts payableXX
Sales and tax reportsXX
Automatically schedule and send invoicesX
Work anytime from a computer, smartphone or tabletX
Instant file access for accountantsX
Connect to cloud-based appsX
Automatically download bank transactionsX$10-$15 average monthly cost
Phone supportX$89 for 90 days
Automatic backupsX$9.99 / month
Access to product and features updatesX$299 annually
Cloud accessX$40-$200 per user
Access for up to 25 usersXRequires 5-user license
Calculate job costsX
Calculate customer discountsX

Choose the right version for your business

Picking a side on QuickBooks Online versus Desktop would depend on your budget and how you want to access your information. QuickBooks Online may be a more affordable option, and it would allow you to use the program from any device with an internet connection.

QuickBooks Desktop would give you more industry-specific tools and insight, but you would only access your data on computers that have the software installed. If you operate out of a central office, the desktop version may be a good fit. But if you’re typically on the go, it could be limiting.

The desktop and online programs work independently of each other. But if you choose QuickBooks Desktop and want to switch to the online platform at a later time, QuickBooks could make a copy of your existing data and upload it to the cloud-based platform.

If you’re still unsure about whether QuickBooks is the right accounting solution for your business, you could try QuickBooks online for free for 30 days before making a final decision.

Justin is a Sr. Research Analyst at ValuePenguin, focusing on small business lending. He was a corporate strategy associate at IBM.