At one time in the not-too-distant past, rating accounting software meant only downloadable programs.  That is changing, and rapidly.  While downloadable programs still exist, the recent technological improvements that brought smartphones and tablets into our lives, have changed the way we acquire programs.

Smartphones and tablets have made it possible for so-called “cloud based” accounting programs to make large inroads in the accounting field.  Cloud based programs have made such huge strides that downloadable accounting programs have almost become extinct.  Because downloadable programs still exist, as do free, net based, accounting programs, we’ll include both of those forms in our evaluation, as well as cloud based.  Here are the two best programs in each of the three categories of accounting software.

Downloadable programs

The best – QuickBooks Pro

Anyone with any experience in accounting is quite familiar with QuickBooks Pro.  Since QuickBooks was introduced in the early ‘90’s, the brand has dominated the accounting field.

The attributes of QuickBooks Pro are many.  Those features include –

  • The programs is simple and easy to use. It comes equipped with easy setup and video tutorials for those learning the system.
  • Features such as billing, invoicing, and ability to integrate with other financial programs (TurboTax), make this program a favorite among users.

A close second – Sage 50

Although the name isn’t as recognizable to the neophyte accountant, Sage 50 compares quite favorably to the QuickBooks series of accounting programs.  Here are a few of Sage 50’s notable features –

  • The ability for the user to add functional shortcuts to a customizable dashboard.
  • Customer service is rated higher than QuickBooks.

The one drawback that drops Sage 50 behind QuickBooks Pro, is because of difficulties that are encountered in the phases of installation and learning.

Free accounting software programs

The best – Wave

This program is considered the best free programs for small (really small – less than 10 employees) businesses.  One caveat;  the basic service is free, and includes expense tracking, receipt scanning, and invoicing, however, to use payroll and payment features, a fee is required.  Other features –

  • Ease of use
  • Interface is easy to use
  • Cloud based, free system

Second place – NolaPro

NolaPro is much the same as Wave.  The basic service (payables, billing) is free, but advanced features are extra.  What keeps NolaPro from the top spot is the lack of program updating.  NolaPro’s notable features –

  • Can be used for larger businesses.
  • Easy navigation of the browser-based interface.

Cloud based accounting programs

These programs are considered “gold standard” accounting programs.  Among those who rate cloud based accounting, there is debate regarding which program is the best.  Here, we’ll list the two most highly regarded programs.

QuickBooks Online

The cloud based version of QuickBooks Pro.  The cloud based version shares many of the same features, but not all.  Because QuickBooks Online is so closely related to the software based version, most who choose the cloud based version are already familiar with the features and operation.  QuickBooks Online offers three option packages –

  • The basic service, Simple Start, costs $9.99 a month.
  • The mid-level, Essentials, costs $19.99 per month.

The highest level is QuickBooks Plus, and costs $29.99 per month.

A few complaints have been aimed at QuickBooks Online, most notably, server and downtime issues have caused lost work and delays.  Some have found customer service to be lacking.


A program which shares many of QuickBooks Online’s strong points, but has strengths of it’s own.

The main strengths of Xero include bank integration and time tracking, which are available through third-party sources.  Like QuickBooks Online, Xero has three price tiers –

  • Starter, the basic plan, costs $9 per month
  • Standard costs $30 per month – includes payroll capabilities for five employees
  • Premium costs $70 per month – payroll for 10 employees with greater utility for taxes

For QuickBooks customers wanting to switch over to Xero, the highly rated customer service department, makes importing old QuickBooks files an easy process.

Before you make a decision on the accounting program that’s right for your or your business, make sure you try a trial version of each to decide which best fits your needs.  Happy accounting!


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