Quickbooks Online vs. Desktop: Which Is Best in 2021?


While people may assume that QuickBooks Online is simply the cloud version of QuickBooks Desktop, in reality, the two products are very different.

Join us as we compare QuickBooks Online to its desktop counterpart in an effort to help you decide between these two popular small business accounting applications.

QuickBooks Online vs. QuickBooks Desktop: An overview

QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Desktop are both excellent small business accounting software applications, both offering complete double-entry accounting as well as automatic processing of closing entries.

Whether you’re thinking about converting to QuickBooks Online or switching from QuickBooks Desktop to QuickBooks Online, your first step should be to take a long look at both applications. When you do, you’ll notice the difference immediately as QuickBooks Online offers a streamlined user interface, while QuickBooks Desktop relies on a flow-chart based interface. While both provide easy access to a variety of features and functions, only you can decide which one will work best for you.

While many QuickBooks Online aficionados cite anytime/anywhere access as one of the main benefits of going with QuickBooks Online, keep in mind that QuickBooks Desktop can be hosted on a virtual server if you’re looking to combine the reliability of a desktop application with easy cloud access. But aside from cloud access, there are other differences between the two applications that we’ll talk about next.

Who is QuickBooks Online for?

Originally designed for very small businesses that desired easy online access, web based QuickBooks Online has evolved into a solid small business accounting application that is easy to use and can be quickly accessed from any location on any type of device.

Who is QuickBooks Desktop for?

QuickBooks Desktop is designed for small to mid-size businesses that are looking for the reliability of a desktop software solution. QuickBooks Desktop is also a good fit for niche businesses such as nonprofit organizations, retailers, and general contractors looking for a more industry-specific solution.

QuickBooks Online vs. QuickBooks Desktop: Features

Both QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Desktop applications offer a good selection of features, though QuickBooks Desktop features tend to be more comprehensive.

What QuickBooks Online offers

During the setup process, you can choose the features and functions that you will likely be using in QuickBooks Online. No need to worry if you skip one; you can always go back and add it at a later date.

The setup screen for QuickBooks Online.

The setup screen in QuickBooks Online lets you choose the features you’ll be using.

QuickBooks Online features do vary from plan to plan, so be sure to thoroughly investigate each plan to ensure the features that you’re looking for are included. Some of the features found in QuickBooks Online include easy online banking connectivity, which will match bank and credit card transactions with expenses automatically, drastically reducing the amount of journal entries necessary. Other features include:

  • Accounting: QuickBooks Online offers solid accounting capability, though only 250 accounts are included in their standard plan. The automatic bank reconciliation feature makes it easy to keep your bank balance reconciled with your general ledger, and a budget feature is also available to create monthly, quarterly, or annual budgets.
  • Sales: The Sales feature lets you keep track of all of your customers, create custom invoices, and post payments. You can also send payment reminders to past due customers and include a payment link in the invoice that makes it easy for them to pay online.
  • Expenses: You can track all of your business expenses from a single screen, including the option to pay bills electronically. You can also view any upcoming bills that will need to be paid, as well as view the status of any bill by vendor or by due date.
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What QuickBooks Desktop offers

QuickBooks Desktop features are better developed than comparable features found on QuickBooks Online. Though not web-based, QuickBooks Desktop can be hosted online for more convenient access if desired.One of QuickBooks Desktop’s best features is its use of centers, which provide a central point for all activity.

Like the online version, QuickBooks Desktop features are also somewhat plan-driven, with the more expensive plans offering the best selection of features. QuickBooks Desktop also offers automatic bank feeds so you can connect and download transactions daily. Other features found in QuickBooks Desktop include:

  • The Vendor Center: QuickBooks Desktop’s Vendor Center offers a place to manage all vendor activity, from initial entry of vendor details to the ability to enter information for each vendor. The Bill Tracker feature lets you view all current bills including due dates, and you can also view recently paid bills, or pay bills that are due, with options to pay bills by check, ACH transfer, or credit card.
  • Customer Center: The Customer Center lets you manage all customers, including the ability to create invoices, process customer statements, record payments, and process sales orders and sales receipts.
  • Inventory: The Inventory module in QuickBooks Desktop offers solid inventory management capability. The Premier edition offers advanced inventory functions such as a low stock alert notification, the ability to set reorder levels, product tracking by part number, and custom fields for tracking additional information.
The Inventory module in QuickBooks Desktop.

The Inventory setup feature allows you to add product cost and create a reorder point.

QuickBooks Desktop also offers easy integration with QuickBooks Payments so you can accept online payments from customers.


QuickBooks Desktop wins. While the features are similar, QuickBooks Desktop offers more functionality, such as the ability to run checks to pay bills and more in-depth customer and vendor management capability.

QuickBooks Online vs. QuickBooks Desktop: Support

Support options are fairly similar for both QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Desktop, with the more expensive plans offering better support options.

What QuickBooks Online offers

QuickBooks Online includes numerous learning and support resources. A variety of short video tutorials are available as well as on-demand webinars and training classes. One of the best resources is the QuickBooks Online community, where you can connect with other users to share tips, answer questions, and find answers to problems that may arise. Product support can be accessed directly from within the application, where you can ask a question or connect to support personnel.

What QuickBooks Desktop offers

QuickBooks Desktop offers the same support options found in QuickBooks Online including video tutorials, on-demand webinars, and various training options. Both applications also include an easy setup process, so you can be up and running in little time.


This is a tie since both QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Desktop offer users the same support options. Both applications can have long wait times to access telephone support, but you’ll likely get a better response if you purchase QuickBooks Online Advanced or QuickBooks Desktop Enterprise, as both offer 24/7 support.

QuickBooks Online vs. QuickBooks Desktop: Ease of use

Ease of use is one of the most important things to consider when shopping for software. Neither QuickBooks Online or QuickBooks Desktop are difficult to use, although they offer very different user experiences.

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What QuickBooks Online offers

QuickBooks Online supports a variety of browsers including Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Microsoft Edge, as well as Safari 11 or later for Mac. The application also offers a mobile app that works with both iOS and Android devices.

QuickBooks Online dashboard for small business.

QuickBooks Online’s dashboard feature provides a great overall summary of your business.

You can easily access all QuickBooks Online features from the dashboard, where you’ll find a vertical menu bar to the left of the screen. While the dashboard is a bit cluttered, you can easily customize it to only display the information you wish. Those interested in trying out QuickBooks Online can access a free 30-day demo with sample data that allows you to easily explore system features and functions without spending a lot of time entering data.

To expedite product setup, you can choose to use the default chart of accounts that is included in the application. You also have the option to import products and services into the application to avoid having to re-enter the data.

What QuickBooks Desktop offers

QuickBooks Desktop’s user interface is very different from QuickBooks Online, offering navigation using a flowchart style menu.

The QuickBooks Desktop interface with flowchart style menu.

QuickBooks Desktop uses navigation centers that make it easy to find the features you need.

Navigation centers make it easy to find the feature or function that you’re looking for, and the yellow tab to the right of the screen offers quick access to new features included in the latest version of the application.

Users can access features via the vertical menu to the left of the screen or by using the drop-down menu bar at the top, and the My Shortcuts option allows you to add a shortcut to frequently used features. If the default screen is too crowded for your taste, you can hide the vertical menu, only displaying it when you wish.


QuickBooks Online wins this one, offering easy system navigation from the user dashboard.

QuickBooks Online vs. QuickBooks Desktop: Pricing

QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Desktop have very different pricing structures, with QuickBooks Online available by a monthly subscription, while QuickBooks Desktop has an annual cost.

What QuickBooks Online offers

QuickBooks Online offers a variety of pricing plans, which range from $12 to $75 for the first three months.

The QuickBooks Online pricing options chart.

QuickBooks Online pricing options start at $12 for the first three months.

Features are plan-dependent, so be sure to check the features you want are included in the plan you subscribe to. Plan options offered include:

  • Simple Start: The Simple Start plan is a good option for sole proprietors and independent contractors. Simple Start supports a single user, and tracks income and expenses, tracks sales tax, and can capture and organize receipts.
  • Essentials: The Essentials plan can support up to three system users, and also includes bill management capability.
  • Plus: The Plus plan supports up to five users and includes everything in Simple Start and Essentials plus inventory tracking and the ability to manage projects.
  • Advanced: The most powerful version of QuickBooks Online, the Advanced plan can support up to 25 users and includes all of the features mentioned above, along with invoice batching capability, business and analytic reports, and a dedicated account manager.

As an added convenience, if you outgrow your current edition of QuickBooks Online, upgrade to a more powerful plan in minutes.

What QuickBooks Desktop offers

QuickBooks Desktop pricing varies, depending on the plan you choose. All pricing is based on an annual fee, making it more affordable than QuickBooks Online.

The QuickBooks Desktop annual pricing charts comparison.

QuickBooks Desktop offers annual pricing, making it a more affordable option.

QuickBooks Desktop offers the following plans:

  • Pro: QuickBooks Pro is good for smaller businesses or those looking for entry-level accounting software. Pro supports up to three users and can track both income and expenses, manage inventory, and invoice customers.
  • Premier: QuickBooks Premier supports up to five users and offers industry-specific features for niche businesses such as General Contractor, Manufacturing and Wholesale, Retail, and Nonprofit. If you’re trying to choose between Pro and Premier and are looking for industry-specific accounting and reporting functionality, Premier is your best bet.
  • Enterprise: Best for growing businesses, Enterprise supports up to 30 system users, and includes all of the features found in both Pro and Premier along with mobile barcode scanning and enhanced pick, pack, and ship options that are perfect for retail businesses.
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Keep in mind that if you do decide to have QuickBooks Desktop hosted, there will be an additional fee.


QuickBooks Desktop wins this category, with pricing coming in much lower than its online counterpart. Below is a chart with annual costs for each application.

QuickBooks Online vs Desktop Pricing Breakdown

View more information: https://www.fool.com/the-blueprint/quickbooks-online-vs-desktop/

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