A Comparison of QuickBooks Online Basic to QuickBooks Online Plus

In September 2010, Intuit revamped/repackage its small business online accounting software into four online accounting choices: (1) Simple Start, (2) Online Essentials, (3) Online Plus and (4) Online Plus with Payroll.

If you are new to QuickBooks Online or need a QuickBooks Online refresher these are the key reasons to use the QuickBooks Online platform:

  • Manage your business from a PC or Mac with web access.
  • Instantly share financial data with your employees, accountant and other shareholders,partners or co-owners. You no longer a need to have a network
  • Your company data is protected with daily automated backups.
  • There’s no software to install and no network to maintain.
  • Automatic upgrades are included in the price of subscription – never upgrade again. Includes customer support – no additional support plan needed.

Before making your decision to use QuickBooks Online, you should decide between QuickBooks Online, Online Essentials or QuickBooks Online Plus. This article will discuss the differences between these QuickBooks Online options. In the end, you are responsible for ensuring that you select the correct version which should work with the business that you operate. There was a free version called Simple Start, it was repackaged with a few more options and unfortunately, it’s no longer free and not worth much as compared to the other two options. Sometimes, Intuit has it available on some remote websites, but for the most part it’s no longer free. The Online Plus with Payroll version was not considered for this analysis because of it’s basically the same as Online with Plus with the added payroll functionality. QuickBooks Online Essentials will be collectively referred to as “ONLINE ESSENTIALS ” and QuickBooks Online Plus as ” ONLINE PLUS “. Each major difference and brief comment is discussed below:

Online Simple Start – Limited to one user plus your accountant, free email support creates and manages your invoices with limitations and has over 20 business reports. This is not recommended for small businesses with accounts payable, inventory and the online banking needs. This is very elementary and has limited usefulness to a small business.


Unless otherwise mentioned these features relate to both ONLINE ESSENTIALS AND ONLINE PLUS. For the most part, ONLINE PLUS has the features that you may need, regrettably only a few of these features are available in ONLINE ESSENTIALS.

Importing – You can import your QuickBooks Basic, Pro, or Premier Edition desktop files (version 2000 and higher file(s). The import does not work with a Mac.

Estimates – Estimates can be created from ONLINE PLUS and then seamlessly imported to an invoice for billing. By using estimates misunderstandings can be avoided.

Online Banking – If you don’t use QuickBooks to enter all of your payments (I recommend using online banking) then by using this feature, your payments and receipts do not have to be entered into your cash register when you use online banking. Instead of entering then, you only have to review them. When you download from your bank, (from participating financial service providers) QuickBooks is able to compare the bank’s transactions to your transactions in QuickBooks and identifies differences. The program assists you in managing your cash flow, because you know which checks have cleared the bank, which helps you understand how much money you have in real time and makes monthly reconciliations easier and less time consuming.

Accounts Payable–Manage bills to pay later. This function is available in ONLINE PLUS. It is a very important functionality, if you want to keep and maintain your accounts payable. I believe keeping the amounts you owe vendors in QuickBooks if very important. This function allows you to always know how much you owe vendors and print reports such as the Unpaid Vendors Report. You can enter bills and make payments separately, as a two-step process. This lets you keep your money in your business as long as possible, and it lets you track and manage your outstanding bills and either pay bills when they are due or ahead of the scheduled due dates to take advantage of early payment discounts often given to businesses as an incentive to pay early. In summary, I can’t over emphasize the importance of this feature.

Exporting – You can export transactions and balances to a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet only in ONLINE PLUS. This is a very important feature, since it adds greater reporting capabilities. It gives you flexibility is obtaining and analyzing different types of financial data. Unfortunately, this useful feature is not available in ESSENTIALS.Do not overlook the importance of this feature.

Class tracking – Within ONLINE PLUS, classes provide a system for categorizing transactions that goes beyond the normal ways of assigning transactions to expense or income accounts. With classes, you can categorize each detail line on a transaction. This lets you write one check to the office supply store for items bought for two different business units and still track the business unit for those purchases. For example, suppose you have a consulting business and an installation business. Class tracking is ideal for you if it is typical to have purchases and sales that include both types of work. By specifying the appropriate class on each detail line, you can run a Profit & Loss by Class report that will tell you if your consulting business is more or less profitable than the installation business.

Business tracking – You can use ONLINE PLUS to categorize data from different locations, offices, regions, or outlets of your company. You can assign each transaction to each business. By assigning a business to each transaction as you enter it, you can later see businesses on reports. Assigning businesses also lets you efficiently manage groups of transactions. A great use of this would be for different rental properties.

Time tracking – This feature is only in ONLINE PLUS and allows your employee, consultants and other workers, to enter their time into a time sheet for fee for service businesses. One interesting feature, is that add unlimited time sheet users, i.e. if you have offshore on local free lancers, independent contractors, and others all can use this feature and report their time to you in real time.

Invoicing – Adding fields to track more information on transaction forms is only in ONLINE PLUS. You can create your own custom fields to include on sales forms.

Reporting and Financial Statements – ONLINE ESSENTIALS provides 40 standard reports whereas ONLINE PLUS provides over 65 standard reports. A comprehensive analysis in a chart format of the reporting differences can be found at Intuit’s knowledge base for comparison of the QuickBooks Online Products or send me an email and I will forward you the applicable URL.

Budgeting – You can use a budget to estimate future income and expenses. Moreover, ONLINE PLUS budgets’ uses a format similar to a spreadsheet, with a horizontal row for each of your income and expense accounts, and vertical columns for each month or quarter. This feature is only in ONLINE PLUS and it does not provide a budgeted balance sheet or statement of cash flows. Also, there is no ability to budget or project based on allocations. You have to enter numerical amounts within the spreadsheet type interface. However, you can insert different amounts for each month as well as replicate monthly amounts in their spreadsheet like interface for any given number of months.

1099 Reporting – The Internal Revenue Service requires that a taxpayer issue a 1099-MISC form to for nonemployee compensation providing the payments are to any noncorporate entity were equal to $600 or more for services rendered. This feature is only available for ONLINE PLUS. This too, is an important feature needed by most small businesses and will become even more important in the future, as more and more payments need to reported to the IRS. You must mail these forms to vendors by January 31 for payments made in the previous tax year. Don’t forget that you must also mail these forms to the IRS by February 28 along with a Form 1096

Purchase Orders – With ONLINE PLUS, you can create and send purchase orders. This new feature offers an automatic tracking system for your business purchases. Customize your PO’s with your business logo or your own numbering system

Inventory Tracking– This feature is only available with ONLINE PLUS. It provides the basic inventory functionality as to the amount of your items in inventory, sales and how much you have on hand.

Users -ONLINE ESSENTIALS provides access for three users plus your accountant (4 in total ). However, ONLINE PLUS provides access for five users plus your accountant(6 users). Online Plus can be expanded to 25 users for an additional cost, which is reasonable. The small increase in the number of allowable users is a minor improvement since last year

Web 2.0 and other new changes – Comparison to business trends and a new interface, new dashboard, I prefer the old drop down point and click menus. You can import your customer contact data from Microsoft Excel, Outlook and/or Gmail right into QuickBooks Online, hassle-free for all versions. The ability to read information and create invoices, see customer data and more, your iPhone, Blackberry, or Android device.

Price – Online Simple Start is $12.95 a month, ONLINE ESSENTIALS costs $24.95 a month as compared to ONLINE PLUS which according to the Intuit website is $39.95 per month. Online Plus with Payroll is $63.16 a month. However, if you purchase ONLINE PLUS by using a Certified QuickBooks ProAdvisor you will receive a 20% discount, which is currently in effect at this time. Discounts and prices may change in the future. There are no annual contracts.

QuickBooks Online Recommendation – For the most part, ONLINE ESSENTIALS may work for smaller companies, whereas ONLINE PLUS should work for small to midsized companies. I recommend ONLINE PLUS, since there is more value to be received for what you pay. Before you make your decision, you are able to test drive the software for 30 days for all four platforms and, then decide which is best suited for your business. And don’t forget to ask you’re Certified QuickBooks ProAdvisor or CPA or accountant for help in making this important decision and to train you, otherwise you will have problems and waste time by incorrectly using this powerful small business accounting software.