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There is a great selection of Web based accounting software available, including free small business accounting software. From basic accounting to finance to tax reporting, it’s all out there.

That’s a good thing because at the heart of any business is the flow of money. Even if you run a non-profit company, you need money to keep operating and that means you need to keep track of that money.

Below, I’ve listed some of the strongest offerings online today, almost all of which offer free accounting software at some level. Read on and, have fun exploring!

Web Based Accounting: QuickBooks Online

Summary: Many, if not most, small-to-medium businesses start their life using QuickBooks and there is one basic reason why: they get it right. By offering a complex accounting system with a step-by-step approach, QuickBooks offers power without intimidating non-accountants.

Now, thanks to the Web, you can get all the great features of QuickBooks online.

Functional Areas: QuickBooks Online offers the same robust features as offline QuickBook versions. In other words, you get a fully-loaded accounting system with robust reporting and online connections with financial institutions.

In addition, you can purchase additional add-ons to support payroll and credit-card payments.

Features: As I mentioned above, QuickBooks Online is fully-loaded. Included:

  • Create and send invoices
  • Charge sales tax
  • Track payments
  • Create estimates
  • Time tracking and billing by customer
  • Delayed billing
  • Recurring billing
  • Print checks
  • Track expenses
  • Automated online banking – daily expense download
  • Generate, customize, print, and e-mail reports
  • Send reports to Microsoft Excel
  • Class tracking – categorize income & expenses
  • Track multiple locations
  • Budgeting
  • Time tracking
  • Prepare and print 1099s
  • Connect multiple users in different locations
  • Give your accountant access to your books
  • Set user permission levels

For full details about the above features, see QuickBooks Online’s quick tour page as well as their product features and pricing matrix page.

Usability: Even if you are completely unfamiliar with accounting, QuickBooks makes use of step-by-step wizards and in-product help to get you started quickly and keep you up and running.

In addition, they offer support based on the product you select. For more details, take a look at the “Customer Support Included” row on their product features and pricing matrix page.

Pricing: QuickBooks Online offers three packages, each offering a different number of Web based accounting features. The packages are:

  • Online Free: $0.00/month
  • Online Basic: $9.95/month (available: a free 30-day trial)
  • Online Plus: $34.95/month (available: a free 30-day trial)

For full details about the above web based accounting packages, see QuickBooks Online’s product features and pricing matrix page.

Vendor “Strength”: Intuit, the company behind QuickBooks Online, has been around for many years and is one of the largest players in the accounting software space. You should feel very comfortable using their products as I expect them to be around for some time to come.

You can learn more about Intuit on their about page.

Bonuses:Some added benefits:

  • For an additional fee, Quickbooks Online offers a payroll add-on that allows you to completely manage your payroll, including direct deposit and taxes.
  • For an additional fee, you can accept credit cards as payment.
  • You can access your QuickBooks Online information on either your BlackBerry or your iPhone.

Web Based Accounting: ePeachtree

Summary: The Peachtree brand has been around for a long while providing companies with solid, dependable accounting software. Complex and robust, Peachtree often offers too much for a small business without an accounting team to manage but is just right for a business poised to grow large!

Peachtree does not believe their Web based accounting software is for every company and I applaud them for pointing that out. From their FAQs page:

“I already use Peachtree Accounting desktop software, should I switch?

That truly depends on your business needs. You may find our other products are more appropriate for you. For example, Peachtree Complete Accounting offers much more in depth Inventory and Job Costing features along with the ability to customize reports. We do offer another online solution that gives you remote access to some of your Peachtree desktop data. If you determine ePeachtree is right for your business, we recommend an Internet connection, such as a cable modem, DSL, or T1.”

Functional Areas: ePeachtree offers a fully-loaded Web based accounting system with very robust reporting and lots of features. In short, there’s not much missed here and perhaps more than you’ll ever need.

In addition, ePeachtree offers an add-on Payroll system that is fully-integrated with their accounting software.

Features: Ready? Here’s the list of what’s included in ePeachtree:

  • Get Up and Running – FAST
  • Choose from 75 Sample Companies
  • Specify Remote Users and Security
  • General Ledger Control
  • Access for Your Accountant
  • Sales Orders
  • Generate Customer Quotes
  • Enter and print professional invoices
  • Receive Payments
  • Track Payment Status
  • Alert Messages Keep You On Track
  • Handle Customers More Effectively
  • Easily Pay Bills
  • Enter/Print Purchase Orders
  • Timesaving Vendor Defaults
  • Store Key Vendor Information
  • Track Inventory Costing
  • Flexible Item Setup
  • Display Item Images for easy identification
  • Job & Project Tracking
  • Sales Tax Tracking
  • Over 100 Business and Financial Reports

For full details about the above features, see ePeachtree’s features page.

Usability: For the sake of full-disclosure, I have not seen ePeachtree’s interface, so I am not sure what it looks like once you login.

That said, you can peek inside by scheduling a demo using their online form.

Pricing: ePeachtree offers one basic Web based accounting package with add ons for more users:

  • Basic Package: One User: $44.97/quarter ($14.99/month)(available: a free 30-day trial)
  • Muti-User Add-On: Up to 10 More Users: $29.97/quarter ($9.99/month) additional

Note: All prices are per company and include access for one accountant.

Vendor “Strength”: Sage, the company behind ePeachtree, has been around for more than 30 years years and is one of the largest players in the accounting software space. You should feel very comfortable using their products as I expect them to be around for some time to come.

You can learn more about Sage on their company page.

Bonuses: Some added benefits:

  • They offer a payroll service for an additional fee.

Web Based Accounting: LessAccounting

Summary: LessAccounting looks like a straightforward Web based accounting solution. Their pitch seems to be, “Easier than Quickbooks” and having used Quickbooks, that sounds appealing to me!

Be aware though, that their target market is small business and freelancers (i.e. non-complex business structures). From their features page:

“We (the Less Everything Team) developed the Less Accounting software after getting fed up with every CPA telling us to use Quickbooks, a product that we found to be overly complicated and buggy with a Mac. So, we built the software for ourselves without any add-ons or confusing features. We just needed to to manage our contacts, money in, money out and reports. That was it! Nothing more or less, just simple accounting solutions for a simple web-based business.”

Functional Areas: Functionally, LessAccounting focuses on, well, accounting. They do handle proposals and invoicing, which is handy, and the expense and tracking features are a nice plus.

In their words:

“If you just need a simple, web-based accounting application to keep track of money in and out, we’re probably a great fit! If you need double-entry bookkeeping and balance sheets you might want to try something more complicated.”

Features: LessAccounting’s features seem to cover the basic business accounting bases. Included:

  • Import Address Books
  • Contact Management
  • Import Bank Accounts
  • Import Wesabe.com
  • Mileage Tracker
  • Create Business Proposals
  • Track Sales Leads
  • Track Business Expenses
  • Invoice Online
  • Run Reports
  • Export Data
  • Share Your Account
  • Invite Your CPA
  • Dashboard Snapshot
  • Weekly Email

Usability: One of the attractions of LessAccounting is their welcoming interface. Clean and easy-to-follow, newcomers should be quick to pick up the basics.

If you need more assistance, there are many movies and a community forum.

Pricing: LessAccounting offers 4 pricing structures ranging from free to a reasonable $24.00/month. To see what’s included with each level, check out their pricing page.

Vendor “Strength”: The company behind LessAccounting, Less Everything, Inc., has been around since 2007. They seem fairly dedicated to their business and have released other online applications as well.

Replies from company officials on the community forum come quickly and aim to solve the issues. If they cannot solve an issue, they add it to a bug or future features list, a good sign that they are listening and plan to be around for a while.

Bonuses: Some added benefits:

  • They integrate with other popular online applications such as PayPal, Highrise, Basecamp, and more.
  • It looks as if they have an iPhone app.
  • They offer a free (and integratable) time tracking application (LessTimeSpent), handy for those that bill by the hour

Web Based Accounting: FreeAgent

Summary: FreeAgent bills itself as the “Online Accounting Nirvana for Freelancers and Small Business”. It certainly feels light and airy when you arrive at their site and it becomes immediately apparent that this is software built for non-accountants.

That is certainly not a bad thing of course, especially when you are dealing with 1-3 people companies where those 1-3 people need to be focusing on the work of their business, not the business of their work.

Functional Areas: This is Web based accounting at its most basic, which is often just what freelancers and very small businesses requires.

FreeAgent is what I call a “closed loop system”, helping you communicate and track everything dealing with a job from start to finish. It even goes beyond the loop when needed by wrapping up loose ends like what you owe Uncle Sam. It’s simple, elegant and just what their target market needs.

Features: The included features are very interesting; standard accounting with a Web 2.0 twist. My favorite feature is the tracking capability that tracks an estimate through acceptance, invoicing and billing. Handy! Included:

  • Contacts
  • Estimates
  • Time Tracking
  • Invoicing
  • Expenses
  • Banking
  • Accounting
  • Taxes

I urge you to check out the “FreeAgent tour” for much more detail about the features listed above.

Usability: FreeAgent has a clean and fresh interface and a number of options for support including:

  • FAQs
  • A Knowledge-Base
  • Customer and Company Forums

Pricing: FreeAgent costs $20/month (there is a 30-day free trial available).

Vendor “Strength”: FreeAgent has been around since 2007. They have many customer testimonials and press coverage and regularly update their company blog. They respond to forum posts and discuss plans for continual improvement. I fell comfortable recommending FreeAgent for your use as I believe they will be around for a while.

Web Based Accounting: International

Summary: The software listed in this section is produced by companies outside of the US. Because of that fact, a US-based company might have issues using them so, if you are US-based, buyer beware!

However, if you are not US-based, these all seem like solid offerings. Explore and see if one is right for you.

International Accounting Listings:

  • Clarity Accounting
  • Saasu
  • Xero
  • Clear Books
  • e-conomic

Site Selection Criteria

The sites listed above are selected using the following criteria:

  • Functional Areas – is this software a one-trick-pony (which are sometimes useful) or the central tool you’ve been looking for to run your business?
  • Features – how many does the vendor offer and how useful are they?
  • Usability – is the software easy to learn and use or do I need to take a training course and know how to program?
  • Price – how does the vendor price different levels of functionality and usage limits (space, users, etc.)? Will the price scale well as you grow and need more features and/or higher usage limits or become quickly unaffordable? Also, when it comes to price, I tried to balance functionality with what a small business could afford and thus larger, more expensive, players were cut off the listings.
  • Vendor “Strength” – will the vendor be around for a while or are they about to go belly-up? I calculate “Strength” by measuring how often and how recently the vendor’s software has been upgraded and the vendor’s news and/or blogs have been updated as well as what the industry buzz and coverage has been.

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