Quickbooks Online vs Desktop – Everything You Need to Know

Quickbooks Online vs Desktop – Everything You Need to Know
Dustin Clendenen
on March 16, 2018
Read in 7 min

Even the non-entrepreneurs among us have heard of QuickBooks, but many still don’t understand the difference between QuickBooks Online vs Desktop.

Some may even use it for their personal accounting, though it’s specifically designed to reduce the complexity associated with business finances. 

QuickBooks has become as synonymous with budgeting, expense tracking and financial management as TurboTax has become for taxes.

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What is QuickBooks for?

QuickBooks is a best-selling suite of programs by Intuit built to simplify complex financial operations like budgeting, expense tracking, payroll, inventory, sales and other needs a small business might have.

It’s also used by independent contractors, startups, and other entrepreneurs to manage their personal and business finances.

As the product has grown, add-ons and specialized editions have been created to include things like merchant services, marketing tools, product and supply inventory, and even training solutions.

Each solution is developed to meet the needs of different industries.

QuickBooks in Review

Since the original QuickBooks for Desktop was introduced in the 90s, Intuit has developed dozens of versions of the product, each upgraded every year, to meet the needs of various industries and working professionals.

Currently available versions include:

QuickBooks Online vs Desktop – What’s the Difference?

In 2000, when Intuit introduced the online version of their software to consumers, business owners and freelancers alike have struggled to figure out which version is right for them.

There is no one easy answer to that question as it depends entirely upon what you’re comfortable with & what your needs are.

This comprehensive guide to QuickBooks Online vs Desktop will break down the biggest differences (as well as the pros and cons) of each version, so you can decide which one is best for you.

It should be noted, however, that QuickBooks is officially promoting the online version as their main offering.

They overtly encourage consumers to choose the Online version of their product and have drastically reduced the number of Desktop versions available for sale on their website.

And they’re not the only software company following this trend.

“Most of the large software companies aren’t putting many resources into on-premise solutions any more,” Brian Jacobs, a partner at venture capital firm Emergence Capital told Forbes.

“They are basically pushing their customers into a software-as-a-service environment.”

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Features

The differences between these two versions are immediately apparent from the moment you boot up the software or log in to your account.

Everything from aesthetics, to layout, to menu items differ between the two versions.

Here are some of the key differences:

The Initial Fee for QuickBooks Online vs Desktop

QuickBooks Online is a subscription service that you pay monthly according to different tiers of services and products.

However, QuickBooks Online can be tried for free in a 30 day trial, so there is no initial fee.

QuickBooks Desktop, however, has to be purchased up front at full price.

Monthly Fees

As mentioned above, QuickBooks Online charges a monthly subscription fee to use.

However, the QuickBooks Desktop version can be purchased and owned forever (at substantially higher cost) with a one-time fee.

Connection Requirements for QuickBooks Online vs Desktop

For entrepreneurs that like to work on the go (productive plane ride, anyone?) QuickBooks Desktop can be used anytime, anywhere, as long as your computer is plugged in or your laptop has a charge.

QuickBooks Online, based in the cloud however, requires internet access in order to be used.

Automation

The QuickBooks Desktop version requires that all transactions (such as invoices, receipts and other reports) be manually processed.

The online version has multiple solutions that allow things like customer billing, email reports and bank transaction downloads be automated—

One less thing for you to do!

Support for QuickBooks Online vs Desktop

QB Online has free customer support built into the monthly subscription fee – something that is sorely missing from the basic Desktop version.

Accessibility

Forget your normal computer at home but have access to a friend’s laptop or tablet?

Users get much more flexibility with QuickBooks Online vs Desktop.

Since QB Online is a cloud-based application, all you need is internet access and your login information.

The Desktop version, however, is only available on the one computer you’ve installed it in.

Multiple Users with QuickBooks Online vs Desktop

If you have a whole team involved in your finances, QuickBooks Online can accommodate up to 25 simultaneous users.

QB Desktop, unfortunately, can only be used by one person at a time.

Customized Features

The Desktop version has the ability to prepare time-consuming documents like 1099s, and budget and track expenses, features that are missing from the Online version.

The Desktop version is well-known for offering great freedom in customizing forms.

Advantages of QuickBooks Desktop

QuickBooks Desktop is a great finance platform if:

  • You run a business from a fixed location.
  • You run a product-based business that has to manage a lot of inventory and sales.
  • You only need to provide access to a limited number of team members.
  • You want to avoid paying a recurring monthly charge.
  • You don’t want to run the risk of having your financial records get hacked from the cloud.
  • You want to use customized features such as spend tracking the ability to create budgets.
  • You need to manage large inventories and calculate job costing.

QuickBooks Desktop offers numerous features that Online does not.

That doesn’t mean these features will be left out forever though.

At least in the meantime, Desktop might be the version you need most if you depend on any of the features below:

Customized Data Entry

  • Adjust price levels
  • Batch invoicing
  • Adjust billing rate levels
  • Batch transaction entry
  • Batch timesheet entry
  • ACH deposits for vendors

Learn about Invoice Financing Options

Job Costing

  • Track progress invoicing and billing
  • Generate reports on estimated job costs
  • Track mileage
  • Calculate labor burden costing

Learn about Working Capital Loans

Reporting

  • Industry specific reporting
  • Business planning and forecasting
  • Customize report headers and footers

Learn about How to Increase Cash Flow

Inventory

  • Calculate average cost with inventory valuation method
  • Set and maintain inventory reorder points
  • Receive partial against purchase orders
  • Process sales orders
  • Customize available-to-promise responses

Learn about How to Measure Liquidity of Your Business

Finally getting your financials organized with Quickbooks might reveal some problems with your cashflow, but don’t panic just yet.

Whether you’re struggling to get your invoices paid, purchase inventory in bulk, or pay your employees during a slow month, one of these lenders could help you get quick funding for your business needs.

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Advantages of QuickBooks Online

QuickBooks Online is a great platform if:

  • You run a business where team-members will need remote access to the books.
  • You run a primarily service-based business where you don’t have to track a large inventory or high-volume sales.
  • You run a business where multiple people will need access to the books simultaneously.
  • You are comfortable paying a monthly fee and would benefit from the complimentary customer support access.
  • You are comfortable with the security risk of cloud computing.
  • You are comfortable with the fact that you will only be able to access your books when you have internet access.
  • You run a business that would benefit from high degrees of automation.

Currently 80% of new QuickBooks users are opting for the Online version, and with Intuit openly pushing for consumers to subscribe to the cloud, that number is only expected to grow until the Desktop version loses all or most of its market share.

Here are just some of the QuickBooks Online features that you won’t find on QuickBooks Desktop:

  • Automate scheduling and sending transactions.
  • The ability to use your smartphone and tablet to attach documents, images, signatures & other files to transactions.
  • Review actions and track changes over time using the Audit Log.
  • Track by location.
  • Customize customer labels.
  • Set bank transactions to automatically download each night.
  • Custom Banking Rules can be programmed to split by dollar amount or percentage.
  • Bank rules can be made to auto-add to the register.
  • Unlimited time tracking and report generation.
  • Create delayed charges and delayed credits as non-posting transactions that can be billed for or applied later.
  • Journal entries can have more than one AR and AP lines.
  • Establish and manage multiple budgets per fiscal year.
  • Use Management Reports tool to design a presentation-ready report from start to finish.
  • Easily and seamlessly integrate with third party apps.

Everyone that’s used both QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Desktop knows that there are a lot of differences and gaps between the two versions.

QuickBooks Desktop has been in existence for decades, so of course it is a stronger program and has the benefits of a more durable infrastructure.

“Overall, QuickBooks Online lives up to the Intuit reputation of providing some of the most advanced accounting solutions on the market,” says Chelsea Krause in her review of the product.

“This software fulfills traditional accounting needs while remaining easier to use than its desktop counterpart. In-depth contact management and highly customizable invoice templates and automations are just some of the great features QuickBooks Online has to offer.”

“The new design leaves the software better than ever, and consistent monthly updates promise more greatness to come in the future.”

QuickBooks Online vs Desktop – At A Glance

FeaturesQuickBooks OnlineQuickBooks Desktop
CostStarting at $10 per monthStarting at $150
Software InstallationNoYes
Automatic Data BackupYesNo
Multi-Platform AccessYesNo
Anytime/Anywhere AccessYesYes (with purchase of hosting service)
Free Tech SupportYesNo
Automatic UpdatesYesNo
60 Day Money Back GuaranteeYesYes
30 Day Risk-Free TrialYesNo
Sample Company File Test DriveYesNo
Multiple Inventory Tracking OptionsNoYes
Batch InvoicingNoYes
Industry-Specific VersionsNoYes

Ultimately, deciding between QuickBooks Online vs Desktop comes down to what your needs and priorities are as an entrepreneur and business owner.

QuickBooks Online vs Desktop in 2018 & Beyond

QB Desktop is currently setup as the ideal for product-based businesses that have to deal with a larger inventory.

The way QuickBooks Online has been setup currently is more ideal for service-based entrepreneurs and businesses that don’t really have to deal with things like inventory or orders.

Having said that, there are many third party apps for QuickBooks Online to provide a more Desktop-type experience in areas where the product is lacking.

No matter what you choose, the important thing to remember is that Intuit is actively investing in improving their Online version.

It’s only a matter of time before it becomes as robust as the legendary Desktop version that has made the product so successful.

Additionally, the entire software industry is moving away from hardware-based programs and into the cloud.

“I’ve watched the enormous growth of software-as-a-service applications for customer relationship management, human resources and payroll,” Gene Marks wrote in Forbes.

“I’ve noticed the faster performance. I’ve witnessed their ease of access from tablets and mini-laptops and even smartphones. I’ve watched companies move more and more of their in-house systems to hosted ones, eliminating their servers and IT infrastructure.”

“And I’ve seen my own clients, small business owners who look at any new relationship or technology with a wary eye, grow more comfortable letting other companies handle their data on managed servers over the past few years. We admit that though no one’s infallible, the security that they provide are better than our own. The environment is perfect for cloud based accounting applications.”

Even if you find that the Desktop version meets your needs now and choose to go that route, it’s only a matter of time before the Online version chooses you.

Remember, no amount of budgeting will help if you’re spending more cash than you’re bringing in.

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Estimated Apr
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MIN CREDIT SCORE
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13.99%-40%
Estimated Apr
Do you qualify?
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MIN CREDIT SCORE
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MIN CREDIT SCORE
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MIN CREDIT SCORE
Funding Option
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10%-27%
Estimated Apr
Do you qualify?
600+
MIN CREDIT SCORE
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10%-27%
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Dustin Clendenen Finance Journalist

Dustin Clendenen is an LA-based screenwriter, editor, and all-around storyteller.

He spends most of his time thinking about the “Big Picture” and obsessing over its details.

Follow his musings on Twitter.

2 Comments
Areli
5 months ago
I found the answers to all my questions, I will now purchase qb desktop Pro 2018 within the hour, THANK YOU!!
Yossi
1 year ago
Thank you for all the details!! Very helpful!
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