QuickBooks Online vs. Xero

Bookkeeping season is upon us, which means it’s time to decide what accounting tools work best for your business. Until recently Intuit was the dominant presence in accounting software, and QuickBooks Online has become something of a household name. But now there are some competitors in that space, namely Xero – and it is also making a name for itself. In order to decide which product is the best fit for your needs, we’re doing a deep dive into how the two compare, side by side.

QuickBooks Online vs Xero Comparison Chart

QuickBooks 2016-17

Simple Start

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Online Essentials

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Online Plus

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Xero Standard

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Software Type Online Online Online Online
Price $15 $10/month $30 $21/month $40 $28/month $30/month
Best For Basic Financial Tracking Remote Access without Inventory Remote Access with Inventory Remote Access with Inventory & Payroll
Number of User Accounts 1 3 5 9999
Free Trial
Unlimited Customer Support Free Free Free Free
Ease of Use
Managerial Features Very Basic Beginner Advanced Advanced+Payroll
Number of Reports 20+ 40+ 65+ 40+
Online Access
Prints Checks
Creates Invoices
Uploads Bank Files
Tracks Inventory    
Helps Create Tax Forms    
Industry-Specific Reports        

Do You Need Bookkeeping and Payroll?

One of the biggest differences between QuickBooks Online and Xero is the payroll feature. They both offer payroll, but Xero incorporates it right into the software, whereas Intuit wants you to buy its Payroll product separately and use it alongside QuickBooks. While QuickBooks has an integration for Payroll, which ostensibly means they work seamlessly together, at the end of the day they are separate products.

If your business is a sole proprietorship and you don’t need a payroll function, a product like QuickBooks that doesn’t include payroll might be appealing; it’s one less feature you’re paying for. For some business owners, however, the fact that payroll is built in to Xero makes a significant difference.

“This 100% makes Xero easier to use,” Neil Andrew, account manager with Manchester, UK-based inbound marketing and design company Piccana, says of the payroll feature. “Our accountant is more traditional and has only just started to adopt cloud software, so we had to sit down and explain it all to them. Switching between Quickbooks and Payroll just got confusing for them and ended up wasting our time with explaining things. In Xero though it all just works seamlessly. The actual feature-set of the two is fairly similar, it's just that Xero is a lot easier to use.”

Are You in Charge of Bookkeeping, or Do You Hire a Bookkeeper?QuickBooks Online vs Xero Bookkeeper Image

One of the areas in which Xero has won a lot of points with small business owners is its easy-to-use interface. 

“Xero is more about the user interface – it is easier aesthetically and has a lightweight interface. It doesn’t look like accounting software,” says Peter Cullen, Partner with accounting firm Core Performance Consulting. “There are less things on the screen – it still has accounting inside, but the screens that most users will touch and work with don’t look like accounting software.” 

At the same time, Cullen notes, QuickBooks has a robust set of tools for accountants:

“The best thing for accountants in QuickBooks Online are batch reclassification, working trial balance and automated write off tools. QuickBooks Online has accountant-only tools that Xero doesn’t have, which makes it much easier for accountants to work in QuickBooks Online.”

However, Cullen also noted that while both Xero and QuickBooks online are very collaborative and make it easier to share results with clients, many clients still struggle with the organizing/categorizing transactions in QuickBooks Online.

“There are a lot of details in each transaction and small business clients often get mixed up about how they should be organized,” Cullen notes.

If you as a business owner are the one in charge of doing the bookkeeping come tax season and you don’t want or need the bells and whistles of extra accounting features, this might make Xero a better fit for you. Whereas if you’re an accountant or a business owner working with one, those extra accounting features in QuickBooks might be necessary.

Are Integrations a Key Consideration? 

QuickBooks Online Vs Xero- Integrations

There’s no denying that integrations have become more of a necessity and less of a luxury in the last few years; they determine whether you can efficiently move information between all the software businesses increasingly rely on, from project management to invoicing and accounting. 

Both QuickBooks and Xero offer third-party app integrations that expand what they can do on their own. While QuickBooks doesn’t offer as many third-party apps – about 360 to Xero’s roughly 500 – it does integrate with other Inuit products (like Payroll). Many businesses say that their experience with both Xero and QuickBooks has been positive when it comes to integrations.

Andrew, of Piccana, however, says that his company did see a significant difference between the two products – although it’s worth noting that his company is tech-savvy enough to be doing some of its own development, so his experience may not be applicable to all small businesses.

 “The area where we really saw differences [between Xero and QuickBooks online] was for the integrations,” says Andrew. “We do a lot of in-house tool development and Quickbooks was quite honestly a nightmare to work with. The API [application programming interface] was horrible to implement and problems just seemed to always pop up. However with Xero we find development a breeze - the API is fantastic, the documentation is fantastic and there's already hundreds of pre-made solutions out there too.” 

Do You Need Mobile Apps?

QuickBooks Online vs Xero Apps

Xero was developed specifically with mobile use and the cloud in mind, so from the get-go it’s been designed for use on mobile devices. But QuickBooks is no dinosaur – within the last year its mobile accounting capabilities have become more streamlined. 

QuickBooks’ mobile app syncs with QuickBooks online, so it works seamlessly with that software. The mobile app allows you to create, view, and email estimates, invoices, and sales receipts; access customer information; convert estimates to invoices; receive payments, track expenses, download and reconcile bank transactions, and use custom QuickBooks Online forms. Some of the bigger functions, like customizing invoices, accessing reports, and giving an accountant access all need to happen on the web, but for the most part QuickBooks lets you use quite a bit of the desktop functions through its mobile interface.

Xero’s mobile app lets you reconcile new transactions and receive notifications about new transactions; add receipts and submit expense claims; create, approve, and send invoices; view or delete payments applied to partially paid invoices; assign billable expenses to customers; manage files; and view contact information.

Reviewers have noted that Xero’s mobile app has a more idiot-proof feel and makes functions like creating invoices extremely easy, whereas QuickBooks works better on the larger screen of a tablet than on a mobile phone because of all the features it includes.

For Andrew, Xero again made a better impression when it came to mobile apps.

“Xero won big here for us,” he says of the mobile app comparison. “The design is excellent and we never experienced a single lock-up or crash. It's easy to find what you want with just a few taps of the screen. Quickbooks on the other hand was very, very poor for us. I'm not sure if it was our phones but we had constant crashes and every time the app was updated we'd have trouble logging in for a while. Support were generally good at trying to fix things, but it got really annoying very quickly!”

A Few Other Comparisons to Keep in Mind

Security 

The consensus among most users is that both products offer a very good level of security. Xero started out offering two-factor authentication for logins, and now QuickBooks online has also added that security feature. Both also house their servers in secure data centers and use a high level of encryption for data transfer.

Price 

Both have three tiers: starter, standard/essential, and premium/plus. For QuickBooks online, those tiers cost $10 per month, $21 per month, and $28 per month, respectively. Xero’s three tiers run $6.30 per month, $21 per month, and $49 per month, respectively. The biggest difference in price points is how you’re charged for multiple users – that can mean anyone from employees using the app, to managers, accountants, or auditors. For example: QuickBooks’ Simple Start, its basic package, allows only one user. If you want to add up to three users, it’s $24. 95 per month, and $39.95 per month if you add up to five users. Payroll is a $39 per month add-on. Compare that to Xero, which includes a payroll feature in all three tiers, and includes unlimited users in each of its price points.

U.S. vs outside U.S.

While QuickBooks still dominates the U.S. marketplace, New Zealand-based Xero is a widely recognized name in its home country, Australia, and England. Both are eyeing each other’s home turf, but for now Xero is more heavily used in the U.K. than it is in the U.S. If you’re doing business with accountants or clients outside of the U.S., this may be a factor to consider.

Conclusion

While it’s almost impossible to say that one product comes out clearly ahead of the other, there are a few key differences to keep in mind when trying to find the best fit for your business. If you already use and love Intuit software and have an accountant or bookkeeper who prefers QuickBooks, the full suite of accounting features on QuickBooks Online may make that product a better fit. If you’re a smaller company doing your own books and want to make heavy use of the mobile app, Xero and its accessible price points might work well. While both are great for small businesses in general, only you know what integrations, client needs, and interface will make one the fit in with your business.