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QuickBooks and Beyond: 5 Online Accounting Services

If you're running a small business and you need help keeping the books, you're in luck. Small-business accounting, once pretty much defined by the QuickBooks and Peachtree desktop packages, has blossomed on the Web and diversified. You can find a wealth of services that will meet your business's accounting needs, from full-featured bookkeeping to payroll, expense accounts, invoicing, and more.

Web-based small-business accounting
All of these services run in a browser, so you can crunch numbers from just about any Web-connected computer, and many have smartphone companion apps. Several offer integration features that let you take advantage of other sites and services--or even desktop software. All promise financial-institution-caliber safeguards for your data, which is probably better protected at an industrial data center than on most home PCs.

Here's a look at five accounting sites for small businesses. While all will help you keep track of income and expenses, each one has specific features that might make it a good fit for your accounting needs and preferences. Most have very basic free versions or 30-day free trials that will let you dip your toe into the water, too.

FreshBooks

Although primarily an invoicing application, FreshBooks also offers expense- and time-tracking features that will appeal to small, service-oriented businesses. Even the free version gives you a subdomain on the FreshBooks site (in the format mydomain.freshbooks.com), which you can customize with a logo and colors. You can import expense data from bank and credit card accounts--but only by exporting it manually to a CSV file, which you must then reorganize so that your fields correspond to FreshBooks' import format.

FreshBooks is a good fit for service-oriented companies.

FreshBooks is a good fit for service-oriented companies.

FreshBooks will also appeal to small businesses that are willing to pay to outsource snail-mail invoicing: For between $0.99 and $1.39 a bill (depending on how many bills you mail each month), FreshBooks will create and mail invoices for you, complete with payment stubs and return envelopes.

It will also send out e-mail invoices and help you set up online payment receipt via any one of ten supported online payment services, including PayPal. You can collect and sync FreshBooks data via Android, BlackBerry, and iPhone apps, as well.

FreshBooks' free version limits you to one user account and no more than three clients; it also puts its brand on e-mail invoices. Upgrades ranging from $20 to $40 let you add clients and team functionality. FreshBooks doesn't really bill itself as a complete accounting service, however. Rather, it encourages you to use it for day-to-day time tracking and invoicing, and it suggests that you periodically export totals to other products for calculating taxes and performing other accounting functions.

WorkingPoint

This capable service seems directed primarily at companies that carry inventory, as it lets you import inventory items via CSV file and offers billing options that you don't see in most small-business Web services. But it has lots of other helpful automation functions, too, including the ability to download and import transaction data from bank accounts and credit cards, as well as support for manual import of contacts (via CSV or VCard files). As you import transactions, you identify the Schedule C line item where they'll go, which will help enormously at tax time.

WorkingPoint is helpful for getting newcomers started.

WorkingPoint is a user-friendly choice for those who are just getting started.

WorkingPoint does a very good job of making its many features less intimidating for newcomers, providing step-by-step instructions everywhere as well as complete help files. Also reassuring is the ever-present orange Support tab on the right side of each page.

These features aren't free: After a 30-day trial, you must pay either $9 a month for up to ten invoices, or $20 a month for unlimited invoices, tax reports, support for PayPal payments and recurring invoices, and the ability to give other users access to your account.

Outright

This free bookkeeping service lacks some of the features you get in most accounting packages--it can’t create an invoice, for example--but it does make the basics of expense and income tracking easy. More important, it tackles a problem that sends many self-employed people into the arms of a pricey accountant: figuring out quarterly tax liability.

Outright supports downloads for bank account and credit card transactions, which it automatically channels into income (Money In) and expense (Money Out) registers. You delete the transactions that aren’t business related, and then assign Schedule C categories to those that are. Based on this data, Outright figures out what you owe the federal government each quarter. You’re on your own for state taxes, however.

Outright’s reports feature uses the same Money In/Out data to generate several nifty-looking charts of your profit-and-loss statements, expenses by category, and the like.

Outright offers bank and credit card support, and helps you with quarterly federal taxes.

Outright offers bank and credit card support, and helps you with quarterly federal taxes.

During tax season last year, Outright offered a paid service for filing 1099 forms (statements documenting payments to independent contractors). Most Outright users probably wouldn’t need that service, though. Outright really is for the smallest of small businesses: self-employed individuals who want an easy-to-use tool to track how well their business is doing and how much they have to send Uncle Sam every quarter.

Next page: A good option for multiple-currency support, plus Web-based QuickBooks

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