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QuickBooks and Beyond: 5 Online Accounting Services

Less Accounting

Excellent data importing, foreign language and currency features, and a slew of customization options are among the selling points for the full-featured Less Accounting service, although many of those functions are available only with the pricier plans. Less Accounting has five pricing options, starting with a free version that limits you to five invoices and five expense items a month and doesn’t support bank transaction downloads.

A $12-a-month version lifts the invoice and expense restrictions, but still doesn’t support nightly bank and credit card transaction downloads. Plans priced at $20 and $24 a month heap on additional features; and if you want to get the services of a human bookkeeper, Less Accounting will provide that for $300 a month. All accounts create a custom subdomain (in the format mydomain.lessaccounting.com) with a dashboard-style landing page that appears when you log in.

While somewhat pricey, Less Accounting has modules that make it a good choice for businesses with customers in different countries, including multiple-currency support and the option to customize forms by providing your own translations for standard invoice and proposal terms. Most plans include mileage logs; all let you import contacts from Gmail and Outlook.

Less Accounting supports multiple currencies, great if you do work in multiple countries.

Less Accounting supports multiple currencies, a great feature if you perform work in multiple countries.

The service integrates with a number of others that provide functionality you don't get within Less Accounting, including PayPal payment receipts, CRM features (HighRise), and a snail-mail service (Postal Methods) for sending invoices and proposals. Those add-ons, along with Less Accounting's own modular approach to pricing, make it suitable for a fast-growing business with rapidly changing needs.

QuickBooks Online

Intuit may not be happy to see the Web eat away at its flagship desktop app, but it isn't standing idly by. In the last year the company has significantly upgraded and improved its QuickBooks online offerings, implementing a badly needed user-interface overhaul and introducing new features.

The QuickBooks Online upgrade path is clear: The free (and surprisingly capable) Simple Start limits you to 20 customers and a limited set of reports; it may be worth investigating for former Quicken Home & Business Online users seeking a new home since Intuit folded all Quicken Online services into the strictly consumer-focused Mint.com.

QuickBooks Simple Start can do the trick if you're self-employed and don't need online banking support.

QuickBooks Simple Start can do the trick if you're self-employed and don't need online banking support.

For $10, QuickBooks Online Basic offers 40 reports and lets your accountant log in, but you’ll have to upgrade to the $35-a-month QuickBooks Online Plus for online banking support and a slew of custom invoicing, billing, and expense-tracking options (including client access for certain functions). Payroll and credit card payment support are available to all customers regardless of plan, as extra-cost options.

QuickBooks Online’s handsome user interface and task-focused approach to bookkeeping put it on a par with the competition, but the paid versions are pricey and inventory support is sketchy. The free Simple Start, however, is a real gem that can easily meet the needs of a self-employed professional who wants to create invoices and keep an eye on the bottom line, and who doesn’t particularly care about online banking support.

Who Should Use These Services?

Web-based accounting services for small businesses are becoming increasingly sophisticated and diversified. The ability to access account info and create invoices from any PC--or, increasingly, from a smartphone--makes them especially useful for businesses that render services on customer sites, but others can also benefit from these offerings.

For example, for individuals who are just starting out and need to keep expenses down, free services such as Outright and QuickBooks Simple Start--perhaps even in tandem--can be a godsend. Outright offers basic tax help that you don't get elsewhere, with transaction download support that competitors make you pay for; QuickBooks, meanwhile, has good invoicing and reporting features for up to 20 customers.

But for just pennies (or maybe dimes or quarters) a day, paid services such as WorkingPoint, with tools to handle billing for inventory, and Less Accounting, with its modular approach and many add-ons, can deliver real value. Both also save you data entry thanks to transaction download support; Less Accounting, on its higher-priced plans, particularly shines in that respect. FreshBooks' snail-mail invoicing service could be worthwhile if you seek to avoid the tiresome chore of printing, stamping, and sending bils via U.S. mail. At the higher end, QuickBooks Online's paid services cater to growing businesses with complicated payroll issues, and to anyone who can use sophisticated reports to tweak business plans. Less Accounting's higher-end offerings will help people who do business abroad.

These five services cater to everyone seeking to offload or at least simplify day-to-day bookkeeping tasks as inexpensively as possible so that employees can concentrate on what they make money doing. You may still need an accountant to look over the big picture of your tax situation, but these services can empower you to keep relevant data organized and handy on your own.

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