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QuickBooks Desktop vs. QuickBooks Online – Which is Better?

Posted on May 22nd, 2020

Jack Kern
Owner, President
Outsourced Accounting Department, Inc.

I am a Certified QuickBooks ProAdvisor and have been using the original Desktop version since 1996.  In recent years, QuickBooks has been heavily promoting its Online version, and because of that, a lot of new QuickBooks users are jumping on board.  First, let me come right out and say this:   We frequently receive inquiries for consulting with QuickBooks Online by people who are trying to use it and most likely, making a total mess out of it.  It functions completely different than the original Desktop version, and in our opinion, it is inferior in many respects, and calls things differently in the Online version which makes it that much harder and time consuming to correct things.

Now, after that, if you are still considering doing your bookkeeping yourself and trying to decide between QuickBooks Desktop and QuickBooks Online, here are some things to consider:

  • Navigation: If you are used to using the Desktop version, as mentioned above, QuickBooks Online functions completely different. Various things are called and located differently almost, it seems, for the sake of calling and locating them differently.
  • Reporting Capability: In my experience, the reporting capability in the Online version is not nearly as robust as the Desktop version.
  • Support: For the above reasons, I’ve found that to do just about anything in the Online version, I had to call Online support, a monumental waste of time!

The reporting capability in particular in the Desktop version is one of its major benefits.  This is extremely useful not only for researching accounting issues, but the ability to create and memorize numerous customized reports for the client for managing their business.  And as a former CFO /controller, I believe that the most important thing to come out of an accounting software are meaningful financial reports.

Now, what many people are not aware of (because QuickBooks doesn’t promote this service for themselves), is that there are companies that also provide access to the traditional Desktop version via the “cloud,” and have the Intuit certification of “Authorized Commercial Host – QuickBooks.”  In our business, we use Ace Cloud Hosting to support the Desktop version.

In the past when I’ve tried to use the Online version, I found myself spending most of my time “re-learning”QuickBooks, sometimes only to find out in the end that what I want to accomplish isn’t available in the Online version.  I’ve also read that many Online users are complaining about both software glitches, and issues with Online support.  I’ve rarely ever experienced software issues with the Desktop version.  But if I do, I have access to both Ace support staff, and as a QuickBooks ProAdvisor, unlimited access to QuickBooks ProAdvisor Support – and at no cost to my clients.

And I am not alone in my views of QuickBooks Online. I’ve been told on more than one occasion by ProAdvisor Support staff that they hear the same frustrations from most CPAs and accountants regarding the Online version. When I asked one of them why it was designed differently, his response was, “Because the desktop version is too powerful to create online” (meaning without being hosted in its entirety on a remote server).

In the area of “pricing,” a QuickBooks comparison chart shows $70 per month for Online Plus (currently discounted to $35), or $840 per year ($420 as of the date of this writing).  According to the chart, Online Plus is (“theoretically”) the closest in capability to QuickBooks Pro, the latter of which is what we have most of our clients purchase, and currently sells for a one time purchase price of $299.95 (retail before our ProAdvisor discount which fluctuates).  However, with the Desktop version, it is NOT imperative that you upgrade to the newest release every year for at least three years, when QuickBooks stops supporting it with maintenance relaeases.  The improvements each year with the Desktop version are mostly cosmetic, and would be of interest primarily to the most advanced QuickBooks users (which most small business owners are not).

Finally, in our case, a monthly user fee of $44 is paid to Ace Cloud Hosting which includes unlimited 24/7 support by phone or email.  (And as mentioned above, as a ProAdvisor, I also have unlimited free access to QuickBooks ProAdvisor Support.)

Ace Cloud Hosting recently published an article in their blog comparing QuickBooks Online to QuickBooks Hosting.  This is part of what the article concludes:  “Hosting [QuickBooks] on the cloud can offer you the flexibility and mobility benefits of the cloud, along with all the features available in the desktop version.”

But that all said, regardless of which QuickBooks you use, let me now say this:  QuickBooks has done a great job of marketing its software as being “easy to use,”….. but, that’s also what makes it easy to abuse.  Most QuickBooks users we’ve worked with have no idea of the accounting mess they’re making, and that’s when they throw up their hands and turn to us to do a major clean up their books.  Our philosophy is to relieve the client from the bookkeeping headache as much as possible by doing most of the data entry ourselves, and WE use QuickBooks Desktop and we do not support the QuickBooks Online version.

So, with our firm, some clients have access to their QuickBooks file, others do not and don’t care.  But if they do need access to their file, we still try to make things as simple as possible for the client, and therefore, for us, which is to the benefit of the client in more ways than one.  In those situations where the client does not need access, we are paying for our own user fees, the client is paying nothing for QuickBooks hosting, not even for the purchase of QuickBooks.  Instead, our clients are paying us to do their monthly accounting and bookkeeping accurately, thus freeing themselves up to focus their full attention on their own business rather than “learning” QuickBooks.  Those business owners are, in effect, factoring in the “opportunity cost” of doing the bookkeeping themselves, or hiring a full-time bookkeeper at $25,000 to $35,000 a year, or even half of that for part-time.

So to summarize our position on all of the above, if you:

  • Are NOT interested in struggling with the bookkeeping (regardless of which version), or;
  • Are NOT interested in learning QuickBooks all over again if you’re accustomed to the Desktop version, and;
  • ARE more interested in managing your business, and letting someone else worry about which bookkeeping software they want to use, or;
  • Just want to perform minimal bookkeeping tasks yourself with someone overseeing and adjusting your work;

Then, consider a third alternative of outsourcing the bookkeeping to those who specialize in it.  In terms of the services we provide, as stated earlier, we do not encourage our clients to spend a lot of time “learning” QuickBooks, most of whom just end up making a mess out of it.  But rather, we encourage our clients to focus on their own business, and let us take care of the (tedious) bookkeeping and accounting tasks. Therefore, we do not wish to spend a lot of unproductive time ourselves, either, relearning QuickBooks for the sake of relearning it, and at our client’s expense.

In a nutshell, simply ask yourself, “How do I prefer to spend my time, learning QuickBooks, or running my own business?”

Related Articles:

4 Reasons Why You Should Consider Outsourcing Your Bookkeeping

The “Opportunity Cost” of Being Your Own Bookkeeper

Part-Time vs. Full-Time Accounting Staff