The Best Low-Cost Accounting Software

Zoho Books, FreshBooks, and ZipBooks: Which Accounting Software is Best for Small Businesses?

by Andrew Wyndham

This page may contain affiliate links. Our assessments are grounded solely in the product’s merits and performance.

For years, the standard advice for small businesses choosing accounting software has been simple: just use Intuit QuickBooks.

But if you’re a sole proprietor, a freelancer, or a small business, robust accounting products like QuickBooks are probably overkill. Not to pick on QuickBooks, but its cheapest plan is $30 monthly – nearly twice the cost of other starting plans! And, if you’re running a small business with simple expenses and revenue streams, you won’t be using most of the fancy functionality you’re paying for.

Luckily, we’re living in the golden age of the stripped-down accounting software. Read on to hear our take on three popular low-cost options for small businesses: Zoho Books, FreshBooks, and ZipBooks.

The TL;DR

Choose ZipBooks if you’re looking for a free or minimal accounting solution, FreshBooks if you’re a contractor or service provider, and Zoho Books if you want a full enterprise software suite.

Best for the sole proprietor, side-gig, or freelancer: ZipBooks

If you’re a very small business (or just one with simple accounting needs), ZipBooks is an excellent choice. Unlike the other choices in this list, it’s got a solid free plan (the ZipBooks Starter plan) that includes most of the functionality a small business will need. That includes:

  • Sending unlimited invoices
  • Managing unlimited vendors and customers
  • Accepting digital payments through Square or PayPal
  • Viewing basic reports

It also integrates with Slack, Gusto, and other popular small-business software. 

If you’re a freelancer or a sole proprietor, this should easily cover your needs. When you’re ready to move up the ladder, they have a very affordable Smarter plan at $15/month that lets you add team members, connect multiple bank accounts, and track time.

ZipBooks

The simple user interface and affordable price of this product make it a great fit for freelancers and small businesses with relatively straightforward accounting needs.

Best for contractors and other service providers: FreshBooks

Let’s see if this describes you:

  • Most of your income comes from a few projects at a time
  • You’re constantly sending estimates, contracts, and invoices

Enter FreshBooks. Unlike other options on this list, it’s got a feature list that goes beyond the basics. With this software, you can send estimates (or proposals or even full customer conversations). You can customize your invoices. And the time tracking feature is among the most user-friendly we’ve seen.

It’s not the cheapest (see ZipBooks for that), but it’s still reasonably affordable – $19/month for the Lite plan and $33/month for the Plus plan, with an additional 70% off for the first four months.

The bottom line is that FreshBooks might be a good fit if you spend a lot of time reviewing estimates, proposals, and invoices.

FreshBooks

Service-based businesses will find FreshBooks a user-friendly and affordable option.

Best for the small business with big ambitions: Zoho Books

Sure, you’re a small business – but you don’t plan on staying that way. For all you baby Bezos out there, Zoho Books provides a solid (but still extremely affordable) path to scale.

Let’s start with their free plan. Unlike ZipBooks, it’s capped at 50k annual revenue. If you fit this criteria, it lets you add your accountant and provides all the basic accounting features you’d expect. 

At $15/month, the revenue cap is removed. You’ll also be able to program recurring expenses and manage up to 5000 invoices. Beyond that, the sky’s the limit. There’s an honestly mind-numbing number of paid plans, each with more robust functionality than the last – standard, professional, premium, elite, ultimate – phew. Once you reach the most exalted plans, you’ll have truly sophisticated functionality like advanced analytics or inventory management.

Add to this the rest of the Zoho enterprise software suite – People, Projects, Inventory, CRM, Commerce, Billing (the list goes on) – and you can create a fully integrated enterprise software suite for any size business.

So, if your needs are modest right now but won’t stay that way, Zoho Books provides a compelling launchpad.

Zoho Books

A well-balanced accounting product, particularly when integrated with the rest of the Zoho Suite.

Products Mentioned in this Article

ZipBooks

A stripped-down and user-friendly accounting software with a free version.

Starter

Free

1 account & 1 bank account. Unlimited invoices, vendors, and customers. Basic reports.

Continue on ZipBooks website

Smarter

$15/month

5 accounts, automated reminders, recurring invoices, multiple bank accounts

Continue on ZipBooks website

Sophisticated

$35/month

Unlimited users, additional reports, “smart tagging” and custom categories.

Continue on ZipBooks website

Accountant

Custom pricing

Text from ZipBooks, track time, export financial packages, and manage multiple clients.

Continue on ZipBooks website

FreshBooks

A flexible accounting software that works best for contractors and sole proprietors.

Lite

$19/mo

Unlimited expenses and estimates, reporting, and invoices for up to 5 clients.

Continue on FreshBooks website

Plus

$33/month

Invoicing for up to 50 clients, recurring invoices, unlimited proposals, add your accountant

Continue on FreshBooks website

Premium

$60/month

Unlimited invoices, unlimited clients. Automatic bill and receipt capture. Project profitability tracking.

Continue on FreshBooks website

Select

Custom Pricing

Dedicated customer support, additional team member accounts, lower transaction and transfer fees.

Continue on FreshBooks website

Zoho Books

A bookkeeping service and software for small businesses and freelancers.

Free

$0/month

Available for business with less than $50k revenue per annum. 1 user, 1 accountant

Continue on Zoho website

Standard

$15/month

3 users, recurring invoices, customer portal, online/offline payments, custom fields

Continue on Zoho website

Professional

$40 per month

5 users, project expenses and invoices, timesheet and billing, sales approval

Continue on Zoho website

Premium

$60/month

10 users, custom domain, vendor portal, budgeting tools

Continue on Zoho website

Elite

$120/month

10 users, unlimited custom reports, multi-currency transactions, advanced inventory control

Continue on Zoho website

Ultimate

$240/month

15 users, 25 custom modules, real-time reports, collaborative report generation

Continue on Zoho website

Pricing information is retrieved from publicly accessible pricing materials. The actual cost may vary based on specific plans chosen. Always check directly with the seller for the final quote.

Pricing information last updated March 7, 2024.

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