Any small business that uses an online payroll service to manage employee payments on its own tends to need a lot of support, especially during the setup process. Patriot Software Full Service Payroll excels at providing help to its customers from start to finish. It not only handles the basic tasks needed to create employee records, but it also defines deductions and contributions, processes payroll runs, and automatically submits payroll taxes. New features include an improved user experience and better payroll flexibility. An integrated accounting website makes the bundle a good choice for new users with modest needs, yet it’s capable of running payroll for dozens of employees and contractors. It still, however, lacks some of the depth, customizability, and usability found in our Editors’ Choice winners, Gusto and OnPay.
Patriot Software Full Service Payroll’s price has stayed steady at $30 per month base plus $4 per employee per month. There’s a less-expensive Basic version that costs $10 per month plus $4 per employee per month, but you have to file your own payroll taxes if you go this route. Patriot Software also charges for an HR add-on (starting at $4 per month plus $1 per employee per month), which some competitors offer free. Time and Attendance is $5 per month plus $1 per employee per month.
If you’d like to add basic bookkeeping functionality, you can sign up for one of Patriot Software’s integrated accounting solutions. Basic ($15 per month) includes contractor and vendor payments with 1099/1096 creation, printing, and reports (e-filing is optional). You can track income and expenses, accept credit card payments, and create and track unlimited invoices. Premium ($22.50 per month) adds several features, such as estimates, recurring invoices, and invoice payment reminders. Accounting Basic is actually a good deal if you’re going to use all of its functions; Premium doesn’t add a lot of significant functionality. No other product in the category, aside from QuickBooks Payroll, offers this kind of built-in accounting and payroll integration.
Patriot Software’s exceptional support is evident from the start. Like its competitors, the company makes its payroll experts available to complete the onerous task of setup for you. It’s possible to do this on your own, but I recommend that you let the company help you if you’ve never done a payroll. Setting up is the most complex element of small business accounting, and it requires absolute precision and timeliness. You not only have to get employee compensation exactly right, but you also need to make payments to benefits providers and tax agencies. If your employees have multiple deductions, that takes a lot of coordination. You can lean on Patriot Software’s free phone, email, and chat support, but at some point, more-comprehensive live help may be in order, and the company’s staff stands ready and able.
Patriot Software added a dedicated setup wizard last year, something it had previously lacked. Instead of having to work your way through the Settings menu, the site walks you through a series of screens that describe what’s needed to get started running payrolls. Throughout this wizard, you see links to helpful resources, such as how to get a state unemployment number (SUTA). Unlike some other types of financial applications, with payroll, every element of setup must be completed before you can start issuing paychecks.
Some sites are moving away from this comprehensive step-by-step setup process, truncating the wizard and dropping users into the site itself, where they have to finish setup by going through the Settings menu. I like Patriot Software’s approach better. When you’ve completed the wizard, you know you’re ready to start processing payroll unless you’ve skipped steps, which is allowed in some cases.
Setup involves defining all of the ways employees can be compensated and all of the deductions that must be made. Patriot Software is very flexible in this regard for both the hours employees can work (holiday, regular, double-time, and so on) and the types of pay they can receive (including bonus, commission, and expense reimbursement). The site refers to these as Hour Types and Money Types, and you can add your own. These appear as options when you start processing paychecks in Patriot’s service. The site does something here that I haven’t seen elsewhere: You can designate Hour Types and Money Types as Frequently Used to ensure that they appear by default on the payroll screen.
Square Payroll and QuickBooks Payroll only make this available within the employee records.
Information about both company-level deductions and company-paid contributions is entered the same way, though their data fields are slightly different. To create a deduction for your 401(k), for example, you click Yes when you’re asked if you need to add employee deductions and then select the type from a drop-down list. You can enter a description that will be displayed on reports and paychecks and then supply the default dollar amount that will be subtracted from paychecks either as a percentage or a flat dollar amount. You can also enter any limits required and specify the correct W-2 box, if needed.
You must also enter your company tax settings and state unemployment rates. Patriot Software has assembled an excellent page with links to state-specific information that you can consult if you don’t have those numbers. It also tells you how to apply for a federal Employer Identification Number (EIN) and meet any state registration requirements. It provides links to forms that new employees must complete and that you must file. You need to supply bank account information for payroll withdrawals, fill out an authorization form, and enter your paycheck-printing or direct deposit settings.
If you want your employees to be able to log into password-protected portals where they can view pay stubs and other personal payroll information, you can create usernames and temporary passwords for each staff member and send invitations. The site’s employee portals are excellent—some of the best we’ve seen. When you first sign in, you see links to the most common tasks (View Paychecks, Print Paystubs, and so on). The left vertical pane contains navigational links to other data and tools, such as Federal Tax (Withholding), Employer Documents, Payroll History, and Time Summary Report. Employees can punch in and out (manually or according to the actual time) on their portals if you want to use this feature; time cards can then be sent to payroll.
SurePayroll offer to help new users through the setup process and the data entry required to supply payroll history. It’s very complicated. You can always return to Settings pages once you’ve completed the wizard to make changes if necessary.
Once your company payroll settings are complete, you can create a record for each employee. This is a simple but time-intensive process. You fill in blank fields for information that hasn’t been introduced yet (name, address, SSN, hire date, and so on) and select from lists of the options you just created (like pay type and frequency). You can also supply W-4 information here. When you’ve supplied all of the data requested, you can access individual records from one screen by clicking on tabs that open different sections of the record, such as Pay Info, Deductions & Contributions, and Taxes. This is an effective way to make all of these details available. Patriot excels here, though the site could make better use of screen space to minimize scrolling.
There’s more to setup, including your payroll history (if you have any). You’re likely to need Patriot Software’s help with this task. The site does an exceptional job of letting you know what’s needed and providing the resources you need. In fact, this is the best, most thorough setup wizard of all the sites I reviewed.
Patriot Software also offers an accounting application that’s tightly integrated with Payroll. In fact, they share the same user interface. When you first log in, you’ll see a toolbar in the left vertical pane. This is the primary navigation tool; it has tabs labeled Dashboard, Accounting, Payroll, Reports, and Settings.
The site’s global dashboard is different from the competition’s. It only contains messages from Patriot Software and icons representing links that take you to seven of the most common activities in both the payroll (Run Payroll, for example) and the accounting (Create Invoice) applications. There are no to-do items like those in Gusto, nor information about current and past payroll activity like that offered by OnPay.
The User Experience
Patriot Software’s setup wizard is so thorough that you won’t need to visit the Settings menu to complete those early steps as you do with most payroll websites. But it’s worth visiting the Settings page to familiarize yourself with it, since this is where you make modifications and additions.
Patriot Software has improved its user experience since the last time I reviewed it. Both its interface design and navigation systems have improved. Usability is very good, though some screens, like the one in the employee records, could make better use of screen space to minimize scrolling. Once you click on a link, the working screens themselves are intuitive. They use standard online data-entry conventions. You fill in blanks, click links, or select from drop-down lists. Sometimes directional arrows marked Next Step help guide you; for example, these appear on the Run Payroll screen. Every service we reviewed offers similar navigation guides to move you through multistep processes, and all are constantly improving their visuals. Gusto, though, is the most graphically interesting and aesthetically pleasing.
You select the Continue Your Payroll entry on the Home Page to get ready for payday. To define your pay period start and end dates and your pay date, you click on the calendars next to the blank data fields at the top of the screen that appear (though if you’ve already run payroll, the dates should be set for your current one). Advanced options here let you pre-fill payroll dates and skip deductions and contributions if you prefer.
Patriot displays a list of your employees below. Each line contains fields for standard pay types (regular, overtime) as well as the individual’s hourly or salary rate. You just enter the number of hours in the correct boxes and toggle the switch next to Show All Pay Types in the upper right if you need to enter hours for things like vacation and bonuses. Links at the bottom allow you to clear all entries and start over; you can also save entries so that you can finish the payroll later without losing your work.
When you click on the Next Step arrow, you see a list of employees with their gross pay and net pay and a total at the bottom. This page also displays the amount that will be deducted from your bank account for payroll and on what date. Click View Details, and each employee’s pay stub appears. Below that is a thorough breakdown of hours and earnings, deductions, employer taxes and contributions, employee taxes, and direct-deposit and check details. Patriot customers will also see a list of all of the individual taxes that the software will pay. This page provides all of the information the employer needs to know. You can either cancel the payroll or click Approve Payroll.
After you approve a run, the screen that appears has no numbers on it, just links to the Payroll Register and Payroll Tax Bill (these are available to you at any time), as well as a check summary. You can either print your checks immediately or wait until later.
Patriot Software Full Service Payroll includes many preformatted reports, several of which are standard accounting reports that you won’t access if you’re not using the accounting module. There aren’t as many reports as OnPay offers, and they’re not as customizable, but what’s available is quite enough to cover the site’s capabilities.
A Sturdy Choice
Patriot Software offers solid support and guidance for new users. The website covers the bases where payroll and its associated taxes are concerned and excels in areas like mobile access and employee portals. Improvements made over the last year make it an even more attractive choice. If you want the payroll features most small businesses need and an exceptional user experience, though, we recommend Gusto, a PCMag Editors’ Choice. Our other Editors’ Choice, OnPay, offers excellent usability in its management of both payroll and HR. Either can admirably serve any kind of small business.
|Mobile Admin App||Yes|
|Submits Federal, State, Local, and Payroll Taxes||Yes|