Gusto Payroll Review - Erin Armstrong

SPOILER ALERT: this is a lengthy post as my Gusto review gives a TON of insight and tutorials… so feel free to skip directly to the part that applies to you:

Start Running Payroll for Your Business in 5 Simple Steps

Congrats! You’ve just hired your first employee (or are about to do so).

Or, maybe you just changed your business to an S-Corp, and now you have to start running payroll for yourself (as the biz owner).

Either way, it’s an exciting milestone for you and your business!

At the same time… figuring out payroll can feel a little daunting

That’s why I want to share 5 simple steps to start payroll for your small business!

Hopefully it’ll save you time (and brainpower), and you’ll be ready to hit the ground running!

Please note, if you want some bigger-picture payroll training and want to make sure everything is set up exactly right, I offer a Payroll Training & Setup Package, and would be happy to help you! This article is more of a DIY.

#1  If you haven’t already done so, you need to apply for an employer identification number (EIN).

There are many reasons to use an EIN for your business in general (such as incorporating, implementing a retirement plan, protecting your personal information, etc.). But the important point is that you need to have an EIN before you start running payroll. You can do that here.

#2  Depending on which state your company is based in, you may also need a state ID number prior to starting payroll.

Many states will give you a grace period of a few weeks before you need to provide the state payroll ID number. To find out more about your state’s requirements, check out this link.

#3  Determine your pay schedule.

Will you be running payroll weekly? bi-weekly? monthly? If you have no idea as to which schedule you should choose, I think it’s helpful to think about a few things:

  • The type of employees you have now and the type of employees you will want to employ in the future. With that in mind, what might their needs be? For instance, is it realistic to expect a full-time professional (and likely breadwinner) to be paid once every two months? Probably not.
  • Your business’ cash flow. For instance, do you have a financial cushion so that you can make payroll if you’re waiting on customer’s payments to still come in? Or, do you know that ALL your payments routinely come in at the end of every month? If you have a cushion and depending on how large it is, you may feel just fine scheduling payroll every two weeks. However, if you want to make sure you have a cash influx before running payroll each time, perhaps you pay employees on the first of every month.
  • Frequency of payroll. Depending on your payroll provider, it can cost more to run payroll more frequently (as many  payroll providers charge per payroll cycle). Check out my payroll provider cost comparison.

#4  Make a list of your payroll requirements.

Here are some questions to consider as you make your “needs” list:

  • Do I want employees to be paid via check or direct deposit? If you want your employees to receive physical checks, then you might want to go with a payroll provider that will cut and issue the checks (this will save you a lot of time). If you want to use direct deposit, you need to make sure your payroll provider is equipped to deposit paycheck amounts into multiple employee bank accounts.
  • Do I want my payroll to integrate with my accounting software? If so, make sure your payroll software will be compatible and work well with your setup prior to starting with a payroll provider.
  • Are my employees paid by the hour, on salary, or do I have a mix? This will affect how your payroll is setup.
  • What is the turnover rate of my employees? This is important to consider because high turnover is more work for whoever is taking care of your payroll and filing reports (and will cost more unless you go with a flat-fee provider).
  • Do I hire seasonal employees?  This is also important to think about because it will be a higher volume for whoever is doing your payroll during that season, but it will also be a larger job for whoever is performing payroll at the end of the year as you’ll be required to file W2s for these seasonal workers.
  • In addition to taxes, is it possible that I may need to withhold wage garnishments on behalf of my employees? Obviously, you can’t predict the future. But as the employer, you may need to withhold child support payments or money to repay unpaid taxes or student loans. This is one reason it’s important  to work with a payroll provider that has an intuitive setup and gives you easy and understandable options when setting up paycheck deductions.
  • Do I offer (or want to offer) healthcare, a 401k plan, a 529 savings plan to employees? If so, make sure your payroll provider will be happy to set these up within payroll for you. Also, there can be a large difference among payroll providers as to how intuitive their setup is – read more about this here.
  • What state(s) are my employees working in? For instance, if you have employees in multiple states, that’s going to require a more complex payroll setup,  as well as multiple state reportings for the payroll provider.

#5 Start looking for a payroll provider.

Now that you have a better idea of what you need, it’s time to start finding the payroll service that’s right for you.

Remember to ask questions and make sure that you get the services and features you need. Keep reading for my Gusto review and comparison of payroll providers – and useful tips and tutorials!

How I Became a Payroll Pro 🙂

Here’s a little bit about me and my experience with payroll. Or, if you want, you can skip straight to my Gusto review and comparison of payroll providers.I started a bookkeeping company in 2011, and in 2012 I decided to add payroll and payroll management to the list of services I offered my clients. I’ve worked with all of the major payroll providers, including ADP, Paychex, Intuit Full Service Payroll, Xero Payroll, Wave, Patriot, and Gusto payroll (formerly Zen Payroll). My business clients work in many different industries, and their businesses range from small startups to multi-million dollar companies. However, I would say the majority of the businesses I’ve worked with are self-identify as “creative,” employ 4 employees (or less), and annually bring in about mid six-figures. Volume of clients? I’ve actively managed over 100 client payroll subscriptions in the past 5 years. Nowadays I no longer manage payroll, however I do offer payroll training + setup, so if you’d like some extra help, let’s go! (this article is more of a helpful DIY).

Erin Armstrong - Business Coach - Virtual CFO - Optin - Small Business Tax Deductions


Gusto Review (with a comparison of other payroll providers): Here’s Why I Think Gusto Payroll is Your Best Bet

In managing over 100 client payroll subscriptions in the past 5 years, I have become really familiar with all of the major payroll providers. And to be frank, most of these companies have left me feeling underwhelmed. The most consistent problems I’ve experienced have been confusing website interfaces, less-than-awesome customer service, and poor integration with accounting software. And to top it all off, these services tend to be overpriced.

The one consistent exception I’ve found is Gusto Payroll.

Let’s start with the PRICE. Gusto payroll is undisputedly the most economical option among the top payroll providers. We are talking about a serious price difference (see examples below).

Also, I think Gusto has the best INTERFACE and is the most USER-FRIENDLY, especially if you don’t have a background in payroll.

Another advantage that you get from Gusto is a TECHNICAL SUPPORT team that is far superior to what the other major payroll providers offer.

Lastly, Gusto payroll has the most accurate (and figure-out-able) software and 3rd-party INTEGRATIONS.

If you’re planning to run payroll for a larger company, Gusto payroll is probably a great option.

If you’re planning to run payroll for a small business or solopreneur, Gusto payroll is THE option.

Okay, that was the short version. Now let’s get into the real details:


Gusto starts at a base of $45 ($39/month + $6 for the first user). For each additional employee (or subcontractor) you add to the system, Gusto adds $6 to the total monthly cost. It doesn’t matter how often you run payroll for your company – you’ll still be paying the same monthly fee. In contrast, most other well-known payroll providers charge a fee EVERY time you run payroll.

One of the other things I love about Gusto payroll is that there are no hidden fees. When I work with clients who use other well-known payroll providers, they often receive additional surprise bills for employee direct deposits, filing of yearly reports, filing of 1099s, etc. No fun.

Now let’s get to the cost break-down. I decided to compare the rates that small businesses or solopreneurs would pay for payroll services from the major payroll providers. The 3 most popular payroll software providers (at least right now) are ADP, Paychex, and Intuit Full Service Payroll. For my cost comparison, Gusto and Intuit were easy, since both of them have set prices based on the number of employees you have. I called ADP and Paychex for quotes on a single-employee business as well as a business with 5 employees.1Let’s take a look at how Gusto stacks up against its major competitors for a single-employee business:

*the above prices were quoted to me as of June 2017*

A BIG savings with Gusto, right?

And now let’s see how Gusto payroll compares to its competitors for a business with 5 employees:

Gusto-Payroll-Review-Payroll-Cost-Comparison #2

*the above prices were quoted to me as of June 2017*

Annnnnnd, it’s another win for Gusto! 🙂

As you can see, for every company besides Gusto, there is large range of prices your business could pay. This range takes into account the initial discounts that the other services offer for signing up (which would only apply to your first year of service). Also ADP and Paychex both offer a lower monthly rate for small businesses who only need to run payroll once per month. But most businesses need to run payroll bi-weekly or weekly, so monthly payroll would not be an option. And even if your business usually runs payroll monthly, there are always situations that come up (such as bonus, correction and termination payrolls) that would necessitate running additional payrolls. And in these situations, ADP and Paychex will charge you for each additional payroll you run.

Even if you choose the cheapest possible service offered by the other payroll providers (including the sign-up incentive for the first year of service and limiting payroll to once per month) Gusto still saves you money.

Are you ready to get started with Gusto? Use this link to get a FREE $100..

“But wait,” you might ask, “Wouldn’t I save money if my bookkeeper or accountant processed my payroll for me?”

Not really. Some payroll providers used to offer deeply discounted subscription rates to accountants and bookkeepers (if they had a large number of accounts with the company). Prior to 2015, I used to process payroll for most of my clients, and I would pass these discounts along to them. But around 2015, the company I was using increased its accountant subscription price over 400%. I checked around and found out that other companies were doing the same thing (so they could charge business owners more to sign up directly). So at this point, I began recommending that my clients move to Gusto, since that was a much better and more economical option for everyone involved.



In addition to being a more economical choice, Gusto payroll is EASY to use.

APD and Paychex both use interfaces that are non-intuitive, hard to navigate, and that rely on users’ familiarity with technical accounting terminology. Intuit Full Service Payroll is a little better but still not great.

Gusto, on the other hand, designed an interface that is intuitive, easy to learn, and doesn’t require a lot of accounting familiarity. I think it’s creators recognized the fact that most solopreneurs and small businesses don’t have a full-time accountant or bookkeeper running the payroll. So they designed an application that nearly anyone could understand or use.

You can follow Gusto’s payroll prompts to setup your payroll account. Or, you can also check out my Gusto Setup Tutorial below for help with more advanced options and for help customizing to fit your specific business needs. Or, if you’re looking for full guidance, I offer Payroll Training & Support to give you the full confidence you need as you being processing payroll–I’d love to help you!

Also, if you run a regular payroll for salaried workers (or if your workers get paid by the hour but their hours don’t fluctuate), you can set Gusto payroll to run automatically (see the tutorial below).

One last way that Gusto makes life easier for you? It will collect W-4 and I-9 forms from your employees so you don’t have to. At this point, Gusto is the only payroll service I’m aware of that actually does this (all of the other services make the employer collect these documents).


I have spent dozens of hours (or maybe more!) on the phone with customer support trying to resolve payroll integration issues, payroll employee withholding issues, filed payroll report issues, and special bonus and once-a-year payrolls. So I have had ample experience with customer service departments from all of the payroll providers we are looking at.

Don’t get me wrong, these customer service departments aren’t really bad, it’s just that they aren’t great. They basically provide the level of customer service that we’re all familiar with. You can usually expect to be on hold for a while, and then you will usually end up speaking with more than one person (in order to get to the person who actually knows how to fix your problem). Like I said, not terrible, but not great. And keep in mind, I have probably gotten better service that most people because I’ve had dozens of client accounts with each of these companies!

Gusto, on the other hand, gives a completely different level of customer support. In my experience, their employees have always been friendly, knowledgeable, and very well-trained.

Here are some specific ways that Gusto has taken their customer service to the next level:

  • Gusto payroll provides clients multiple ways to reach them (email, message, direct chat & phone). Also, if you decide to call them, you can see the current wait time listed online before calling (I’ve never seen it above 5 minutes).
  • When you get an email from a Gusto employee, there’s always a link in their signature so that you can schedule a time that’s good for you if you want to talk at length (or just schedule a convenient time rather than play phone tag).
  • They gives clients a FREE $100 through my link.
  • Gusto payroll regularly sends clients helpful email reminders such as when to process payroll to ensure direct deposits hit employee’s bank accounts on schedule, and deadlines for end of year adjustments. *If reminders aren’t your thing, you can also turn these off.
  • Gusto often sends follow-up reminders on outstanding issues (for instance, my California company dissolved at the end of 2016 and in 2017 I started a Texas company – I was waiting on receiving a TWC account number and Gusto gently reminded me several times via email to input it into their system).
  • They offer quick technical support.
  • Gusto Payroll will help you switch from another payroll provider for FREE (this is crucial as most payroll providers require you to input and wade through the payroll info you receive from your previous payroll provider). They just ask you give them 10 business days to get everything into the system.
  • They are equipped to run payroll in all 50 states, and it keeps track of state, county, and municipal taxes. I have had several clients based in areas with unusual local taxes, and for these clients, Gusto is the only payroll provider I’ve seen that can calculate the local taxes without creating significant errors. Depending on where your business is located, this alone might be enough of a reason to switch to Gusto.

With Gusto payroll, you’ll finally feel like payroll doesn’t have to be at the forefront of your mind because they’re taking care of all those little details.


Now that we’re firmly in the digital age and online bookkeeping already accounts for 65% of the U.S.’s small business2, you’d think that the major payroll providers would sync seamlessly with all of the major accounting applications (such as QuickBooks Online). I mean, seriously, it shouldn’t be that hard, right? Well, apparently it is.

Paychex, ADP, and Intuit Full Service Payroll do offer syncing capabilities. BUT, in reality they don’t always work very well. In some cases, you perform a sync and your data doesn’t accurately and reliably transfer. In other cases, instead of importing individual paychecks and distinct line items that allow you to see details of payroll tax calculations (as well as net and gross paycheck amounts) when you perform a sync, what you get instead is a condensed general ledger that only includes a lump sum of how much the payroll cycle cost you in full (this will not give you important details like employee check numbers and gross and net totals).

With Intuit Full Service payroll, you usually can transfer your data accurately (and with the required details), but ONLY if the circumstances are right. In my experience, Intuit Payroll software often gets “confused” when there are multiple accountants and bookkeepers who regularly access the same accounts. This can lead to the application refusing to sync at all, which means that you will have to transfer all of the data manually.

Well, here’s the good news:

Gusto payroll fully integrates flawlessly with your QuickBooks Online, FreshBooks & Xero accounting software (somebody cue the chorus of angels!).I’ve seen Gusto sync with QuickBooks Online with over 10 accounts that I manage–these accounts have synced perfectly with zero errors for months on end. I assume Gusto syncs so well because it was built as an online application from the get-go. But whatever the reason, if you go with Gusto, you shouldn’t ever have to manually enter payroll into your accounting software.

Gusto payroll offers affordable integrated benefit options such as a 529 College Savings Plan, a 401k contribution, health benefits, & worker’s comp. It’s true that other payroll providers offer benefit options too, but usually the user can’t see the details of those add-on options from within the payroll application (you have a separate relationship with the 529 College Savings Plan and a separate relationship with Worker’s Comp which also tends to mean you have separate logins with other companies for each add-on and you aren’t able to see the details other than a lump sum being taken out for each add-on). With Gusto you’ll have everything you need for payroll in ONE accessible place.

Erin Armstrong - Business Coach - Virtual CFO - Optin - Small Business Tax Deductions


I honestly believe that Gusto is the #1 payroll option for solopreneurs and small businesses.

In other words, Gusto Payroll ROCKS! Now, are you ready to run your payroll?

I hope you found this Gusto review helpful – if so, please share with your friends, and kindly let me know! 🙂

And, if you’ve enjoyed this article, but feel like it’s too much to take on yourself or perhaps you have more general questions about payroll requirements & employee tax rates, I offer a Payroll Setup & Training Package that might be just right for you – so check it out!

Read on for my Gusto Tutorials below. 

First Tutorial: Gusto Tutorial to Setup Sync with QuickBooks Online

  1.  When you log into your Gusto payroll account, look to the L-hand side for “Settings.” Click on “Settings.”Gusto tutorial on how to integrate gusto payroll with quickbooks online


  1. On the new screen, click on “connect to QuickBooks Online.”Gusto Payroll Tutorial on How To Connect Gusto Payroll with Quickbooks Online
  2. You will then be prompted to login into your QuickBooks Online account (type in your username and password).
  3. On the next screen, it will ask you to verify this company. For most users, you will have one company (yours) show here. In my screenshots, I have many companies appear as options because I have access to dozens of clients’ QuickBooks Online accounts – if you have multiple QBO accounts show too, choose the company you wish to sync your Gusto account to).Gusto Tutorial on how to link Gusto Payroll with Quickbooks Online
  4. Double check that the QuickBooks Online company account name shows on this screen and then click “Authorize.”Gusto Review syncing QuickBooks Online with Gusto Payroll
  5. At this point, you will be directed to a screen that says QuickBooks Online setup is incomplete. Click the edit button (to the R hand of “Account Mappings.”) Gusto Review on Gusto Payroll and using it with QuickBooks Online accounting software
  6. Then choose from the drop-down menu the accounts from QuickBooks Online that Gusto should integrate with. The drop-down will show the accounts you already have setup in QuickBooks Online.

Gusto Review and integrating with accounting software QuickBooks Online

  • For instance, on the bank account, you would choose the correct bank account that you will pay your employees with (likely a checking account).
  • For wages, you’ll choose the account that you want wages your company pays employees to show in QuickBooks Online as (so likely Gross Wage expenses or Payroll expense).
  • For reimbursements, you’ll choose the account that you want to allocate your employee reimbursements to show in QuickBooks Online as (likely Employee Reimbursements, Gasoline Reimbursements, or Office Expenses).
  • For employer taxes, you’ll choose the account that you want to allocate your Employer Tax expenses to show in QuickBooks Online as (likely ER Tax Expense or Payroll Taxes).
  • For employer liability accounts, you’ll choose the account that you want to allocate your employer liability to show in QuickBooks Online as (likely ER Payroll Tax Liability or Payroll Tax Liability)
  1. Click Save – you’ll see a note that your Auto-Sync is now activated. 🙂

Second Tutorial: Gusto Tutorial to set an Automatic Payroll

If your workers are salaried, you have the option of setting up an AUTOMATIC PAYROLL. To set up an automatic running of payroll within Gusto:

  1. Login into your account.
  2. Click on Settings on the L hand side of the screen. Find “Payroll on Auto Pilot.”
    Gusto Payroll Review running payroll on autopilot
  3. Click the edit icon next to “Payroll on Auto Pilot.”
  4. Click the “Enable” button, and then click “Save.”Gusto Review payroll on autopilot how-to
  5. Next to “Payroll on Auto Pilot,”you should now see “Enabled.”

Your Turn! Over to You –

Are you just starting payroll? Did you find this Gusto review helpful? What’s been your experience with payroll providers? Please share in the comments!


1. I requested quotes from ADP and Paychex based on the typical frequency that businesses run payroll. In my experience, a single-employee company will typically run payroll either bi-weekly or monthly, and a five-employee company will typically run payroll either weekly or bi-weekly

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