QuickBooks Desktop vs. QuickBooks Online

If you’re in a desktop version of QuickBooks (Pro/Premier/Enterprise) you may be wondering if it would be better to move to QuickBooks Online (QBO) so you have remote access. For many of you, this is the time of year to get your books ready to go for the year so I thought this would be good to discuss pros/cons – and my opinion ;-)

Yes, Intuit has put a heavy emphasis on QBO, but they still have many more desktop customers than online (and those customers bring in more revenue), so they aren’t going do desert them!  While Intuit is spending a lot to continue to develop this product, they realize that their current online product doesn’t yet meet the needs of many of their customers, so they are still committed to adding new features and improvements for their desktop products.

If you’re on the fence as to which way you go, it’s wise to look at what the products have to offer BEFORE deciding.

Even though QuickBooks is part of the name, the online version of QB is VERY different from the desktop (2 different development teams) – just ask anyone who’s moved from one to the other! The look is definitely different as is some of the terminology, so anticipate a learning curve. Some have loved it, but I’ve had a few clients tell me they tried QBO and went back to desktop!  (And vice versa).  Also keep in mind that there are usually clean-up issues after you convert from desktop to QBO or vice versa – so do allow extra time.

QBO offers 24/7 access, no worries about updates or upgrades, automatic invoicing and bank downloads and a growing number of add-on apps.

However, with QBO, you pay a subscription PER company.  For some of you, that can add up!  If you do a 3-year comparison (Intuit supports their desktop products for 3 years), QBO can cost more than Pro or Premier.

If you’re in QBO or considering QBO, mobile access is probably a key enticement.  While easy to access, QBO is not nearly as feature-rich as the desktop product – and may never be.   Intuit has let apps solve for the weak areas, which can mean additional costs for you.  In particular, a couple areas that are limited are job costing and inventory, although there have been improvements in QBO in these two areas.

Class: If you want to run your P & L by your profit centers (often the different divisions in your company), you will need the Plus lever or higher to run a P & L by Class.

QBO has fewer reports and there are fewer ways to customize reports.  As I mentioned above, since the subscription is for only one company, you can’t run a combined financial for multiple companies like you can in QB Enterprise.

Intuit introduced Advanced QuickBooks Online which gives you more users, more Chart of Accounts, and more Classes and most recently a backup option.  Permissions are minimal in QuickBooks Online unless you sign up for the Advanced QBO.

If job costing is important to you, then here is what QBO has to offer and where there are shortcomings.

  • Projects (found in the customer section) – I will admit this has potential to be a nice feature (you can see both costs and revenue for a project) and a couple key metrics for your projects. If you use an add-on product other than TSheets, it won’t work with projects (the project field is not available in the API yet). If you can’t use Projects, then the subcustomer is what you would use for your jobs.  And then the only job cost report would be the P & L for the “sub customer”.
  • Estimates -you can create an estimate for revenue but not both costs and revenue
  • You can have now both a cost side for a product or service as well as an income side (especially useful if you invoice for time and materials).
  • You can finally progress invoice customers but you won’t have the ability to customize the invoice as much as you can in the desktop.
  • There is no Estimated vs Actual report so you use budgets for projects. (Personally, I don’t want to have to create both an Estimate AND a budget for every job.) Budgets use your Chart of Accounts, so, to run a Budget vs Actual for a job, you might find you have to put more detail in the chart of accounts since you can’t run an estimated vs actual using your items (products & services).
  • Job Cost Reports – If you use Projects, there are only a couple project reports – not the variety of job cost reports like you see in the desktop products.
  • Job costing labor has limitations. This is probably the biggest reason I have clients leave QBO for QB desktop.  While Intuit is making progress, they still have a ways to go.
    • Currently, if you use TSheets and QuickBooks Elite Online Payroll (TSheets is included in the Premium Online Payroll product but does not include job costing), you can track labor cost (including labor burden) to the project, but not at the task level.
    • If you outsource your payroll, there is a way to create a burdened hourly rate for an employee at the project level, but these numbers won’t pull into your financial statements (like a P & L)
    • The Project Profitability report does not include labor costs if you outsource your payroll – that data is in a separate report. There might be a workaround, but I have not tested.
    • Although you can track time by class in QBO, you can’t pull that time into a P & L by Class without doing a journal entry.
    • Job costing in desktop is still much easier and more powerful.

Some other areas to consider:

  • Sales Orders There is no sales order feature (which you can also use as a Work Order in QBDT). In QBO, you can use an estimate template as a sales order, but you can’t track back orders.  Also in QBDT, you can create sales orders from your Estimate, obviously not an option in QBO
  • Sales Tax – You’ll need to be extra careful in QB Online if you have track sales tax – especially if you have multiple tax municipalities. I’ve definitely heard of some issues from bookkeepers and accountants.
  • Fixed Asset List – QBDT has a nice Fixed Asset List (gives you detail without expanding your Chart of Accounts), but there is no such list in QBO
  • Price Levels/Rules – In QBDT, you can have automatic pricing based on customer or type of customer, but not in QBO
  • Backups – Intuit does keep your QBO backed up, but what if there was a major problem that happened as a result of an incorrect integration with a product or a bookkeeper making a massive mistake (either accidentally or deliberately)? You don’t have a backup to restore like you do with the desktop product unless you use Advanced QBO.  While you can export the data out, it’s not in a ready-to-go format that you could use in desktop QB.  Intuit has recently included ChronoBooks with their Advanced subscription for backups.  (If you use a lower version, check out Rewind)

For a more complete list, you can download my QB Feature Comparison Chart from this link.

So what are your options?  Personally, I still recommend the desktop versions of QuickBooks for anyone who wants job costing.  For remote access, here are some options:

  • You can use a product like GoToMyPC, SplashTop or TeamViewer and remote into your computer – and you have access to your entire computer. If you choose this option, I strongly recommend a Windows password and turning off your monitor(s) when you’re out of the office.
  • QBox is a way to share a QuickBooks data file. It locks the file allowing only 1 person to work in it, so not a good fit if you need concurrent users, but for just a couple people, this might be a viable option.
  • There are Intuit-approved companies who will “store” (host) your QuickBooks and data; this gives you remote access plus the ability to use QB Pro/Premier or Enterprise. You pay per month per user to access the remote server in addition to your software. If this is of interest, let me know and I’ll give you a few suggestions and things to consider.
  • Many 3rd party products work remotely, solving for your “need” and integrate with desktop QuickBooks. They tend to be either task-specific (e.g. time tracking) or industry-specific
  • You can buy a server designed for remote access. The Remote Desktop servers have to be more powerful than traditional servers because everyone is using both software and data, but they can be really nice when you have people working remotely or in different locations.  Your IT company may offer this service or have suggestions.  Most of my clients choose hosting over owning their own remote desktop server, but never hurts to ask about it.

If you still opt for QBO, just realize that you may need to find one or more products to integrate with QuickBooks or have work-arounds so you can do all that you need or maybe decide to do without.  Contact me if you want to discuss more or would like to see our discounted pricing on the QuickBooks products; we have deals you won’t get from Intuit directly.

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