Payroll is becoming a seminal battleground in accounting software, with more than a dozen major companies offering a variety of programs. And that doesn't begin to measure new competition from banks and other financial services firms.Nor is there any consensus on the format. Established online payroll services such as CompuPay and MPay are now seeing additional competition from the likes of ADP's Run and Intuit Online Payroll. But service bureaus are likewise making a comeback as they diversify their offerings and compete more strongly on price, as the new myPay service from Thomson-Reuters is demonstrating.

For their part, accountants could not be more pleased. This increasing competition means that the market is fast, smart and competitive, with new features and interfaces debuting every month. This equates to better service, greater convenience and lower prices both for accountants and their clients.

This year's roundup includes 10 leading payroll solutions, the most we have ever covered. But all are strong competitors, and until consolidation occurs in the marketplace, all will deserve attention and consideration by accountants.

PAYCHEX ONLINE

Paychex Online is a suite of Web-based services that offers simple and secure online processing of payroll, an evolved dashboard presentation and live human support.

It features multiple rates of pay, complex deductions, integrated 401(k) benefits support and workers' compensation. It integrates well with a host of other accounting applications, including an interface to post payroll data into popular general ledger programs, including Accpac, Creative Solutions, MYOB, Peachtree and QuickBooks.

In addition to stronger layers of security, recent enhancements have focused on the Paychex Online Message Center and Dashboard. The dashboard has evolved, presenting customized content that ranges from secure access to data and forms to other information and services. Accountants will receive specialized content and links from Paychex and client-specific information on products and services via the Message Center.

Paychex has also been selected by the American Institute of CPAs Business Solutions as the preferred provider of payroll and retirement services for CPAs and their clients through 2011. Participating CPAs are offered service discounts and guarantees that they alone can pass along to their clients.

Reference material is supported in 14 practice areas, including referral sources for employee assessment, pre-employment screening, health insurance and other small-business services. And the General Ledger Reporting Service provides the option to concatenate multiple files into a single file prior to downloading the payroll data into the accounting package -- useful for accountants who have multiple clients using Paychex payroll products.

Paychex Online is a very capable and scalable package that handles federal and state forms, as well as those for 3,900 jurisdictions. Its strong support and additional content make it a strong competitor in its field.

PAYCHOICE ONLINE

PayChoice Online is the most robust of three offerings for accountants serving clients -- Payroll Street, which is a self-service product aimed at smaller businesses; Easy Street, with assisted service for growing businesses; and PayChoice Online as the full-service product. This enables accountants to gear the interface to the size and sophistication of each client, while retaining scalability features such as self-enrollment and the use of a common database to eliminate the need for data conversion or migration.

Clients and accountants can begin with a basic toolset of payroll and tax filings under Payroll Street, then expand into managed tax payments and more robust HR features with Easy Street. The full PayChoice Online adds an accountant-branded Web site, licensing options and more powerful HR capabilities.

Featuring integrated payroll, tax and HR tools, PayChoice Online also covers the critical areas of time and attendance, workers' compensation, 401(k) plans and HR services on call. And it includes direct deposit, debit card and custom check logo support, as well as an HR support center with forms and letters, sample employee handbook, and HR laws.

PayChoice Online grew out of the service bureau operations of Payroll Associates, a company with a respectable position in payroll, HR, tax filing, and time and attendance products for nearly 300 payroll and accounting operations and 120,000 employers nationwide. But the move to better define the levels of service, combined with an updated interface and enhanced navigation, have made this a powerful, scalable and effective product for accountants.

PAYCYCLE ACCOUNTING PROFESSIONALS PROGRAM

The PayCycle Accounting Professionals program combines the best elements of the PayCycle Wholesale Service and PayCycle Client Retail Service into a fast, simple and cost-effective program aimed at accountants serving small business clients with up to 50 employees.

The program offers federal and state tax payments and filings, unlimited payroll runs, free direct deposit, and the ability

to download both payroll and tax information to QuickBooks, QuickBooks Online, QuickBooks for Mac, Quicken, Microsoft Money, Peachtree, the ATX accounting suite, or CCH ProSystem fx Write-Up.

Because it is an online service, PayCycle requires no desktop software, but does offer accountants the choice of either running payroll under their own banner and providing a client portal with the accounting firm's brand, or an option to set up clients to handle their own payroll, with the accounting firm retaining remote access to the client data. In addition, it offers the ability to file 1099-Misc. forms electronically, and to pay workers' comp insurance payments with each payroll.

PayCycle is a product that combines a simple, low-cost solution with continuing development and evolution. Simple and elegant in implementation and offerings, it is an ideal payroll solution for accountants predominantly serving small and emerging businesses.

PAYROLL CS

Payroll CS is one of the more flexible of the integrated payroll solutions, seamlessly tied to the CS Professional Suite but still very capable as a stand-alone solution and offering an excellent Web-based Internet engine to more easily conduct remote payroll entry and remote check printing services for clients. It is one of three offerings from Thomson that include the CBS Paycheck solution for clients to manage their own payroll and the myPay service bureau for accountants who wish to have more control over the process with less hands-on processing.

A seasoned and flexible solution that scales to up to 1,000 employees per client, Payroll CS offers dozens of efficiency-building features for both payroll and after-the-fact payroll. In addition, NetClient CS private portals give the client access to their accounting and payroll data in a secure environment, and employees can use the Web Employee option for read-only access to electronic copies of their payroll information, including W-2s, W-4s and personal earnings history.

A payroll compliance module supports continuing, quarterly and year-end tax chores, including preparation of federal employment tax forms and quarterly and year-end reports. State payroll tax modules link directly with Write-Up CS and Payroll CS, and use data already entered to create quarterly reports for filing. There is also a direct deposit module, as well as capabilities to make electronic payments to vendors, provide 401(k) plan capabilities to smaller clients, and provide access to payroll data for client employees.

Payroll CS is a strong, flexible payroll solution for accountants who want to manage payroll for their clients. It offers a "best of all worlds" solution designed to enhance profitability for firms engaged in client payroll services with strong ties to the CS Professional Suite.

PAYROLL RELIEF AC

AccountantsWorld is a bold and well-executed accounting software platform that helped pioneer the development of a host of services. Its payroll solution, Payroll Relief AC, is an accomplished, well-structured system that makes maximum use of its Web-based architecture and an accounting-centric orientation.

Key to the value of the system is that it includes complete federal, state and local payroll processing, electronic filing, direct deposit, electronic tax payments, branding for the accounting firm and marketing support -- without the need to purchase additional modules.

Recent enhancements include the addition of a secure employee portal that allows employees to check information, pay stubs and W-2s; support for contractor payroll with generation of the 1099-Misc. at year's end; and after-the-fact payroll. More significant enhancements in recent months have been the addition of payroll debit cards; expansion of e-filing capabilities, including automatic e-filing of all supported forms; and the addition of 401(k) Relief, the first step in the company's expansion into HR services with support of full-service retirement and benefits-planning services.

As with many other providers, AccountantsWorld has augmented its core payroll service with a full-service option in which payroll is handled completely by AccountantsWorld. With either option, accountants will benefit from a fully Web-based service focused exclusively on the needs of accountants.

COMPUPAY PAYROLL ONLINE

CompuPay Payroll Online is a scalable and flexible system enhanced by Web tools that include an Employee Service Network and an HR Support Center. The online service is part of an extensive set of payroll products that include payroll by phone, fax and PC, newly introduced for enhanced ease of use.

CPO offers fiscal- as well as calendar-year reporting; the ability to manage multiple payroll accounts from one site; more flexibility in the use of multiple bank accounts; pre-programmed general ledger interfaces, including those for QuickBooks, Great Plains, Solomon, Small Business Manager and Peachtree; roughly 100 standard reports; user-defined fields; and human resources tools that include a new "HR Light" HRIS capability.

Its accounting partnership program, called CPA Select, additionally offers on-site printing, special pricing and promotions, marketing resources, after-the-fact payroll support, direct deposit, electronic new hire reporting, and other features.

The Employee Service Network provides client employees with online earnings statements and W-2s, as well as direct deposit and tracking of time off. The HR Support Center, separated into sections for administration and employee access, provides a single reference point for employee manuals, insurance benefits, workers' comp and programs such as 401(k) and Cafeteria 125 plans.

Retooled and streamlined, CompuPay Online Payroll reflects the company's quarter-century of experience in a format that is easier to navigate and more focused. Combined with the CPA Select program, it offers an appealing solution for accountants serving small to mid-range clients.

QUICKBOOKS ENHANCED PAYROLL FOR ACCOUNTANTS

QuickBooks has dramatically expanded both its offerings for in-house and assisted payroll processing, providing accountants with an expanded version of QuickBooks Enhanced Payroll and the new Intuit Online Payroll.

QuickBooks Enhanced Payroll for Accountants lets accountants offer end-to-end payroll processing as a profitable, value-added service to their clients. The product allows accountants to process payroll for up to 50 clients with a single subscription. Enhanced Payroll for Accountants integrates directly with QuickBooks, streamlining the payroll process while providing strong support for after-the-fact payroll, client-ready reports and an Auto-Fill Preparer ID that allows accountants to auto-fill the primary signature, third-party designee, and paid-preparer information on federal and state tax forms.

Intuit Online Payroll is a Web-based payroll solution that allows users to easily pay employees, print paychecks and pay stubs from their PC, or use optional direct deposit at no additional cost. Intuit has announced the integration of this online service with QuickBooks, enabling accountants to download payroll data into their version of QuickBooks.

QuickBooks Enhanced Payroll for Accountants and Intuit Online Payroll provide a quick and effective means to economically service clients using QuickBooks, or to expand client services more fully into the markets for emerging businesses.

RUN, POWERED BY ADP, PAYROLL FOR ACCOUNTANTS

Run, Powered by ADP, Payroll for Accountants is an online system that provides accountants with a dashboard that enables them to view their entire small-business client base with a single sign-in.

The accountant's version, Run Payroll for Accountants, is either set up online by the accountant or by ADP. Accountants have the option to create a branded home page for their firm that can be accessed by their small-business clients. Once set up, the site can be used to calculate payroll gross-to-net, preview the results prior to processing, and offer online access to payroll information and direct deposit for their clients' employees. Accountants can also choose to print paychecks and reports, have ADP print and deliver them on their behalf, or forward checks and reports to clients for printing.

Run's payroll journal entries can be exported to QuickBooks, Microsoft Office Accounting, or to all other major accounting packages via Excel. Accountants can also choose to file clients' taxes with Run-generated signature-ready tax forms, or sign up for ADP's full-service tax filing.

Geared toward small businesses and providing strong features both for payroll and accounting support, Run provides a powerful and economical system whose strong brand should appeal both to accountants and their clients.

SAGE ABRA PAYROLL

Sage Abra Payroll is a powerful desktop solution aimed at midsized companies and larger with 100 or more employees. It manages unlimited earnings, taxes and deduction types, multiple user-defined pay groups and customizable transactions, and offers a full range of tax management capabilities, including all standard federal, state and local tax tables, compatibility with the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System, and electronic media reporting for all states.

Accountants and their clients can use Sage Abra Payroll with Sage Abra Workforce Connections, the workforce-facing self-service system for Sage Abra HRMS, which provides customers with Web-based workflow automation capabilities. It seamlessly integrates with the Sage Abra HR module to eliminate duplicate data entry, simplify reporting and automatically link to benefits information.

At presstime, Sage was preparing the release of a new SQL version of Sage Abra Payroll, which will provide greater flexibility in tax management, variable pay plans (including sales commissions and piece-rate plans), and a greater number of pay frequencies. It will also support unlimited direct deposit accounts for each employee, as well as automatic ACH file creation.

Part of the Sage Abra Suite, Abra Payroll offers a full range of tax management capabilities, including all standard tax tables, compatibility with EFTPS, and electronic media reporting for all states. This combination of powerful features and scalability makes it a critical choice for accountants serving mid-range and larger clients.

SURECHOICE FOR ACCOUNTANTS

SureChoice for Accountants is a branded extension of SurePayroll's SureChoice Access online payroll service, and provides a branded accounting service or pass-through referral system built on a simplified three-screen payroll system. It is a flexible program that also includes the SureAdvisor Compliance and HR Resource Center, a premium service that seamlessly integrates with SurePayroll's payroll process.

SureChoice for Accountants offers the option of either referring clients (retaining access to the client data online) or a branded Web-based payroll service that includes direct deposit, all tax filing and tax payments (federal, state and local), quarterly returns, unlimited customer service, and the employee self-service functionality. Available in either option is Clickfree, a service to handle all payroll-related federal, state and local tax payments and filings.

New for 2008 are a SecureID system that generates a unique ID for each client visit to the Web site to better protect the data; and improved benefit-tracking capabilities. Also new is Sure401(k), an integrated online system that allows a client to create and implement a 401(k) plan.

SureChoice from SurePayroll is an economical, full-featured system for payroll, benefits, HR compliance and payroll support that provides exceptional service to accountants serving the small to midsized markets.

Dave McClure is the president of Kent Associates, in Alexandria, Va., an independent testing lab and evaluation service.

Vendor Information

Paychex Online

Paychex Inc.

Rochester, N.Y.

(800) 322-7292

www.paychex.com

Pricing: 10 employees weekly -- $39.

PayChoice Online

PayChoice

Moorestown, N.J.

(856) 231-4667

www.paychoice.com

Pricing: Contact vendor.

PayCycle Accounting

Professionals Program

PayCycle Inc.

Palo Alto, Calif.

(866) 729-2925

www.paycycle.com

Pricing: Up to 10 clients with up to five employees each -- $14.99 per client per month. Volume discounts available.

Payroll CS

Thomson Reuters

Dexter, Mich.

(800) 607-5100 http://cs.thomsonreuters.com

Pricing: First 20 clients -- $1,500, with purchase of payroll compliance module. Additional clients -- $200 for each five. Direct deposit and reporting modules -- $300 each.

Payroll Relief AC

AccountantsWorld

Hauppauge, N.Y.

(888) 999-1366

www.accountantsworld.com

Pricing: Up to 10 paychecks weekly -- $5.95; other frequencies -- $9.95. More than 10 -- extra $1 up to 50 paychecks, $.50 thereafter. Fixed fee option -- $1 per check for up to 5,000 checks; $.50 per check up to 20,000 checks.

CompuPay Payroll Online V. 5

CompuPay Inc.

Miramar, Fla.

(877) 729-6299

www.compupay.com

Pricing: Varies; 10 employees biweekly -- $54 per, or $1,400 per year. Discounts available for accountants.

QuickBooks Enhanced

Payroll for Accountants

Intuit Inc.

Mountain View, Calif.

(866) 820-6382

www.intuit.com or http://payroll.intuit.com/contact.jhtml

Pricing: Annual subscription -- $299; $100 for QuickBooks ProAdvisor members.

Run, Powered by ADP,

Payroll for Accountants

ADP Small Business Services

Florham Park, N.J.

(866) 427-5237

http://smallbusiness.adp.com/ or www.accountant.adp.com

Pricing: Varies; five employees biweekly -- $24; complete package -- $35.

Sage Abra Payroll V. 7.6

Sage Software

St. Petersburg, Fla.

(800) 424-9392

www.sageabra.com

Pricing: 75-employee license -- $2,115; support and maintenance extra.

SureChoice for Accountants

SurePayroll Inc.

Glenview, Ill.

(877) 954-7873

www.surepayroll.com

Pricing: Per-payroll pricing -- Basic, $18.99; weekly, $21.99; biweekly, $30.95; monthly, $44.95. Annual W-2s or 1099s -- $40 preparation fee plus $4.25 per.

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