Update: ZenPayroll is now known as Gusto. They changed their name and added more features, including Payroll, Benefits, Compliance, Workers Comp, integration with accounting tools such as FreshBooks, Zero, and QuickBooks. There are other features as well, making them a one-stop shop for many small businesses. I’m still a happy user, and recommend them without reservation! You can learn more at the Gusto website.
At the end of last year, I was contacted by my state tax office. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like receiving letters from any tax office, unless it has to do with a refund! Unfortunately, this letter wasn’t about a refund. It seems the state wanted to be paid more frequently.
For the last few years, I had been running quarterly payroll. This is a common way for small businesses and sole proprietors to pay themselves. It takes less book keeping and generally costs less money than running monthly payroll. For some reason, my state decided they wanted me to start paying myself (read: them) monthly.
That presented a problem for me, as it would increase my payroll expenses. I had been using PayChex since I started paying myself a salary several years ago. I didn’t have any problems using PayChex. But after contacting them about moving to monthly payroll, I realized my payroll expenses would increase fairly substantially. So I did what most entrepreneurs would do – I looked for alternatives. I found several nice options, but decided to use Gusto as my payroll provider. 3 months in, I’m very pleased with the move. Not only do I save a lot of money (more than 50% per year), but the process is even easier than it was with PayChex (which was already fairly easy).
What Gusto Offers:
Gusto offers most features required to track your payroll, including profiles for salaried employees, hourly workers and contractors, vacation time & sick days, tracking pre-tax payments and deductions (401k and other retirement contributions, HSA accounts, health insurance, etc.), reimbursements, and more.
When ZenPayroll launched, they weren’t a full-service benefits company. They can track and process payments for your retirement plans and health insurance (as far as payroll and taxes go), but they don’t actually offer those services in-house like some of the larger companies that specialize in payroll and benefits. That said, part of the reason ZenParoll rebranded as Gusto was because they began offering more than just payroll. Benefits, compliance and other HR features are systematically being added to their services. So be sure to visit their website to see which services they offer now, and whether it makes sense to use Gusto for all your HR needs.
Setting up Payroll with Gusto:
Don’t let the “15 minute” setup claim fool you. It will take you longer than 15 minutes to set up your payroll, even if you are experienced and have all your documentation in front of you. The process should take about 30 minutes to set up a profile for the first person, depending on how well-versed you are with payroll forms, whether you have all your information handy, etc. It takes a little less time to set up additional employees, and there is a cool feature which allows individuals to set up their own profile (important for security, since you can set up direct deposit through Gusto, which is how I set up my payroll). They allow each user to have their own profile within the company profile, so each user has access to his or her records, can change direct deposit information, etc. They also offer bank-level security, so your data is secure and encrypted. Need more security? They offer two-level authentication so no one can get in if your password is compromised.
Everything is Automated
Once you get your system set up, you receive an email right before your payroll is due. Simply log in, verify everything is correct, click a button or two or three, and payroll is done. It’s that easy. From there, Gusto deducts the payroll funds from your checking or savings account, direct deposits the payroll into your employee’s bank account, and sends the taxes to the appropriate places (state, federal, unemployment, and anything else you have designated). The first quarter just ended and Gusto automatically filed the 941 forms with the IRS, and the Unemployment Insurance forms with my state. They do this each quarter, and kick out the W-2s at the end of the year. W-2s are included in the pricing, which is something many other payroll providers charge extra for.
Running Your Payroll
Running payroll is as simple as it gets. I receive an email once a month reminding me that payroll needs to be run. I log in to my Gusto account, click the “Run Payroll” button, and verify nothing has changed. Click the verify button, and it’s done. Then I download the pay stubs. The entire process takes 3-5 minutes. And again, all the ancillary paperwork and taxes are taken care of for me.
Pricing – Transparent & Easy to Understand
The pricing is what intrigued me the most, as it was less expensive than almost any other payroll provider I could find, and less than half the price of many payroll providers. There pricing is very basic, as you can see:
The Gusto website features a slider you can use to quickly determine how much you would pay for your entire business. The example above uses 5 employees, but you can easily see what it is for fewer or more employees. There are also no hidden fees, extras, or gotchas.
Gusto uses a simple and easy to use pricing structure, and one that appeal to many small businesses. To put this in perspective, I was paying $130 every quarter with PayChex, which comes out to $520 per year. But I also had to pay a quarterly charge of $10 to have my payroll stubs mailed to me, and an annual $90 fee for my W-2 forms to be mailed to me. Last year I spent around $640 on my payroll (and my payroll expenses were set to increase this year with the transition from quarterly to monthly!). Changing my payroll provider to ZenPayroll (now Gusto) saved me well over $240 compared to what I paid when I used PayChex (and even more than it would have been, since I had to move to a monthly payroll, which costs more than quarterly payroll).
*The savings was actually even greater, because Gusto is offering 2 months free at the time of this writing, saving me over $300 compared to what I spent last year.
Downsides to Gusto
I joined Gusto (then known as ZenPayroll) when there were still in the startup phase. I was a little hesitant at first to go with a startup, primarily because you never know how long startups will be around. But I saw that (then) ZenPayroll had recently received a large round of funding, and I also realized this space is ripe for disruption. There are a few major players that charge a lot of money for basic payroll services. This is fine for large corporations that need a service that will run payroll and package it with 401k plans, health insurance, HR services, and other benefits management.
But there are many small businesses like mine that don’t need those added services. Why pay for all the overhead when I only need to run payroll for myself and my wife? I think there is a large enough market to support them as they continue to grow.
So what are the downsides? Gusto isn’t a full-service HR benefits provider like some of the other payroll providers. This is a benefit for me, because I can receive excellent payroll service without having to worry about paying additional overhead for services I don’t need and won’t use. But this could be a different story for other small businesses.
That said, Gusto is adding new features and levels of coverage. My guess is that it won’t be long before they offer full benefits packages in all states. And based on what I’ve seen so far, it looks like they will be able to do so at a substantially lower price point than some of the major payroll and benefits service providers. This is a win for small businesses!
Is Gusto a Good Fit for Your Business?
That depends on the size of your business, what services you need, how much you are currently paying, and other factors. For me, it was a great move. I get to save a few hundred dollars on payroll each year, and the process is simple, and worry-free. I’m happy with the move.
If you have a small business, I encourage you to check out some alternatives to your current payroll provider. You may be able to save a lot of money in the long run!