Gusto Review – A Payroll & HR Service That Lives Up To Their Name

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ZenPayroll PricingZenPayroll's pricing structure is easy o use and understand.
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, Xero, 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…

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, Xero, 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.

Gusto Payroll Provider (Formerly ZenPayroll)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 – Full-ServicePayroll, Benefits Management, and HR 

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. However, the reason ZenParoll rebranded as Gusto was because they began offering more than just payroll. Benefits, compliance and other HR features have been systematically being added to their services.

Gusto now offers:

Full-Service Payroll:

  • W-2s and 1099
  • Direct deposit
  • Tax filings and payments
  • Workers’ comp administration
  • Automatic payroll tax filings
  • Off-cycle and bonus payrolls
  • Multiple states
  • Expedited payrolls
  • Tax form amendments

Employee Benefits & Insurance through Payroll (additional fees may apply):

  • Health benefits
  • 401(k) retirement plans
  • Workers’ comp insurance
  • 529 college savings plans

Tax-Advantaged Spending Accounts (additional fees may apply):

  • Health Savings Account
  • Flexible Spending Account
  • Commuter benefits

Human Resource Services:

  • Additional services based on plan

Gusto offers just about anything a company, large or small, needs to be up to date with payroll, benefits, and compliance issues.

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 and federal income tax, social security, state and federal unemployment taxes, worker’s comp, and anything else you have designated).

You can also set up certain benefits through Gusto, such as 401k plans, Health Savings Accounts, Flexible Spending Accounts, College 529 plans, and more.

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.

Sync Your Payroll to your Accounting Software

I have my Gusto account linked to my QuickBooks online account, making it super easy to import all my pay and benefits information. Gusto and QuickBooks are also linked to my bank, so all the data syncs nicely. My bookkeeper even commented on how well it works.

You can integrate Gusto with other bookkeeping services as well, including Xero, FreshBooks, and others. Here is more information on how I mange my small business finances.

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, with a flat monthly charge for the service, and an additional fee for each employee on the payroll. There are also no hidden fees, extras, or gotchas (though you can include additional services for an additional fee, depending on your needs).

Gusto uses a simple and easy to use pricing structure, and one that appeal to many small businesses. To put this in perspective, in 2013, 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 prepared, and an additional fee for them to be mailed to me. I spent around $640 on my payroll prior to changing to Gusto. To top it off, I was only running payroll on a quarterly basis, which is much less expensive than running monthly payroll. My costs were about to double.

Changing my payroll provider to Gusto gave me an immediate savings of half of what I was already paying PayChex.*

*The savings was actually even greater, because Gusto is offering 1 month free at the time of this writing, saving me over $300 compared to what I spent last year.

The price at Gusto has since increased, but the process remains as easy as it was when I first joined, and Gusto offers a lot of value for the services they provide.

Current Gusto Pricing & Service Plans

I joined Gusto in 2014, so things have changed a little bit since I became a member. The original pricing was a $29/mo base price, plus $6 for each additional employee. Prices have since increased. But Gusto also offers much more in the way of HR services. Here are the current prices, as of late 2017:

  • Core – $39/mo base, plus $6/mo per person
  • Complete – $39/mo base, plus $12/mo per person
  • Concierge – $149/mo base, plus $12/mo per person

As a small business, the Core plan is sufficient for my needs. All plans come with the following:

  • Full-Service Payroll
  • Employee Self Service & Profiles
  • Health Benefits Administration
  • Workers’ Comp Administration
  • Expert Support

The Complete and Concierge plans include additional features, such as employee on-boarding, paid time off requests, additional HR resources, and more. The Concierge plan comes with a dedicated support team and an customizable HR section where you can maintain an employee handbook, upload specific job descriptions and templates, maintain HR policies and procedures, and keep track of compliance requirements and updates. Concierge plan members can also consult with HR Professionals regarding plans, policies, and other questions.

The service appears to be simple enough for a one person business owner who wears a dozen hats, and robust enough for a growing business.

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? To be honest, I’m not seeing many. I’ve been a customer since January 2014, and I’ve completed three full years of payroll using Gusto. In that time, the pricing has increased by $10 per month, which is a reasonable increase, especially considering the amount of new services Gusto offers.

At the time I joined, Gusto was not a full-service HR benefits provider like some of the other payroll providers. But they are now. And when I signed up, Gusto was still expanding into new states. They now offer payroll and HR services in all states.

Based on what I’ve seen so far, I have not problem recommending Gusto to a small business in search of a payrollor benefits provider at an affordable rate. Gusto is 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!

You can learn more and even get a free trial at

Gusto Payroll Provider (Formerly ZenPayroll)

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About Ryan Guina

Ryan Guina is the founder and editor of Cash Money Life. He is a writer, small business owner, and entrepreneur. He served over 6 years on active duty in the USAF and is a current member of the IL Air National Guard.

Ryan started Cash Money Life in 2007 after separating from active duty military service and has been writing about financial, small business, and military benefits topics since then. He also writes about military money topics and military and veterans benefits at The Military Wallet.

Ryan uses Personal Capital to track and manage his finances. Personal Capital is a free software program that allows him to track his net worth, balance his investment portfolio, track his income and expenses, and much more. You can open a free account here.

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  1. Kate Kuo says


    Thank you for the informative and well written article. My one request is for a date stamp, this is very helpful and important to allow readers to know how current the information is, particularly pricing. While Zen Payroll’s pricing structure hasn’t changed, they are now able to process payroll nationwide.

    thank you,

    • Ryan Guina says

      Thanks for the note, Kate. The dates are located at the end of the articles, but I will look at moving those to the top. I have updated the information notating that Zen Payroll now offers payroll nationwide. As for me, I’ve been using ZenPayroll for about a year and a half at this point, and couldn’t be happier. The service is great, the cost is extremely competitive, and their website is incredibly easy to use. Payroll now takes me less than five minutes each month, and I can quickly locate and download any necessary files in moments. My previous payroll was much more complicated, required me to call the payroll manager each quarter, and finding documents wasn’t intuitive and required a separate login. I’m all for automation whenever possible, and ZenPayroll does this very well!

    • Ryan Guina says

      Hi Tony, this is true. I’m still very happy with the service – it’s incredibly easy to use and the customer service is very helpful. The increased costs are unfortunate, but even these new rates are significantly less expensive than my old provider, which was PayChex. I’m looking into alternatives, but for now, I’m still very happy with the current setup, even with the higher rates.

  2. Viet says

    Nice piece Ryan. Was debating on getting a move on from PayChex to Zenpayroll (now apparently named Gutso). I think I’ve always been “stuck” with Paychex because of how archaic everything is and it felt like such a time sink to get all the relevant information for our employees to move to a new payroll service. But therein lies the problem that payroll shouldn’t be such a headache for both the employer and employees. Will be setting it as a New Years resolution of sort to make the move. Saving a few thousands is an extra incentive too.

    • Ryan Guina says

      Yes, Viet. They changed the name. I need to update this review! I moved from PayChex and am very pleased with the move. Gusto is easier to use, and saves me a substantial sum of money. PayChex is still a good option for some businesses, especially those that are larger and have more complex HR needs. But Gusto is a great option for many companies, especially small businesses such as mine.

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