Any small business that uses an online payroll service to manage employee payments on its own tends to need a lot of support—especially during setup. Patriot Software Full-Service Payroll excels at providing help to its customers from start to finish, and its new setup wizard makes getting started easier. Its user interface handles the basic tasks needed to create employee records, define deductions and contributions, and process a payroll run. The site’s navigation and dashboard are unusual and can be confusing until you get used to them, however.
Pricing and Prep Work
Patriot can help you pay your staff at an extremely affordable rate. Full-Service Payroll has a base price of $25 per month, plus $4.35 per employee per month. That’s less expensive than any other services I reviewed this year. There’s a less expensive version, which charges $10 per month plus additional costs per employee, but you have to file your own payroll taxes if you go this route. Note that Intuit Enhanced Payroll also makes you file these taxes, but that’s for the much-more expensive rate of $39 per month and $2 per employee per month.
Patriot Software’s exceptional support is quickly evident. Like some of its competitors, it makes its payroll experts available to complete this onerous task for you if you’d like. It’s possible to do this on your own, but I recommend that you let the company help you if you’ve never done a payroll. It’s the most complex element of small business accounting, and it requires absolute precision and timeliness. You not only have to get employee compensation exactly right, but you also need to make payments to benefits providers and tax agencies. If your employees have multiple deductions, that takes a lot of coordination. You can lean on Patriot Software’s free phone, email, and chat support, but at some point, more comprehensive help may be in order.
New Setup Assistance
The biggest news about Patriot Software this year is the addition of a dedicated setup wizard, something it previously lacked. Instead of working your way through the Settings menu, the site walks you through a series of screens that describe what’s needed to get started running payrolls. Throughout this wizard, you see links to helpful resources, such as how to get a state unemployment number (SUTA). There is also a green box at the top of the screen that tells you what information is missing. It remains there—and you can’t run a payroll—until you’ve entered all required data.
Patriot Software is flexible when it comes to creating items for both the
If you offer your employees benefits like health insurance and retirement plans, you can set these up so that they can be assigned to employees when you create their records. Information about both company-level deductions and company-paid contributions is entered the same way, though their data fields are slightly different.
To create a deduction for your 401(k), for example, you click Add a Deduction, then select the type from a drop-down list. You can enter a description that will be displayed on reports and paychecks, and then supply the default dollar amount that will be subtracted from paychecks either as a percentage or a flat dollar amount (if this is different for each employee, just leave it blank). You can also enter any limits required and specify the correct W-2
You must also enter your company tax settings and state unemployment rates. Patriot Software has assembled an excellent page with links to state-specific information that you can consult if you don’t have those numbers. It also tells you how to apply for a federal Employer Identification Number (EIN) and meet any state registration requirements. And it provides links to forms that new employees must complete and that you must file. You need to supply bank account information for payroll withdrawals, fill out an authorization form, and enter your paycheck printing and/or direct deposit settings.
If you want your employees to be able to log into password-protected portals where they can view pay stubs and other personal payroll information, you can create usernames and temporary passwords for each staff member, and send invitations.
This is why Patriot Software and competitors like SurePayroll offer to help new users through the setup process and the data entry required to supply payroll history. It’s very complicated. You can always return to Settings pages once you’ve completed the wizard to make changes when necessary.
Once your company payroll settings are completed, you can create a record for each employee. This is a simple but time-intensive process. You fill in blank fields for information that hasn’t been introduced yet (name, address, SSN, hire date, and so on) and select from lists of the options you just created (like pay type and frequency). When you’ve supplied all of the data requested, you can access individual records from one screen by clicking on tabs that open different sections of the record, such as Pay Information, Paycheck History, Deductions, and Contributions.
This is an effective way to make all of these details available; no one does it much better, really, though some of the sites make more economical use of screen space and emphasize the screens’ looks as well as their content.
Patriot Software’s layout has changed since we last reviewed the site, and it’s different from most of its competitors. It’s not immediately evident how it works, either. Because there’s some duplication between the left vertical and top horizontal toolbars, it’s best to work from the latter, which is divided into Dashboard, Accounting, Payroll, Support, and Settings. Hover over one of these buttons with your mouse, and a menu of related links drops down. Click on one of the first three buttons, and the left vertical toolbar changes to display links similar to those in the aforementioned drop-down list. The center of the screen changes, too, to reflect the content covered in that area. The last two buttons, Reports
Sounds confusing? It is. The site’s dashboard, too, is a bit different than the competition’s. Five icons on the top take you to the most commonly accessed pages. The middle of the screen contains messages from Patriot Software. And links to your help options run across the bottom. There are no to-do items, like Gusto includes, nor charts of payroll activity, like OnPay offers. You get used to it, eventually, but the UI here could use a redesign that makes it clearer from the get-go.
Once you click on a link, however, the working screens themselves are intuitive; they use standard online data entry conventions. You fill in blanks or click links or select from drop-down lists. Sometimes there are directional arrows marked Next Step to guide you, like on the Pay Employees screen. Every service we’ve reviewed offers navigation guides to move you through the multistep processes. But others, like Gusto, are more graphically interesting and aesthetically pleasing.
Time for Payday
Select the Run a New Payroll entry in either navigation pane to get ready for payday. To define your pay period start and end dates and your pay date, you click on the calendars next to the blank data fields at the top of the screen that appears. A list of your employees is displayed below those boxes. Each line contains boxes for standard pay types (regular, overtime), as well as the individual’s hourly rate. You just enter the number of hours in the correct boxes and click on the drop-down arrow in the box under Add Hours/Money if you need to enter hours for things like vacation time and bonuses. The same goes for your salaried staff, except you don’t enter hours, of course.
When you click on the Next Step arrow, you see a list of employees with their gross pay and net pay in summary. Click View Details, and each employee’s pay stub appears.
Your total tax
After you approve a run, the screen that appears has no numbers on it, just links to new screens that contain basically the same data you’ve already seen. At the bottom of the final linked page, you see totals for payroll taxes and for compensation, but again, no total.
Patriot Software Full-Service Payroll includes many preformatted reports—more than Gusto and comparable to Sage Payroll Essentials Plus, in fact, but they are not as customizable as that of OnPay. As for mobile access: There are no dedicated apps like Intuit offers, but you can now display mobile-optimized sites on your devices.
This service does have one attribute that’s unique in this group: It can be integrated with Patriot Software’s basic, cash-basis accounting application ($7.50-12.50 per month) that includes bill-paying, invoicing, and income/expense-tracking. In fact, you must subscribe to the $7.50 per month version to pay contractors and print 1099s. OnPay offers this as a part of the regular subscription fee.
Closing the Gap
Patriot Software has inched closer to state-of-the-art services like Gusto with the addition of a good setup wizard. It offers solid support and guidance for new users, and it’s also the most economical choice we’ve reviewed