Leading Low-End Accounting Software

By Anthony Basile, Louis J. Papa, and Randy Johnston

In Brief

Big Options for Small Businesses

The choice of accounting software can be a challenging decision for small and start-up companies. Low-end accounting software packages offer more features than ever before, but the options available can be confusing for the first-time customer. Setting a timeline, sticking to a budget, and soliciting employee input will make the decision process easier. Technical support is crucial, especially when the software is first installed and configured. The right choice will be the program that best serves the company’s current needs while remaining capable of expansion.

One of the biggest technology issues facing start-up and smaller companies is choosing the most effective accounting software. Small businesses must remember that the right accounting package is the one that best serves the current needs of the business and that can be most easily adapted to their future needs. And the right solution goes beyond just software; customer support is also important, especially at the outset.

Selecting Accounting Software

The first step in selecting accounting software is forming a committee. The committee should be small but contain representatives from each of the primary areas in the company, and it should have an odd number of members in order to make decisions quickly and efficiently. This committee should be responsible for recommending packages to management or even negotiating with the vendors of choice.

Next, the company must ascertain the problems with the current system. Before deciding that new software is needed, make sure that the most current version of the software is running on the right system. Pinpointing the problems with the current system will help determine what the company should be looking for in a new package. All employees should have an opportunity to explain their problems with the current system and their expectations of the new system. A budget and a timeline are invaluable in keeping the process on track.

Small companies rarely need an independent consultant. If it would like an outside consultant, the company should ensure they have already reviewed each of the packages and their own needs, as consultants often offer the same one or two packages to all clients and may not offer as much independence as perceived.

The most important part of the selection process is becoming aware of the full range of products. There is a wealth of information available on the Internet, in accounting software publications, and directly from software vendors. It will often be less expensive to buy several probable solutions and try them, rather than analyzing whether a potential solution will work.

During the selection process, it is important to document each package, its features, its pros and cons, and whether it fits the company’s needs. This information will make it easier to narrow down the choices later on.

Once the analysis is complete, the company should eliminate software packages that clearly will not fulfill their needs. This entails evaluating what each program has to offer against what the company requires from their accounting software. Internet sites such as www.2020software.com, www.accountingsoftwarenews.com, and www.findaccountingsoftware.com contain helpful comparisons of leading software.

Smaller companies should consider using a hosted system, meaning that the software is accessed through an application service provider (ASP) that maintains the software and keeps it current. Hosted solutions for small business include Oracle Small Business Suite, Best Software’s ePeachtree, Intuit’s QuickBooks for the Web, or Intacct.

Once a particular product has been selected, it is important to find out which companies support this product. If a company cannot support the software itself, the availability of a good installer or value-added reseller (VAR) will be a key part of the purchase decision. A good installer can make all the difference in how successful a solution is.

Overview of Selected Software

The following is brief description of ten of the leading low-end software packages on the market, accompanied by a tabular comparison of certain features.

ACCPAC Advantage Series Discovery Edition

Discovery Edition is part of ACCPAC’s Advantage Series of accounting software (www.accpac.com). It is an affordable package that is easy to use and set up in a single-user or multi-user (up to three) environment. A system manager, bank reconciliation, general ledger, accounts payable, accounts receivable, and payroll module come standard with the program. Other modules, such as inventory control, order entry, purchase order, and multi-currency, are available separately.

Discovery Edition can be used with ACCPAC’s eTransact to put a company’s business on the Internet.

The system manager module is the control center of the accounting system. This function includes bank services for bank reconciliations, security features to control user access, and tax services. This module integrates with Microsoft Office and includes the industry-standard Crystal Reports package, which can produce a company profile, a fiscal calendar, deposit status, check status, reconciliation status, reconciliation posting journal, general ledger transactions, and a list of users and their authorization.

The general ledger module includes capabilities for budgeting, extensive comparative and historical data, and financial reporting and interfaces with Microsoft Excel. Some of the reports include trial balance, general ledger transaction listing, source journal, batch listing, posting journal, account structure, segment code, source code, source journal profile, and financial reporter. The module also features auto-reversing entries, a schedule of recurring entries, and segment validation tables to reduce data entry errors.

The accounts receivable module includes the ability to quickly review and analyze receivables, customize reports, manage customer accounts, process invoices and cash flexibly, add-on multi-currency support, drill-down from the general ledger to accounts receivable, and leave powerful audit trails. Recurring charges, item sales history, aged trial balances, statements, postings, deposit slips, and invoices are among the many reports available with this module.

Similarly, the accounts payable module offers the ability to manage vendor records, customize reports, manage cash disbursements, and drill-down from the general ledger to accounts payable. The module offers reports for aged payables, aged cash requirements, batch listings, posting journals, and general ledger transactions.

The payroll module allows for absolute control over employee earnings and benefits, special payroll situations, and government reporting. A company may enter or import time cards and enter after-the-fact paychecks. It also handles all pay frequencies, multiple work states, unlimited earnings, deductions, benefits and taxes, and other pay factors (such as expense reimbursements, accruals, and advances). This module also features cost center accounting, easy maintenance of employee records, and customizable reporting. Some of these reports include setup reports such as employee information, deductions, and earnings; processing reports such as manual checks, payroll register, and time cards; and government reports such as W-2s and quarterly wage tax reports.

Discovery Edition also offers technical support; the “pay-as-you-go” option costs $3 per minute (minimum of $50) for over-the-phone service (toll-free number). Certain packages charge an annual amount ranging from $350 to $975 and cover a specified number of issues. In addition to the technical support, a network of certified consultants and recognized training centers, and educational materials are available. Pricing is approximately $1,500 for the core modules, and $4,500 including the inventory, order entry, and purchasing modules.

ACCPAC Simply Accounting

ACCPAC’s Simply Accounting is a dual-currency accounting and payroll package. The program makes it possible to email invoices, orders, and quotes; handle credit card sales and purchases; and conduct banking functions online. Simply Accounting keeps track of accounts through audit trails, can generate automatic payroll runs, and uses Crystal Reports.

Simply Accounting includes a general ledger feature that maintains revenues and expense accounts budgets and creates year-to-year and period-to-period comparisons of financial information. It has a sales and receipts feature that generates and prints invoices, quotes, and sales orders; allows quotes to be converted into sales orders or invoices; supports credit card sales; calculates sales tax and freight automatically; creates customer terms and discounts automatically; tracks customer accounts; and generates customer statements with interest. Its purchases and payments feature processes invoices, prints purchase orders and checks, supports credit-card and cash transactions, uses open-invoice method for detailed purchase tracking, and automatically calculates vendor terms and discounts.

Simply Accounting’s project costing feature tracks transactions by job or project; allocates revenue and expense transactions across multiple projects by dollar amount, percentage, or hours; budgets project revenues and expenses; and generates profit and loss statements by job project. The payroll feature provides five user-definable income types and ten user-definable deduction types, retains two years of employee payroll information, tracks advances and vacation pay, automatically calculates and accumulates payroll taxes and withholdings, prints payroll checks and W-2s, and allows for direct deposit. The inventory and services feature maintains current levels and values; tracks invoices and service billings; uses the weighted moving average costing method of inventory accounting; and tracks fastest-selling items, most used vendors, and most active customers.

Some additional features of Simply Accounting include the ability to apply entries to prior and future periods, to display reports as current as the last entry, to store and recall recurring entries, and to select either an accrual or cash-basis accounting method.

Simply Accounting also offers a free, 30-day warranty support; a “pay-as-you-go” option [$3 per minute (minimum of $45)]; a total system support feature (10 calls or 60 minutes for $150 per year); and a Simply Accounting forum that allows for free access to online advice and training. In addition, a network of certified consultants and recognized training centers are available, and educational materials such as workbooks and CD-ROMs can be purchased for under $30. Pricing ranges from $99 to $199, and discounted promotional pricing is sometimes available.

BusinessVision 32

BusinessVision 32 is a fully-integrated, real-time accounting system (www.businessvision.com). One of the accounting modules is an automatic transaction posting, which automatically creates journal entries and posts to the applicable ledger when an entry is made to any financial module. In addition, when an invoice is created or a purchase order is closed, this module updates the revenue, inventory, cost, tax, freight, and receivables or payables accounts.

Another accounting module includes the accounts receivable feature, which allows the user to select from a list of account codes and names, conduct user-defined key searches, link the customer database with the GoldMine contact management system, view open item accounting by customer, create multiple shipping addresses for each customer, email customers directly, view an account history with five configurable aging periods, view and reprint invoices, drill down to the general ledger journal entry, and determine sales and profits statistics by customer. It also automatically calculates and verifies discounts given, sales tax, and posts finance charges. The accounts payable module offers similar features to the accounts receivable module as well as the ability for multiple bank accounts with a built-in check writer and 1099 forms.

BusinessVision also offers a general ledger module that includes a user-defined chart of accounts, departmentalization capability, unlimited transactions per account, automatic numbering, and forced balancing of journal entries at the time of the entry. No month-end processing is necessary, as the system is always up-to-date. The software has the ability to create past and future postings; view changes in financial position from period to period; obtain account detail for any period; create consolidated general ledger reports; and create income statements, balance sheets, and comparative performance reports for any period.

This product also offers inventory control, payroll, bank reconciliation, budget and forecasting, and financial reporting functions (using Crystal Reports). It has multiple-currency capabilities and is fully integrated with Microsoft Office. It is one of the few offerings in the entry-level market that includes a point-of-sale module. BusinessVision offers high-security features, including full user identification and password protection using encryption technology.

The service and support system consists of telephone technical support available on weekdays and on-site support available through a network of qualified BusinessVision authorized training and support organizations. Pricing ranges from $5,000 to $15,000.

Business Works

This product is geared towards companies with $500,000 to $5 million in annual revenues (www.business-works.com). It features 11 fully-integrated modules, Microsoft integration, 200 built-in presentation-quality management reports, customized forms and reports, a data conversion utility, and inventory control.

The system manager module provides a multiple-module close option which permits speedy month-end closes; system-wide notepad features which track notes for accounts, customers, vendors, employees, and jobs; status history and transaction details; and on-line help. The module also has a built-in back-up and restore feature. The system manager module allows simultaneous data access, access to company data with multilevel password protection, and maintains an audit log of all recent changes to data files. The reports produced in this module are customized to fit the company’s needs and can be viewed on-screen or printed.

Another useful Business Works module is the general ledger, which can hold up to 8,000 accounts in the chart of accounts, each with up to 99 departments. It maintains current financial information along with transaction history for up to 2 years. The module holds budget information for the current year, the past year, and the future year. It maintains a complete audit trail of all transactions and adjustments made to transactions, includes more than 35 modifiable sample charts of accounts, can make inquiries into accounts, balances budgets and transactions, and imports account information and journal entries. General ledger information can be exported into Excel and Word, and journal entries can also be exported. This module consolidates multiple companies’ general ledger data to create the financial statements; allows new accounts to be added while creating journal entries; allows full-year budgeting by month, year, or percentage; provides five standard and four special journals for custom use; allows editing of journal entries after posting; and allows authorized users to void transactions. The reports for this module can be printed by department, can be customized, and allow for subtotaling and consolidation. They are capable of producing trial balances and flash reports to quickly show company management the overall financial strength of the company. It also includes all financial statements, entries, and account balances.

Business Works also includes accounts receivable, accounts payable, inventory control and purchasing, order entry, job cost, custom office, mailing labels, and payroll modules.

Each of the modules is available separately for approximately $500 per module, and some are bundled together at a discounted price. The Business Works Core Bundle includes the system manager, general ledger, accounts payable, and accounts receivable modules, along with a 1-year maintenance plan, for approximately $1,700. Pricing ranges from $3,700 to 7,000, depending on the number of users and modules.


ePeachtree is an Internet-based accounting system that handles check writing, invoicing, inventory, and business reporting. By using an Internet-based system, ePeachtree is available at any hour of the day from any location that has Internet access. Purchase orders are available from any Internet connection. It is also possible to remotely enter expenses and prepare to print checks. Multiple users can use the system at any time without setting up a separate network. Employees can be given varying access privileges as necessary. With ePeachtree, companies can give their accountants online access to financial data to help them through the month- and year-end closings.

Setting up ePeachtree is simple. Users answer a series of questions on the ePeachtree website to customize the software set-up. There is a choice of 75 difference industry-standard templates that can be used to create a chart of accounts that will fit the company’s needs. ePeachtree also offers the ability to create invoices, pay bills, track sales and receivables, track purchasing and payables, track inventory, monitor job costs, and track taxes. The product also offers over 100 reports, statements, and graphs that can be saved in Word and Excel or e-mailed to others.

For an additional fee, users can take advantage of ePeachtree Payroll. This module maintains user-defined earnings, deductions, and taxes; administers 401(k) deductions, employer matches, and cafeteria plans; tracks vacation and sick time; and prints both payroll checks and reports.

Internet-based accounting systems raise questions about the security of financial information stored online. ePeachtree uses SSL encryption and a firewall to protect the data, and it contracts with a third-party security company that tests the site’s defenses. To prevent internal security breaches, ePeachtree also offers multiple security levels so that employees only have access to appropriate information.

Support plans for ePeachtree range from $9.99 to $14.99 per month. High-end support plans include unlimited telephone support and e-mail support with a 1-day response time. The low-end plans includes e-mail support with a 1-day response time and telephone support twice a month.

Pricing includes a free 30-day trial for both the accounting service and the payroll service. After this time, the accounting service is $9.99 per month for a single user and outside accountant access ($4.99 for each additional user). The payroll service is $9.99 per month for a single user and outside accountant access. The reporting package is free.

Oracle Small Business Suite

Oracle Small Business Suite (www.oraclesmallbusiness.com) is another Internet-based product offering accounting, bill payment, payroll, sales and services, and time and expense reporting features. The accounting suite includes a general ledger with an unlimited number of accounts; user-defined accounting periods; a customizable chart of accounts along with 21 sample charts; and the ability to maintain complete audit trails, add accounts at any time, save recurring journal entries, automatically reverse entries, merge accounts, and track departments and subaccounts. The banking option allows for an unlimited number of transactions and bank accounts. It can also write checks, make deposits, print checks, and reconcile bank statements.

Oracle Small Business Suite also includes an accounts receivable option that allows for an unlimited amount of customers; the ability to add customers at any time; the ability to drill-down to transaction detail from the register; the automatic calculation of sales tax, finance charges, credit memos, and refunds; customized aging and payment terms; and generates monthly customer statements. The accounting suite also offers invoicing, sales orders, inventory, job tracking, time and billing, customer center, accounts payable, purchase orders, employee center, and expense reporting. Accounting periods can be customized by the user. Oracle Small Business Suite allows multi-user capability with different levels of access for each employee account. Over 100 reports are included, along with many sorting and filtering options.

The payroll suite has an online start-up tool in order to set up the company payroll. It includes employee templates; salaried, hourly, tipped, and commission employee support; flexible pay periods; calculation of earnings and deductions; current state and federal tax tables; vacation and sick time tracking; and W-2 and paycheck printing.

The reports suite includes general reporting features; financial reporting features such as income statements, balance sheets, audit trails, charts of accounts, bank reconciliations and cash flow statements; vendor reporting features that include accounts payable agings and 1099 forms; purchasing features such as information summarized by vendor or item; sales features; payroll features; and many more.

Oracle Small Business Suite offers help on implementation or recommendation of independent resources, in addition to training and educational resources to guide the transition. A one-hour training session is $99 and a two-hour accounting session is $198. Software pricing is $99 per month for two users and an outside accountant. This price also includes 10 employee users, which only have access to expense reports, purchase orders, and time and billing information. The cost for an additional user is $50 per month and the cost for an additional 10 limited employee users is also $50 per month. Oracle also offers the option to pay bills online and includes 20 online checks per month ($12.95 per month). There is also the ability to create an online store with up to 100 items (with a charge of $50 for every additional 100 items). Finally, there is an optional company consolidation account for an additional $99 per month.

Peachtree Complete Accounting 2002

Peachtree Complete Accounting (www.peachtree.com/complete/) includes installation wizards and a start-up tutorial. Its accounting features include general ledger, accounts receivable, accounts payable, inventory, payroll, and reporting and analysis tools. The general ledger allows up to 13 periods in a fiscal year and keeps transaction details for up to 2 fiscal years. The double-entry accounting can be shown or hidden while working. The general ledger includes a year-end wizard to follow when closing the fiscal year, including a forced backup. The accounts receivable feature allows for prices to be quoted to customers, but does not update the accounting information until it is converted into a sales order or invoice. It allows sales to be tracked from the order stage to the invoice stage, and allows back orders to be tracked and sales orders to be applied to invoices. The company can also track payments by customer and past due account, as well as void invoices and automatically balance and age updates after the voids. The company can track payments to each invoice and drill down to determine how receipts have affected balances. The accounts payable feature allows for bill payment by selecting vendors, selecting the bills that need to be paid, and printing the checks. It also has a flexible purchase order system that allows items to be put into inventory when partial shipments are received before the bill.

Peachtree Complete Accounting 2002 allows multiple users to view and modify business information on a network simultaneously. It is also possible to turn the audit trail function on and off as needed and to limit which employees have access to this function. All data can be password-protected. The program also features 125 customizable reports, enhanced item pricing, job costing, fixed, asset manager, comprehensive time and billing, cash flows, 1099 forms, and customizable forms and financial statements.

Peachtree has a certified support staff available to answer questions regarding the product, and to offer different service plans to customers. The Freedom Plan includes unlimited access to the support staff for 12 months, a priority phone number for weekday assistance, a free newsletter subscription, and unlimited access to a web-based library of frequently asked questions. Other packages include pay-as-you-go telephone support, 900- number service, and other combinations of these plans, including fees determined by the hour and set package fees. Pricing is approximately $600, and site licenses are available for network users.

QuickBooks Pro 2001

QuickBooks Pro is not a modular system (www.quickbooks.com). Features include billing with 20 different price levels, default price levels for specific customers, and progress invoices; integration with applications such as Microsoft Word, Excel, Outlook and Interact ACT; estimates and time tracking that offers customized estimates and bids, time tracking by project, and creation of timesheets; and multi-user accessibility including simultaneous data entry and password access control. The software handles financial and business management tasks through on-screen forms, easy-to-follow flow-charts, built in spell-checker, and customized reports. The product also applies credits and pays bills; tracks payroll and prints paychecks and payroll reports; tracks inventory; and produces tax alerts for quarterly, monthly, and yearly tax payments.

QuickBooks offers a number of different support programs. The premier support plan is customized for small businesses and provides direct access to QuickBooks experts. This annual plan also includes a quarterly newsletter. The product also offers emergency services such as data recovery and password removal.

Pricing is approximately $220 with upgrades for approximately $170. The five-copy value pack sells for approximately $550.

QuickBooks for the Web

QuickBooks for the Web (www.quickbooks.com) is an Internet-based product that offers remote access to financial information, multi-user capability, multiple permission levels, creation of activity logs, Internet security, and automatic backups. It includes start-up wizards and unlimited free technical support. QuickBooks also provides tools that allow the user to generate profits and losses and other reports by location, to enter the amount of time they worked, and to create invoices and customizable statements. The program allows users to set up customers to receive invoices or statements via e-mail or fax at a specified interval, assign expenses to a customer and include it on their next invoice, accept online payments, track bank accounts, monitor accounts receivable and accounts payable, write and print checks, and reconcile accounts. QuickBooks has over 50 business reports including sales by customer, accounts receivable agings, cash flows, and many others, while allowing customized reports that use filters to quickly access needed data. All reports can be e-mailed in HTML format or exported to Excel. QuickBooks also offers one-time data entry, which memorizes customer or vendor information once entered. Customers and vendors can be added at any time and accounts can be tracked by number or by name.

The software includes a security system where information is backed up daily and then moved to a remote location. All data is password-protected and stored on multiple hard drives every time the user saves the work to protect it from hardware failure. Data sent over the Internet uses SSL encryption.

Pricing is $14.95 per month for up to 5 users, $29.95 for 6–10 users, $49.95 for 11–25 users and special pricing for over 25 users. The price includes the full use of QuickBooks for the Web, daily backups, e-mailing and faxing invoices, and premium and unlimited support. A 30-day free trial is available.


MYOB is a versatile package that can be used for simply writing checks, creating invoices, and tracking money, or for other activities such as time billing, multiple currencies, multiple price levels, and e-mailing invoices and reports. The package links to Word and Excel. The program includes set-up wizards, a getting started manual and procedures guide, 100 starter charts of accounts, and the ability to import existing data from Quicken. MYOB also offers automatic buying, building and back ordering of items, changeable and unchangeable records, different buying and selling units of measure, inventory transfers, fully integrated general ledger accounts and recurring invoices, purchase orders, checks, and deposits. MYOB allows customers to search by vendor invoice and customer purchase order number, use multiple customizable forms, print statements for a specific date range, specify a bank statement date for bank account reconciliations, give volume customer discounts, set credit terms for each customer or invoice, process payroll flexibly, and track back order quantity on invoices and purchase orders.

Any MYOB report can be launched in Microsoft Excel and merged into Word or WordPerfect to create a personalized letter. A report customizer allows customized reports to be saved. More than 100 financial and management reports are also available, and the report finder provides easy access to specific reports. The package also offers data verification and backup. The program allows a company to analyze their balance sheet, inventory, job budget, payroll, profit and loss, and sales.

MYOB offers a number of different support plans, ranging from the all-inclusive coverage for $299 to pay-per-call assistance for $4 per minute with a $40 minimum. In addition, MYOB offers free 30-day introductory support and they have a team of MYOB certified consultants that specialize in solving small business problems.

Pricing is approximately $299 with an upgrade available for $119. Additional network licenses are available for $99.

View Exhibit 1 for this article.

View Exhibit 2 for this article.

Anthony Basile, PhD, CPA, is an assistant professor and assistant chair of the department of accounting, taxation, and business law, and Louis J. Papa, JD, MBA, is an assistant professor, both at the Frank G. Zarb School of Business at Hofstra University, Hempstead, N.Y. Randy Johnston is the executive vice president of K2 Enterprises, Hammond, La.

Portions of this article were adapted from the K2 Enterprises seminar, “2001 Overview of the Top Ten High-End Accounting Software Packages,” given November 28, 2001.

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