There’s no shortage of accounting software for small business owners, but it can be difficult to find one that is the right fit for your unique business needs. Some plans are very comprehensive and expensive (we’re looking at you, QuickBooks), while others are more specialized with the assumption that you’ll use a wider range of their products (ahem, Zoho Books).
Today we’re covering a relatively comprehensive accounting solution, but one that’s also completely free: Wave.
What is Wave Accounting?
Wave Accounting is a free online accounting software competitor to QuickBooks, offering many of the same features without the price tag. While free software can have limitations, Wave has become popular for freelancers, solopreneurs, and even small businesses because it makes accounting accurate and simple.
Many free plans are very limited, designed to upsell you on paid features. Wave Accounting, however, offers every single accounting feature for free. Not only are the features free, but they aren’t limited either. Income and expense tracking is unlimited, and you can even manage multiple businesses in your Wave account.
Wave Accounting Software
Wave Accounting software is the foundation for the entire Wave suite. This cloud accounting software offers a range of completely free features that make company finances easier for small businesses and freelancers. The Wave Accounting platform seamlessly connects your bank accounts and credit cards in an easy-to-use dashboard, displaying your data with helpful charted analysis.
Users can track income, expenses, every invoice, and receipts without any limits, and have access to multiple automatic reports which can be exported for presentations or consulting. Business owners have some level of control with customized sales tax, invoices, and categorization.
Wave Accounting features include:
- Linked accounts
- Income & expense tracking
- Customized invoicing
- Receipt scanning and capture
- Bill & invoice reminders
- Visual dashboard
- Accounting reports
- Transaction search
- Reconciled data across other Wave products
- Multiple businesses in one Wave account
Wave pros and cons
|No credit card required||No mobile accounting|
|Affordable payment & payroll services||Full-service accounting only available in 14 states|
|Unlimited expenses, invoices, and receipts||Email-only customer service|
|Multiple businesses allowed in one account||Limited integrations|
|Not designed for larger businesses|
Wave products & plans
Wave Accounting is the completely free software platform, but two of Wave’s offerings can make a big difference for freelancers and contractors who want affordable finance technology. In addition to the standard Wave accounting foundation, Wave also offers Wave Invoicing and Payments by Wave.
|Wave Accounting||Free||Unlimited expenses, income tracking, and financial statements
|Wave Receipts||Free||Mobile application
Unlimited receipt capture
|Wave Invoices||Free||Mobile application
|Payments by Wave||2.9% + $0.30 per card transaction, 1% per bank transaction||Pay straight from invoice
Automatic sync to Wave Accounting
|Wave Payroll||$20/month||Direct deposit
Full-service payroll tax in 14 states
Self-service payroll tax in 36 states
|Wave Advisors||$129/month||Professional bookkeeping, tax, and accounting assistance|
|Wave Money*||Free||Business bank account
Used for: Receipt capture
Works with: Wave Accounting
Wave Receipts allows for receipt scanning for mobile expense tracking so you can ditch the manual paperwork. The mobile app allows photo capture (even offline) and then syncs with your Wave account for instantly up-to-date expenses. You can even forward receipts in your email to deposit directly in your Wave account. Wave Receipts is included with Wave Accounting, but requires a separate app download.
Used for: Sending customized invoices
Works with: Wave Accounting, Payments by Wave (paid)
Wave Invoicing offers a wide range of free invoice features and a high level of customization to make it easy to manage business payments. You can make unlimited professional invoices with just a click, including recurring invoices for billing and email reminders. Wave Invoicing is available as a free app for both iOS and Android so you can create and send invoices on-the-go.
Wave Invoicing is free, but works especially well with their paid feature—Payments by Wave (customers click “pay now” on your invoice and you can accept faster online payments). Wave Invoicing also syncs automatically with Wave Accounting once you’ve downloaded the app and linked accounts.
Payments by Wave
Price: By transaction
Used for: “Pay now” buttons in customer invoices
Works with: Wave Accounting, Wave Invoicing
Payments by Wave, (also called Wave Payments), allows you to accept credit card and bank account ACH payments, improving your overall cash flow. This paid feature makes it easier for your customers to pay you and helps you get paid faster—with a bird’s eye view of the entire payments process.
Instead of a monthly fee, this paid feature only takes fees based on transactions so you’re only paying for what you use.
|Credit card payments||Bank payments|
2.9% + $0.30 per transaction for Visa, Mastercard, Discover
3.4% + $0.30 per transaction for American Express
|1% per transaction with a $1 minimum fee|
Payments by Wave integrates with Paypal, Stripe, and a wide range of payment and banking applications.
Price: $20-35/month + $6/employee
Used for: Employee payroll
Works with: Wave Accounting
Payroll is a significant time commitment for small business owners, but Wave Payroll is designed to save you time and improve your payroll effectiveness. Wave Payroll is cheaper than many other paid payroll add-ons for competitors like QuickBooks, but still has its limitations.
Wave Payroll’s features include:
- Pay employees and contractors
- W2 and 1099 tax forms
- Direct deposit
- Automatically syncs with Wave Accounting
- Employee access to profile & information
- Payroll tax service available in AZ, CA, FL, GA, IL, IN, MN, NY, NC, TN, TX, VA, WA, and WI
- Self-service state and federal payroll taxes facilitated in remaining 36 states
Wave Payroll is $35/month + $6 per employee/contractor in full-service tax states, and $20/month + $6 employee/contractor in self-service states. If you don’t need lots of technical accounting solutions besides accounting and payroll, Wave Accounting with the Payroll add-on is your best choice.
Used for: Consultation & coaching
Works with: Entire Wave suite
Wave provides professional help for bookkeeping, taxes, and general accounting with its Wave Advisors program. You can choose the level of assistance you need for your business finances, and prices scale with your size and use so you’re never paying for more than you need. There are three levels of support available:
- Accounting Coaching: Designed to help you set up your own Wave accounts with coaching on how to use them best for your business.
- Bookkeeping: Wave Advisors manage your bookkeeping, such as transactions, reconciliation, and even work with your accountant.
- Tax Service: Year-round support for quarterly taxes, Federal & State filings, deduction & claim insights.
Pricing is listed at $129/month, but is subject to the size and transaction needs of your business. Wave Advisor relationships begin with a consultation, and can be month-to-month as needed. Since Wave only offers email customer service, this may be a more functional short-term option if you aren’t particularly savvy with account setup & syncing.
Used for: Business banking
Works with: Entire Wave suite
Wave Money is business banking linked to each of its existing platforms for seamless bookkeeping. While still in beta, this product is designed to cater to small businesses by offering free banking, debit cards, and a linked mobile application. This platform boasts a total lack of fees, free ATM networks, and integrated payment processors.
Common Wave FAQs
Is Wave Accounting really free?
Short answer: Wave is better for freelancers and smaller businesses, but QuickBooks is better when you need more comprehensive services.
The QuickBooks Suite costs at least $70/month for accounting, payroll, and payment processing (plus transaction fees and $6/employee for payroll).
The Wave Suite costs $20-35/month for accounting, payroll, and payment processing (plus transaction fees and $6/employee for payroll).
Wave and QuickBooks are both popular for small businesses, but they each stand alone with their unique offerings. When it comes down to Wave vs. QuickBooks, the right answer lies in the way you run your business.
Wave is best for you if
- You’re strapped for cash
- You manage multiple businesses (such as Etsy shops, or varied contracts)
- You want the most bang for your buck
- You’re a freelancer or solopreneur
- You want a very simple, easy-to-use platform
- You only want to add payroll to your accounting suite
QuickBooks is best for you if
- You need mileage tracking
- You need a mobile app for accounting on-the-go
- You need multiple users with accounting access
- You want more reporting options for analysis
- You are growing rapidly and need the option to scale your accounting
- You want to add finance products and tools such as time or inventory tracking
- You want everything all in one place, playing nicely together
Essentially, QuickBooks is more comprehensive and can grow with your business, but there is no free version. For basic features, you’ll pay minimum $25/month and add-ons are more expensive (payroll costs $25/month more for QuickBooks than Wave), but payment processing is nearly identical between the two.
Is Wave Accounting safe?
“Bank data connections are read-only and use 256-bit encryption. Servers are housed under physical and electronic protection. Wave is PCI Level-1 certified for handling credit card and bank account information.” – Wave Security
Wave Accounting is considered safe and secure for your business finances.
Does Wave have a mobile app?
Mobile applications are available for Wave Receipts and Wave Invoices, which will allow you to scan receipts and send an invoice on the go. Unfortunately, there is not a general “Wave app”. Wave Accounting, Payroll, and Payments are not available with mobile applications at this time. Wave Receipts is not currently available on Google Play, but Receipts and Invoices are both available for iOS.
Wave help resources
Unfortunately Wave only offers email support, but they’ve fleshed out a large number of articles in their Help Center to provide solutions to any problems you encounter. Wave Advisors also stand ready to help you get your Wave accounts set up and in order, or to manage your bookkeeping and taxes for you.
Wave is an excellent choice for freelancers and small business owners who prioritize cutting costs and simplified finances. Wave offers a wide range of useful financial tools for free, so at the very least it’s worth a shot for new and small businesses trying to figure out what they need in the accounting department.