Wave Accounting Review (2023): Pricing, features & more

Wave Accounting Review (2023): Pricing, features & more

Wave Accounting: Fast Facts

Pricing: Free for life

  • Completely free expense and income tracking.

  • Crucial accounting reports.

  • Built-in bank reconciliation with double-entry accounting.

  • Seamless integration with Wave Payroll.

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Wave Accounting is a completely free accounting solution that doesn’t sacrifice features for the sake of pricing. Its expense, income, cash-flow and receipt tracking features are perfectly suited to freelancers, solopreneurs and other self-employed individuals who want to keep their software expenses low.

However, Wave Accounting has fewer features and third-party integrations than many — though not all — of its competitors with paid plans. If you own a big business or are part of an enterprise, Wave’s features aren’t complex or customizable enough to support your financial needs. Additionally, freelancers who sell products rather than services or who rely on a variety of third-party apps to run their business might prefer a more flexible accounting solution over Wave’s one-size-fits-all approach.

Is Wave Accounting the right bookkeeping software system for your business? In our Wave Accounting review below, we’ll cover Wave’s features, add-on products, pros and cons to help you decide. We’ll also showcase some key Wave Accounting competitors so you can explore other accounting software options if you decide Wave isn’t a good fit.

Wave Accounting pricing

Wave Accounting logo.
Image: Wave Accounting

Wave Accounting is one of the best truly free accounting software services on the market. Its accounting software costs exactly $0 and, unlike most paid competitors, it lets you add unlimited users, billable clients, bank accounts and credit card connections. Wave Accounting also includes multi-business management at no additional cost.

Wave offers a handful of optional add-on services for an additional fee. Although we’ll explore these services below, note that apart from transaction fees typical of any payment processing software, none of these services and fees are mandatory for Wave Accounting users; it’s entirely possible to use Wave without paying a cent.

Wave vs. top competitors: Monthly and yearly software costs

Plan details are up to date as of June 1, 2023. Yearly costs do not account for 30-day free trials offered by most providers.

*FreshBooks and Zoho Books offer discounts to clients who pay annually rather than month to month.

Transaction fees

If you use Wave Accounting to accept online payments, you’ll pay the following industry-standard transaction fees:

  • 2.9% + $0.60 per credit card transaction.
  • 3.4% + $0.60 per American Express card transaction.
  • 1% per ACH transfer.

Transaction fees are accurate as of June 1, 2023.

Again, every online payment processing system requires its users to pay a transaction fee. The key pricing difference between Wave and competitors is you don’t need to pay a base fee to access Wave’s payment processing services.

Optional advisory services

If you want professional help to get your business up and running, you can access bookkeeping experts through Wave for $149 per month. If you want more in-depth support, accountants and payroll coaches are available starting at $379 per month. However, these features are entirely optional. You can use Wave Accounting without paying more than an industry-standard transaction fee for any payments.

Wave Payroll

Wave Payroll integrates seamlessly with Wave Accounting to give you an accurate financial snapshot. Wave is able to offer free accounting tools largely thanks to its two paid payroll plans:

  • Self-service payroll costs $20 + $6 per employee per month.
  • Full-service payroll costs $40 + $6 per employee per month.

Both Wave Payroll plans come with a 30-day free trial.

While payroll software providers like Patriot and SurePayroll let you choose between their full-service and self-service plans, the Wave Payroll plan you choose is predetermined by the state(s) in which you work. With Wave, full-service payroll is only available to customers in 14 U.S. states: Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin. Businesses in the 36 other U.S. states can only sign up for Wave’s self-service payroll plan.

Wave Accounting key features

Wave Accounting includes essential accounting features that most freelancers, solopreneurs, sole proprietors and small-business owners can’t do without. We’ll dive deeper into some of Wave’s most critical, unique features below, but first, here’s a quick overview of Wave’s features and functions:

  • Detailed income and expense tracking.
  • Sales and sales tax tracking.
  • Accounts payable and accounts receivable.
  • Pivotal financial statements, such as profit and loss statements, cash flow statements and balance sheets.
  • Online payment acceptance (credit card or bank transfer).
  • Mobile money-management app for Android and iOS.

Unlimited customizable invoices with thorough automations

Wave’s invoices are easy to customize with your business’s logo, colors and contact information (Figure A). If you consistently bill the same clients on a frequent basis, you can set up a recurring invoice template that sends on a preset schedule — an automation some of Wave’s top competitors only include with their mid-tier plans and up.

Figure A

Wave's invoice template takes no more than a few seconds to set up and customize. You can also schedule recurring invoices for repeat customers and configure your invoice template to accept payments within the invoice.
Image: Wave. Wave’s invoice template takes no more than a few seconds to set up and customize. You can also schedule recurring invoices for repeat customers and configure your invoice template to accept payments within the invoice.

Wave’s other invoice automations include automatic user notifications when a client views your invoice and pays their bill. You can also schedule automatic payment deadline reminders for clients. Your customers can pay what they owe you directly from the invoice itself, and you can send invoices and accept payments on the go through Wave’s well-reviewed invoice app.

Expense tracking and receipt scanning

Users can connect an unlimited number of bank accounts to Wave Accounting software, ensuring every transaction is accounted for and financial snapshots are up to date. To support expense management, Wave Accounting includes receipt scanning, uploading and automatic expense categorization.

Wave Accounting pros

At-a-glance pros:

  • Completely free-for-life accounting software.
  • User-friendly browser interface and mobile accounting app.
  • Unlimited invoicing, expense tracking and billable clients.
  • Multi-business management.
  • Simple, streamlined account setup.
  • Unlimited users.

Completely free-for-life accounting software

Wave’s biggest perk is probably its cost, or its lack thereof The only charges you’ll accrue with Wave Accounting are typical online payment and transaction fees you pay with any payment processing service. Otherwise, unless you add an optional service like Wave Payroll, Wave Accounting is free to use.

Unlimited invoicing, expense tracking, billable clients and more

Wave Accounting imposes far fewer limits than most of its competitors on everything from users to vendors. For instance, Xero’s cheapest plan limits users to sending 20 invoices a month, while FreshBooks’ cheapest plan limits users to invoicing only five clients a month. With Wave, you can send an unlimited number of invoices to an unlimited number of clients each month.

Simple, streamlined account setup

Most accounting software was designed with non-accountant business owners in mind, which means setup should be fairly straightforward. Still, some accounting programs are more user-friendly than others, and Wave Accounting is among the easiest for first-time business owners to configure.

The software setup wizard guides you through four easy setup steps to generate an uncluttered, straightforward dashboard (Figure B). The interface ensures a low learning curve with friendly graphics, an in-app help center, live chat, user-first design and an accessible app.

Figure B

It shouldn't take you more than a few minutes to set up your Wave Accounting software for the first time. During business hours, you can reach out for help via live chat directly from your dashboard.
Image: Wave. It shouldn’t take you more than a few minutes to set up your Wave Accounting software for the first time. During business hours, you can reach out for help via live chat directly from your dashboard.

Wave Accounting cons

At-a-glance cons:

  • No built-in third-party app integrations.
  • Fewer accounting features than competitors like QuickBooks.
  • Customer service through chat or email only.
  • One plan only (limited scalability).

No built-in third-party app integrations

Most popular accounting tools have at least a handful of built-in app integrations that make connecting with third-party services as painless as possible. For instance, Xero and FreshBooks’ native Gusto integrations ensure the accounting and payroll software sync with each other problem-free.

However, the only software Wave Accounting syncs with is Wave’s own payroll service. Otherwise, users must sync Wave with their favorite business management apps through Zapier, a third-party service. Users must create and pay for a separate Zapier account, and Wave’s customer service team can’t help you with any integration-related issues; you’ll have to work with Zapier customer support to get problems resolved instead.

Customer service available only through live chat or email

It’s useful that you can connect to a Wave customer service representative over live chat without navigating away from your accounting dashboard. However, live chat is only available during Wave’s typical business hours, and apart from the chat, your only other support option is email; Wave Accounting doesn’t offer any U.S.-based phone support.

One plan only

With Wave’s free accounting plan, what you see is what you get. Larger enterprises can’t create custom accounting packages with industry-specific features, and growing companies can’t scale up to heftier accounting plans with more complex tools to support an expanding user base.

Similarly, Wave Payroll has just two plans: full-service payroll and self-service payroll. Users can’t scale up to more comprehensive payroll plans with expansive HR features as their company gains more employees. Instead, the features you get when you first sign up for the plan are the only features you’ll ever get with Wave.

Top Wave Accounting alternatives

Wave vs. the competition: Feature comparison table

Vendor QuickBooks Online Xero FreshBooks Wave Accounting
True double-entry accounting Yes Yes Unavailable with cheapest plan Yes
Expense tracking Yes With most expensive plan only Yes Yes
Unlimited invoicing Yes Cheapest plan limited to 20/mo. Yes, for up to five clients/mo. Yes
Number of users Limited by plan Unlimited $11/user/mo. Unlimited
Top payroll integrations QuickBooks Payroll, Gusto and more Gusto, SurePayroll and more Gusto and SurePayroll Wave Payroll
Starting price $30/mo. $13/mo. $17/mo. Free

Plan details are up to date as of June 1, 2023.

QuickBooks Online: Best for comprehensive accounting features

The QuickBooks logo.
Image: Intuit QuickBooks

Starting price: $30 per month

Intuit QuickBooks has been an accounting software provider for decades longer than Wave, Xero or any other accounting company on our list. With that much experience under its belt, it’s no shock that QuickBooks also has more accounting features than most other bookkeeping software companies, starting with the following features:

  • Receipt scanning and categorization.
  • App-based mileage and expense tracking.
  • Cash-flow forecasts.
  • Automatic sales and sales tax tracking.
  • Customizable estimates (convertible to invoices).
  • Contractor management, including Form 1099 distribution and filing.

Higher-tier QuickBooks Online plans include bill tracking, project profitability data, inventory management, employee expense tracking and more.

Put simply, Wave Accounting’s basic bookkeeping features might work nicely for freelancers and small businesses with uncomplicated accounting needs, but for businesses that want to manage accounting in house with the most comprehensive set of tools possible, QuickBooks Online should be selected over Wave Accounting every time.

Xero: Best for product-based businesses

Xero logo.
Image: Xero

Starting price: $13 per month

Xero’s starting price is half the price of QuickBooks, which makes Xero a more suitable Wave alternative for freelancers on a budget. Wave and Xero also have some crucial, unique features in common, such as unlimited users, unlimited bank connections and optional invoice-based payment acceptance.

In contrast to Wave and its competitors, Xero includes inventory management with every plan, even its cheapest plan. Businesses that sell products can track them more easily — and for a much lower starting cost — with Xero than they can with QuickBooks, FreshBooks or Wave. Unlike other providers, Xero’s plans also come with customizable purchase order software.

FreshBooks: Best for invoicing

FreshBooks logo.
Image: FreshBooks

Starting price: $17 per month 

FreshBooks came to life as an invoice- and billing-specific software program that expanded into a total accounting solution. Its customizable invoices are at least as easy to generate as Wave’s invoices, and FreshBooks offers even more invoice automations than Wave or QuickBooks, such as automatic late-fee additions for overdue invoices.

Along with its standout invoice templates, FreshBooks offers solid features that should appeal to everyone, from contractors to owners of midsize businesses, and everyone in between:

  • Sales tax tracking and reports.
  • Comprehensive client profiles and account statements.
  • Project-based budgeting and billing.
  • Built-in time tracking at no additional fee.

Like Xero, FreshBooks primarily integrates with Gusto to provide small-business payroll.

Should your business use Wave Accounting?

Are you a service-based freelancer in need of a basic, user-friendly way to track your finances without spending money on features you don’t need? If that’s the case, Wave Accounting will likely live up to your expectations. Its invoicing and online payment acceptance features can help you get paid while its reporting and money management tools ensure you stay on track for tax season and future business growth.

Plus, thanks to its integration with the budget-friendly Wave Payroll solution, Wave Accounting can also work well for small businesses with employees. Since the software allows for multiple users, it may also appeal to midsize and growing businesses where more than one person keeps an eye on company finances.

But Wave Accounting isn’t the right accounting software choice for everyone. If you want complex accounting features, in-depth reports, comprehensive mobile apps, dozens of third-party integrations and phone-based customer service, Wave isn’t right for you. Instead, consider the following Wave alternatives:

  • QuickBooks Online for a full suite of accounting tools and third-party integrations.
  • Xero for useful inventory management.
  • FreshBooks for affordable invoicing.

How we evaluated Wave Accounting

To review Wave, we set up a free Wave Accounting account that we used to create invoices, record sample transactions and generate financial reports. We also read verified Wave Accounting and Wave app reviews on third-party sites like Gartner, Trustpilot, the App Store, Google Play and more.

While testing the software for ourselves, reading about other users’ experiences and diving into the company’s website, we paid particular attention to Wave’s strengths and weaknesses in the following areas:

  • Pricing, especially how Wave’s free plan compared to competitors’ paid plans and how much Wave’s add-on services cost compared to industry norms.
  • Accounting features, especially features crucial to freelancers, sole proprietors and small-and-midsize-business owners with between one and 50 employees.
  • User-friendliness, including Wave’s mobile app functionality, interface functionality, sharing features, ease of setup and ease of integration.
  • Customer service, including modes of customer service contact, general customer service reputation and third-party consumer reviews.

Read next: The 8 Best Accounting Software for Enterprises (TechRepublic)

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