Payroll Software Selection Guide

Gusto vs. Rippling

There are hundreds of payroll software options available on the market, making finding the right software solution for your team a daunting task. As you search for the best payroll platforms out there, you will most likely encounter our two top recommendations - Gusto and Rippling. Both solutions offer benefits, payroll, and HR for startups.

Rippling and Gusto offer cloud-based, easy-to-use, and affordable payroll solutions and partner with various brokers to offer employee benefits.

They both offer the main features we recommend in a payroll software for startups:

  • Unlimited pay runs
  • Direct deposits
  • Tax filing services
  • Employee benefits
  • PTO management (policies, requests, and tracking)

While the two have both similar features and their own lists of pros and cons, there are certain situations in which one is more favorable than the other. Below is an in-depth comparison of the two platforms. We hope this article serves as your guide in choosing which platform to use based on your startup’s needs and functions.

Feature Overview




Package-Based Pricing Scheme

Core plan: $39 per month plus $6 per employee monthly

Complete tier: $39 per month plus $12 per employee monthly

Concierge package: $149 per month plus $12 per employee monthly

Contractor-only option: $6 per contractor monthly

Modular Pricing Scheme

Core employee management: $10 per employee, per month

Payroll: $8 per employee, per month

Employee benefits: $6 per employee, per month

Flex HSA and FSA benefits: $6 per employee, per month

HR help desk: $100 per month

App management: $8 per employee, per month

Device management: $8 per employee, per month


Phone: Yes

Live Chat: Yes


In-App Video Call: No

Knowledge Base: Yes

Phone: No

Live Chat: Yes


In-App Video Call: Yes

Knowledge Base: Yes

Free Version



Compatible Platforms

Web Browser, Mobile App

Web Browser, Mobile App


Documentation: Yes

Webinars: Yes

Live Online: Yes

In Person: No

Documentation: Yes

Webinars: No

Live Online: Yes

In Person: No

Key Features

401(k) Tracking: Yes

Attendance Management: No

Benefits Management: Yes

Check Printing: Yes

Compensation Management: No

Deductions Management: Yes

Direct Deposit: Yes

Multi-Country: No

Multi-State: Yes

Reporting/Analytics: Yes

Self Service Portal: Yes

Tax Compliance: No

Vacation / Leave Tracking: Yes

W-2 and 1099 Preparation: Yes

Wage Garnishment: Yes

401(k) Tracking: Yes

Attendance Management: No

Benefits Management: Yes

Check Printing: Yes

Compensation Management: No

Deductions Management: No

Direct Deposit: Yes

Multi-Country: Yes

Multi-State: Yes


Self Service Portal: Yes

Tax Compliance: Yes

Vacation / Leave Tracking: No

W-2 and 1099 Preparation: No

Wage Garnishment: Yes

Important Aspects to Consider While Evaluating a Payroll Software for Your Startup

Here are a few aspects to consider when making a decision:


Find a platform that can support all your tasks, deliverables, and needs while still being affordable enough for the company size. It is good for a software to be loaded with all your desired features, but be sure to take into consideration which of these features come at a premium cost and whether that is something the company can afford. Create a concrete outline of your company’s must-haves to ensure that you can build a solid pricing plan that tailor-fits your company’s payroll needs. In summary, decide which modules and features are absolutely required and take into account the cost of these features specifically.

Time Efficiency

Payroll management has a reputation for being one of if not the most time-consuming and tedious tasks for a company. This is because it has historically required many steps to be taken to complete. For example, double-checking all submissions, making sure that all details are accurately entered, making sure no team members were overlooked, and more. Pick a software that will help you reduce time spent on these tasks in the most effective way possible.

Highly-Automated Functionality

Following similar reasoning with time efficiency, choose a platform that can run on autopilot and requires less human capital on things like data entry, sorting, manual log-ins, etc. Not only does this save time but it also helps make sure that no payroll is missed. The last question that employees should be worried about and ask is why they were not paid on time.

Reliability and Security

Consider using a platform that is not only efficient but also produces accurate and error-free results. Some platforms may be fast but can be subject to system errors, malfunctions, and breakdowns. In an industry where time is of the essence (especially in payroll), there is little to no room for errors. Make sure that the platform you choose is thoroughly tested and has passed intensive QA.

For a software tool to be reliable, it has to be secure. You don't want to have to worry about security breaches, data privacy violations, and the like.


Users do not want to (nor have the time to) waste time navigating poorly optimized software/websites. The platform you choose should be intuitive, simple, and easy to use. A well-designed but less complicated platform is a must. View screenshots, 3rd-party video reviews, and attend demos to evaluate how each platform works before committing.

Integration of Tax Functionalities And Other Compliance Automation

Finding a platform that automates payroll tax functions is essential. Most startups now have remote workers and employees in many states, which makes the computation of employment taxes more complicated. It's crucial you choose a platform that can track taxation information, compliance/filings and also handle the employment tax payments.

Excellent Customer Support and User Education

Consider using a platform with easy-to-reach customer service hotlines or channels. It's also ideal that you secure a dedicated representative or team, so you have someone to reach out to that is familiar with your company. Check to be sure the platform comes with an accessible, comprehensive knowledge base, user guides, and feature reviews.

Ease In Company Onboarding and Employee Onboarding

The process of onboarding your company into the system, which includes 1) filling out all company information, 2) connecting bank accounts, 3) registering in necessary states, etc., should be seamless and manageable.

The same goes with onboarding new employees. A growing startup will be onboarding lots of new hires into the system. This needs to be easy to avoid adding unnecessary work to the HR/management teams.

Benefit Options/Integration

The payroll platform you choose should offer comprehensive benefits options for your team. It should also facilitate updates to benefits during each enrollment cycle and meaningful employee events.

Pros and Cons




- High Overall User Ratings and Reviews

- High Popularity Score

- User-Friendly User Interface

- Offers excellent integration with accounting platforms like Quickbooks, expense reimbursement platforms and time-tracking software

- Benefits available that sync directly to payroll

- Highly Automated Functionality

- Handles federal and state payroll taxes seamlessly and automatically

- Excellent Customer service support

- Upgrades available to make it a full-service HR platform

- Provides seamless migration from another payroll and benefits firm

- Modular Pricing scheme, you only pay for the features and functions you need

- Offers options to manage employees and devices remotely

- Offers PEO compliance features

- Can pay international employees and contractors

- Customizable reports


- Offers fewer compliance features than a PEO (Professional Employer Organization)

- Large group health insurance not available

-Health insurance handled through a 3rd party (some benefits are not available in certain areas)

- Not able to pay international employees or contractors

- Lacks easy IT systems management feature

- No integrated background checks and not registered for benefits in all states, meaning that you have to register your startup in each state in which you have employees

- Not as easy to reach customer service support: no phone support, only email

- Bugs in software have been reported

- Fewer integration options

airCFO uses Gusto and recommends it to most of our clients. Outside of QBO, Gusto is our most trusted, cost-effective, and utilized software at airCFO.

A main difference between the two, Rippling does offer a few unique ancillary benefits when looking at HR, employee management from onboarding to off-boarding (and everything in between).

IT Management is another benefit helping position Rippling as a "full service" solution, providing client POCs the ability to manage devices, password management, software access management all in one place.

Situational Recommendations

As mentioned above, both Xero and QBO are jam-packed with features and benefits. However, there are instances where one tends to be a better choice than the other.

Gusto logo - airCFO Startup Toolkit

When to Choose Gusto

If you are a small business that needs to automate and simplify payroll processes. On top of full-service payroll, Gusto has multiple direct deposit processing timelines, including a next-day option.

If you employ mostly contractors. Gusto has a low-cost plan that comes with year-end tax reporting services. You will only be charged for months that you processed contractor payroll.
If your focus is only payroll or month-to-month payroll, and not an all-in-one HR software.
If you need health insurance and you're not in one of the states Gusto hasn't yet expanded to (Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, West Virginia, Alaska, and Hawaii), signing up for benefits plans will be easy for you and your employees.

When to Choose Rippling

If you're a small business planning to grow your company significantly in the next few years, because of its full integration of payroll, benefits, time and attendance, team training, recruiting, and IT options.
If IT is your top priority. If your focus is on provisioning, app management, and device management, this could be a good option for you.
If you want to create a custom plan with features specific to your needs.
If you manage employees and devices remotely.
If want more than standard benefits administration. Rippling PEO offers health plans, 401(k)s, HSA, and FSA options for businesses.
If it's a priority to offer team members health insurance in ALL US states


Both options presented include impressive payroll functions and features. It all boils down to your startup's current and future needs.

If you require an applicant tracking system, have employees working abroad/internationally, want help in purchasing and setting up new computer devices or if you're actively hiring, consider Rippling. This is also a good choice if one of your priorities is offering health insurance available in ALL US states.

However, if your company is a small startup that wants a rich set of payroll features with standard HR tools and multiple employee benefits choices, consider using Gusto, as it offers reasonably-priced plans, including a low-cost contractor-only tier. Generally speaking, it also has the most affordable option between the two payroll software providers.

Either way, we hope this guide has provided the information you need to select the right payroll solution for your startup.

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About air CFO

airCFO is so much more than an accounting firm; we pride ourselves on helping startups succeed. Our proprietary tech tools and dedicated team of finance, accounting, and people ops experts deliver optimized services tailored to each company’s unique needs. We partner with founders to demystify complex issues, steering startups clear of roadblocks from their Day 1 through to exit. Unlike siloed software tools or disjointed independent contractors, airCFO offers integrated specialized support and true finance leadership. Our hands-on approach means we rapidly add value as strategic advisors who understand the startup journey. Inside 200+ of the world’s top startups, airCFO takes care of the back office so founders can focus on driving growth.

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