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Heartland vs. Gusto: A comparison of payroll, onboarding and time tracking solutions

Thursday, December 08, 2022

From afar, it looks like every payroll company offers the same things: payroll processing, timekeeping, human resources, payroll tax support —you get the idea.

Industry veterans will tell you it’s not so.

As an example: Think about the last time you grabbed an afternoon latte. There are plenty of coffee shops to choose from, and you could argue they all sell the same thing.

But on closer inspection, the accommodations, flavors combos and pricing vary wildly. Knowing what you value most is the key to caffeinated satisfaction.

The same principles are at play when you’re looking for the right payroll provider for your business.

Finding the just-right fit is all about knowing where you’re willing to compromise and what’s non-negotiable.

That’s why we’ve created this comparison between Heartland and Gusto as payroll providers. We couldn’t possibly cover every single thing both payroll providers do in one blog. And we won’t try to.

Instead, our goal is to make your shopping experience just a little easier by addressing popular features business owners consider in the buying process.

Read on to learn:

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Explore features and functionality

Payroll packages

As is now commonplace in the industry, Heartland and Gusto both sell three packages for small businesses that increase in price as they move from basic functionality into full-service payroll solutions. Gusto’s packages start with Simple, and level up to Plus and Premium. They also offer a stripped-down Contractor Only package. Heartland's three plans are Essentials, Advanced and Complete.

One of the biggest differences between offerings is the business size they’re built to accommodate. According to testimonials posted on G2, a popular software review site, Gusto can support businesses with 1 employee all the way up to 1,000. Heartland’s payroll solution is currently tailored to businesses with fewer than 250 employees.

The two companies also offer noticeably different product suites. While Gusto’s product offerings don’t extend beyond the realm of human capital management, Heartland offers a wide variety of payments and POS solutions for small businesses all the way up to mega enterprises. Having an all-in-one business technology provider may be appealing to business owners looking to simplify their operations.

Payroll pricing models

Here’s a quick rundown. Both companies handle pricing similarly — providing an overview online, but requiring a quote from a sales representative for full details.

Heartland’s Essentials plan starts at $89 per month for 1-5 employees. Pricing information beyond that would require a quote from a member of the sales team.

Gusto’s Contractor Only package is $6/mo per person. Gusto Simple is $40 per month, plus $6 per employee, per month. Gusto Plus is $80 per month, plus $12 per employee, per month. Gusto Premium pricing requires a quote from a representative.

Looking at the price of the packages alone isn’t a great way to compare value, since the features included in each package may be valuable or meaningless depending on your business.

Consider the following scenarios to see what we mean:

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If you only have two employees with no solid plan for growth in the near future, the $40 Gusto Simple package with two employees is $52. That could save you money compared to the $89 price tag for Heartland Essentials.

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If you have 5 employees, you'll only save $10 with Gusto Simple, which may not be worth it if you have to pay for add-on features that come standard in Heartland Essentials.

Don’t fret if you aren’t sure where you fit! Keep reading for more information about which key features are available in each package and what’s considered an add-on.

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Payroll processing and tax management

Payroll processing

Gusto and Heartland both provide cloud-based payroll processing, including wage calculation, overtime and bonuses for all types of workers. Both payroll solutions support direct deposit, paycards and physical checks as payment options.

But where Heartland offers checks for all customers, only Gusto customers in an early-access check mailing beta can pay employees via check. According to an article in Gusto’s online help center, these checks can take up to 10 business days to arrive.

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Multi-state payroll: Heartland clients can run payroll across multiple states regardless of which plan they’re on. Gusto customers would need to upgrade from Simple to Plus for multi-state payroll.

Custom reporting

Many business owners want to keep an eye on costs with custom reporting on payroll history, bank transactions, PTO and tax payments. Heartland customers get access to real-time standard and custom payroll reporting, as well as exports with the Essentials plan. Gusto customers would need to upgrade from Simple to Plus to get custom reports.

Tax planning and management

Heartland and Gusto both offer tax filing and payments for business owners in all 50 states. Heartland customers get tools to screen candidates for the Work Opportunity Tax Credit in the Essentials plan. Gusto customers have the option of a tax credit services add-on, but it’s not included in any of the plans.

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As a refresher, the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) is a government program designed to incentivize employers to hire job seekers from groups who have traditionally experienced barriers to employment.

Each eligible new hire who meets criteria from at least one of 10 possible groups —for example, qualified veterans, qualified ex-felons, summer youth employees and long-term TANF recipients —can earn you anywhere from $2,400 to $9,600 per year, per employee.

If you run a business in an industry where the labor pool is advantageous for WOTC credits, having this functionality could make a big difference in your bottom line. If you’re confident you’re operating in a space with few WOTC-eligible new hires, this may not play a large role in your decision-making process.

Image of a woman working on a laptop while having a conversation with a team mate on the benefits of using Heartland

Customer support model

We all know how important good customer service is. Receiving a prompt, pleasant resolution can free you from a black cloud of frustration. Getting stuck on hold or abandoned in the branches of a phone tree can make a bad situation truly awful.

Gusto support works differently for each plan. The more support you want, the more you’ll pay. Customers with the Simple plan get call, email and chat support with limited live support hours. With the Gusto Plus plan, customers get extended live support hours, or for an additional $8 per month, per person, they’ll receive a direct line to phone and email support. Premium members have direct line to phone and email support with expedited priority access.

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Every Heartland plan comes with live phone and email support from 8 AM until 8 PM CST, Monday through Friday for no additional fee.

Every Heartland client is assigned to a dedicated team of payroll specialists (usually around 5-7 people per team) and support calls and emails are answered in the order they’re received.

Like so many things in the payroll world, there is no right and wrong. It’s just a matter of preference and unique needs. If you’ve been managing payroll for years, you’re going to have a different comfort level than someone who’s just starting out. A numbers person who thrives on technical details will need a different approach than someone who prefers organized chaos and hasn’t updated their iPhone since it came out in 2012.

Are you looking to cut costs? Confident you’re tech-savvy enough to troubleshoot issues on your own? You may be perfectly content with chat support and a handful of live support hours.

Do you run complex payrolls, feel overwhelmed by the data and want hands-on support to guide you through? Heartland’s dedicated support team that knows your specific pain points will give you the peace of mind you need.

Onboarding and time management

Employee onboarding

Gusto and Heartland share some unsurprising similarities in the area of onboarding. Both handle new hire reporting to the state for clients as part of any plan. Flexible employee onboarding is made simpler with offer letter templates and document storage within the platform — both available in the Heartland Essentials plan and Gusto’s Simple plan.

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Employment verification, candidate background checks and drug screenings are all listed as part of Heartland’s Advanced plan. While it’s always possible Gusto may provide these services, they aren’t mentioned in the feature matrix on their website.

The importance of these features depends on your business. All government contractors are required to verify their new hires’ eligibility to work in the US. Companies dealing with sensitive information often require background checks and drug screenings before a candidate is officially hired.

It may not be an inconvenience to handle these outside of your payroll system if you don’t plan to hire much or aren’t interested in screening candidates. But if you intend to grow, or know you’ll want this information for each new hire at your medium-sized business, it could be worth considering in your payroll provider selection process.

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Time off requests, accruals and tracking

Heartland and Gusto approach time and attendance functionality differently. Gusto includes time tracking, project tracking, time off requests and approvals and time-off calendar syncing as options in their more expensive Plus and Premium plans. It does not appear to be available in their Simple plan. They also offer 21 time tracking integrations.

Heartland supports 35+ time tracking integrations with leading providers. But for customers interested in a fully integrated option, Heartland Time is an all-in-one time and attendance add on with comprehensive features. While that means an additional cost, you don’t have to upgrade to a more expensive package full of additional features you’re not interested in just to access the timekeeping functionality.

Plus, the features included in Heartland Time are more robust than Gusto’s advertised solution —including payroll budgeting, employee access via a mobile app, shift swapping and coverage, punching options, geofencing, continuous tracking, accruals, labor distribution and more.

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Taking the next step

Feeling a little winded? We get it. Talking about even a portion of what a payroll provider does is pretty overwhelming. Here is a majorly high-level overview of each company.


Has straightforward plans, small business expertise and first-class customer support for all. They may not be the cheapest option for a business owner starting out, but that could be offset by the appeal of having an all-in-one business technology provider, dedicated support at no additional cost or the confidence that you won’t be forced to switch to a different provider if your business changes and grows.


Has low starting price points, simple onboarding and a variety of packages. Make sure you study their plan information for limitations and add-on costs (no payroll checks, upgrade for multi-state payroll, customer support tiers).

As we said at the top, getting what you want is all about knowing what’s non-negotiable and where you’re willing to compromise. Sometimes talking it through with an expert can help you do just that. If you’d like to learn more about Heartland’s payroll technology or just ask a few no-pressure questions, contact us today. We’d love to be a resource.

All trademarks contained herein are the sole and exclusive property of their respective owners. Pricing and offerings are based on the information available at the time of the comparison and are subject to change. Heartland is the point of sale, payments and payroll solution of choice for entrepreneurs that need human-centered technology to sell more, keep customers coming back and spend less time in the back office. Nearly 1,000,000 businesses trust us to guide them through market changes and technology challenges, so they can stay competitive and focus on building remarkable businesses instead of managing the daily grind. Learn more at