Less Accounting review

Less Accouting has the right idea: There are lots of businesses with simple accounting needs, so not every solution has to be all things to all people. The site offers the very basics with some flashes of excellence, but you can do better for the same cost or less.
Photo of Less Accounting

Like Outright, Less Accounting was launched because its founders were working on other applications and weren’t happy with the options available for small business financial management. They thought that QuickBooks  was just too much of everything for many small businesses. They also believed there was room in the market for a simpler online accounting service that wasn’t trying to compete with QuickBooks, but rather providing a set of features that did enough for a lot of companies, without being overwhelming.

Fun but Serious
Less Accounting’s site and its supporting informational pages take a light-hearted, sometimes irreverent approach to the business of accounting. But its tools are based on serious double-entry accounting rules. If you’re not familiar with standard bookkeeping procedures, you won’t notice this because the technical stuff is done in the background. You will notice, though, that the team behind Less Accounting displays a friendly, positive attitude towards its customers through its program language and its online support, and it tries to supply workarounds when a particular feature isn’t available on the site.

Less Accounting may be “less” than QuickBooks, but it still offers a lot to very simple businesses that want to minimize the time it takes to manage their bookkeeping. Like its competitors, it assumes that you’re going to be downloading transactions for the bulk of your financial management tasks, so it supplies easy-to-use tools to facilitate that process. You can create and email invoices to customers, and develop proposals that can be converted to invoices. The site helps you make sense of your money in and money out by letting you assign categories and tags, so you can group related transactions. It offers some nice, helpful extras that let you, for example, upload a receipt and attach it to an expense, split transactions, attach notes to clients’ records and track mileage.

Simple Setup
In addition to bringing in integrated data from services like gMail, Basecamp (project management) and Highrise (contact management), you can import CSV files from PayPal and QIF files. The supporting documentation tells you how to convert other formats like Excel into QIF format. And there’s a separate automated process for importing QuickBooks files. It’s likely, though, that you would have more data in the records you’re importing than there is space in Less Accounting’s contact records; they’re fairly skimpy.

Setup shouldn’t be terribly time-consuming, since Less Accounting offers fewer options than any competitor except for Outright Plus. The Settings link opens a list of issues that you’ll need to address before you get started, standard tasks like supplying your company address and logo, choosing between cash and accrual operations, setting up sales tax and choosing a currency. There’s more beyond this that will simplify your accounting workflow, including, “Translation” (changing the language used on several fields; you could change “Proposal” to “Estimate,” for example) and the option to include a PayPal link on invoices. This is similar to what you do in “Preferences” in other applications.

Then it’s on to add the financial accounts whose data you’ll be downloading. Here, like on competing sites, you simply supply your user ID and password for each site. Security is comparable to what’s offered elsewhere; Less Accounting employs state-of-the-art controls and is unable to “push” any data back to your bank. You’ll be able to specify who you want to invite to access your data, even setting up simple permissions, and edit the default category list. describe any vehicles for which you’ll be tracking mileage and create templates for invoices and proposals. I didn’t find the latter to be particularly easy to master; it uses rather primitive design tools.

Still Lacking in Some Areas
As Less Accounting’s website explains, bookkeeping isn’t as hard as you might think. You bill people who owe you money and record the expenses you incur. Then you invite your accountant to sign in and check your work.

That does sound simple. And if you have a simple business structure, you may be able to do everything you need using Less Accounting. Your home page—the dashboard—provides a summary of the financial information that you most need to know. It displays account balances and reminds you of unfinished tasks. There’s a cash flow graph and some historical data, and a pie chart that shows you where your money is going by dividing it by categories. Some of this data is interactive, so you can link to working screens, but not as much as is offered by QuickBooks Online.

Nor can Less Accounting compete with QuickBooks Online in terms of user interface and the volume of related information and links that appear on pages. Less Accounting’s screens look dated compared to QuickBooks Online’s more modern appearance. There’s little beyond what is absolutely needed on each page, though some do include a bit of friendly advice on the topic at hand.

Better Solutions Available
The site’s structure, though, works just fine for the features it has to support. A vertical pane on the left divides the application’s features into related areas, using non-technical language like. “Money In” and “Money Out.” Links in each section are labeled using words like, “Budget” (an unusual capability in this group), “Deposits & Payments,” “Expenses,” and “Bank Reconciliation.”

Less Accounting’s working screens would serve a small business with no exceptional needs well, but they don’t excel when compared to their competition. Contact record forms only have fields for name and address, phone and email, and notes, and item records are similarly sketchy. Same goes for transaction forms, which contain the minimum information required. The site’s invoice form, for example, lacks several fields available in QuickBooks Online, including a separate shipping address, department designation, invoice date, options for discounts, shipping charges, etc.

There are two more deficits that are critical: the lack of an integrated payroll solution (though they recommend SurePayroll, and you can record some payroll data in Less Accounting) and the absence of an activity log, or audit trail, which both Kashoo and QuickBooks Online offer. Other shortfalls are less serious, like the lack of an Android app (iPhone only) and poor forms customization tools (not expected to be that developed in this level of functionality, though QuickBooks Online’s are pretty good.

Should Less Accounting be the first accounting application for your business, or should you switch to it from something else? Given the fact that it costs more than Kashoo and almost as much as QuickBooks Online Plus. (without payroll), I’d have to say no—for now. Small business accounting sites can evolve quickly, and the landscape may be different in six month or a year. If you’re going to spend roughly $30 per month, spend it on our Editors’ Choice, QuickBooks Online. If your needs are exceedingly simple, go with the Essentials version. There’s certainly room in this market for less complex, less flexible accounting solutions, and Less Accounting has made a good start in that direction.

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Specifications
OS Compatibility Windows Vista, Windows XP, Mac OS, Windows 7, Windows 8
Type Business, Professional

Verdict
Less Accouting has the right idea: There are lots of businesses with simple accounting needs, so not every solution has to be all things to all people. The site offers the very basics with some flashes of excellence, but you can do better for the same cost or less.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc