In "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," answering three questions correctly got you safely across the Bridge of Death, but a wrong answer meant, well, death. Small business owners can relate. They cross many such chasms with few safe bridges. But when it comes to cutting paychecks, help is as close as Excel with Basics Payroll 2013. This free Excel workbook simplifies the payroll process for small and medium-size businesses. It's compatible with Microsoft Excel 2007 and later; we tried it in Excel version 14 in Office 2010. While Basics Payroll 2013 is free, you must activate it to use it. And, like King Arthur, you must answer three simple questions to proceed: What is your city and state? What is your industry? And have you used Basics Payroll before?
When we first opened Basics Payroll 2013, Excel's Compatibility Checker listed components that are disabled or reduced in functionality in earlier versions of Excel, with recommendations for fixes. Basics Payroll's white font and green-on-black look don't resemble the typical Excel sheet, but everything's clearly laid out and labeled, including buttons at the top of the template for quickly opening the Data Sheet, viewing and printing checks, entering general information, and returning to the Menu. The Menu accesses the program's three steps: Submit General Info, Submit Payroll Input, and Process the Pay Period. Clicking Help opened a sheet of instructions with individually printable sections. We could also go directly to the tax tables or a particular timesheet. Since we didn't yet have any saved data, we started by entering our General Information in Step 1 and moving on to Step 2, Payroll Input. In Step 3, Print Checks, Basics Payroll offers two options, Print All Checks and Print Employee #, letting us run the payroll at once or cut checks as needed. We could center checks for neat printing, too, though we didn't have genuine check paper to test-print checks.
Basics Payroll 2013's simple, three-step process and familiar Excel format make for a short learning curve, and also make quick work of the payroll process. And it's free, if you answer these questions three!