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QuickBooks for Construction (Desktop vs. Online)

UPDATED 06/20/2022

“QuickBooks Online is the future” is what many folks at Intuit (makers of QuickBooks) will say when asking about the overall state of software improvements to either their QuickBooks Desktop or QuickBooks Online platforms; It’s also common to hear an Intuit employee refer to QuickBooks Desktop as a “legacy” or “old” software. In addition, it’s clear by how they advertise their product that QuickBooks Online is the platforms that most small businesses are moving to (either from QuickBooks Desktop or other competing accounting apps).

However, as of today, QuickBooks Online is still lacking a LOT of functionality specific to the needs to the Contractor/Construction industry, specially when you compare what their “legacy” QuickBooks Desktop Premier/Enterprise platform can do.   The following are a list of features, functions, and reports that work QuickBooks Online still does NOT have.

Functionality in QuickBooks Desktop that is NOT in QuickBooks Online

  • Update Item Percent Complete: allows you identify the completion percentage of any item in your original estimates so when you pull a “Cost to Complete by Job Report” it uses that as a reference point to calculate projected costs by estimate item
  • Estimates to purchase Orders workflow: it automatically moved the item description from an estimate into a purchase order which saves a lot of time when you indent to send the vendor similar description or instructions that are in the estimate.  In QBO the description defaults to the item description
  • Billing Rate Levels: allows you to create a billing rate level that can be assigned to one or multiple vendors or employees so when a timesheet is created with the “billable” check mark and the time gets invoiced to the customer, the billing rate level kicks in and overrides the default sales price of the billable item.  In QBO, you can enter a default “cost rate” and “billing rate” for each individual vendor.  For employees, its actually inconsistent, some versions of QBO have a “Billing Rate” box you can edit and others do not; its a total surprise box, you kinda have to go in and see if yours has the field
  • Invoice for Time and Expenses in batch: allows you to create a bunch of invoices in batch for all customer:jobs that have billable time and expenses for a particular period in a single click.  In QBO, you can batch add all billable time and expenses to a single invoice for a customer or project at the time, but not for several at the time; there is kinda of a workaround which is to create a recurring transaction that automatically grabs all the billable time and expenses, but is kind of a messy workaround if you want the control of choose when and who is getting those invoices in batch
  • Income Tracker: Allows you to mark multiple estimates inactive in batch.  There is no functionality of this sort in QBO, this would be helpful to clean-up old estimates
  • Bill Tracker: allows you to close multiple open purchase orders in batch.  There is no functionality of this sort in QBO.
  • Sub-jobs / Sub-projects: In QuickBooks Desktop, there are parent customers and up to 4 deeper layers of Job and Sub Jobs.  In QuickBooks Online, projects can only belong to a customer or a sub-customer; but there are no sub-projects.  This is a really small nuance, but creates some problems when it comes to payment application, reporting, and other things.
  • Paychecks with multiple payroll items:  Every paycheck can have more than one payroll item that essentially is mapped to a different account in your chart of accounts, giving you more control over how payroll affects your P&L.   There are multiple payroll items in QBO, but you cannot control how the payroll items (account) hits the P&L.
  • Fully burdened payroll jobs costing: Including payroll items, classes, worker’s comp, and other payroll burdens; in Desktop there is a lot of control over all these items, in QBO there isn’t
  • Filly customizable transaction template designer: such as estimates, invoices, purchase orders, etc. that allows you to control how the you vendors/customers see the transactions being generated from QuickBooks

Customer:Job related Fields In Desktop not available in QuickBooks Online “Projects” (no custom fields available in projects via Advanced either):

  • Job Description: Available in the Job Status Report
  • Job Type: fully customizable drop-down menu with any fields you want to use, can be filtered in any job related report
  • Job Status: customizable 5-step dropdown, you can replace the default naming of the job statuses and asign any of the 5 levels to an active job, available as a filter in job-related reports
  • Start Date, End Date: available in job status report and filterable.  Note: these are available in QBO, but not accessible in a any reports
  • Customer Type: available as a pivot in custom summary report or totals by on detail reports; plus filterable in almost any related report.  QBO has the Customer Type field, but not available in any useful reports (with Advanced edition, you might be able to leverage Customer Type in a report; but not in any canned project/profitability report)

QuickBooks Desktop Transaction Fields not available by default in QuickBooks Online Plus (but might have a workaround using custom fields in QBO Advanced edition for $200/m):

  • Rep: is a default drop-down field available in almost any detail report related to jobs, and filterable too. (with Advanced edition, you might be able to leverage custom fields in a report; but not in any canned project/profitability report)
  • Ship Via: is a default drop-down field available in almost any detail report related to jobs, and filterable too only available in Invoices or Sales Orders, NOT in estimates.  “Ship Via” is not a field we normally connect with construction/contractor businesses, BUT it could be used to represent anything, doesn’t have to have any connection to anything related to shipping (with Advanced edition, you might be able to leverage custom fields in a report; but not in any canned project/profitability report)

Reports in QuickBooks Desktop Premier Contractor and Enterprise, not available in QuickBooks Online:

  • Job Status
  • Job Costs by Vendor and Job Summary
  • Job Costs by Vendor and Job Detail
  • Job Costs by Job and Vendor Summery
  • Job Costs and Vendor Detail
  • Cost to Complete by Job Summary
  • Cost to Complete by Job Detail
  • Expenses not Assigned to Jobs
  • Billed/Unbilled Hours by Person and Job
  • Billed/Unbilled Hours by Person and Activity
  • Job Profitability Detail
  • Job Estimates vs. Actuals Summary
  • Job Estimates vs. Actuals Detail
  • Item Profitability
  • Item Estimates vs. Actuals
  • Job Costs Detail
  • Unpaid Job Bills by Vendor
  • Time by Job Summary
  • Time by Item
  • Worker’s Comp Summary
  • Worker’s Comp by Code and Employee
  • Worker’s Comp by Job Summary
  • Worker’s Comp Detail
  • Worker’s Comp Listing

Reports in QuickBooks Desktop Enterprise, not available in QuickBooks Online:

  • Job WIP Summary
  • Committed Costs by Job


The common question I get, is “What about QuickBooks Advanced”?  Well, QuickBooks Online Advanced does not have any additional features that are related connected to the needs to contractors/constriction  that can somehow make up for all the missing items above.  QBO Advanced does have an awesome custom report builder feature that can be used to replace the very powerful Custom Summary Report that is built-in to QuickBooks Desktop.

All that being said, I think QuickBooks Online Advanced is still “best in class” when comparing to other cloud-based accounting apps for under $200 that handle up to 25 users.  And it might be a good idea to move to QuickBooks Online (Either Plus or Advanced editions) for your small construction company, as long as any of the list lacking items above are NOT going to interfere with your day to day operative needs.


However, there are some reports available in QuickBooks Online Plus/Advanced that are also in Desktop:

  • P&L by Customer:Project: works exactly like QuickBooks Desktop’s “P&L by Customer:Job”, with the exception of not being able to collapse Customer:Projects column
  • Project Profitability Summary: works exactly like QuickBooks Desktop’s “Job Profitability Summary”
  • Estimates & Invoice Progress by Customer: works exactly like QuickBooks Desktop’s “Job Progress Invoices vs. Estimates”
  • Time Activities by Customer Detail: works exactly like QuickBooks Desktop’s “Time By Job Detail”
  • Time Activities by Employees Detail: works exactly like QuickBooks Desktop’s “Time By Name Detail”
  • Unbilled Time: works exactly like QuickBooks Desktop’s “Unpaid Bills by Job”


QuickBooks Online does have some unique functionality called “Projects Dashboard” and this allows for two things you cannot see in QuickBooks Desktop:

  • Visual income/cost line chart with profit margin by Project
  • Including estimated costs from timesheets from both vendor’s time and employee’s timesheet (even if no bill or paycheck as been created), which is pretty neat:

If you want to see a video where I get into these things, watch this one:



hector @




Hector Garcia

Hector Garcia

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