How to Move from QuickBooks Desktop to QuickBooks Online

Apr 10, 2024


More and more finance teams are making the jump from QuickBooks Desktop to QuickBooks Online. And it’s not just because the online version maintains the user experience that you’re used to while allowing access from anywhere at any time. It’s because QuickBooks is in the process of phasing out its desktop software. 

July 31 of this year is the last chance people will have to buy most QuickBooks Desktop products (although QuickBooks Desktop Enterprise looks like it’s sticking around). While this doesn’t necessarily impact existing Desktop subscribers, changes are coming. 

In May, QuickBooks plans to discontinue QuickBooks Desktop 2021. That means this product stops getting security updates and users will lose access to QuickBooks Desktop Payroll, Desktop Payments, Online Banking, and more, along with live technical support and Online Backup. 

Long story short, it looks like QuickBooks is making moves to sunset its desktop software. Companies that want to get ahead of this should start thinking about transitioning to QuickBooks Online now. 

We’re here to help with precisely that. 


What you need to know

First up, let’s be clear that moving to QuickBooks Online means just that: moving all of your data over. You shouldn’t lose anything in the transition. QuickBooks makes it possible to migrate all of your data — from your company’s ledges to payroll info — from Desktop to Online. (All of this said, you should still download and save your file just in case something goes awry during migration.)

Secondly, you should also know that you may still be able to take advantage of the company’s free migration assistance. Technically, this free support was only supposed to be available until January 17, but QuickBooks was still advertising it on its site weeks after that. You can check the FAQs section on this page — specifically, “Where can I find help moving to online accounting and payroll?” — to see if it’s still promoted today. If it is, it’s well worth inquiring with their team to see if migration assistance is still on offer without a fee. 

If it’s not, or if you just want to have control in transitioning all of your company’s sensitive financial data, you can handle this migration yourself. Here’s your step-by-step guide.


Step 1: Back up your data

In QuickBooks Desktop, hit “File,” then choose “Create Backup…” and pick “Local backup”. You’ll be prompted to choose where you want the file to save. The resulting file is your safeguard measure in case you run into any issues with migration, so save it somewhere strategic.

If you don’t see the backup option available, you might be in multi-user mode. To switch to single-user mode, choose that option from the “File” menu. 


Step 2: Update QuickBooks Desktop

For the most seamless transition, you need to export files from QuickBooks Desktop running on the latest software. 

To update your QuickBooks Desktop to the latest and greatest version, choose “Help” from the top menu, then click “Update QuickBooks Desktop”. Hit “Update Now,” then choose “Get Updates”. You might need to restart QuickBooks and your computer to finalize the update. 


Step 3: Handle payroll

If any payroll runs are outstanding or you need to make any payroll tax payments, do it now. 

Then, choose “Edit” and “Preferences…” to pull up the preferences menu. In that, choose “Payroll & Employees” from the left-hand menu, then click “Company Preferences” and select “No payroll”. This turns off-payroll in QuickBooks Desktop so you don’t accidentally duplicate payroll by running it in both Desktop and Online. 


Step 4: Get your sales tax liability report

You’ll need to enter adjustment entries when you set up QuickBooks Online, so you’ll want this handy. To get your sales tax liability report, click “Reports” > “Vendors & Payables” > “Sales Tax Liability”. Choose “All” from the “Dates” dropdown menu. Select “Save as PDF” from the “Print” dropdown menu. Pick where you want to save the PDF, then hit “Save”. 


Step 5: Make sure your file isn’t too big

Hit Ctrl+1 on your keyboard. This will open up your Product Information window. In the “File Information” box, you’ll see a field titled “Total Targets.” In the U.S., you need to have fewer than 750,000 to export your QuickBooks Desktop file all at once. 

If you’re over that number, you’ll need to export lists and balances individually to QuickBooks Online, which essentially just means repeating the below steps a few different times. Because this is more complicated, you might want to loop QuickBooks support in there, which we show you how to do at the end of this article. 


Step 6: Get your data ready to export

Now, you’re going to select “Company” from the top menu, then click “Export Your Company File to QuickBooks Online.” (Pretty nice that they built this function in, right?)

Hit “Get Started” and you’ll have the option to export all of your company’s data or specific data. Choose “Export all your company data” unless your file’s too big (i.e., you have too many targets) to do it all in one go. 


Step 7: Create or sign into your QuickBooks Online Account

Hit “Continue” and you’ll be given the option to either sign into your existing QuickBooks Online account or create one. If you haven’t set up your account yet, now’s the time. 


Step 8: Choose your export location

You need to direct QuickBooks Desktop to send your files somewhere. If you already set up your business in your QuickBooks Online account, it should show up and you can select that. If not, you’ll need to create a new company. Fortunately, that’s as easy as typing the company name. 

Once you choose the company to send your QuickBooks Desktop file to, the upload process starts. 


Step 9: Download the app (optional)

While that process happens, QuickBooks should present you with the option to download the QuickBooks Online app to your computer. While you can absolutely just access Online from a browser (e.g., Chrome, Safari, Firefox), the app more closely mimics the user experience of QuickBooks Desktop. 


Step 10: Set up QuickBooks Online

At this point, you should get an email that walks you through getting established with QuickBooks Online. Hit the “Complete Your Setup” button in that email to start the process. 

Then, you should get yourself ready to operate in QuickBooks Online. That usually means:


Step 11: Test it out

To make sure everything migrated over properly, run the same report (e.g., a P&L for YTD) in both QuickBooks Desktop and QuickBooks Online. They should match exactly. If they do, congrats, you’ve successfully made the move!

If not, you can start the troubleshooting process by checking this guide to fixing migration errors. If that doesn’t help, you can click “Help” in QuickBooks Online. This gives you the option to troubleshoot with the QuickBooks Digital Assistant. Alternatively, if you hit the “Search” tab, you can start a chat with someone from the QuickBooks support team or ask them to give you a call. 

While the QuickBooks staff should be able to provide technical support, we’re here to help, too. As QuickBooks Online experts, we can help you get set up to make the most of this tool. Don’t hesitate to reach out.