First, if you’ve been backing up to USB flash drives, you are to be commended for at least getting your data off your computer and onto a separate, removable backup drive. That’s better than keeping EVERY copy of your data on your hard drive alone. (Why? Because, of course, if all your backups are on your hard drive, and that hard drive goes down, you are in trouble!)

But you need to revise your backup strategy at least a little in order to be safer. Why? Because USB drives aren’t super reliable target drives for QuickBooks backups.

I talk to people all the time whose company file gets badly damaged somehow. They think they are OK — “I’ve got a ton of backups on my flash drive!” But when they plug in their flash drive and try to restore these backups, the backups are corrupted and unusable. Or the USB flash drive itself is dead. That makes for a bad day (and a day when people call me for QuickBooks file repair).

It’s better — more reliable — to backup to an external hard drive or a cloud drive.

But regardless of whether you want to have your backup file on a USB flash drive, external hard drive, or the cloud, do this: Backup to your Windows Desktop, then copy the backup file from Desktop to your ultimate backup destination through Windows.

Why do this extra step? Because writing data to your local hard drive (where Desktop lives) is fast and reliable. QuickBooks is designed to read and write data to hard drives very well. Writing data, especially large files, directly from QuickBooks to other kinds of drives, however, can be problematic. I believe that slower write times leads to file writing errors, which leads to restore problems later on.

RELATED: What Kind of Drives Can You Open QuickBooks On?

And if you make your backup initially to Desktop, it’s very easy to find your backup file when you copy it in Windows to your ultimate target drive, whether in the cloud, external HD or USB flash drive.

Bonus tip: If you try to restore a QuickBooks backup from a USB flash drive and the restore fails, try simply copying the backup file from the flash drive to Desktop, then try to restore the file from Desktop. This sometimes works when a restore directly from the flash drive fails.

Let’s face it….USB flash drives are as common as potato chips, and there is hardly anything more convenient than backing up to a USB flash drive and putting it in your pocket. But don’t rely on a USB flash drive as a mission critical piece of technology. And improve your odds by mediating the process through Windows Desktop.

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38 thoughts on “Why You Should NOT Backup to a USB Flash Drive

  1. I have my data in a folder called data and I have my backups in a folder called backups.
    I do the backups to the hard drive folder and then I copy both the backup and the data files to an external hard drive.

    • Hi Shirley,

      I guess that way you have two copies? I’m not sure why you are copying both, but it’s definitely better to have more backups/copies than you need, compared to not having enough! Thanks for your comment.

  2. “But regardless of whether you want to have your backup file on a USB flash drive, external hard drive, or the cloud, do this: Backup to your Windows Desktop, then copy the backup file from Desktop to your ultimate backup destination through Windows.”

    What’s “…..your ultimate backup destination through Windows” mean?


    • Hi Norman,

      “Your ultimate backup destination” means the final place that you want your backup file to reside: a USB drive, a cloud drive, an external hard drive.

      “Through Windows” means that you copy the backup file to that final place through Windows — select and copy/paste, or click and drag.

      Hope that is more clear. Thanks for the question.

  3. Been backing up to a flash drive for 3 years with no problem. Have restored twice.
    Maybe it’s the manufacturer of the flash drive that is the problem.

    • Hi Richard,

      Glad to hear that! Yes, most people probably never run into the problem, especially if they are running QuickBooks Pro and have a relatively small file. But to me at least, it’s important enough to go to some pains to make sure that the process is as reliable as possible. I talk to plenty of people who find themselves in a jam with their USB drive backups. Thanks for your comment.

      • I have had two external hard drives crash in the past, completely unusable after. I lost all my external back up files, Tried everything to make usable – tricks like putting in the freezer, etc. Paying a technician to recover data failed. I was advised by my IT guy to use a flash drive because it had fewer internal parts. That is my go to and it has never failed.

  4. I know from experience that external hard drives can fail with no warning so now I use Carbonite. Carbonite works very well especially when you need to transfer your files to a new computer.


  5. When backing up Quickbooks Backup file to cloud, is the backup file the only one needed or are there other Qbw files also required in order to achieve a full restore from the Cloud?

  6. Have new HP laptop. Purchase and installed Quickbook 2017 and then downloaded my backup of QB 2009 Pro from WD external drive. Al went well, QB upgraded my info to 2017 version and to verify my next check number was right in sequence. After entering some new checks and deposits and reconcile the account I wanted o backup to the same external drive. Did process as before and when I get to final save I receive message that basically says “I do not have permission to backup to this location. I have tried all I know but can not backup to the external drive. Any suggestions?

    • Hi Ed,

      It’s a Windows permissions problem. But even if you troubleshoot that to where you can backup to that drive, I’d recommend you backup to your local hard drive, then copy the backup file to the external drive in Windows. More reliable. Thanks for your question.

  7. Hi Shannon, Have QB 2009 on laptop and just upgraded to QB 2017 on new laptop. Having trouble restoring files from 2009 to new version. Didn’t receive updates on laptop for 2009. Getting error code 6132. Any suggestions?

    • Hi Sharon,

      Try copying your 2009 backup file to the Windows Desktop of your new laptop. In QB 2017 on that laptop, restore company from the backup file that’s on your Windows Desktop, and restore it to your Windows Desktop. If that doesn’t fix it, contact me directly. Thanks for your question.

  8. I have quickbooks 2011 and got a new usb $60 One from staples….says I need to install software to use the usb. I just want to backup each day like I always did. Do I have the wrong usb?

    • Andrea,

      Apparently there is a device driver that needs to be installed to access it. Should be a one time thing, and then you can backup to your USB flash drive. Thanks for your question.

  9. Thank you for all you do for us QB users. I have lived and worked with these programs for many years, and I always find it comforting that professionals like you (heck, especially you) are there with most, if not all, the answers.

  10. After going through difficulty moving from QB 2010 to QB 2016 for mac, I appreciate this bit of advice.

    We backup to external backup source, then from that one to a cloud service (Crashplan) that hopefully covers us. Things can, (and especially with spinning drives) and do go wrong with our computers, and good (automated preferably) backups are a must to a smooth running business.

  11. I regularly copy my full QBW file from local to USB and back again because I take it to and from work and home to sync with QB POS at work and then work on it regularly at home. No problems yet!

    Years ago, I had an issue with a user deleting a whole bank account and was not worried as i had my backups! Floppy disks let me down!

    One media is never any more foolproof than another. Multiple backups in multiple media is the way to go.

    Now I use the Microsoft One Drive which always ensures a local copy and a cloud backup copy, PLUS I have my USB backup to my backup! I’m a data hoarder!

  12. Hi Shannon, I just got QB 2016 installed on a mac; I need to direct the previous user for our company (located across the country) on how to copy the QB company data (he has version 2012 – I think) onto a portable device and mail it to me. Any suggestions? He’s already sent one copy on a thumb drive and I failed to tell him (or he forgot) my QB is on a mac.

    • Hi Mary,

      I’m not a Mac guy and don’t do that interchange.

      But it seems like he’d have to have a thumb drive that is formatted to be readable by both Windows and Mac. Check out this article on how to format the USB drive from either the Mac or the Windows side.

      Once he has the USB (thumb) drive formatted right, then in QuickBooks he should be able to click File / Utilities / Copy Company File for QuickBooks Mac… and create a Mac-ready file. Maybe he could create that on his Windows Desktop. Then he could, through Windows, copy that file to the flash drive, and send it on to you. When you get the drive, your Mac should be able to read the drive, and you can copy the QB file from the flash drive to your Mac. Then you should be able to open it in QB Mac. It should detect that it’s from an older version, and ask you if you want to update it to your 2016 version. You can answer yes to that, and hopefully you’ll be where you need to be.

      Thanks for your question.

  13. I gave my accountant my USB drive (where I had done my backups) so she could do taxes. I am using QuickBooks 2012 version. She made general ledger entries for taxes and I want to save those changes however in the mean time other entries have been made in QuickBooks for checks and such. How do I merge what changes she did and the entries we did? Any help would be greatly appreciated.

    • Hi Bonnie,

      That is not easily done, unfortunately. You’ll probably just need to reenter your work, or send her a more recent version of your data and have her reenter her work. In the future, you’ll need to either hold off on doing work while she has your file, or talk with her about adopting ‘accountant changes’ protocol with her. Thanks for your question.

  14. I changed accountants and they don’t use Quickbooks. I have my main quickbooks 2017 pro on my desktop. I loaded quickbooks onto a laptop to bring the accountant but can’t get the new version on the laptop to recognize a backup, portable or anything, it goes through all the steps like it’s working and then just does nothing. I even copied the .qwc and put it on the laptop, but quickbooks said it was corrupt and tried to repair it. I am pulling my hair out trying to figure out why I can’t restore a duplicate on this laptop, any ideas?

    • Hi Joe,

      I’d make sure that the same updates for Pro 2017 were installed on both machines. Try making a fully verified backup on your desktop computer, and save the backup file (QBB) to your Windows desktop. Copy that file to a USB stick, then copy that same file from that stick to the Windows desktop of your laptop. Then restore the backup (pointing to the copy of the backup file on your Windows desktop). Restore the file to a permissible place on your computer, maybe the Windows desktop just for testing. It should work.

      A QWC file is not going to work…you should be bringing over either the QBW, a QBB, or a QBM file to your laptop.

      Thanks for your question.

  15. I have my QB file on PC , and travel , and want to work on my laptop while outside of the office. Then when I’m back I want to work again on PC. I thought the safest backup would be Google Drive, because the USBs get corrupted all the time, can you guide me with steps to backup to Google Drive, and retreive it on laptop, then save it and backup again an reteive it on PC? I know it requires to change the name of the QBW each time, or confused?
    Can you plese help with these steps?

    • Hi Anna,

      Your plan sounds good. The only tweak I would suggest is that you create and restore your backups to your computer, rather than backing up and restoring to the google drive directly. So, create your backup on your PC or laptop, upload it to your google drive, restore it on the computer’s hard drive, and restore it from there. Thanks for your question.

  16. Quickbooks states: Unable to commit file write operation to disk.
    Whenever I attempt to backup onto a flash drive this happens. I’ve never had this problem prior and it suddenly pops up for no reason at all. I’ve read everywhere and called Support, with no resolution at all. I’ve verified and rebuilt results for data fixes and tried different flash drives. I’ve ensured there’s enough space on the drives, and still nothing. Any advice?
    Thank you

    • Hi Tamarrah,

      Well, your situation is an example of what I wrote about in this blog post. It’s often just not reliable to backup straight to flash drives, even if your experience with that has been good until now. Maybe your file size has grown now to the point where it won’t work anymore. I would recommend that you backup to your computer, and then copy the backup file to your flash drive. Thanks for your question.

  17. When I save a backup copy to a USB and then try to open from the USB it tells me “unable to open quickbooks files this way”. I have tried multiple ways and always end up with the same message.


    • Hi Kelly,

      Yes, USB drives don’t have what it takes to be the working drive for operating QuickBooks files. Restore the backup to your computer’s hard drive and operate it from there. Thanks for your question.


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