Payroll, Tax

Tax Tip: Managing Payroll Taxes for Employee Compensation

March 18, 2024

Payroll tax management is crucial for businesses, and employers must withhold employee compensation taxes accurately. Failure to do so can lead to penalties for the organization and financial problems for employees. Finding the right payroll solution can be challenging, but it is essential to ensure that your employer tax obligations are met efficiently. With the right tools and strategies, you can make the process of managing payroll taxes more manageable.

Understanding Payroll Taxes

Payroll taxes are comprised of different elements:

Federal and State Income Taxes

Federal income tax must be withheld from each employee's paycheck. The employee fills out Form W-4 to specify how much is deducted from their paychecks based on their marital status, number of dependents, and other factors. While the employee pays this tax personally, it is still the employer's responsibility to ensure that those taxes are withheld and remitted to the IRS in time.

Only nine states don't have a state income tax. Most states have them, and some localities, such as New York City and Philadelphia, do as well. State and local equivalents of W-4 forms also need to be collected from the employee so that their state and local income taxes are remitted to the correct tax authorities in a similar manner to their federal income taxes.

Organizations that have remote employees or are established in areas where it's common for residents of different states to work out of state may need to set aside additional resources for state and local payroll tax compliance.

FICA Taxes

The Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) taxes are mandatory contributions to Social Security and Medicare that both the employees and employers pay. The employee's paycheck has 6.2% of Social Security tax and 1.45% of Medicare tax withheld from it, while the employer pays the same tax rate separately.

FICA has an annual cap, which is $168,600 in 2024. There is no cap on the 1.45% Medicare tax at both the employee and employer levels, but once an employee's income exceeds the cap then neither employee nor employer need to make additional Social Security contributions.

Federal income taxes and FICA taxes must be filed on a monthly or semi-weekly basis with the IRS. You need to decide which of these methods is best for your organization prior to the start of the next calendar year.

Unemployment Taxes

Federal unemployment taxes, FUTA, are paid solely by the employer at a rate of 6% of the first $7,000 paid to each employee during the year. This rate may be lower if you also pay SUTA, contributions to state unemployment funds. The maximum credit is 5.4%, which would drop your FUTA contribution rate to 0.6% depending on the state employment fund paid into.

Mandatory Fund Contributions

Depending on the employee's residence, they may be required to make payroll contributions to mandatory funds. These are typically family, medical, and disability leave funds managed at the state or local level and require small percentages withheld from each employee's paycheck. Employers may also need to contribute to these funds depending on the state where the organization is headquartered or has additional locations.

Tax Withholding Strategies

The IRS and state tax authorities provide withholding tables to employers and payroll processors so that organizations can accurately calculate their employer tax obligations. The IRS provides withholding calculators and other free tools for organizations and their principals to use so that payroll calcuations are made in a timely and accurate manner.

To ensure that employees are correctly having federal, state, and local taxes withheld, collect a Form W-4 from the employee during the onboarding stage along with any state equivalent forms. If an employee notifies you of a change of address, the payroll department or service should also be notified in case this affects the employee's tax withholding.

Compensation changes must also be accounted for so that employee compensation taxes are correctly calculated. If an employee is paid more, they may need more federal and state income taxes withheld and their FICA contributions adjusted if they hit the cap.

Bonuses, commissions, and fringe benefits must also be appropriately accounted for. Not all benefits are taxable, but there are special rules for bonuses and other one-time taxable payments that are still subject to income and payroll taxes.

Common Pitfalls in Payroll Tax Management

Common mistakes made in payroll tax management include, but are not limited to, the following:

Misclassifying workers. Just because an employee works from home doesn't make them an independent contractor, but providing tools and reimbursements to a freelancer doesn't automatically make them an employee. There are gray areas that workers can fall into depending on the industry and nature of work, but intentionally misclassifying workers as independent contractors to avoid payroll taxes carries massive legal and financial consequences.

Incorrect payments. Mistakes happen in payroll, and employees are accidentally under or overpaid. In the worst-case scenario, paychecks are missed entirely. If an employee is expected to return a payment or doesn't receive the wages they are entitled to, it will reduce morale or even cause them to quit. Some state labor departments will also step in if an employee is not being paid and can institute steep fines if the payroll management system isn't doing what it's supposed to do.

Not tracking employee hours. Hours need to be tracked for both salaried and hourly workers. Not only is this needed to justify their pay rates and ensure they are paid correctly if overtime rules apply to them, but numerous tax benefits require a certain amount of hours worked.

Leveraging Technology for Payroll Tax Compliance

Payroll processing solutions can automate the calculation, withholding, and remittance of employee compensation taxes. This creates greater efficiency and more accurate calculations since payroll solutions are synced to IRS and state tax department withholding tables and payroll regulations that keep becoming more complex.

Look for features that are the most relevant to your organization's size, type, and industry. For example, trades and software are very project-based and often have beneficial tax credits attached that depend on specific projects and hours worked. A payroll solution tailored to these aspects is more valuable than a one-size-fits-all outfit.

Reporting and Payment Compliance

Payroll taxes are reported on IRS Form 941, Employer's Quarterly Federal Tax Return. This form must be filed every quarter if you withhold federal income tax, Social Security, or Medicare taxes during the quarter. If sick pay and supplemental unemployment benefits are paid, this form must also be filed.

FUTA taxes are reported on Form 940, the Employer's Annual FUTA Return. Once the FUTA due is at least $500, it must be filed and deposited by the end of the month following the end of the quarter.

After the year ends, employees must receive their W-2 forms reporting their wages and taxes by January 31 of the following year, and employers must file Form W-3 by January 1.

2024 Payroll Tax Checklist

Staying compliant with payroll tax withholding requirements is crucial for maintaining an efficient organization and maintaining employee morale. Penalties are costly, and not having the correct paperwork filed causes operational bottlenecks. The right payroll automation solution dramatically reduces these risks.

Optimize your payroll tax management with Payday Payroll's expert services. Contact us for a consultation today!


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