An HR Glossary for HR Terms
Glossary of Human Resources Management and Employee Benefit Terms
Employer Payroll Taxes
What Are Employer Payroll Taxes?
Employer payroll taxes are the taxes withheld from an employee’s paycheck that companies are responsible for paying to the government. Payroll taxes are used to fund different programs, such as Social Security, Medicare, federal unemployment, and state unemployment benefits.
4 Types Payroll Taxes to Know
Social Security Tax
Both employer and employee are responsible for paying Social Security taxes. Employers pay 6.2% of each employee’s wages for Social Security taxes, and employees must match that same 6.2%. Self-employed professionals pay 12.4%.
The employer and employee also share Medicare tax responsibilities. Each party is responsible for contributing 1.45% of an employee’s wages, for a total of 2.9%. If you’re self-employed, the tax rate is 2.9%.
An additional Medicare tax from the Affordable Care Act (ACA) may apply if the employee reaches a certain income threshold. The rate for this additional levy is 0.9%.
Federal Unemployment Tax
The Federal Unemployment Tax Act (FUTA) requires employers to pay unemployment taxes. This tax funds unemployment programs that financially assist individuals who are out of work. Employers pay 6% of the first $7,000 paid to each employee annually. Certain state rules and credits may apply.
State Unemployment Tax
The State Unemployment Tax Act (SUTA) requires employers to contribute to state unemployment benefits. This is typically an employer-only payroll deduction, but some states require employees to contribute. Review your state’s Department of Labor guidelines to find the most current rates and regulations.
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What Is FICA?
The Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) is a US law mandating the tax levies that fund Medicare and Social Security programs. This is not a separate tax—FICA simply labels the combination of Medicare taxes and Social Security taxes deducted from each paycheck.
How Do I Calculate Employer Payroll Taxes?
An organization’s payroll specialist is responsible for withholding, reporting, and paying employer taxes to the IRS for every employee. Here’s how to calculate employer payroll taxes:
Step 1: Calculate Gross Taxable Wages
Step 2: Calculate Employer Tax Levies
Once you’ve identified the employee’s gross taxable wages, start calculating your taxes. This includes:
- FICA taxes (Social Security at 6.2% and Medicare at 1.45%)
- Unemployment taxes (FUTA at 6% on the first $7,000 and SUTA, if applicable)
Keep in Mind: Federal and state tax rates for the current tax year are subject to change. For the most current information, visit the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and Department of Labor websites or consult a tax professional.
Payroll Taxes Example
Mustafa earned a gross income of $3,500 during his first payroll period in January. To calculate the amount of employer taxes reported and paid, subtract unemployment and FICA taxes from his gross taxable wage:
First, his pre-tax $350 health insurance deduction is subtracted from his gross income to get $3,150.
Next, the employer portion of the payroll taxes is calculated based on Mustafa’s gross taxable wage ($3,150):
- Social Security tax = $195.30
- Medicare tax = $45.68
- Federal unemployment tax (let’s assume the full 6%) = $189
- State unemployment tax (assuming 1.16%) = $36.54
So in this instance, the total employer taxes reported and paid is $466.52.
The above example excludes employee taxes. Keep in mind that employers generally have to deposit employee FICA contributions, too.
When Should Payroll Taxes Be Paid?
Reporting and paying employer payroll taxes are essential steps in the payroll process and must be done according to a set schedule. Here’s a quick, general breakdown of the IRS reporting and deposit due dates:
Payroll Tax Reporting
Depending on your business, you’ll use specific forms to report payroll taxes, such as:
- Form 941 (Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return)
- Form 943 (Employer’s Annual Federal Tax Return for Agricultural Employees)
- Form 944 (Employer’s Annual Federal Tax Return)
- Form 945 (Annual Return of Withheld Federal Income Tax)
- Form 940 (Employer’s Annual Federal Unemployment Tax Return)
Deposit Due Dates
According to the IRS Employer’s Tax Guide, businesses must follow one of two deposit schedules for Social Security, Medicare, and federal income taxes: monthly or semi-weekly. The deposit schedule you’ll use depends on your tax liability (not how often your employees are paid).
Here’s a breakdown of the deposit due dates for employer payroll taxes, depending on the required deposit schedule:
- Monthly deposits: These are due by the 15th day of the following month.
- Semi-weekly deposits: For payments made Wednesday–Friday, deposits are due by the following Wednesday. For payments made Saturday–Tuesday, deposits are due by the following Friday.
FUTA and state taxes run on a separate schedule. FUTA deposits are due on the last day of the first month after the preceding quarter. For state payroll tax due dates, visit your state’s Department of Labor website.
All federal taxes must be deposited electronically.
Why Do Employers Have to Match Payroll Taxes?
Employers have to match payroll taxes because it’s a government requirement under US law. FICA contributions help fund Social Security and Medicare programs that are critical to the wellbeing of several beneficiaries, including:
- People with disabilities
The penalties for failure to pay FICA and other payroll taxes range from assertive IRS collection attempts and hefty penalty fines to criminal charges.
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