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What Employers Need to Know About Payroll Taxes in 2021

Updated: Jun 14, 2021


What Employers Need to Know About Payroll Taxes in 2021

The burden of remitting payroll taxes is the responsibility of both employers and their employees. Oftentimes, processing payroll taxes are like enigmas to employers, mostly small and medium-sized businesses. To make matters worse, there is the challenge of multi-state taxation. Besides, payroll tax policies vary from one state to another, and they sometimes change yearly.


While some business owners would like to save themselves the trouble of getting involved in calculating and paying FICA and withholding taxes to the government, a few others prefer to handle the process themselves. But whatever the case may be, paying payroll taxes is a responsibility that businesses cannot avoid, so the sooner you get the hang of it, the easier it gets for you. Otherwise, you risk getting things wrong, and that exposes you to penalties from the Internal Revenue Service.


So, having a basic understanding or an overview of what works and what doesn`t when it comes to processing payroll taxes for your company will save you some headaches (even if you want to outsource the process). At least, you`ll be able to clarify gray areas to your employees when they come asking.


This post will explain what payroll taxes are, the types of payroll taxes there are, whose responsibility it is to pay them, when to pay them, how to calculate them, and much more.


Understanding Payroll Taxes


Employers withhold a certain amount of money from employees` earnings and remit the same to the government on behalf of their employees and themselves regularly. This money is what is known as payroll taxes, and it must be deducted based on wages, bonuses, and salaries earned by employees.


The employer is responsible for calculating how much to withhold from each employee's earnings and remit the money to the appropriate taxing agencies (federal, state, and local tax authorities). You`ll need the guide provided by the IRS to do this. otherwise, you can consult with a professional HR service provider. The United States government generates a substantial amount of revenue from payroll taxes, so you can be sure that failing to pay or paying late will attract fines, which on their own, are also a source of revenue.


Revenues from payroll taxes are used to fund Medicare, Social Security, defense, recreation, education, healthcare, and other social insurance benefits.


Payroll taxes refers to other employment taxes, excluding personal income taxes. However, the concept of payroll taxes generally incorporates both income taxes (withholding taxes) and FICA taxes. Payroll taxes specifically refer to FICA (Social Security and Medicare) taxes and local taxes withheld from employees’ paycheck, and the additional percentages that the employer pays.


Unlike FICA taxes, income taxes are solely withheld from employees' salaries and are due to the respective federal, state, or local government collection agencies. Essentially, payroll taxes as used throughout the content of this post includes all taxes described above. This is explained in further detail below.


What's Included in Payroll Taxes?


The payroll or employment taxes that an employer remits to the federal and state agencies on behalf of itself and employees includes the following individual taxes:


Federal Income Tax


Employers must withhold this from employees` earnings and pay it to the federal government on behalf of the employee. The amount of federal income tax withheld is generally based on the amount an employee earns.


Employers must use the information provided in the Form W-4, filled out by employees when onboarded to determine the amount of tax to withhold from their paychecks. And as the income of employees increases, so will the income tax due.


State Income Tax


State withholding tax rates vary across the different states, but they generally work in the same manner as federal income taxes. So, you might want to check the withholding table (on the state government site) where your business is located to know exactly how much to pay.


Bear in mind that there are seven states in the U.S., where employees will not need to pay income tax: Alaska, Florida, South Dakota, Texas, Nevada, Washington, and Wyoming.


Social Security and Medicare Taxes


Both of these are called FICA taxes, i.e. Federal Insurance Contributions Act, and are paid as an equally shared responsibility between the employer and employees. The employee pays one half and the employer balances the other half. To know the exact figures to withhold, see the section on ‘How to Calculate Payroll Taxes” or check the updated IRS guide for more information.


Additional Medicare Tax


This was introduced in January 2013 as part of the Affordable Care Act. It mandates employers to pay an additional 0.9% Medicare Tax withheld from employees` paycheck when they earn above $200,000. Employers do not contribute to Additional Medicare tax.


Federal and State Unemployment Taxes (FUTA & SUTA)


FUTA is deducted separately from the employer and is deposited both quarterly and monthly. FUTA is used to fund federal programs that provide unemployment benefits to individuals who have lost their jobs.


SUTA, on the other hand, funds a state program that serves a similar purpose. Also, the rates and requirements for states differ, so check in your state to be sure. Employers are solely responsible for withholding and paying these taxes. Employees do not pay unemployment taxes.


Self-Employment Tax (SE tax)


If you work for yourself, you will be required to withhold and pay self-employment tax, which is essentially the social security and Medicare tax bundle for people who work for themselves. This also implies that the whole load of FICA tax will be paid by you since you do not have employees to share the responsibility with you.


How To Calculate Your Payroll Taxes in 2021


Calculating payroll taxes requires a fine mix of basic computing or accounting skills and a general understanding of how the taxation process works, both on the federal level and in the state where your business is located. Many businesses outsource this process to payroll management services or use payroll software, but some still run their payroll tax processing in-house. If you choose to run it yourself, here's what you need to know.


Employers and Employees


Taxes to be withheld from employees` paychecks include federal income tax, FICA taxes, and if your business is located in a state that levies an income tax, it must also be withheld from employees` paycheck. You`ll also need to know how many times you`re paying and withholding taxes from your employees in a month in order to be able to run payroll.


Once these are established, you can then go ahead to calculate the gross earnings of your employees. Social security tax is calculated at 6.2% of employees' gross wages. The same goes for employers; they pay up the other half of 6.2%. Note that this tax is capped at the first $137,700 and $142,800 of earnings in 2020 and 2021 respectively.


For Medicare, both employer and employee pay the same amount of 1.45%. The Additional Medicare tax is a 0.9% deduction from employee earnings of over $200,000 for single filers and $250,000 if they file jointly.


To calculate the federal income tax, state tax, and local income tax, you`ll need to work with the information supplied by the employee at the point of employment in the Form W-4. This shows you their filing status and exemptions. Check the IRS publication 15B to see how much tax to withhold from an employee's paycheck.


The same applies when calculating state income tax; each state provides an updated withholding tax table to guide employees on how much tax withhold from their employees.


Self-Employment Taxes


If you're self-employed, it is your responsibility to pay both the employer and employee parts of your payroll taxes. If you`re working with a contractor, they`ll have to withhold 2.9% for Medicare and 12.4% for social security. You`ll also have to withhold and remit your federal, state, and local income taxes.


Payroll Tax Penalties


Avoiding mistakes, remitting your taxes on time and fully will save you from facing severe tax penalties. Failing to withhold the correct amount from your employees makes you 100% liable for paying up the balance and the additional fees that may be imposed on you. Since you can't afford to report the wrong sum at any time, payroll taxes are therefore a big deal.


Failing to pay your payroll taxes on time, attracts a fee of 2% of the accrued sum for 1-5 days of lateness. For 6-15 days, you`ll pay a 5% penalty, and if you`re behind on payment by 16 days or more or 10 days after you get the first notice requesting payment of tax due from the IRS, the penalty fee gets as high as 10-15%.


For small businesses who outsource HR solutions to professional employer organizations (PEO), if the PEO fails to pay on time or deposits the wrong amount, the IRS still comes after you, the business owner.


Wrapping Up


Processing your payroll taxes can be complicated, but armed with the right information and tools, the whole process can become a walk in the park. There are different approaches to calculating and reporting payroll taxes correctly. You can either do it yourself, use payroll software, or outsource the entire process to a certified professional employer organization (CPEO).


Working with a CPEO saves you from errors committed by the PEO, as in this case, the IRS will hold them fully responsible for any errors on your payroll taxes. Additionally, you get to enjoy other great benefits when you partner with a PEO. If you need a reliable PEO service, you can hit us up at The Mission HR today.


The Mission HR makes it easy for SMBs to get the best PEO services. We are a leading partner in the PEO, HR, payroll, and benefits outsourcing marketplace. We provide result-oriented HR services for small and medium-sized organizations and government contractors, thereby serving as a trusted partner in integrated human resource compliance, risk management, employee benefits, employment practices liability insurance (EPLI), and payroll processing.