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Understanding US Payroll Taxes: Definitions, Costs, and Calculations

US Payroll Tax

Payroll taxes include federal, state, and local taxes on employers and employees that fund various government social programs. These programs, like unemployment benefits, and medical care for low-income and elderly Americans, provide a critical safety net for individuals across the workforce.

However, navigating the complexities of payroll tax can be daunting, especially considering the variations between multiple countries, states, and even local jurisdictions. This variability poses a significant compliance challenge for domestic and international businesses. For instance, US-based companies must grapple with national and regional tax regulations, with non-compliance potentially resulting in fines and penalties.

But fear not! Mastering US payroll tax doesn’t have to be an overwhelming or risky endeavor. This comprehensive guide equips you with the necessary knowledge and tools. We’ll delve into key definitions, explore real-world examples, and provide a step-by-step approach to calculating employer and employee payroll taxes. Additionally, we’ll unveil three effective strategies to help you mitigate potential risks and ensure compliance.

What are Payroll Taxes?

Ever wonder where your Social Security benefits come from, or how unemployment insurance is funded? Payroll taxes fund these social benefits in the US. These are mandatory contributions, levied by federal, state, and local governments on employers and employees, typically calculated as a percentage of an employee’s salary or wage.

Think of them as investments in a collective pot that supports public insurance programs – like retirement income, unemployment benefits, and medical care for the low income and elderly Americans. In most parts of the world, employers act as collection agents, withholding employee payroll taxes directly from their paychecks and remitting them to the appropriate authorities. Additionally, employers are responsible for reflecting these contributions on the employee’s payslip, providing transparency in the total compensation package.

Payroll taxes are a crucial factor in calculating the total employee cost. Beyond the base salary, employers must account for these additional per-employee contributions to understand their true financial commitment to their workforce.

Payroll Tax Rates By States [2024]

Countries

Unemployment Insurance (State)

New Unemployment Insurance (State)

FICA Social Security (Federal)

FICA Medicare (Federal)

FUTA (Federal Unemployment Tax Act)

Alabama

1.09%-7.24%

2.70%

6.2%

1.45%

0.6-6%

Alaska

1%-5.4%

Varies

6.2%

1.45%

0.6-6%

Arizona

0.08%-20.93%

2%

6.2%

1.45%

0.6-6%

Arkansas

0.3%-14.2%

3.1%

6.2%

1.45%

0.6-6%

California

1.5%-6.2%

3.4%

6.2%

1.45%

0.6-6%

Colorado

0.75%-10.39%

1.7%

6.2%

1.45%

0.6-6%

Connecticut

1.9%-6.8%

3%

6.2%

1.45%

0.6-6%

Delaware

0.3%-8.2%

1.8%

6.2%

1.45%

0.6-6%

Distric of Columbia

1.9%-7.4%

2.7%

6.2%

1.45%

0.6-6%

Florida

0.1%-5.4%

2.7%

6.2%

1.45%

0.6-6%

Georgia

0.04%-8.1%

2.64%

6.2%

1.45%

0.6-6%

Hawaii

0.2%-5.8%

3%

6.2%

1.45%

0.6-6%

Idaho

0.2%-5.4%

0.97%

6.2%

1.45%

0.6-6%

Illinois

0.72%-7.6%

3.52%

6.2%

1.45%

0.6-6%

Indiana

0.5%-7.4%

3.5%

6.2%

1.45%

0.6-6%

Iowa

0%-7.5%

1%

6.2%

1.45%

0.6-6%

Kansas

0.2%-7.6%

2.70%

6.2%

1.45%

0.6-6%

Kentucky

0.5%-9.5%

2.70%

6.2%

1.45%

0.6-6%

Louisiana

0.09%-6.2%

Varies

6.2%

1.45%

0.6-6%

Maine

0.53%-6.16%

2.24%

6.2%

1.45%

0.6-6%

Maryland

1%-10.50%

2.6%

6.2%

1.45%

0.6-6%

Massachusetts

0.94%-14.3%

2.42%

6.2%

1.45%

0.6-6%

Michigan

0.06%-10.3%

2.7%

6.2%

1.45%

0.6-6%

Minnesota

0.57%-10.7%

Varies

6.2%

1.45%

0.6-6%

Mississippi

0%-5.4%

1.2%

6.2%

1.45%

0.6-6%

Missouri

0%-5.4%

2.37%

6.2%

1.45%

0.6-6%

Montana

0%-6.12%

1.18%-2.3%

6.2%

1.45%

0.6-6%

Nebraska

0%-5.4%

1.25%-5.4%

6.2%

1.45%

0.6-6%

Nevada

0.25%-5.4%

2.95%

6.2%

1.45%

0.6-6%

New Hampshire

0.1%-8.5%

2.7%

6.2%

1.45%

0.6-6%

New Jersey

0.5%-5.8%

2.8%

6.2%

1.45%

0.6-6%

New Mexico

0.33%-6.4%

1%

6.2%

1.45%

0.6-6%

New York

0.52%-7.8%

3.12%

6.2%

1.45%

0.6-6%

North Caroline

0.06%-5.76%

1%

6.2%

1.45%

0.6-6%

North Dakota

0.08%-9.69%

1.02%-9.69%

6.2%

1.45%

0.6-6%

Ohio

0.8%-10.2%

2.7%

6.2%

1.45%

0.6-6%

Oklahoma

0.3%-7.5%

1.5%

6.2%

1.45%

0.6-6%

Oregon

0.9%-5.4%

2.4%

6.2%

1.45%

0.6-6%

Pennsylvania

1.2%-9.93%

3.6%-10.2%

6.2%

1.45%

0.6-6%

Puerto Rico

1.2%-5.4%

2.8%

6.2%

1.45%

0.6-6%

Rhode Island

0.99%-9.59%

0.98%

6.2%

1.45%

0.6-6%

South Caroline

0%-5.4%

2.8%

6.2%

1.45%

0.6-6%

South Dakota

0%-9.3%

1%-6%

6.2%

1.45%

0.6-6%

Tennessee

0.01%-10%

2.7%

6.2%

1.45%

0.6-6%

Texas

0.31%-6.31%

2.7%

6.2%

1.45%

0.6-6%

Utah

0.3%-7.3%

1%-7.3%

6.2%

1.45%

0.6-6%

Vermont

0.8%-6.5%

1%

6.2%

1.45%

0.6-6%

Virginia

0.33%-6.43%

2.73%

6.2%

1.45%

0.6-6%

Washington

0.30%-6%

1%

6.2%

1.45%

0.6-6%

West Virginia

1.8%-8.5%

2.7%-8.5%

6.2%

1.45%

0.6-6%

Wisconsin

0%-12%

2.5%-3.5%

6.2%

1.45%

0.6-6%

Wyoming

0.48%-9.78%

NA

6.2%

1.45%

6%

Download Payroll Tax Rates →

Payroll Tax vs Employment Tax

While both terms encompass levies on employers and employees based on employee earnings, their specific definitions can differ depending on the jurisdiction.

Let’s delve into the US context for illustration.

What are Employment Taxes? [Summary & Definition]

Employment taxes encompass all federal, state, and local taxes imposed on an employee’s earnings. This is the broadest category and includes:

  • Federal Income Tax: Withheld from your paycheck based on your W-4 form, this tax goes towards funding various government services.
  • State and Local Income Taxes: These vary depending on your location and contribute to state and local programs.
  • Payroll Taxes: This is a subset of employment taxes with a specific purpose.
  • Other Levies: Depending on your state, additional levies like disability insurance, paid family leave contributions, and others may be included.

What are Payroll Taxes? [Summary & Definition]

Payroll taxes are a specific type of employment tax that both employers and employees contribute to. These taxes fund essential social programs like:

  • Social Security: Provides retirement and disability benefits.
  • Medicare: Funds health insurance for Americans over 65.
  • Federal Unemployment Tax (FUTA): Contributes to a pool that provides unemployment benefits to eligible individuals.
  • State Unemployment Tax (SUTA): A state-level tax that also contributes to unemployment benefits.

What is the difference between Employment Taxes and Payroll Taxes?

The crucial distinction between payroll taxes and income taxes lies in their purpose and who contributes.

  • Purpose: Payroll taxes are earmarked for specific social programs, while income taxes are used for a wider range of government services.
  • Contribution: Both employers and employees contribute to payroll taxes, while only employees pay income taxes.

Feature

Employment Taxes

Payroll Taxes

Scope

Broad category encompassing all taxes on employee earnings

Specific subset of employment taxes

Purpose

Fund various government services and social programs

Fund specific social programs (Social Security, Medicare, Unemployment)

Contribution

Employee and potentially employer (depending on the tax)

Both employer and employee contribute

 

What is Employee Income Tax? [Summary & Definition]

Employee income tax is a tax levied by the federal government and potentially your state and local government on the wages, salaries, and other forms of compensation you receive for your work. It’s a specific type of employment tax that goes towards funding a wide range of government services.

  • Who pays Employee Income Tax?
    Only employees pay income tax, unlike payroll taxes where both employers and employees contribute.
  • How is Employee Income Tax Withheld?
    Throughout the year, your employer withholds a portion of your income tax from each paycheck based on the information you provide on your W-4 form. This estimated amount gets sent to the government throughout the year.
  • How is Employee Income Tax Finalized?
    At the end of the year, you file a tax return to reconcile the total income tax you owe with the amount withheld by your employer. You may receive a refund if you overpaid or owe additional tax if you underpaid.
  • What does Employee Income Tax Fund?
    Employee income tax revenue goes towards funding a vast array of government services, including:
    • Infrastructure projects (roads, bridges, etc.)
    • National defense
    • Law enforcement
    • Social programs (partially)
    • Education (partially)
    • Public services

Download Individual Income Tax Rates and Brackets

Payroll Tax Rates By States [2024]

What is the difference between Income Tax vs. Payroll Taxes?

The key difference between employee income tax and payroll taxes lies in their purpose and who contributes.

  • Employee Income Tax: Funds various government services and is paid solely by the employee.
  • Payroll Taxes: Specifically fund social security, Medicare, and unemployment benefits, with both employers and employees contributing.

In essence, employee income tax is your contribution to the broader operations of the government, while payroll taxes are earmarked for specific social programs you may benefit from in the future.

Now that we’ve established the core differences, let’s delve deeper into each payroll tax, explain contribution rates, and provide real-life scenarios to illustrate their impact on your paycheck.

Understanding Payroll Taxes in the USA

Understanding the specific employer contributions within the realm of payroll taxes is vital for accurate cost calculations and ensuring compliance.

Let’s take a closer look at the numbers.

For a clearer picture, here’s a table outlining the employer and employee contribution rates for these mandatory US payroll taxes in 2024:

Tax

Employer Contribution

Employee Contribution

Social Security

6.2%

6.2%

Medicare

1.45%

1.45%

Additional Medicare*

0%

0.9% (if exceeding specific wage thresholds)

Federal Unemployment Tax (FUTA)

6% of the first $7,000

None

State Unemployment Tax (SUTA)

Varies per state

None

*Note: The additional 0.9% Medicare tax only applies to employee wages exceeding specific thresholds based on their filing status.

  • $250,000 for married filing jointly
  • $125,000 for married filing separately
  • $200,000 for all other taxpayers

DISCLAIMER: Foothold America is not a tax advisor. This information is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as tax advice. For advice regarding your specific situation, you should consult with a qualified tax professional.

Decoding Employer Payroll Taxes: A Look at Key Components

Understanding the different types of payroll taxes is crucial for accurate cost estimations and ensuring compliance. Let’s delve into three key components of payroll taxes in the US.

1. Social Security:

Social Security taxes are a cornerstone of the US social safety net, providing a vital source of financial support for retirees and individuals with disabilities. Here’s a deeper look at how these taxes work:

Purpose:

Social Security is a combined tax that funds two critical programs.

  • Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI): This program provides retirement benefits to qualified workers upon retirement age, typically between 66 and 67, depending on birth year. Additionally, it offers survivor benefits to spouses and dependent children of deceased workers and disability benefits for qualified individuals who become permanently disabled and unable to work.
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI): This separate needs-based federal program provides monthly payments to low-income individuals and families with limited resources, including elderly adults and people with disabilities. (Note: Social Security taxes do not fund SSI.)

Shared Responsibility:

The Social Security tax is a shared contribution model, ensuring a collective effort to fund these programs:

  • Employers and Employees: Both employers and employees contribute a matching 6.2% of an employee’s wages up to a specific annual earnings threshold. This threshold, the contribution and benefit base, is adjusted yearly to keep pace with average wages. In 2024, the contribution and benefit base is set at $168,600. Once an employee’s wages reach this limit for the year, Social Security taxes stop being withheld from their paycheck.
  • Self-Employed Individuals: Since they are considered both employer and employee, self-employed individuals are responsible for 12.4% of the contribution. This means they pay the employer and employee share of the Social Security tax on their net business earnings.

2. Medicare:

Medicare, the federal health insurance program serving Americans aged 65 or older and younger individuals with qualifying disabilities, plays a vital role in ensuring access to healthcare for these populations. Understanding how Medicare is funded is crucial for its long-term sustainability.

Purpose:

Medicare is a social insurance program with two main parts.

  • Part A (Hospital Insurance): Covers inpatient hospital stays, skilled nursing facility care, hospice care, and home healthcare services.
  • Part B (Medical Insurance): Covers outpatient doctor services, preventive care, specific medical supplies, and some home healthcare services. (Note: Part B typically requires a monthly premium paid by the beneficiary, with some exceptions based on income and enrollment in Part A.)

Shared Responsibility (Standard):

Similar to Social Security, Medicare is funded through a shared contribution model.

  • Employers and Employees: Both contribute a matching 1.45% of an employee’s wages up to a specific annual earnings threshold. This threshold, the contribution and benefit base, is adjusted yearly to keep pace with average wages. In 2024, the contribution and benefit base is set at $168,600. Once an employee’s wages reach this limit for the year, the Medicare tax stops being withheld from their paycheck for that portion of their earnings exceeding the base.
  • Self-Unemployed Individuals: Since they are considered both employer and employee, self-employed individuals are responsible for the total 2.9% contribution. This means they pay the employer and employee share of the Medicare tax on their net business earnings.

Additional Medicare Tax (High-Income Tax):

A higher contribution applies to a portion of employee earnings exceeding a specific threshold based on their tax filing status. This is known as the Additional Medicare Tax or the High-Income Tax. Here’s how it works:

  • Thresholds: The thresholds for the Additional Medicare Tax vary depending on whether you file your taxes as single, married filing jointly, married filing separately, or head of household. For example, in 2024, the threshold for single filers is $200,000 and $250,000 for married couples filing jointly.
  • Employee Contribution: If your wages exceed the threshold for your filing status, you are responsible for an additional 0.9% contribution on the portion of your earnings exceeding that threshold. Employers do not contribute to the Additional Medicare Tax.

3. Federal Unemployment Tax (FUTA)

The Federal Unemployment Tax Act (FUTA) is vital in the US social safety net, providing a critical lifeline for individuals who lose their jobs through no fault. Here’s a deeper look at how FUTA functions.

Purpose:

FUTA serves a two-pronged purpose.

  • Unemployment Insurance Benefits:
    • Provides temporary financial assistance to qualified unemployed workers. This helps individuals meet basic needs while they actively search for new employment.
    • Eligibility requirements and benefit amounts vary by state, but FUTA contributes to a pool of funds that states can tap into to support their unemployment insurance programs.
  • Job Service Programs:
    • The Department of Labor’s American Job Centers offers nationwide job services programs.
  • These programs offer a variety of services to assist unemployed individuals in their job search, including:
      • Resume and cover letter writing assistance
      • Interview skills workshops
      • Job search workshops and guidance
      • Access to job listings and career counselling

Contribution: FUTA is an employer-only tax, meaning employees do not contribute to this program. Here’s a breakdown of the contribution structure:

  •  
  • Tax Rate: Employers are responsible for paying a 6.0% tax on the first $7,000 in wages paid to each employee in a calendar year.
  • Wage Base Threshold: The $7,000 wage base is a set limit on the wages subject to the FUTA tax per employee per year. Once employees’ wages reach this limit, no further FUTA tax is owed on their earnings for that year.
  • Dedicated Funding: This dedicated funding mechanism ensures steady resources to support unemployment benefits and job service programs nationwide.

4. State Unemployment Taxes (SUTA)

While FUTA provides a federal safety net, individual US states also support unemployed individuals through State Unemployment Tax (SUTA) programs.

Purpose:

SUTA programs are the backbone of state-level unemployment insurance. They collect employer contributions and use these funds to provide temporary financial assistance to qualified individuals who lose their jobs through no fault. These benefits help bridge the economic gap while unemployed individuals search for new employment.

Contribution:

Like FUTA, SUTA is an employer-only tax, meaning employees do not contribute to this program. Here’s a breakdown of the critical aspects:

  • Variable Rates: Unlike the flat 6% rate of FUTA, SUTA tax rates can vary significantly by state, typically from 0% to over 6%. Several factors influence a state’s SUTA tax rate:
    • Business Age: Newer businesses may initially face higher rates to establish a history of unemployment claims within the state’s unemployment insurance system.
    • Industry: Industries with a historical trend of higher unemployment may have different contribution rates to reflect the potential strain they place on the system. For example, the construction industry might have a higher SUTA tax rate than the finance industry.
    • Turnover Rate: Businesses with a frequent pattern of employee turnover might see adjustments to their SUTA tax rate. This reflects the potential burden their frequent claims could place on the unemployment insurance system.
  • Wage Base: Each state also establishes a wage base, the maximum threshold for employee earnings subject to SUTA tax. Similar to the FUTA wage base, once an employee’s wages reach this limit for the year, no further SUTA tax is owed on their remaining earnings.
  • Calculating Your SUTA Tax Liability:

Once you understand your state’s SUTA tax rate and wage base, calculating your SUTA tax liability is straightforward. You multiply the tax rate by the wage base.

Here’s the formula:

SUTA Tax per Employee = State SUTA Tax Rate x Wage Base

For example, if your state has a SUTA tax rate of 2.7% and a wage base of $8,000, you would pay $216 (0.027 x $8,000) per employee in SUTA taxes.

Remember, this is a simplified example. SUTA rates and wage bases can differ considerably across states. For the most up-to-date and specific information on payroll taxes, consider consulting with professional organizations and experts in the field, such as Foothold America, or referring to your state’s unemployment agency website.

Want to know more? The U.S. Department of Labor provides a wealth of information on state unemployment insurance programs, including links to each state’s unemployment agency website.

Calculating Employer Payroll Taxes: A Walk-Through

Payroll taxes can seem complex, but calculating them can be broken down into clear steps. Here’s an example to illustrate the process:

Scenario: Sarah, a Business Development Manager in Florida, earns a gross monthly salary of $4,500. Let’s see how her employer determines their payroll tax contributions for Sarah’s January earnings.

  1. Gross Taxable Income: First, the employer subtracts any pre-tax contributions Sarah makes from her gross salary. Let’s assume Sarah contributes $150 per month to her health insurance. This leaves a gross taxable income of $4,500 – $150 = $4,350.
  2. Employer Payroll Tax Calculations: The employer calculates their contributions based on various tax rates and taxable income. Here’s a breakdown:
    • Medicare (1.45%): $4,350 x 1.45% = $62.93
    • Social Security (6.2%): $4,350 x 6.2% = $271.50
    • FUTA (6%): $4,350 x 6% = $261.00 (Note: The FUTA tax applies only to the first $7,000 of an employee’s wages for the year, so the maximum FUTA tax liability per employee would be 6% x $7,000 = $420)
    • SUTA (Florida’s rate is 5.4% & also has a wage base of $7,000): $4,350 x 5.4% = $234.90
  1. Total Employer Payroll Tax: Adding up the individual contributions, the total employer payroll tax for Sarah’s January earnings is $62.93 + $271.50 + $261.00 + $234.90 = $829.33.

Tax

Description

Rate

Contribution Amount

Medicare

Federal health insurance for those 65+ or with disabilities

1.45%

$62.93

Social Security

Federal retirement and disability program

6.2%

$271.50

FUTA

Federal unemployment insurance and job services

6%

$261.00*

SUTA (Florida)

State unemployment benefits

5.4%

$234.90

Total Employer Payroll Tax

** **

** **

$829.33

* Since Sarah’s monthly salary is below $7,000, the employer only needs to contribute the current FUTA tax rate (0.6% for 2024) on her earnings. This comes to $4,350 x 0.6% = $26.10. The $420 is the maximum a yearly FUTA tax reaches for wages up to $7,000.

Important Note: This example doesn’t include Sarah’s employee contributions, which are withheld from her paycheck and remitted by the employer. Additionally, SUTA rates and wage base limits vary by state, so it’s crucial to consult professional guidance or your state’s unemployment agency for the most accurate information.

Streamline US Payroll with Foothold America

Expanding your business within the US can unlock a vast talent pool, new markets, and exciting opportunities. However, navigating the intricacies of US payroll can be a significant hurdle. Fortunately, the right partner can make a world of difference.

Lean on Foothold America to onboard, pay, and manage your US workforce so you can focus on your day-to-day activities stress-free.

Contact Foothold America today to learn how to hire and pay US talent compliantly and with ease.

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