Overview: Employers are required to withhold employment/payroll taxes from employees' pay and remit and report the amounts withheld to the federal government. Employment taxes include Social Security and Medicare (FICA) taxes and federal unemployment insurance (FUTA) taxes. Employers that fail to fulfill these requirements are liable for serious penalties. HR managers that oversee payroll departments are responsible for avoiding such penalties by ensuring that employment tax laws are being complied with.
Both employers and employees are required to pay FICA taxes to fund the Social Security and Medicare programs. Employers withhold the employee share of FICA taxes from employees' wages, make a matching contribution in the same amount, and then pay both shares to the federal government.
FUTA taxes fund unemployment insurance benefit payments to employees who have lost their jobs without fault. Only employers pay FUTA taxes; they are not withheld from employees' wages.
Employment Tax Rates:
FICA. The Social Security tax rate is 6.2% up to a taxable wage base of $127,200 for 2017. There is no limit on the amount of wages subject to Medicare tax withholding; the rate is currently 1.45%. However, single employees earning more than $200,000, and married couples who file joint tax returns and earn more than $250,000, pay an additional 0.9% Medicare tax. High earners, therefore, pay the 1.45% Medicare tax rate plus the additional 0.9%, for a total Medicare tax rate of 2.35%. Employers do not pay the additional 0.9% tax.
FUTA. The base FUTA tax rate is 6% up to a taxable wage base of $7,000. Employers may be able to reduce their overall FUTA liability by taking credits against state unemployment insurance contributions paid. Beware that these credits may be reduced if the state where the employer is located is a credit reduction state - a state that has borrowed money from the federal government to pay regular benefits but has failed to pay back the loans by certain dates. The US Department of Labor certifies by each November 10 which states have taken steps toward financial solvency.
Author: Rena Pirsos, JD, Legal Editor
Updated to reflect a forthcoming change in return filing frequency.
Updated to include the final IRS procedure for requesting an employee's consent to seek a refund of overpaid FICA tax, effective June 5, 2017.
Two IRS Chief Counsel Advice Memoranda provide good examples of the tax ramifications of wellness program benefits provided under various scenarios.
The IRS has issued Rev. Proc. 2017-28, clarifying the procedure by which an employer may request an employee's consent to seek a refund of overwithheld FICA taxes on the employee's behalf, beginning June 5, 2017.
Updated to include the terminal charge and SIFL mileage rates for the first half of 2017.
Some states that require employers to withhold income taxes from employees' wages tie their definitions of "wages" to the federal Internal Revenue Code (IRC). However, many states update their IRC references to a specific date every year or so, while others roll their references into the current version of the IRC. Even with IRC conformity, some states have important exceptions. This Quick Reference chart summarizes each state's IRC conformity reference.
The IRS has issued Notice 2017-09, under which an employer or payer that makes a single mathematical error on a Form W-2 or 1099 is automatically relieved from penalties under the safe harbor for de minimis errors on information returns.
Updated to reflect the 2017 state taxable wage base amounts.
HR guidance on compliance with Social Security and Medicare (FICA) taxes, payroll taxes and federal unemployment insurance (FUTA) taxes.