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HR Support on Payroll Taxes

Editor's Note: Avoid penalties by properly calculating and withholding payroll taxes.

Rena PirsosOverview: Employers are required to withhold payroll taxes from employees' pay and remit and report the amounts withheld to the federal government. Payroll taxes include federal income taxes, Social Security and Medicare (FICA) taxes, and taxes for federal unemployment insurance (FUTA) and state disability and workers' compensation insurance. 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 payroll 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.

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

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HR guidance on compliance with payroll taxes, including income taxes, Social Security and Medicare (FICA) taxes, and unemployment, disability and workers' compensation insurance taxes.