For any employer it's important to have a good understanding of payroll taxes. After all, it's your responsibility to make sure the payroll taxes eventually get paid to the IRS (and your state). What many people don't realize is that the employees also have a responsibility to pay payroll taxes. Most people don't realize this because these taxes are withheld from their paycheck by their employer and the employer takes care of making sure they get paid. In this blog we will cover the general payroll obligations of employers and employees.

Many small and medium-sized businesses have opted to enlist the services of a Professional Employer Organization (PEO) to make payroll taxes and employee classification less burdensome. TEXT US us if you'd like to learn more how a reputable PEO serving your industry can help call 1-760-413-9274. CALL US

Your PEO should be able to provide close estimates regarding the direct costs associated with classifying each person as an employee, including taxes, impact on workers’ compensation insurance, health insurance, unemployment insurance, and more factors.


If you have been an employee, you probably paid close attention to the amount of money taken out of your pay. However, you may not have paid attention to where all of the money was going (or where it ended up).

Income tax is the one everyone is familiar with and depending on where you live you will have both federal and state income tax withheld. You may also see local income tax being withheld from your paycheck. But, when we are talking about payroll taxes we are talking about more than just the income tax. There are specific taxes, some which you may be familiar with, that are withheld from the employee's paycheck and are also paid by the employer.

So, let's go over what the employee will typically see withheld from their paycheck.

Federal income tax

Federal Insurance Contributions Act ("FICA") (7.65%)

Old Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance ("OASDI" or Social Security)


State income tax (if applicable)

State disability insurance

Certain local taxes such as school district taxes, city tax, and county tax.

In addition to these taxes being withheld, there are of course the voluntary deductions the employee may have withheld.

These consist of:

Health and life insurance premiums

Retirement plan contributions

Certain job-related expenses such as meals, uniforms, union dues, etc.

Employee stock purchase plans

Note: Some voluntary deductions are pre-tax deductions and others are after-tax deductions. Depending on whether the deduction is pre-tax or after-tax could effect how much federal income tax you end up paying.


As mentioned above, there are certain parts of the payroll taxes that both the employer and employee are responsible for paying. Fortunately for the employee, their shared payment responsibility of the payroll taxes is actually withheld from their paycheck and held in trust by the employer. The employer then remits this money to the IRS and other taxing authorities on behalf of the employee.

So, let's start with what payroll taxes the employee is responsible for paying.

Employee Responsibility

Federal and state income tax

Local taxes
Note: The employee is also responsible for half of the FICA tax (7.65%).

Employer Responsibility

Federal Unemployment Tax (FUTA)

State Unemployment Tax (SUTA)
Note: The employer is responsible for the other half of the FICA tax (7.65%).

FICA Taxes Are Shared 50/50

The FICA taxes are a shared responsibility between the employer and employee. To better understand this, we will need to take a look at the breakdown of the FICA taxes and the percentages that are associated.

So, in total the FICA tax is 15.3% of the employee's gross pay. This does not mean the employee is paying 15.3% FICA tax on their income. Instead, half of this 15.3% is actually paid by the employer, leaving the remaining amount to be withheld from the employee's pay. Let's take a deeper dive into how FICA tax is broken down.


Employee A receives a paycheck for a 2 week pay period that shows their gross earnings were $2,000. The total combined FICA tax due would be $306 ($2,000 x 15.3% = $306). Half of this ($153) would be paid by the employer and the other half would be withheld from the employee's paycheck by the employer and then paid to the IRS.

This can be broken down even further to see what amounts are associated with the FICA tax.

The 15.3% is broken out into two parts:

12.4% Social Security (6.2% employee responsibility, 6.2% employer responsibility)

2.9% Medicare (1.45% employee responsibility, 1.45% employer responsibility)

So, let's take another look at the above example.


Employee A receives a paycheck for a 2 week pay period that shows their gross earning at $2,000. Now, we know the total FICA tax amounts to $306 but, let's look at how this is broken down. Because the Social Security portion of FICA is 12.4% of the employee's gross pay, that would mean the total Social Security required to be paid would be $248 ($124 paid by the employer and $124 withheld from the employee's pay by the employer and paid to the IRS). The other half of FICA is Medicare tax, which is 2.9% of the employee's gross pay, equating to $58 ($29 paid by the employer and $29 withheld from the employee's pay by the employer and paid to the IRS).


Withholding the employee's share of the payroll tax is only one small part to the responsibilities an employer has concerning payroll taxes. There are plenty of other things that need to be done in order to avoid a payroll tax issue and potentially trust fund recovery penalties from being assessed.

Making sure the taxes withheld from the employee's pay are properly deposited and then paid over to the IRS, state, or local taxing authority

Filing the quarterly payroll tax returns on time

Accounting for the payroll expenses

Preparing certain reconciliation reports

The different returns the employer is responsible for filing to report the payroll taxes are:

Form 941, quarterly payroll tax return

Form 940, the federal unemployment tax return

Form 943, the federal return for agricultural employees

Form 944, the employer's annual federal tax return

Form 945, annual return of withheld federal income tax

Form W-2, wage and tax statement


Payroll taxes are one of the most important aspects to having employees. Making sure you are withholding the correct amount from your employee's pay and paying the payroll taxes on time will save you the headache of having to speak with the IRS later. If you don't feel comfortable with handling the payroll taxes on your own or even if you do, it's probably advisable to find someone who specializes in payroll taxes to do it for you. By doing this you are making sure the payroll taxes are being properly taken care of and you are freeing yourself up to focus on running and growing your business.

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