What Are Payroll Taxes?

Most employers are required to withhold and pay income taxes on behalf of their employees.

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by Rebecca Berlin

Payroll taxes are the state and federal taxes that you, as an employer, are required to withhold and/or to pay on behalf of your employees. You are required to withhold state and federal income taxes as well as social security and Medicare taxes from your employees' wages. You are also required to pay a matching amount of social security and Medicare taxes for your employees and to pay State and Federal unemployment tax.

Have each new employee complete IRS form W-4. You will use this form to calculate the amount of federal income tax to withhold from the employee's wages. Most of the states have income tax structures that are based on the federal system, so you will use the W-4 to calculate the amount of state income tax to withhold as well.

Social security and Medicare taxes, also known as FICA taxes must be withheld from your employees' wages. As an employer, you must also pay a matching amount of FICA taxes for your employees. Currently the social security tax rate is 6.2%. You are required to withhold 6.2% of an employee's wages for social security taxes and to pay a matching amount in social security taxes until the employee reaches the wage base for the year. The wage base for social security tax is $97,500 for the year 2007. Once that amount is earned, neither the employee or the employer owes any social security tax.

The Medicare tax rate is 2.9% for the employee and the employer. You will withhold 1.45% of an employee's wages and pay a matching amount for Medicare tax. There is no wage base for the Medicare portion of the FICA tax. Both the employer and the employee continue to pay Medicare tax, no matter how much is earned.

The employer also must pay State and Federal Unemployment Taxes (SUTA and FUTA). The FUTA rate is 6.2 %, but you can take a credit of up to 5.4% for SUTA taxes that you pay. If you are eligible for the maximum credit your FUTA rate will be 0.8%. The wage base for FUTA is $7,000. You will stop paying FUTA for each employee once his or her wages exceed $7,000 for the year. You will need to check with your state about SUTA tax rates and the wage base. Generally, your SUTA tax rate is based on the amount of unemployment claims that are filed by employees that you have terminated. When your business is new, your SUTA tax rate starts at the maximum and declines if you build a history of few claims.

For information on Federal payroll tax requirements, check out IRS publication 15, Circular E. For information on State payroll tax requirements, contact your state's taxation and revenue department.

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