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Guide to Payroll Taxes for New Business Owners

Tax Liability - What you need to know (ZenBusiness)

There’s so much to consider when starting a small business. One of the most complicated is handling taxes. As the owner of a startup, it’s up to you to pay some taxes on behalf of your employees or withhold others from their paychecks.

This guide aims to give you a basic understanding of the payroll taxes you’ll have to deal with and how you can handle them yourself or with the help of a payroll service. Learning the ins and outs of different payroll taxes will help you stay in compliance and avoid things like Internal Revenue Service (IRS) fines.

What are payroll taxes, and who must pay them?

Payroll taxes are taken out of employee wages or salaries. The money from payroll taxes is used to pay for government programs, like Social Security, Medicare, and unemployment benefits.

Some employment taxes are paid directly by an employer, while others are withheld from an employee’s paycheck by their employer and submitted to the IRS. Even self-employed people and independent contractors pay payroll taxes.

What kinds of payroll taxes are there?

Payroll taxes can be paid completely by an employer, completely by an employee, or split between the employee and employer. The IRS designates who’ll be responsible for paying different types of taxes. The four types of payroll taxes are:

  • Federal income tax: These are taxes on an employee’s gross income and taken out of an employee’s paycheck.
  • Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA): These taxes go toward Social Security and Medicare taxes and are split by employees and employers.
  • Federal Unemployment Tax Act (FUTA): This tax goes toward a federal fund that loans money to states during hard financial periods.
  • State taxes: There are several state taxes, which vary from state to state. Some are paid out of an employee’s salary, and others are paid by an employer. 

Payroll Taxes Collected From Each Employee’s Paycheck

These taxes are only taken out of an employee’s paycheck. The employer must withhold these taxes from their employees’ paychecks to be sent to the IRS.  

Federal Income Tax

Federal income taxes go to the federal government and pay for things like roads, bridges, schools, and any other resources offered to the general public. Federal income tax is a progressive tax. That means that different amounts of income are charged differently. The percentage rate the federal government charges on a specific amount of income is called a bracket. Here are the current federal tax brackets in the United States: 

  • Income up to $9,875: 10%
  • Income from $9,876 to $40,125: 12%
  • Income from $40,126 to $85,525: 22%
  • Income from $85,526 to $163,300: 24%
  • Income from $163,301 to $207,350: 32%
  • Income from $207,351 to $518,400: 35%
  • Income of $518,401 or more: 37%

State Income Tax

This tax will differ depending on which state you reside in. Some states have a progressive tax structure that mirrors federal income tax withholding practices, while others impose a flat tax on income. Some states, like Florida and Texas, don’t even have a state income tax. 

For example, if you live in California, you could pay a state income tax as high as 12.3%. If you live in North Dakota, the maximum state income tax is 2.9%.

Payroll Taxes Paid by the Business Owner and Collected From an Employee’s Paycheck

These taxes are split between the business owner and the employee. The employer withholds part of these taxes from their employees’ paychecks and remits the rest themselves. 

FICA Taxes

FICA taxes are split into two categories. Social Security taxes are used to offer retirement benefits for older people, and Medicare taxes provide health benefits to people who are older, disabled, or have certain medical conditions. 

Half of an employee’s FICA taxes will be taken directly from their paycheck, and the other half will be paid by their employer.

Social Security Tax

The Social Security tax equals 12.4% of an employee’s income, where 6.2% is taken from the employee’s check, while the other 6.2% is paid by the employer. There’s also a wage base for the Social Security tax. This is the maximum amount of income the government can take the Social Security tax from. The current wage base for an employee is $137,700.

Medicare Tax

The Medicare tax rate stands at 2.9% of an employee’s income and is much smaller than the Social Security portion. At this rate, 1.45% is taken from an employee’s paycheck, and the employer pays the other 1.45%.

However, Medicare doesn’t have a wage base, and people with higher incomes pay more. High earners will pay an additional 0.9% of Medicare tax on income past a certain amount. The employer doesn’t have to match this extra charge. This amount will vary based on an employee’s filing status.

  • $250,000 a year if filing jointly and married
  • $125,000 a year if filing separately and married
  • $200,000 a year if single

Payroll Taxes Paid by the Business Owner

Only employers pay these taxes. Nothing is withheld from an employee’s paycheck. 

Federal Unemployment Tax Act (FUTA)

This tax is only charged on the first $7,000 of a worker’s gross income at a rate of 6%. There is a FUTA credit of 5.4%. Business owners who qualify only have to pay 0.6% of an employee’s income in FUTA.

States that owe money in unemployment benefits loans from the federal government don’t qualify for the full amount of FUTA tax credits. Their credit is reduced until they’ve paid back what they owe. These states are called credit reduction states. As of November 2020, the only credit reduction state was the Virgin Islands. 

State Unemployment Tax Act (SUTA)

Unemployment taxes are decided by each state. Some states, like North Carolina, have a SUTA tax rate of as low as 1%, while other states, like California, have rates as high as 3.4%. It’s also important to note that while most states require the employer to pay all tax amounts of SUTA, a few, like Alaska, do charge employees a portion, as well. 

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How do I submit payroll taxes?

After you’ve distributed paychecks to your employees, it’s time to send your payroll taxes to the IRS. There are a few tax forms you’ll need and deposit schedules you’ll have to follow. Here are some instructions on tax filing with the IRS. 

Federal Tax Deposits

As a business owner, you’ll need to make tax deposits for your employees’ share of income and FICA taxes on a semiweekly or monthly basis. You’ll have to decide your deposit schedule before the beginning of a tax year. When depositing, you’ll include income taxes and FICA taxes. Business owners can e-file tax deposits through an electronic funds transfer via the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS). 

Quarterly FUTA Tax Deposits

The timeline for filing FUTA taxes is different than for filing income and FICA taxes. These taxes need to be filed on a quarterly basis, but only if your business’s FUTA tax liability is over $500. If not, you don’t have to make a deposit until you owe at least $500. You must also pay these taxes electronically. The IRS has several guidelines for paying FUTA taxes.

Quarterly Form 941

Every quarter, your business is required to file Form 941 with the IRS. The document notifies the IRS of the total payroll tax liability for your employees from the previous quarter. The filing form lets you report the amount of income and FICA taxes you’ve withheld (and paid to the IRS) from your employees’ paychecks. It also lets you pay your employer portion of FICA taxes. 

Where you’ll mail your quarterly return without your tax payments will depend on the state where you reside. You can also file it electronically and make employer tax deposits on the IRS website.

Annual Form 940

You’ll use Form 940 to report your company’s unemployment tax liability and the quarterly FUTA tax payments you’ve made during the year. Form 940 only needs to be filed with the IRS annually. You can submit this form by mail. The address will vary depending on which state you’re in.  However, the IRS recommends you file it electronically. 

State Tax Reports

Depending on where you do business, you’ll have to collect state income and unemployment taxes throughout the year. Unfortunately, there’s no universal way that states handle these. Different states have different schedules for when taxes are due and different processes for reporting them. 

Take a look at your state’s website to see the regulations. Some states don’t even require you to report state income taxes. If you live in one of these states, you can skip filing income taxes:

  • Alaska
  • Florida
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire 
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee 
  • Texas
  • Washington
  • Wyoming

It’s important to note that New Hampshire and Tennessee still charge taxes on investment income (like dividends and interest), but both states have taken steps toward eliminating those taxes, as well. 

Don’t get dragged down by payroll taxes

Dealing with payroll taxes is one of the most cumbersome parts of running a company. Still, if you want to avoid hefty fines and penalties from the IRS, it’s vital to understand your tax obligations. Even if you have a good grasp on taxes, it’s easy to make mistakes. It might be wise to enlist the help of a certified public accountant (CPA) or another tax professional to help you do everything correctly. 

Starting a business is an exciting adventure, but it has many challenges. Luckily, you don’t have to go at it alone. ZenBusiness has the resources you need to stay in compliance and successfully grow your business.

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Operating Agreement
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State Compliance Help
$119/yr Check
EIN
+$70 Check
DOMAIN NAME
+$25 No
DOMAIN PRIVACY
+$10 No
BUSINESS WEBSITE
+$100 No
BUSINESS EMAIL ADDRESS
+$25 No
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First Year Price
LegalZoom $1017
ZenBusiness $199
SAVE 80%
excluding State Fees3
Second Year Price
LegalZoom $529
ZenBusiness $199
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TOTAL TWO YEAR PRICE
LegalZoom $1,546
ZenBusiness $398
SAVE 74%
First Year Price
LegalZoom $1017
ZenBusiness $199
SAVE 80%
excluding State Fees3
Second Year Price
LegalZoom $529
ZenBusiness $199
SAVE 62%
TOTAL TWO YEAR PRICE
LegalZoom $1,546
ZenBusiness $398
SAVE $1,148
Do-It-Yourself (DIY)ZenBusiness Pro Plan
Starting Price
state fee$199
Average Filing Time
15 business days5-10 business days
Registered Agent
+$249/yr Check
Operating Agreement
+$99 Check
State Compliance Help
$280/yr Check
EIN
+$60 Check
DOMAIN NAME
+$25 No
DOMAIN PRIVACY
+$10 No
BUSINESS WEBSITE
+$100 No
BUSINESS EMAIL ADDRESS
+$25 No
SHOW ALL DETAILS
1 All prices and services presented above were reviewed and verified as of 11/2/19.
2 The Starter plan is $49/year the first year and increases to $119/year after that
3 This chart does not include state fees because those will vary in each state.
LegalZoom Standard PackageZenBusiness Pro Plan
Starting Price
$329$179
Average Filing Time
15 business days5-10 business days
Registered Agent
+$159/yr Yes
Operating Agreement
+$99 Yes
State Compliance
$280/yr Yes
EIN
+$60 Yes
SHOW ALL DETAILS

FAQs: Payroll Taxes for New Business Owners

What if I have out-of-state employees?

Usually, you’ll withhold taxes for the state where they work. However, some states have reciprocal tax agreements, which allow workers to be charged tax rates based on the state where they live. The employee will have to give you a form requesting reciprocal tax treatment. 

What are the payroll tax due dates for this coming year?

April 30, July 31, Oct. 31, and Jan. 31 are the due dates for quarterly tax returns (Form 941). FUTA tax returns (Form 940) are due on Jan. 31, but you have until Feb. 10 if you’ve paid your unemployment taxes on time. Also, if a due date happens to fall on a weekend or a holiday, you have until the next business day to submit your return. 

What will a payroll tax cut do?

It would decrease the amount of total taxes employees and employers have to pay, but it would also lower the amount of money the government could put into programs like Social Security and Medicare. Even so, it could give temporary aid to taxpayers impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

What is the payroll tax cut holiday?

The payroll tax holiday is a suspension, or deferral, of taxes for workers affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Basically, the federal government doesn’t collect payroll taxes from Sept. 1, 2020, through the rest of the year.  However, employers have to pay those taxes back by April 30, 2021. 

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