How to Read Your Pay Stub

how to read your taxes

October 23, 2014

We all look forward to seeing our pay stub. Like many of you, when I get my pay stub, my eyes immediately dart to the big bolded number on the bottom to see what my take-home pay is. Before joining at ZenPayroll, I tended to ignore the other fields.

Why? Well, the rest of the pay stub is difficult to understand. From withholding taxes to FUTA, it can be pretty confusing.

The federal government requires that the employer preserve detailed payroll records for their employees for at least three years, but it does not require employers to provide employees pay stubs. Rather, many states have different requirements (which you can see here ). With so many moving pieces, I wanted to take some time and go over a typical pay stub so you know exactly where your hard-earned dollars are going.

Here is how you should read your ZenPayroll pay stub.

Employee Information

The first thing you’ll notice is that on the ZenPayroll pay stub, you’ll have all the important employer and employee information. It also has the pay period so you know for what time period you’re receiving your earnings.

Employee Earnings

This is the part of the pay stub that shows you your hourly rate and hours worked (if you are an hourly employee) or your salary. For salaried employees, your hours are defaulted to 40 hours per week. It also includes your overtime (if hourly), any bonuses, or commissions for this pay period.

It’s important to note that this is your gross earnings. which is what you would make before taxes, contributions, and deductions.

Employee Taxes Withheld

This section includes the taxes that are taken from your gross earnings and will be included on your W-2 for tax filing purposes. They are sent to the government by your employer.

A withholding tax is a pay-as-you-go tax to the IRS. The government withholds three taxes from your pay.

The federal income tax can be calculated through the W-4 form and the IRS withholding calculator. These three things determine how much you withhold:

  • Marital status
  • The number of allowances claimed on the W-4
  • Compensation (Note: This may depend on the State where your employee receives payroll.)

Employees who anticipate a full refund may be exempt from withholding. This is different from employees who are exempt, like clergy or certain visa holders.

Social Security and Medicare are two other taxes withheld from every tax-paying worker. Social Security is calculated as 6.2% of your gross earnings.

Medicare taxes differ depending on your income level. For individuals making up to $200,000, your Medicare taxes are 1.45% of your gross earnings; for those making more than $200,000, the taxes are 2.35% of your gross earnings.

As with all major taxes, ZenPayroll calculates these on your behalf.

Employer Taxes

This section includes the taxes that are taken from your employer and do not impact your net earnings .

The important thing to take away from this section is that these are the employer’s tax burden. not the employee. However, because the employer pays taxes on behalf of their employees, the fully-burdened cost of an employee is actually higher than the gross earnings.

In the United States, the

employer is responsible for not only withholding your taxes, they are also required to pay an equivalent portion for Social Security and Medicare. You’ll notice that the amounts for Social Security and Medicare are the same.

The only difference between employee taxes withheld and employer taxes is that Medicare is always calculated on the “regular” Medicare tax rate, 1.45%.

The employer is also required to pay for the taxes for Federal Unemployment Tax Act (FUTA). For 2014, the FUTA tax rate is 6.0%. The tax applies to the first $7,000 you pay to each employee as wages during the year. However, most employers may receive a credit of 5.4% when they file their Form 940. resulting in a net FUTA tax rate of 0.6% (6.0% – 5.4% = 0.6%).

The last line is specific to Tennessee but most states and some cities levy their own unemployment tax.

As with other taxes, ZenPayroll calculates these taxes on your behalf so no need to worry!

The important thing to take away from this section is that these are the employer’s tax burden. not the employee. However, because the employer pays taxes on behalf of their employees, the fully-burdened cost of an employee is actually higher than the gross earnings.

Employee Deductions

This section includes your deductions for retirement, healthcare, or other benefits. Our sample pay stub doesn’t have any employee deductions.

Employer Contributions

This section includes your employer’s contributions for retirement, healthcare, or other benefits. Our sample pay stub doesn’t have any employer contributions.

Summary

This is the summary section of your pay stub. You’ll notice a few familiar line items and numbers:

  • Gross Earnings. This is the same number we saw earlier in the pay stub. This is what you earned in this pay period before taxes and deductions.
  • Pre-Tax Deductions/Contributions. Some deductions and contributions are pre-tax, which means they are taken out of your gross earnings before taxes. This is a good thing for the employee because it means your taxable earnings are actually lower, which means you’ll pay lower taxes.
  • Taxes. This is your tax contribution for this pay period. Notice the number matches the sum of your withholding taxes. It does not include employer taxes.
  • Post-Tax Deductions/Contributions. Other deductions and contributions are post-tax, which means they’re taken out of your post-tax pay.
  • Reimbursements. If you received a reimbursement this pay period, it would be located here. It is not counted as part of your gross earnings and not taxed because you are being reimbursed for a payment you’ve made on your employer’s behalf.
  • Check Amount. Your check amount is typically called your net earnings or take-home pay. This is the number you typically look for right away because that’s the earnings you will actually be paid this pay period after you net out all the taxes, contributions, etc. Congrats, you got paid!

The pay stub can be confusing but it needn’t be. Hopefully, this short summary helps you read your ZenPayroll pay stub and understand where your hard-earned cash is going.

As a reminder, ZenPayroll calculate, pays, and files all these taxes on your employer’s behalf.

Note: These calculations and definitions are for 2014. These may change as taxes and laws change at the local, state, and federal level.

Source: zenpayroll.com

Category: Taxes

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