How Do Payroll Taxes Work? 

Tapcheck Team   August 18, 2023

Payroll taxes are an essential aspect of every business’s financial operation. They play a crucial role in funding social security, Medicare, and other government programs. For both employers and employees, understanding payroll taxes is critical to ensure compliance with tax regulations and to maintain accurate financial records.  

In this article, we will delve into the world of payroll taxes, exploring what they consist of, the responsibilities of employers and employees, tax deadlines, and how to handle payroll tax filings and reporting. 

What Do Payroll Taxes Consist Of? 

Payroll taxes is a general term which groups various taxes that employers and employees must pay, including: 

  • Federal Income Tax: Is based on employees’ earnings and withheld from their paychecks. Employers calculate this amount from the employee’s Form W-4 and the IRS withholding tables. 
  • Social Security Tax (FICA – Federal Insurance Contributions Act): FICA taxes fund Social Security benefits and are divided into two portions: 6.2% each for the employer and employee for a total of 12.4% on earnings up to a certain limit. As of 2023, the social security “wage cap” was $160,200. Once the income exceeds this threshold, no further Social Security tax is withheld. 
  • Medicare Tax: The Medicare tax supports the Medicare program which provides healthcare benefits for qualifying individuals, in general people 65 or older or people with disabilities. Currently the Medicare tax rate is 2.9% (1.45% each for the employer and employee) on all earnings, with no income limit. 
  • Additional Medicare Tax: Employees with higher incomes may be subject to an additional Medicare tax of 0.9% on wages exceeding $200,000 for individual filers or $250,000 for married couples filing jointly. 
  • State Payroll Taxes: Many states impose income tax withholding on employees’ wages, and the rates vary depending on the state. Some states may also require additional payroll taxes, such as unemployment insurance taxes. If you want to learn more, ADP, a trusted Payroll and Time keeping provider, has a very handy tool to see State-specific payroll taxes 
  • Local Payroll Taxes: Certain cities or local jurisdictions may levy their own payroll taxes or require contributions for specific purposes, such as education or public services. 


When Do Payroll Tax Filings and Reporting Happen? 

  • Form 941 (Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return): Employers report federal income tax, Social Security tax, and Medicare tax withholdings, along with any additional Medicare tax on Form 941. This form is filed quarterly with the IRS and summarizes the employer’s tax liability for the previous quarter. 
  • Form W-2 (Wage and Tax Statement): Employers must provide employees with Form W-2 by January 31st of each year. This form outlines employees’ annual wages, tips, and withheld taxes for the previous tax year. Employers also submit copies of Form W-2 to the Social Security Administration (SSA) to match the information against employee tax returns. 
  • Form 940 (Employer’s Annual Federal Unemployment Tax Return): This form reports federal unemployment taxes (FUTA) paid by the employer. It is filed annually with the IRS and is due by January 31st of the following year. 
  • State Payroll Tax Filings: Employers must comply with state-specific payroll tax filing requirements. Many states require quarterly or annual reports similar to Form 941. Check with your state tax agency for specific filing instructions. 
  • Local Payroll Tax Filings: Local payroll tax requirements vary significantly, so employers must adhere to the specific filing and reporting guidelines set by their local tax jurisdictions. 


Tools to Assist with Payroll Taxes 

Navigating the complexities of payroll taxes can be a daunting task, but fortunately, there are several tools and resources available to help professionals manage these responsibilities more efficiently and accurately: 

  • Payroll Software: Payroll software solutions offer a comprehensive suite of tools to streamline payroll tax calculations, deductions, and reporting. These software platforms are equipped to handle various tax rates, deductions, benefits, and compliance requirements, reducing the risk of errors and saving time. Popular payroll software options include iSolved, Paylocity and many more. Tapcheck integrates with 100s of timeclocks and payroll softwares, feel free to check our marketplace to learn more. 
  • Tax Withholding Calculators: The IRS provides online calculators that help employees and employers estimate the appropriate federal income tax withholding based on factors like income, filing status, and dependents. These calculators can assist in ensuring accurate tax withholdings and preventing underpayment or overpayment. 
  • E-filing Services: E-filing services, often integrated within a payroll software, enable employers to electronically file tax forms such as Form 941, Form 940, and Form W-2. These services simplify the filing process, eliminate paper-based submissions, and offer confirmations of successful filings. 
  • Tax Compliance Updates: Staying informed about ever-changing tax regulations is essential. Professionals can subscribe to newsletters, updates, and alerts from official sources like the IRS and state tax agencies. Tax professionals and organizations also offer webinars and seminars to keep professionals up to date. 
  • Accounting Software: Integrating payroll processes with accounting software like QuickBooks can provide a seamless way to manage payroll transactions, tax payments, and reconciliations. These platforms offer reporting features that help keep accurate financial records. 
  • Consultation Services: Tax consultants, certified public accountants (CPAs), and tax attorneys can provide expert advice and assistance in navigating complex tax situations. Professionals can offer tailored solutions, help with tax planning, and provide guidance on compliance matters. 


Navigating the complex world of payroll taxes is essential for both employers and employees to ensure compliance and accurate financial reporting. Understanding the various components of payroll taxes, their distribution between employers and employees, and adhering to tax deadlines are fundamental aspects of maintaining a successful payroll system.  

By leveraging modern payroll software and staying informed with reliable resources, businesses can efficiently handle payroll tax filings and reporting, fostering a positive financial environment for all stakeholders. 

For more information on payroll taxes, employers and employees can visit the following official resources: 


Tapcheck Team

1000's of companies are using Tapcheck

Our on-demand pay benefit gives you a way to enhance your team’s performance at no cost. Here are a few reasons our clients choose us for Earned Wage Access:

More On This Topic

Business Human Resources

How to Implement Daily Payroll 

September 27, 2023
Financial Wellness Human Resources

Exploring the benefits and best practices of Daily Payroll

August 11, 2023

Want To Learn More?

Signup for a demo of Tapcheck to learn how it can revolutionize your paycheck system.

Let's Talk

Send A Message

Have a question? Need help getting setup? Contact our support team.

Contact Support

Mobile App

Download the mobile app for on-demand pay. Now on iOS and Android.

a black button reading