How do payroll taxes work?


This may sound like a very naive question for a site on Startups, do payroll taxes work?

From what I can tell from doing database work at a company they seem to consist of percentages of net pay deducted from net pay on a Federal, State, and Local level (with local being the most complex based on the geographic coordinates of a particular employees home and work addresses).

From what I understand they are also very complex and based on Tax Tables, whether or not you're single or married, how often you get paid and how many allowances you claim.

Also they change alot....

And I also understand that there are no free web-services that will simply allow a series of these inputs to return a percentage to be taxed or calculated deduction for payroll tax. I think the lack of a free web-service like this prevents alot of people from opening new businesses that could potentially provide jobs.

So I'm do taxes work? Give me an example of how I would take one employee, take his pay (gross pay? net pay?) and either research how to tax his/her pay at the federal, state and local level?

Tax USA Payroll

asked Apr 9 '13 at 05:54
108 points
  • Are you facing a concrete problem in a startup here? If so, could you please make it more clear what that problem is? – Jesper Mortensen 8 years ago
  • All of this is easily answerable by checking with the IRS and the state you live in. But you are missing the second part of taxes- you have to collect them **AND** send the government the money in the appropriate way within a fixed amount of time. If you miss a payment deadline you are probably in more trouble than if you miscalculate the amount. – Gary E 8 years ago
  • @JesperMortensen I just want to learn how to learn how it works. – Leeand00 8 years ago
  • @JesperMortensen Tell ya what, move it to the accounting stackexchange....what? The Accounting Stackexchange isn't open you say? Maybe that's why I posted it here. – Leeand00 8 years ago
  • Vote to reopen. A lot of startups will face this issue. – Kekito 8 years ago
  • This looks a little complicated, but I think it might have something to do with it: ![Aspen Publishers American Payroll Association Basic Guide to Payroll][1]: [1]: 8 years ago

1 Answer


For small businesses there are third party providers that can do all the hard work for you at a relatively low price ($25/mo with Quickbooks, for example). It is definitely not something worth doing on your own.

Larger companies either work with third party providers (like ADP for example) or have their own accountants do that for them.

Generally there are several different payroll taxes, and they are managed differently.

  1. FICA taxes - certain percentage of pay, divided equally between the employee and the employer. You must withhold these.
  2. FUTA taxes - only the employer pays them.
  3. Workers' compensation insurance - only the employer carries this. In some states its a tax, in others a required insurance.
  4. State disability taxes - state laws vary, but it is usually a percentage of the pay up to a limit, with employer or employee (or both) paying it, depending on the State.
  5. Income taxes - employee pays it, but employer must withhold. For Federal tax, how much to withhold is determined by the information the employee provided on W4, and the tax tables and formulas IRS publishes (publication 15 ). For State/Local taxes - determined similarly using the relevant W4 equivalents and publications from the relevant authorities.

Not remitting the payroll taxes correctly is a serious offence, and the corporate limitation of liability doesn't protect the responsible individuals. If you fail to remit the payroll taxes correctly - you will be prosecuted personally, together with other individuals responsible.

answered Apr 9 '13 at 06:14
5,090 points
  • $25 a month doesn't sound cheap if I just want to learn about it. How does one verify that they've done payroll correctly if they use a piece of software to generate it? – Leeand00 8 years ago
  • @leeand00 you can always hire an auditor. There are CPA's that that's what they do for a living. If you want to calculate it yourself - start with pub 15. – Littleadv 8 years ago

Your Answer

  • Bold
  • Italic
  • • Bullets
  • 1. Numbers
  • Quote
Not the answer you're looking for? Ask your own question or browse other questions in these topics:

Tax USA Payroll