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Understanding Payroll Taxes: What is Payroll Taxation?

Payroll taxation is tax that employers and employees pay on wages and salaries; it’s used to fund specific public programs like Medicare and Social Security. Unlike income tax, there is a flat rate on these taxes. However, that doesn’t necessarily make them any more simple for employers to manage.

Organizations are responsible for accurately calculating, withholding, and remitting payroll taxes on behalf of their employees, and failure to do so can result in hefty penalties. However, navigating these compliance requirements can be complex due to the varying rules at the federal, state, and local levels. 

Luckily, we look at everything you need to know in this article, including exploring:

  • The types of payroll taxes
  • Payroll tax exemptions vs deductions
  • Tax exemptions and employee benefits 
  • Case studies showing common problems and solutions 
  • The impact of a payroll specialist 

Types of Payroll Taxes

Here we define the various types of payroll tax as well as looking at payroll taxes for special circumstances.

1. Federal payroll tax

Federal payroll tax is a mandatory tax collected by the IRS on behalf of the federal government. Both employers and employees contribute and money goes toward Social Security and Medicare. 

The amount of federal tax each party contributes depends on income levels and, to calculate this, employers must check the annual tax rates while taking into account tax credits and deductions. 

2. State payroll tax

State payroll taxes are set by individual U.S. states to fund state-specific programs such as unemployment benefits, workers’ compensation, and healthcare initiatives. Tax rates vary significantly from one state to another so it’s essential for organizations to stay on top of differing rules, rates, and reporting requirements.

3. Additional payroll tax

Additional payroll taxes can refer to any other taxes that, usually at the local level, are used to fund initiatives or programs, such as transit projects, education, or local infrastructure improvements

To identify whether any of these taxes apply, companies need to reach out to the local tax office or check the official websites of their city/county and review their tax department’s information.

4. Payroll taxes for special circumstances

Specific industries and non-standard employment arrangements (i.e. temporary workers) often come with extra payroll taxes. For example, in the agricultural sector, there are taxes related to farm labor that are designed to fund agricultural programs. 

To find out whether any of these taxes apply, companies need to stay informed on both industry and government-wide regulations. If they are managing global payroll, they will also need to stay up to date on taxes in each specific country.  

Optimize Global Payroll Taxation with Multiplier's Solutions

Understanding Payroll Tax Exemptions

Both individuals and businesses can qualify for tax exemptions, where part of their income is not taxed. Here we explore how this looks in practice. 

Types of Tax Exemptions

Some of the most common tax exemptions for employees include:

  • Lifetime Learning and American Opportunity credits which help individuals cover the costs of higher education.
  • Child and Dependent Care Credit for people looking after others
  • Medical Expense Deduction for those with substantial medical expenses

Meanwhile, businesses can qualify for the following exemptions among others:

  • Small Business Health Care tax credit for organizations that offer health insurance to employees
  • Industry-specific tax credits such as historic rehabilitation and affordable housing
  • Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) for businesses that hire individuals from specific targeted groups, such as veterans, ex-felons, and individuals with disabilities 
  • Empowerment Zone Employment credit for companies operating in economically under-privileged zones 

Business Eligibility Criteria

To be eligible for tax exemptions, businesses need to keep accurate records including information about employee hire dates and proof of eligibility. In some situations, for instance for the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) scheme, they also need to become certified. 

Without the correct documentation, businesses will not be granted payroll exemptions. What’s more, if they don’t stay up to date on the latest tax laws and regulations they risk losing out on funds. 

Tax Exemptions vs. Deductions

While tax exemptions refer to a specific part of an employee or business’ income (for example, an employee’s medical expenses would not be taxed), tax deductions are taken from the entire income figure. For employees, these deductions can include:

  • Charitable contributions 
  • Medical expenses
  • Educational expenses such as student loan interest 

For businesses, tax deductions can include:

  • Operating expenses
  • Employee benefits
  • Startup cost deductions
  • Rewards for energy-efficiency

Tax Exemptions and Employee Benefits

Businesses can leverage tax exemptions to offer attractive employee benefits. For instance, companies can provide health insurance and retirement contributions, while simultaneously benefiting from lower tax rates. These perks not only contribute to employee satisfaction and retention but also enhance the employer’s ability to attract top talent.

Common Payroll Taxation Challenges and Solutions

Research shows that around 70% of small business owners report that payroll taxes are a significant or moderate burden in their working lives. In this section, we look at five instances where payroll taxation can cause issues and then we consider solutions. 

Case Study 1: Local Tax Regulations


Adhering to varying local tax regulations can be challenging for businesses operating in multiple locations.


Outsource payroll or use specialized payroll software (such as Multiplier) that accounts for regional tax differences.

Case Study 2: Tax Exemptions


Businesses often fail to take full advantage of available tax exemptions, resulting in higher tax liabilities.


Conduct a comprehensive review of tax exemption programs specific to the business, utilizing tax professionals or software to streamline the process. 

Case Study 3: Benefit Management


Businesses may struggle to manage and track deductions for employee benefits, risking inaccurate tax withholding.


Use dedicated benefit administration systems as part of a payroll solution such as Multiplier to accurately track and manage benefit deductions during payroll processing.

Case Study 4:


When paying independent contractors through payroll, businesses may mistakenly include them in their regular systems leading to tax compliance issues.


Companies should store W-9 forms and tax documentation for contractors in a centralized payroll solution such as Multiplier. 

Case Study 5: 


Many businesses submit their payroll tax filings late or mistakenly include errors; this can lead to penalties and fines.


An automated payroll system can save businesses time when filling out payroll and remind them of when tax payments are due.

The Importance Of Using A Payroll Service Provider 

When looking for support with payroll taxation, companies can opt for either a payroll tax manager or a payroll service provider. While the former offers reliable expertise, the latter is the preferable choice as it’s an all-in-one solution. 

A payroll service provider, such as Multiplier, includes automated tax calculations for employees in a range of countries and compliant support for any employment type. This reduces both admin time and confusion.

FAQs About Payroll Taxation 

1. What is the role of a payroll tax specialist?

A payroll tax specialist is responsible for ensuring accurate and timely processing of payroll taxes. This involves calculating, withholding, and remitting various payroll taxes, such as income tax, Social Security, and Medicare taxes. They also stay up-to-date with tax laws and regulations, prepare tax reports, and address any tax-related inquiries or issues. 

Unlike a payroll service provider (such as Multiplier), however, they don’t provide other services such as hiring support and benefits management. 

2. Can an LLC have payroll taxes?

Yes, an LLC (Limited Liability Company) can have payroll taxes. LLC payroll taxes encompass federal income tax and occasionally state and local payroll taxes. The exact requirements and tax obligations vary depending on the state and the structure of the LLC.

3. What are the consequences of not paying payroll taxes?

Delays in paying payroll taxes can lead to penalties, interest charges, and legal action. If taxes aren’t paid for an extended amount of time, authorities will impose fines and attempt to recover the owned taxes. All of this can also lead a company to have a bad reputation with employees and investors. 

Ria Thomas
Ria Thomas

Product Marketing Manager

Ria is a meticulous Product Marketing, Growth, and Content Strategy professional. She has a passion for all things digital marketing and possesses a particularly sharp acumen when it comes to Product & Product Marketing.

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