Understanding Employer Payroll Taxes: A Comprehensive Guide

Learn how to accurately calculate employer payroll taxes including Social Security, Medicare, and FUTA with our comprehensive guide.

Written by PocketCfo Team

Reviewed by Terry Gu, CPA

6 minutes read

Navigating the complexities of employer payroll taxes can be a daunting task for business owners. These taxes, mandated by various levels of government, are crucial for maintaining the social security net and funding public services. This guide demystifies employer payroll taxes, ensuring you stay compliant while effectively managing your business’s finances.

Also Read: Covert you payroll records to taxes with the help of AI

What Are Employer Payroll Taxes?

At the core, employer payroll taxes are taxes that employers are required to pay based on the salaries and wages paid to employees. These taxes cover social security and Medicare contributions, unemployment taxes, and in some cases, other state-level obligations.

Federal Employer Payroll Taxes

Federal payroll taxes for employers mainly consist of two components: FICA (Federal Insurance Contributions Act) and FUTA (Federal Unemployment Tax Act). FICA taxes are split equally between the employer and the employee, covering Social Security and Medicare. On the other hand, FUTA taxes are paid solely by the employer to fund state workforce agencies.

State and Local Payroll Taxes

Beyond federal obligations, employers must also navigate state and local payroll taxes. These can vary significantly depending on your business location and may include state unemployment taxes (SUTA), disability insurance, and other local levies.

How to Calculate Employer Payroll Tax

1. Social Security Tax Calculation

The Social Security tax is levied on both employees and employers to fund the Social Security program, which provides retirement, disability, and survivor benefits. Understanding the applicable tax rates and income thresholds is essential for calculating Social Security taxes accurately.

1.1.1. Tax Rates:

For the tax year [insert current tax year], the Social Security tax rate is [insert current rate]% for both employees and employers.

  • Self-employed individuals must pay the combined employee and employer share.

1.1.2. Income Thresholds:

  • As of [insert current year], only the first [insert income threshold] of an employee’s wages are subject to the Social Security tax.
  • Any wages earned above this threshold are exempt from Social Security tax.

1.2 Social Security Tax Calculation Methodology

Calculating Social Security taxes involves determining the taxable wages for each employee and applying the applicable tax rate. Here’s a step-by-step methodology:

1.2.1 Determine Taxable Wages:

  • Exclude any wages exceeding the income threshold from Social Security tax calculations.
  • Include all other forms of compensation subject to Social Security tax, such as salaries, wages, bonuses, and certain fringe benefits.

1.2.2 Apply Tax Rate:

  • Multiply the taxable wages by the current Social Security tax rate to calculate the amount of Social Security tax owed by both the employer and the employee.

2. Medicare Tax Calculation

2.1 Understanding Medicare Tax

Medicare tax is another mandatory payroll tax that funds the Medicare program, which provides healthcare benefits to eligible individuals. Unlike Social Security tax, there is no income threshold for Medicare tax, and it applies to all wages earned by employees.

2.1.1 Tax Rate:

  • The Medicare tax rate for employees and employers is [insert current rate]% each, resulting in a combined rate of [insert total rate]%.
  • Additional Medicare tax may apply to high-income earners.

2.2 Medicare Tax Calculation Methodology

Calculating Medicare taxes follows a straightforward process:

2.2.1 Determine Taxable Wages:

  • Unlike Social Security tax, there is no income threshold for Medicare tax. All wages earned by employees are subject to Medicare tax.

2.2.2 Apply Tax Rate:

  • Multiply the total wages subject to Medicare tax by the applicable tax rate to calculate the Medicare tax amount for both the employer and the employee.

3. Federal Unemployment Tax (FUTA) Calculation

3.1 Overview of FUTA Tax

FUTA tax is imposed on employers to fund unemployment benefits provided to workers who have lost their jobs. Unlike Social Security and Medicare taxes, FUTA tax is solely paid by the employer and is not deducted from employees’ wages.

3.1.1 Tax Rate and Base:

  • The FUTA tax rate is [insert current rate]% on the first [insert base amount] of each employee’s wages.
  • Certain credits may reduce the effective FUTA tax rate for eligible employers.

3.2 FUTA Tax Calculation Methodology

Calculating FUTA taxes involves the following steps:

3.2.1 Determine Taxable Wages:

  • Exclude any wages exceeding the FUTA base amount from tax calculations.
  • Include all other forms of compensation subject to FUTA tax, such as salaries, wages, and bonuses.

3.2.2 Apply Tax Rate and Credits:

  • Multiply the taxable wages by the current FUTA tax rate to determine the initial tax liability.
  • Subtract any available credits for state unemployment taxes paid to arrive at the net FUTA tax owed by the employer.

Employer Contributions to Payroll Taxes

Employers play a crucial role in the payroll tax system by not only withholding their employees’ portion of Social Security and Medicare taxes but also by contributing an equal amount. Additionally, employers are solely responsible for paying FUTA taxes and any state-specific employer taxes.

Compliance and Reporting

Staying compliant involves timely and accurate reporting of payroll taxes. The IRS requires employers to file various forms, such as Form 941 for quarterly federal tax returns and Form 940 for annual FUTA tax returns. Similarly, state and local jurisdictions have their reporting requirements.

IRS Employer Payroll Taxes

The IRS provides detailed guidelines on employer responsibilities for payroll taxes, including how to calculate, report, and deposit these taxes. Adherence to these guidelines is essential to avoid penalties and ensure compliance.


Understanding and managing employer payroll taxes is a vital aspect of running a successful business. By staying informed about your obligations and diligently fulfilling them, you can ensure compliance with federal, state, and local tax laws, contributing to the well-being of your employees and the broader community.


Do Employers Pay State Payroll Taxes?

Yes, employers often have obligations to pay state payroll taxes in addition to federal payroll taxes. These state-level taxes can vary widely depending on the location and may include state income taxes, state unemployment insurance taxes (SUTA), disability insurance taxes, and other local levies. The specific requirements and rates for state payroll taxes can differ significantly from one state to another.

How Do Employer Payroll Taxes Work?

Employer payroll taxes are financial contributions that employers are required to make based on the wages paid to their employees. These taxes serve various purposes, including funding social security programs, Medicare, unemployment benefits, and other public services. Employer payroll taxes typically include contributions to Social Security and Medicare (known as FICA taxes), federal unemployment taxes (FUTA), and potentially state-level taxes as well. Employers are responsible for withholding the appropriate amounts from employees’ wages and remitting them to the relevant tax authorities.

How Do Employers Pay Payroll Taxes?

Employers pay payroll taxes by withholding the required amounts from their employees’ wages and remitting those funds, along with their own contributions, to the appropriate tax authorities. This process typically involves calculating the correct amount of taxes owed based on employees’ earnings, deducting those amounts from their paychecks, and submitting payments to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for federal taxes or state tax agencies for state-level taxes. Employers may also be required to file various tax forms and reports to report their payroll tax obligations accurately.

What Is Employer Tax on Payroll?

The employer tax on payroll refers to the financial contributions that employers are required to make toward payroll taxes. These taxes include contributions to social security programs, Medicare, unemployment insurance, and potentially other state or local taxes. Employer payroll taxes are typically calculated as a percentage of employees’ wages and are separate from any income taxes withheld from employees’ paychecks. Employers are responsible for accurately calculating, withholding, and remitting these taxes to the appropriate tax authorities.

Who Pays Employer Payroll Taxes?

Employers are responsible for paying employer payroll taxes. This includes contributions to social security and Medicare (FICA taxes), federal unemployment taxes (FUTA), and potentially state and local payroll taxes as well. While these taxes are based on employees’ wages, it is the employer’s responsibility to ensure that the correct amounts are withheld from employees’ paychecks and remitted to the relevant tax authorities on time.