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Finance Forward Blog

What Is the Difference Between Payroll and Income Taxes?

Payroll and Income Taxes

Payroll and income taxes in the US are two types of taxes individuals and businesses must pay to the government, both calculated according to income but used for different purposes. Understanding their differences is vital as it can impact how much you owe the government as well as help plan finances more effectively. Here we explore these terms further and why understanding them is so crucial.

What are payroll taxes?

payroll tax

Payroll taxes are taxes employers must withhold from their employees' wages and pay on behalf of their employees to the government. These taxes are used to fund specific government programs, such as Social Security and Medicare. The employer is responsible for calculating and withholding the appropriate amount of payroll taxes from each employee's paycheck based on the employee's gross earnings and various other factors, such as tax deductions and exemptions.

There are various types of payroll taxes, including Social Security tax, Medicare tax, and federal unemployment tax.

Social Security Tax

Social Security taxes are levied on employees' wages to fund the Social Security program, which offers retirement, disability, and survivor benefits to eligible individuals. For 2023, this rate stands at 6.2% of wages up to the wage base amount (currently $153,000).

Medical Tax

Medicare tax is levied on employee wages to fund Medicare's healthcare benefits program, which provides healthcare benefits to eligible individuals. The Medicare tax rate currently exceeds 1.45% of total wages without an upper wage base limit.

Federal Tax

Employers pay the federal unemployment tax as part of funding the unemployment insurance program that offers benefits to workers who are unjustly laid off without fault of their own. The current federal unemployment tax rate stands at 6% of employee earnings up to $7,000, based on the federal unemployment tax act.

How to calculate payroll taxes?

calculate payroll tax

Calculating payroll taxes can be a complicated process, but there are tools available to employers to assist them with accurately doing it. Employers should first determine their employee’s gross wages (the total earnings before any deductions have been taken out), before calculating each type of payroll tax separately.

Employees liable to Social Security and Medicare taxes would see their employer calculate both taxes. Social Security would comprise 6.2% of gross wages, thus equating to $62, while Medicare taxes comprise 1.45% - thus equalling $14.50 and making their total payroll taxes $86.550.

How are payroll taxes withheld from employees' wages?

Employers must withhold payroll taxes from employees’ wages and remit them on their behalf to the government. The exact amount withheld depends on several factors, such as an employee's gross wages, the number of allowances claimed on W-4 forms, and tax rates in effect at that time.

Employers typically rely on the IRS withholding tables to calculate payroll tax withholding, taking into account an employee's gross wages and any allowances claimed, along with any state or local taxes or garnishments which must be withheld from each paycheck.

How should employers pay payroll taxes?

Employers are accountable for paying the government payroll taxes on their employees' behalf. Not only must withhold payroll taxes be withheld from employee wages, but employers must also contribute their portion - for instance, an additional 6.2% tax should be withheld on earnings above the Social Security wage base and 1.45% for Medicare taxes.

Employers must remit payroll taxes to the government regularly, typically monthly or quarterly. Failure to do so on time can incur penalties and interest charges. Additionally, various tax forms like Form 941 and 940 should be used by employers in reporting these payments and reconciling any differences between what was withheld from employees' wages and what was sent back into government coffers.

What are Income Taxes?

Income taxes refer to taxes levied on individuals and businesses earning income used by governments to fund various programs and services. Knowing how income tax is calculated and paid can be key to effectively managing finances.

The exact amount owed will depend on several factors, including total earned income, deductions or credits claimed, and tax rates in effect at any given point in time, unlike payroll taxes that support specific government programs, income taxes fund general government activities.

These are some of the various types of income taxes, including Federal Income tax, State Income tax, Local Income tax, and Capital Gains, Tax:

Federal Income Tax

Federal income tax is the tax the United States government collects from individuals and businesses on their taxable income, collected at both individual and business levels. The exact amount depends upon an individual or business's taxable income level and filing status, more money a person earns equals higher tax rates.

State Income Tax

Each state collects this type of income tax on income earned within that state by both individuals and businesses but can vary in rates and regulations from one to another, so it is crucial that research be completed on each state where your taxable income was earned before paying tax on it.

Local Income Tax

Local income taxes are levied by certain cities and counties on individuals and businesses earning income within that location, with rates and regulations depending on your city or county of choice. Therefore, it's essential to research what regulations exist in that location before filing taxes there.

Capital Gains Tax

Capital gains tax applies to any profit earned from selling an asset such as stocks, real estate or artwork and can vary depending on how long it was held before sale. Long-term capital gains tax has lower rates than short-term capital gains tax.

Understanding the various income taxes is vital for both individuals and businesses in accurately calculating their tax liabilities, complying with federal, state, and local laws on taxes. Seeking advice from a qualified income tax professional is recommended to ensure they pay the correct amount of income taxes while complying with all applicable tax laws.

How are income taxes calculated?

income tax calculated

Income taxes are calculated based on an individual's taxable income, which is defined as their total income minus deductions and exemptions. The tax rate that applies to their taxable income varies based on their tax bracket which in turn depends on their level of income.

For instance, in 2023, the top tax rate remains 37% for single taxpayers with incomes more than $578,125 ($693,750 for married couples filing jointly):

  • 35% for incomes over $231,250 ($462,500 for married couples filing jointly);
  • 32% for incomes over $182,100 ($364,200 for married couples filing jointly);
  • 24% for incomes over $95,375 ($190,750 for married couples filing jointly);
  • 22% for incomes over $44,725 ($89,450 for married couples filing jointly);
  • 12% for incomes over $11,000 ($22,000 for married couples filing jointly).

To calculate income tax owed, one would take an individual's taxable income and apply the appropriate tax rates - for instance, a single individual with an estimated taxable income of $50,000 would owe taxes according to this example:

  • 10% on $10,275 = $1,027.50

  • 12% on ($42,650 - $10,275) = $3,630

  • 22% on ($50,000 - $42,650) = $1,617
    Total income tax owed = $6,274.50

Income tax deductions and credits can also have an effect on how much income tax is owed by decreasing taxable income or directly decreasing tax obligations owed (for instance, if someone had a $1,000 tax credit, their tax bill would decrease by that amount).

How are income taxes withheld from employee wages?

Employers are responsible for income tax withholdings from employees' wages and remitting the proceeds directly to the government on behalf of those employees. The exact amount withheld from wages depends on several factors, including gross wages, the number of allowances claimed on the W-4 form, and tax rates in effect at that time.

Employers use the IRS withholding tables to calculate how much income tax to withhold from an employee's gross pay and any allowances claimed. Additionally, employers should consider any state and local taxes or garnishments that must also be withheld from withheld income tax payments.

What taxpayers must do to pay income taxes?

Taxpayers must pay any income tax liabilities themselves if their employer does not withhold enough taxes from their paycheck, which may happen when someone works multiple jobs, is self-employed, or has other sources of income.

Every taxpayer must file an annual tax return to report their income and assess their tax liability. If taxpayers have already paid more in taxes than they owe, they may qualify for a refund. Otherwise, they must make up any shortfall payments themselves.

The Importance of Tax Returns in Income Tax Administration

Tax returns are an integral component of the income tax process as they enable taxpayers to report income, calculate tax liability, claim deductions and credits, reconcile any discrepancies between taxes paid and taxes owed, and claim deductions and credits. By law, taxpayers must file their return annually by April 15th. Failure to do so could incur severe consequences for themselves and the government.

Tax returns include several forms and schedules used to report income and expenses, calculate tax liability, claim credits or deductions and report any credits or refunds that may apply. individuals commonly use Form 1040 for reporting their income and calculating tax liability.

Taxpayers must attach any required schedules, such as Schedule A for itemized deductions or Schedule C for self-employment income, along with their tax returns and file them either electronically or by mail to the IRS.

What Are The Differences Between Payroll and Income Taxes?

Difference between payroll and income tax

A. Basis of Taxation

Payroll taxes and income taxes are two forms of taxes levied in the US, with each type having different bases of taxation. Payroll taxes are assessed against wages, while income taxes are imposed on total income derived by individuals whether employed or self-employed. Payroll taxes apply exclusively to employees while income taxes cover everyone, be they employees or not.

B. Who Pays Taxes

Payroll taxes are split among employees and employers, with employers withholding and submitting them on behalf of employees to the government for payment. Individuals themselves also contribute directly to income taxes through paying them directly into the government - depending on factors like total income as well as deductions and credits available to them.

C. Purpose of Taxes

Payroll taxes are collected to fund social programs like Social Security, Medicare and unemployment insurance. Social Security provides retirement and disability benefits to eligible individuals while Medicare provides health coverage to seniors and disabled. Unemployment insurance provides financial aid for workers who have lost their jobs. Income taxes fund various government services like national defense, education and healthcare infrastructure.

D. Tax Rates and Calculations

Payroll tax rates are fixed and calculated as a percentage of an employee's wages, with both employer and employee responsible for contributing equally to this type of taxation. Withholding is deducted directly from salaries by employers to withhold employee contributions from payroll taxes. Income tax rates, on the other hand, tend to increase as an individual's income, these vary based on an individual's income level as well as deductions and credits they may qualify for.

Understanding the Difference Between Payroll and Income Taxes

Understanding the difference between payroll taxes and income taxes is vital in understanding both your finances and obligations as an employee or employer. Employees may notice a deduction for payroll taxes on their paycheck, which are used to fund specific government programs. Understanding these taxes helps better plan finances, prepare for retirement and other benefits, while employers need to ensure they withhold and remit the appropriate amounts on behalf of employees.

Knowledge of income taxes is critical for individuals and businesses alike, as it impacts how much you owe the government and how your finances can be planned for. Knowing about deductions and exemptions that may help lower your overall tax bill. Additionally, being knowledgeable of various types of income taxes allows businesses to better plan operations and finances.


Payroll taxes and income taxes are two forms of taxes levied in the United States, making compliance essential. Payroll taxes fund social programs while income taxes support government services. Their rates and calculations differ, so understanding their differences is key for individuals and employers in accurately reporting and paying their taxes.

Income Taxes

There are various resources available for further assistance and information when filing taxes, and the accounting team at J. Hall & Company is eager to be of assistance. Reach out today to schedule a free initial consultation call.