Before you set up your payroll system and hire your first employee, you need to know about the different types of employment taxes. Some taxes, like federal and state withholding, you just withhold from employee pay and turn over to the taxing authority. Others, like FICA taxes, must be taken from employee pay and also paid by you, the employer. And still others, like unemployment taxes and workers compensation, are your responsibility as an employer, but employees don't contribute to these.
A reminder that taxes withheld from employees are trust fund taxes; that is, they are kept by you but must be paid when due.
All employers are required to withhold federal income tax from employees. The amount of tax is determined by the W-4 form the employee fills out at hire or when the employee has changes in status or wants to change the withholding amount. You may not pay employees without having a W-4 form on file.
States which have state income taxes require employers to withhold those taxes from employees. Some states use the federal W-4 form, while other states have their own forms. Check to see how your state requires state income taxes to be withheld, reported, and paid.
All U.S. employers must deduct FICA (Social Security and Medicare) tax amounts from paychecks of all employees, and pay employer and employee portions of this tax. The Social Security employee deduction is 6.2 percent of gross pay up to the annual maximum. The Medicare portion for employees is 1.45 percent with no maximum. Both amounts must be matched by employer contributions.
Employers are required to pay federal unemployment taxes to provide benefits to employees who have lost their jobs. Employees do not contribute to this tax. Employers contribute based upon their gross payroll (the gross amount paid to all employees). In addition to federal unemployment taxes, most states require you to participate in the state unemployment tax plan, and to pay unemployment taxes.
Employers must pay into state-run funds which provide benefits for employees who incur illnesses or injuries because of their work. These benefits are governed by state worker's compensation laws and paid for by employer contributions to state worker's compensation funds.