What Must You Do If You Hire Employees?

If you are self-employed and hire employees to help you in your business, you have just entered the world of federal payroll tax reporting. Here’s an overview of your responsibilities to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Social Security Administration (SSA).

Form W-4. This form should be completed by each employee and submitted to you prior to the issuing of an employee’s first paycheck. Form W-4 is required because it provides you with the information you need to properly calculate federal income tax withholdings for the employee. The employee can also use this form to provide you with his/her complete name, address and social security number, which you will need for both paychecks and the W-2’s you’ll prepare at the end of the year.

Paychecks. You must be issue paychecks to your employees on a regular basis. These paychecks should include a paystub that reports the payroll withholding and payroll tax amounts for the current paycheck as well as year-to-date.

Payroll tax payments. It is your responsibility to forward all payroll withholdings and payroll taxes to the appropriate government agencies. Federal payroll tax payments include federal income tax withholdings as well as Social Security and Medicare taxes (both employee withholdings and the employer portion). The frequency of these payments depends on the amount of taxes you have withheld and/or are liable for. Many small businesses fall into the monthly or quarterly payment frequency category, but be sure to check IRS Publication 15 for details.

You must make your federal payroll tax payments electronically via the IRS program known as EFTPS (Electronic Federal Tax Payment System). So you should contact the IRS immediately to enroll in this program and to learn how to authorize payments directly from your bank account to the U.S. Treasury Department. You can make these payments by phone or via the Internet.

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Payroll tax returns. You must file Form 941 every calendar quarter to report the federal income tax withholdings as well as Social Security and Medicare taxes. It is due by the end of the month following the end of quarter (i.e. due dates are April 30, July 31, October 31 and January 31). You must also file Form 940 annually by January 31 to report federal unemployment tax. The federal unemployment tax must be calculated each quarter but is only payable when the year-to-date accumulated liability reaches $500. If you don’t reach the $500 threshold during the year, you can make one payment for the entire year with Form 940.

W-2’s. At the end of the year you must prepare Form W-2 and give it to your employees by January 31. In addition, you must send a copy of Form W-2, along with a summary report known as Form W-3, to the Social Security Administration by February 28.

Failure to comply with any of these payroll responsibilities will result in stiff penalties. Be sure you understand your obligations, and by all means, obtain professional assistance from a competent tax professional rather than trying to do this yourself.