Personal Finance

Companies get to defer payroll tax payments under coronavirus relief bill. Here's what that means for workers

Key Points
  • Companies will be able to delay paying their portion of payroll taxes to the IRS.
  • They will still be collecting workers' share through paycheck withholding.
  • Here's how payroll taxes work and who pays what.

The $2 trillion economic stimulus package that cleared Congress on Friday will let struggling companies defer paying the IRS a portion of payroll taxes.

Workers' share, however, would still be collected and passed on to Uncle Sam.

"Companies would still be withholding from paychecks and remitting that to the IRS, but their half of payroll taxes would be delayed," said Erica York, an economist with the Tax Foundation.

Handed a paycheck, money, payday
Andrey Popov | Getty Images

Payroll taxes, as they're called, are withheld from your wages and are used to fund government programs — largely Social Security and Medicare. Those taxes are on top of your federal and state income tax withholdings.

Basically, you and your employer split payroll taxes. For Social Security, 6.2% of your wages — up to $137,700 for 2020 — are withheld from your paycheck and sent to the IRS, and your company also remits a matched amount. In other words, the IRS receives the equivalent of 12.4% of your wages to support Social Security.

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For Medicare, you and your company each chip in 1.45%, with no cap on wages subject to that portion of payroll taxes. In fact, an extra 0.9% Medicare tax is withheld for incomes above $200,000.

Self-employed workers pay both the employer and employee share — but are generally able to deduct half of it on their tax return.

Companies must regularly remit payroll taxes — both their contribution and what they withhold from workers' paychecks — to the IRS, typically on a monthly or semi-weekly basis.

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"That means they have to have cash on hand to pay the taxes in a timely way," York said.

"Offering a deferral on those payments helps ease the liquidity crunch many are facing," she said. "It's meant to help bridge the gap in the crisis so companies have [cash] to meet other obligations right now and pay their share of the taxes later."

Qualifying companies will be able delay their share of Social Security payroll taxes to the IRS. They would be delayed until Jan. 1, 2021, with 50% owed by the end of 2021 and the other half due Dec. 31, 2022. Companies' share of the Medicare payroll tax will still be due as usual, York said.

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