This article is part of a larger series on How to Do Payroll.
A pay stub is a document that serves as a record of an employee’s paid wages in addition to taxes and deductions withheld. This article provides a variety of free pay stub templates to help you comply with laws in the 41 states that require employers to provide them—even if paying with cash or direct deposit.
As your small business grows and you want to spend less time creating manual pay stubs altogether, consider using a payroll service like Gusto. In addition to offering pay stubs, it allows your employees to manage their account information online or via a mobile device and print their payroll documents. Sign up for a 30-day free trial.
General & Industry-specific Pay Stub Templates
Here is a general downloadable free pay stub template in which you can input your data and then save or print. It contains all of the basic information fields you may want to document earnings and deductions. Any words or rows you don’t use can be left blank, customized, or deleted from the template to make this work for your business.
You may want to customize your stubs based on the industry in which your business operates. For instance, restaurants may need a method for tracking and reporting tips, while household employers may need space to report expense reimbursements.
Payroll software usually provides you with the most flexibility since its pay stubs are formatted to work with businesses in most industries. The caveat is that you have to use the system to process payroll before a stub can be generated.
Here are two downloadable pay stub templates you can use for the restaurant and household employment industries:
What a Pay Stub Template Should Include
State law typically dictates the information you should include on a pay stub, although generally it will include basic employer and employee information, pay period and rate, gross earnings, taxes, and net pay, among other data. However, some states—like Arkansas and South Dakota—don’t require employers to provide pay stubs to employees at all. Regardless, providing a pay stub is a good practice because it ensures you have solid backup information in the event of an audit.
State Pay Stub Requirements
There are currently 41 states that require employers to provide pay stubs to their employees. Some of those also mandate in what form employees must receive them. Colorado and Texas, for example, require that all pay stubs are provided in a printed or written form. Other states, like Hawaii, allow employees to opt out of written/printed pay stubs to receive pay stubs electronically instead.
Use the map below to determine if your state requires you to provide pay stubs to your employees and in what form:
Pay Stub Retention
The United States Department of Labor (DOL) has no mandatory retention requirements for specific documents like pay stubs, but it does require that payroll information be retained for three years. Meanwhile, the IRS requires that tax documentation is retained for four years. Some states, like California, require employers to retain payroll documentation for six years.
Our state payroll guides break down everything you need to know about pay stubs—from whether or not they’re required to what they need to include and how long you’re required to keep them on file. For all the details you may need, check out our state payroll directory.
What Each Field on a Pay Stub Means
Many pay stub templates include useful information, such as the number of hours worked during the pay period, year-to-date balances, and paid time off taken. They may also include specific descriptions on the purpose of pre-and post-tax payroll deductions, such as for medical insurance, life insurance, commuter benefits, or uniform fees.
When reviewing free pay stub templates for your business, check that there’s space for basic earnings and deductions information, such as:
- Pay period: Depending on the state requirements, this can be the start and end dates, or the pay period end date only.
- Hours worked: Not all states require the hours to be listed on the pay stub, but it’s a best practice because you have to track the information to ensure overtime is paid correctly. For example, 40 hours regular plus six hours overtime equals 46 hours total in a pay period.
- Gross earnings: Gross pay includes hourly earnings, commission earnings, tips, and any earnings based on piecework—each type of earning is typically shown as a separate line item on the pay stub.
- Required taxes: Include a line each to show federal taxes, state taxes, unemployment taxes, and local taxes (if any), as well as Social Security taxes deducted from employee earnings.
- Taxable deductions: Include a separate line item for any taxable deductions, such as wage garnishments or uniform fees.
- Tax-free deductions: Include a separate line item for any pre-tax benefits or retirement plan contributions, such as health insurance, life insurance, FSA, HSA, or 401(k) contributions.
- Time off balances: This information is helpful to the employee and is also required in states like California and New York, which have mandatory paid sick time laws.
Online Pay Stub Generators
In addition to free pay stub templates, there are web-based pay stub generators that allow you to input your pay stub information manually.
Here are three online pay stub generators you may find helpful:
- ThePayStubs: This site provides 10 pay stub templates and provides a tool to let you fill the blanks online. You have to pay about $9 for each pay stub you create. In addition to pay stubs, you can build and print W-2s and 1099-NEC documents.
- Pay Stub Generator: This free tool on Shopify allows you to input your payroll data manually, and it generates a pay stub for you. It then requests your email address and sends the completed pay stub to you to download or print.
- FormSwift: This free tool allows you to input payroll data and generates a pay stub for you in DOC or PDF format. You can sign up for a subscription that starts at $39.95 per month, and it offers a free seven-day trial.
When you first start your business, you may pay workers with handwritten checks or cash. If you’re not using a payroll service, it’s important to document all payments and any taxes and deductions withheld. Pay stubs are a great way to meet the DOL’s payroll document retention requirements, even if they aren’t required.
If your state requires you to provide pay stubs to your employees, consider using a payroll service. Gusto is a small business payroll software that calculates and files payroll taxes—federal, state, and local—pays employees through direct deposit or printed checks, and lets employees print their own payroll reports and pay stubs.