What Is a Payroll Register? How To Use It & Legal Considerations
This article is part of a larger series on How to Do Payroll.
Included as a standard report in most payroll software, a payroll register lists all the information from each payroll. It’s the paycheck records of every employee in one report, including the total gross pay for each employee, each type of deduction and amount, and the total net amount that each employee receives.
A payroll register is useful to run each payroll period. It provides you with detailed information that makes it easier to make your payroll tax deposits, submit your quarterly taxes, and provide information to the Social Security Administration (SSA) and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
What’s Included in a Payroll Register
Here’s the data you should generally see on your payroll register:
- Name of each employee
- Pay period
- Pay date
- Regular hours worked for each employee
- Overtime hours worked for each employee, if applicable
- Each employee’s pay rate
- Each employee’s gross pay
- Federal, state, and local taxes withheld
- Employee portion of Social Security and Medicare taxes
- Any other applicable deductions
- Each employee’s net pay
- Employer benefits contributions, if applicable
Besides the employee-specific data shown above, you’ll also see totals on your payroll register for each line item above. You can see total hours worked for all employees, and the total gross pay for the pay period, allowing you to calculate the overhead costs of employing your team.
Payroll Register vs Payroll Journal vs Wage Summary
Many people confuse payroll registers and payroll journals, sometimes using the terms interchangeably. However, they are different.
A payroll register contains more detailed information about individual employees and is usually restricted to the finance department and executives. In contrast, a payroll journal includes only companywide payroll totals and is often shared across the payroll and finance teams and anyone else who needs to be aware of total payroll costs.
A third report, the wage summary, provides data similar to a payroll register—but only for a single employee.
Using a Payroll Register
Doing payroll is more than just paying your employees—you’re also required to withhold taxes and report information to the SSA and IRS. A payroll register is important because it helps your payroll team ensure they’re managing your payroll effectively, showing a detailed breakdown of the information you need to provide and allowing you to spot any obvious errors with total amounts or an individual’s pay.
The payroll register should be a part of your regular payroll process, but it can also be run over longer periods of time. You can run it for the last quarter to show you data on payroll costs over a broader time to try to spot trends.
Here’s what you can use the payroll register to do:
- Complete your company’s IRS Form 941 (quarterly tax) payments
- Calculate the cash required to cover payroll
- Ensure accurate benefits deductions (healthcare, retirement, etc.)
- Provide payroll data to your workers’ compensation insurance provider
- Complete verification of employment requests for banks and lenders
- Maintain accurate and compliant payroll records
In addition to the benefits listed above, a payroll register is also a good business operations report to run. It can show if your employees are working more overtime than normal—costing you additional money—and how much your company benefits are costing as you increase your headcount.
It can also help your accounting or finance department budget and plan accordingly. Especially if you run a payroll register for a longer time period, like quarterly and annually, your finance team can spot trends that can help them prepare for higher expenses during certain times of the year.
What’s more, it breaks down how much money you need to pay in taxes, both as an employer and on behalf of your employees. This helps you set aside the appropriate sums of money to ensure your tax payments are covered and that you’re not facing a cash crunch.
Payroll reconciliation is essentially double-checking your work. When you compare your payroll register with the amount you’re paying to your employees, tax agencies, and healthcare or retirement providers, you’re doing payroll reconciliation.
Doing this task is vital to ensuring payments are accurate. Not only could you face fines and penalties for paying an incorrect amount to a tax agency, but if you pay your employees incorrectly, then you could have unhappy employees who are ready to look for another job.
Keep in mind that your payroll register will only have accurate information if you’ve entered the correct data. Using payroll software can help in this regard, double-checking the info to ensure everything is set. Consider using Rippling—an HR platform with full-service payroll and tax processing tools.
Payroll Register Legal Considerations
A payroll register is useful in meeting federal and state record-keeping requirements. According to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), employers must keep payroll records for at least three years. These records must include:
- Employee name
- The hours worked for each pay period
- Pay period dates and paycheck date
- Pay rate
- Taxes withheld
- Pay frequency
A payroll register keeps all of this information, making it one of the most vital payroll reports for your business compliance. While the FLSA does not mandate that you use a payroll register to meet their requirement, it’s simply a natural fit to do so.
A payroll register includes vital payroll data you need to effectively run your business, ensure employees are paid correctly, and maintain compliance with federal regulations. As part of your regular payroll process, it also helps you double-check your work to make sure all aspects of your payroll are accurate. Consider using payroll software that makes running a payroll register report a seamless process.