The Social Security payroll tax is imposed on employers and employees to gain funding for Americans under the Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) program as mandated by the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA). The rate and payroll cap are subject to change, and certain entities are exempt from contributing to it.
The Social Security payroll tax rate for 2024 is 12.4%—and ensuring you pay the correct amount is a part of your payroll responsibilities. The tax is a levy shared equally between employers and employees, each contributing 6.2% of an employee’s gross salary up to a specific limit. In this guide, we’ll discuss its intricacies, as well as how to calculate it.
- Social Security tax is 12.4%, half paid by the employer and half by the employee (6.2% each)
- The max taxable wages for 2024 is $168,600
- Self-employed individuals pay the full 12.4% Social Security tax on their own
Wage Base Limits for Social Security Tax
The payroll cap for Social Security tax, also known as the wage base limit, is a crucial concept in understanding the intricacies of the Social Security payroll tax. This cap is the maximum income that can be subjected to the Social Security payroll tax in a given year. For 2024, this cap is $168,600.
This cap exists as a measure to ensure that Social Security taxes aren’t collected indefinitely. Once an employee’s income exceeds this cap, no more Social Security payroll tax is levied for the rest of the year. The annual max Social Security contribution amount comes to $20,906.40, split evenly between the employer and employee.
The wage base limit is not static. It changes annually, typically increasing in line with the national average wage index. This continual adjustment is to accommodate for inflation and wage growth, ensuring the Social Security system remains funded.
Social Security Tax Exemptions
While the Social Security payroll tax applies to most employees and employers, there are exceptions.
Among the various groups exempt from Social Security payroll tax, religious organizations hold a unique position. The exemption applies to certain sects that oppose acceptance of benefits provided by a public insurance system, such as the Social Security system.
This isn’t a blanket exemption for all religious organizations or individuals with religious beliefs opposing Social Security. The organization must be recognized by the IRS. Members of these organizations must waive all rights to future Social Security benefits, demonstrating their commitment to the principles of their faith over public insurance benefits.
Mennonites are part of a sect that is recognized by the IRS and opposes acceptance of public insurance benefits. Other religious sects, like the Amish, have also received Social Security exempt status.
Not all student workers qualify. The exemption applies specifically to students who are employed by the school, college, or university where they are enrolled and regularly attending classes.
This exemption only applies to income earned from that job. If a student has another job outside school, their exempt status won’t transfer.
Employees of Foreign Governments & Nonresident Aliens
This exemption applies to individuals working for foreign governments within the United States. However, their role must include conducting official business on that government’s behalf.
Nonresident aliens are people living in the US who do not hold citizenship or legal resident status. Most of these workers are required to pay Social Security tax, but there are exceptions. These include professional educators and certain international students who are working while taking classes in the US.
Public Sector Workers
Most public sector workers are required to pay Social Security tax. But, there are exceptions for those who participate in alternative retirement systems. Some state and local employees, including teachers, police officers, and firefighters, contribute to their own separate retirement systems instead of the Social Security system.
Some federal workers also qualify. If a federal worker, including members of Congress, have been working consistently since before 1984, they’re covered under another government retirement plan and exempt from Social Security taxes.
It might seem counterintuitive, but it’s true—there’s a cap on how much of an employee’s income is subject to Social Security tax, which we discussed above. Any income beyond $168,600 for 2024 is not subject to the Social Security tax. So while high-income earners aren’t technically exempt from Social Security taxes, the amount they make over the wage base is not taxed.
How to Calculate Social Security Payroll Tax
Calculating Social Security payroll tax isn’t as daunting as it might seem. It’s all about knowing the steps and understanding why each one matters. Let’s break it down.
Step 1: Understand the Social Security Payroll Tax Rate
The first thing you need to know is the Social Security payroll tax rate. For 2024, this rate is set at 6.2% for both the employee and employer, totaling 12.4%.
Step 2: Know the Payroll Cap for Social Security Tax
Remember, there’s a cap on how much of an employee’s income is subject to this tax. For 2024, it’s $168,600. Any income earned above this cap is exempt from Social Security payroll taxes.
Step 3: Apply the Rate
The equation goes as follows:
(Employee Annual Gross Income x 0.062) / Number of Paychecks in a Year = Social Security Tax Withheld per Paycheck
Now, apply the 6.2% rate to your employee’s gross income. If an Social Security payroll tax for the year.
Assuming you pay employees every other week, which results in 26 paychecks in a year, you can break down the annual tax into per paycheck amount. Divide the annual tax amount by the number of paychecks.
Using the previous example where the yearly tax was $3,100, you would calculate $3,100 / 26 = $119.23.
For an employee earning $50,000 annually, $119.23 will be withheld from each of their 26 paychecks for Social Security payroll tax. As an employer, you will match this amount, resulting in $238.46 being contributed toward Social Security per paycheck.
Let’s dive into some practical examples of calculating Social Security payroll tax. We’ll walk through three scenarios: an hourly employee paid weekly, a high-income earner paid twice monthly, and a salaried individual earning $82,000 annually and paid monthly.
Meet Jane. She’s an hourly worker at your business, working 40 hours per week at a rate of $15 per hour. That’s $600 weekly before taxes. To calculate Jane’s Social Security payroll tax, apply the 6.2% rate to her gross weekly pay:
$600 * 0.062 = $37.20
So, each week, you’ll withhold $37.20 from Jane’s paycheck for Social Security taxes and match that contribution. This is assuming she works 40 hours every week, so if she works more on some weeks and less on others, you’ll need to adjust your calculation.
Next, there’s Gloria. She’s a senior executive at your company earning $250,000 annually, paid every other week. Remember the payroll cap for Social Security tax is $168,600 for 2024. Let’s calculate Gloria’s twice monthly social security tax:
First, determine the twice monthly pay: $250,000 / 26 = $9,615.38
Now, because Gloria’s annual salary exceeds the cap, we only apply the 6.2% rate to the paychecks until her salary reaches the cap. With the 18th paycheck of the year, she’ll exceed the cap—so every paycheck after that, her deductions will not include Social Security tax.
Let’s consider Sarah. She’s on an $82,000 annual salary, paid monthly. To calculate Sarah’s monthly Social Security payroll tax:
First, determine her monthly pay: $82,000 / 12 = $6,833.33
Then, apply the 6.2% rate to her gross monthly pay:
$6,833.33 * 0.062 = $423.67
Each month, you’ll withhold $423.67 from Sarah’s paycheck for Social Security taxes and match that contribution.
Step 4: Deduct and Pay
Deduct the calculated tax from your employee’s paycheck throughout the year and make sure to pay your matching contribution to the IRS.
Manually calculating Social Security payroll taxes can be fraught with potential errors, which may result in costly penalties or compliance issues. Even a slight miscalculation or misunderstanding of tax code nuances could lead to considerable discrepancies.
To minimize these risks, it’s highly recommended to use payroll software. These tools automate and streamline tax calculations, keeping up to date with the latest changes in tax law and ensuring accuracy and compliance. Check out our roundup of the best payroll software to find one that suits your business needs.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Understanding Social Security payroll tax is crucial. It’s not just a line item on a paycheck; it’s a legal obligation—one that, if you mess up, could land you in serious trouble. Follow the steps above to accurately calculate Social Security payroll taxes.
However, we don’t recommend you do this by hand as it’s ripe for errors. Use a payroll software that will help you quickly and accurately calculate all your payroll taxes and deductions.