How to Avoid Payroll Tax Penalties in 2020
How to Avoid Payroll Tax Penalties in 2020

How to Avoid Payroll Tax Penalties in 2020

Employment laws are getting more complex and businesses are finding it harder to remain compliant. According to the IRS, 40% of small and medium-sized businesses are fined each year for failing to meet payroll tax regulations. These organizations are at risk because they tend to run payroll through manual processes and disconnected software, leading to miscalculations, incorrect filings and late withholdings deposits. If you’re a business leader and want to avoid fines and penalties, here’s what you need to know.

What Payroll Taxes Are You Required to Pay?

State and federal taxes include:

  1. Federal unemployment taxes: Employers must pay this tax based on the gross pay of all employees. These taxes can either be paid quarterly or annually and are documented on Form 940.
  2. Federal and state income taxes: Employers are required to withhold these taxes from employee pay and distribute them to the IRS and appropriate states.
  3. FICA taxes: These taxes are more commonly referred to as Social Security and Medicare taxes. Unlike income taxes, these are withheld from employee pay AND matched by employers. FICA taxes must be paid either monthly or bi-weekly, depending on the size of your payroll. FICA taxes are reported quarterly on Form 941.

What Happens if You Have Unpaid Payroll Taxes?

There’s no ifs, ands or buts. If you fail to pay payroll taxes, you will be penalized. Specifically, you’ll be fined a percentage of your gross payroll deposit based on the number of days your deposit is late.
Here are the penalties for failing to deposit payroll taxes on-time:

Days Late  Penalty 
1-5 days  2% 
6 - 15 days  5% 
16 days or more  10% 
Amounts unpaid more than 10 days after the date of the first IRS notice requesting the tax, or the day when you received notice and demand for immediate payment, whichever is earlier.   15% 


Example: Tim’s Software Inc. has 100 employees and owes the IRS $39,000 for monthly payroll taxes. The company pays the full amount 10 days after the due date. Tim is slapped with a 5% penalty on the $39,000 deposit and now owes the IRS an additional $1,950. For smaller organizations this type of fine can be a major setback. What if you can’t pay the full deposit? Pay the taxes you can afford! Even a partial payroll tax payment will reduce the amount of penalties you’ll receive.

Penalties for Not Depositing the Payroll Tax

As an owner or partner, you can be held personally liable for willful failure to withhold employee pay and payroll taxes from federal and state agencies. This is called the Trust Fund Recovery Penalty and it’s one of the most impactful penalties charged by the IRS.

How much will it cost?

Example: Let’s say you pay an employee $1,000. Their paystub notes that you withheld $90 for income tax plus $50 for Social Security and $10 for Medicare. But, you didn’t send any of that money to the IRS. In this case the unpaid tax bill is $150. Now you owe this amount AND that amount again as a penalty, doubling your bill. When you employee dozens of workers this penalty can add up quickly.

Keep in mind these are also criminal penalties and can result in a $10,000 fine and/or imprisonment for up to five years.

Here’s what you can do.

3 Tips to Mitigate Risk

  1. Ensure your budget accounts for tax payments. You might be shaking your head, but it’s common for organizations to overlook taxes. This is a quick, simple fix that can prevent a lot of headaches.
  2. Automate payroll! Partner with an HR & payroll provider. If you want more time to work on important, strategic initiatives, consider automating your payroll processes. The right partner will help you avoid payroll tax penalties, cut down on administrative tasks and ensure your employees are paid accurately and on time.

  3. Stay up-to-date with IRS announcements & resources. The IRS is constantly publishing news releases, tax law updates, tax tips and form deadlines.

How Can Paycor Help Mitigate Your Risk?

We’ve spent nearly 30 years perfecting payroll. Our solution is the easiest and most powerful solution for small to medium-sized businesses on the market.
  • Our dedicated tax experts assist you with payroll tax compliance, workers’ comp and federal and state laws and regulations
  • Paycor eliminates administrative processes by empowering employees though self-service access
  • Maintain accurate employee pay records
  • Improve your payroll service with general ledger integration and helpful HR resources like employee policies, job descriptions and custom templates

Click here to learn more about the benefits of payroll software.


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*This article does not contain legal advice. The information is provided for general educational purposes only and is not a substitute for legal advice.

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