THE BLOG
10/02/2015 03:00 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

What Everyone Should Know About Their Payroll Deductions and Bonus Taxes

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If you've always wondered what makes up the difference between how much you're paid and how much comes to your bank account, you'll be reassured to know that it's complicated. A variety of factors can impact what you take home. Where you live, your marital status and how much you save for retirement are all elements that can change your paycheck.

Take a look below to see what those deductions on your paycheck mean.

Federal tax

The amount of tax withheld from your paycheck is dependent on your salary and your allowances. When you start a new job, you're required to fill out a W-4. This form is where you state how many allowances you'd like deducted. The more allowances you take, the fewer taxes will be withheld from your paycheck.

If you constantly receive a huge refund come April, it means you have too few allowances and need to adjust your W-4. If you always owe money to the IRS, you need to decrease how many allowances you're taking out. According to the IRS website, if you don't pay enough taxes throughout the year, you may incur a penalty.

If your status changes during the year, you might need to adjust your withholding. For example, that includes getting married, divorced, or getting a new job. You can change your W-4 at any time.

State tax

Depending on your state, you will have additional taxes taken out of your salary. There are nine states that do not have income tax.

Local tax

Local taxes are dependent upon the county you live in. Only 13 states charge local income tax as well as state income tax.

401(k)/403(b) contribution

If you have a traditional 401(k) or 403(b), the money will be taken out before taxes, so your taxable income will be smaller. If you have a ROTH 401(k) or 403(b), then your contribution will come from your post-tax salary. However, you won't have to pay any taxes when you withdraw the funds in retirement.

HSA/FSA

You can set aside part of your income for contributions to your HSA or FSA account. That money will go towards paying qualified medical expenses. Like a retirement plan, the money you contribute to an HSA or FSA will not be taxed and will lower the total amount of taxes you'll pay.

Social Security

This goes to fund the Social Security program. When you're receiving social security, your checks will be funded by other people's paychecks.

Medicare

Deductions from your paycheck for Medicare go toward funding the program. Like social security, when you're eligible for Medicare, your account will be funded by current workers' contributions.

Health insurance

If you receive health insurance through your workplace, your monthly premium will come out of your pay check tax-free.

Union/Association

Some jobs have union dues that automatically come out of your paycheck.

Bonus taxes

Most people are surprised to find that their bonuses are not taxed at the same rate as the rest of their income. Bonuses, not raises, are considered to be supplemental income by the IRS. It means that they are in addition to your normal salary.

There are two ways that bonuses can be taxed. The percentage method says that 25% of the bonus is automatically taxed. The aggregate method says that your employer will add your bonus to your standard paycheck. Based on that new total, they will calculate the amount on the IRS withholding table. They will deduct what was withheld on your last paycheck from this new amount and withhold that difference on your paycheck. Remember that different states can also withhold depending on their tax regulations.

Why does it seem like your bonuses get taxed more?

Employees often complain that their bonus checks have seemingly been taxed at much higher rates than their ordinary income. Yet, as The Street shows us, this is actually an illusion:

"If you make $2,500 a month but get a $5,000 midyear bonus, your withholding will be computed as if you received a single wage payment of $7,500 for the monthly payroll period. Then that $7,500 is annualized, or assumed to be part of your yearly salary. So if you earned $7,500 a month, you'd be making $90,000 annually versus $30,000. But at $90,000, your tax rate jumps to the 31% tax bracket vs. the 28%. Under this annualized method, you would end up taking home even less of your bonus because you'd be withheld at much higher rates."

What happened here is that your employer used the aggregate method to calculate your bonus withholdings instead of the simpler and smaller percentage method. The IRS didn't apply a higher rate - your higher tax payment is simply a byproduct of the withholding method your employer choses.

About Aryea Aranoff

Aryea works on strategy and operations at DRB Student Loan, a market leader in student lending. FDIC insured and established in 2006, DRB has helped thousands of professionals with graduate and undergraduate degrees across the country refinance over $1.1 billion in federal and private school loans saving borrowers thousands of dollars each.

For more information about DRB, visit https://student.drbank.com.