A Guide to Payroll for business owners

What business owners need to know about payroll
April 13, 2023
Read time: 12 min
April 13, 2023
6 min read



Payroll management is a crucial part of any business and has a direct impact on employee satisfaction, tax compliance, and the financial stability of your business.

Although it may seem quite simple, payroll management can often be a very complex and time-consuming task. It may also be overwhelming for small business owners or managers who don’t have the resources and experience to handle the task effectively.

In this guide, we want to provide business owners with a clear understanding of payroll management. We will cover all aspects, such as federal and state regulations, types of payroll systems, how to calculate payroll, and the best practices to ensure efficiency and compliance.

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Understanding Payroll: Wages, Taxes, & Benefits

Payroll can be broken down into three categories: wages, taxes, and benefits.

  • The wages refer to the gross pay that employees earn for their work, which includes regular hours and overtime. 
  • Taxes include all federal, state and local income taxes, as well as Social Security and Medicare taxes, and unemployment taxes.
  • Benefits can include a broad range of offerings, including retirement plans, health insurance, and paid time off.

Each of these components should be carefully calculated and processed to guarantee accuracy.

The need for complete accuracy in payroll management cannot be overstated. Errors can lead to underpayment or overpayment which will not only cause dissatisfaction for your employees, but possible legal repercussions. Inaccuracies may also lead to noncompliance with tax regulations, which could cause fines and penalties.


Staying Compliant with Federal and State Regulations

As a business owner, it is imperative that you understand all federal and state regulations for payroll. The complexity of these regulations can be overwhelming since they are often updated and may vary depending on the state or industry your business is in.

Federal regulations such as the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) govern minimum wage and overtime requirements to ensure all employees receive a fair amount of compensation for their work. There’s also the Federal Insurance Contributions Act, (FICA), which includes all taxes for Social Security and Medicare.

State regulations may include additional requirements for things such as meal and rest breaks, overtime and sick leave.

Compliance with these regulations is essential if you want to avoid any legal or financial issues, such as fines, penalties, or lawsuits. It is imperative that you keep accurate payroll records and stay up to date on all the changes in federal and state regulations to make sure you are compliant.

Fortunately, there are resources available to assist business owners in understanding these complex regulations. The U.S. Department of Labor offers a wealth of information on federal regulations, while individual state labor agencies can provide you with details on specific regulations for the area/s in which you operate. There are also consulting services that can help you meet all the regulatory requirements for payroll management.


What Are the Different Types of Payroll Systems?

Payroll systems can be manual, software-based, or outsourced. Manual payroll is a low-cost option, but it can also be time-consuming and prone to human error.

Software-based systems are preferred because they are faster and can automate tasks, but they can also be expensive and sometimes require additional setup and training.

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Outsourcing your payroll can be helpful and save you a lot of time, but it can also be costly, and involves relinquishing control of your business’s most sensitive information to a third party.

When choosing the best type of payroll system for your business, think about the size of your company, the industry you are in, and your budget. For instance, a small business may benefit more from a manual or software-based payroll system, while a larger corporation may need the benefits that come with outsourcing.


How to Calculate Payroll

To calculate payroll, you must first determine the employee's gross pay. Again, that is the total amount they have earned before deductions and includes regular wages, bonuses, and any overtime pay.

The deductions are then subtracted from the gross pay, providing you with the employee’s net pay (the amount they actually receive on their paycheck). The deductions will include federal and state taxes, Social Security and Medicare taxes, and any voluntary deductions including health insurance premiums or contributions to their retirement fund.

Taxes are remitted to the agency routinely, and filing deadlines vary based on the jurisdiction and the size of the business.


Payroll Reporting

Payroll reports are essential for both employers and employees because they indicate an employee's wages, taxes, deductions, and benefits. They are also useful when preparing government forms, worker compensation claims, or when a business faces an audit.

Types of Payroll Reports

Here are a few examples of the different payroll reports.

Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement: Employees use this form, which lists their total gross wages, tax deductions and other wage and benefit information for the entire year. It is used when filing their individual tax returns.

Form 940, Employer’s Annual Federal Unemployment Tax Return: Businesses use this form and the amount due may be as much as 6% for the first $7,000 earned per employee; however, it may be less if the employer pays their state unemployment tax.

Form 944, Employer's Annual Federal Tax Return: Small businesses may file their federal taxes annually if they have permission from the IRS to do so. Organizations that typically may use this form will have an annual liability for Social Security, Medicare, and withheld federal income taxes of $1,000 or less.

Form 941, Employer's Quarterly Federal Tax Return: This is the most common form that businesses use to report their federal payroll taxes. It includes information such as Social Security and Medicare taxes deducted from each employee's wages, wages paid out to all employees, federal income tax amount withheld from wages, and employer contributions to Social Security or Medicare taxes.


Payroll Best Practices

Effective payroll management is essential for keeping any type of business running smoothly. There are several best practices that can help ensure accuracy and efficiency for each payday – a few suggestions are below. 

Create Strong Payroll Policies and Procedures

When dealing with something as complex as payroll, you need to have everything in order. That means creating a single source of information to rely on for all your payroll policies and procedures.

Your payroll policies need to cover the following:

  • Components of your payroll
  • Your payment schedule
  • Your payment methods
  • All your payroll deductions
  • Your company benefits

And your payroll procedures need to cover these areas:

  • Data entry processes
  • Payment processes
  • Report handling standards
  • Pre-payroll preparations
  • Post-payroll reporting processes
  • Calculation processes

Stick to Schedule and Meet Your Deadlines

One upside to managing payroll is that all your deadlines are known ahead of time. This makes it easier for you to create a schedule and pencil in the dates that are most important. Set up notifications for payroll and tax deadlines using Google Calendar or another application – this will make it even easier to keep track of what’s happening. Just keep in mind that some of your tax deadlines may vary depending on your area’s rules and regulations.

Ensure Your Employee Classification is Correct

Understanding your employees’ classification is necessary for good payroll management. You need to know the legal difference between full time and part-time workers, as well as independent contractors, or exempt and non-exempt workers in order to collect the right forms, pay your employees a correct wage and provide them with all their legally required benefits. If you often hire independent contractors and employees, you will need to make sure they are classified correctly.

Upgrade and Automate Your Payroll System

Automating your payroll system using digitalized solutions can make managing it much easier and improve payroll compliance at the same time. By using software for all your payroll needs, you can automatically take care of timekeeping, calculating overtime and bonuses, payroll reporting, tax filing, cost breakdowns, and calculating taxes or deductions, all without human error.

In Summary

Staying on top of all the essential factors related to payroll can be overwhelming, but once you’re familiar with the requirements and schedules, it can become much easier.

In this article, we talked about the importance of staying compliant with federal and state laws. We went over the different payroll systems and their benefits, talked about how to calculate payroll and taxes, and went over the different tax forms used for payroll reporting purposes. We also discussed some best practices for payroll management and talked about creating strong payroll policies and procedures.

We hope that you have gained a greater understanding of payroll management through this guide, and if you would like to learn more about how to create your own professional and customized paystubs, be sure to check out our paystub generator and our collection of downloadable templates by clicking here