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Payroll is a popular choice when it comes to business functions to outsource, but with a plethora of payroll software solutions at your disposal, it’s only natural that people leaders consider if they can do payroll themselves. 

Lucky for you, we’re here to help you go through what the reality of that might look like. 

Introduction To Payroll

Payroll is a critical operation for every organization, irrespective of size. It refers to the process of implementing an employee's financial records—these include salaries, wages, bonuses, deductions and net pay. 

These records have to be maintained and processed each time for employee payment. Understanding how to handle your company's payroll is of immense importance, not only to ensure that your employees are paid what they are due, but also to meet regulatory requirements and avoid potential legal issues or fines.

The act of doing payroll involves collating employee work hours, calculating gross income, determining payroll deductions such as taxes and retirement contributions, and finally, disbursing the payment. 

While the process might seem straightforward, it can become quite intricate, especially with the addition of overtime, bonuses, and other similar extras. Therefore, thorough knowledge, attention to detail and accuracy are key tenets when managing this function.

Payroll Laws And Regulations

Understanding payroll laws and regulations is crucial to managing payroll successfully. This is because every country, and often states or provinces within countries, will have their own specific laws and regulations related to payroll. 

These can cover everything from minimum wage requirements to overtime pay rules, taxes, and reporting requirements. Not getting these right can result in penalties, fines, or even legal action against your business, so it is essential to familiarize yourself with them.

There are also typically labor laws which must be taken into consideration, including those related to wage garnishment, discrimination, and the rights of employees to access their payroll information.

Additionally, laws pertaining to the storage and protection of employee data need to be fully understood and implemented. Ignorance of the law is not considered an excuse in case of a violation, so continuous review goes a long way toward remaining compliant. 

Making use of comprehensive HR software can greatly aid in staying compliant with laws and regulations, as can consulting legal experts or HR professionals.

Setting Up Payroll System

Setting up a payroll system involves several crucial steps. 

1. Obtain an Employer Identification Number (EIN)

If you don’t already have it, apply for an EIN. This number is necessary for reporting taxes and other documents to the IRS. You can apply for an EIN online through the IRS website.

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2. Check whether you need state/local IDs

Research and obtain any required state or local IDs for payroll taxes. This varies depending on where your business operates.

3. Collect Employee Tax Information

Have all employees complete a W-4 form (for federal income tax withholding) and any necessary state or local withholding certificate forms upon hiring. Take time to classify your workforce into either independent contractors or employees as this affects how you withhold taxes. 

4. Choose a Payroll Schedule

Decide on a payroll schedule (weekly, biweekly, semi-monthly, or monthly). Be consistent with the schedule you choose, as changing it can complicate things.

A majority of businesses pay employees bi-weekly, however, you can also opt for weekly, monthly, or semi-monthly. Set up a system for tracking employee hours so you can accurately calculate their income. Remember to account for factors such as bonuses, overtime, and deductions. 

5. Calculate Gross Pay

Determine each employee's gross pay for the pay period. This involves calculating the number of hours worked (including any overtime) multiplied by their hourly rate or determining the salary amount if they are salaried employees. In the next section, we’ll discuss how this is calculated in further detail. 

6. Deduct Withholdings and Taxes

Calculate and deduct federal, state, and local taxes along with any other deductions such as retirement plan contributions or health insurance premiums from each employee's gross pay to determine their net pay. 

Use the information on each employee's W-4 form, along with the current tax tables provided by the IRS and your state/local tax agencies.

For independent contractor payroll, you'll need to follow a different process, providing 1099 forms. But essentially, the tax responsibility lies with the contractor.

7. Pay Employees

Distribute net pay to employees via check or direct deposit on the scheduled payday. For an efficient payroll process, incorporate a reliable HR software that includes payroll functionality. This allows for automation of many tasks, reducing potential errors and ensuring accurate record-keeping.

8. Payroll Taxes

Deposit the withheld taxes to the appropriate federal and state agencies. Ensure you follow the Internal Revenue Service's guidelines for depositing federal payroll taxes, either semi-weekly or monthly.

9. File tax reports

File quarterly payroll reports with the IRS (Form 941) and your state's revenue agency. These reports detail the wages paid and the taxes withheld for the quarter.

10. Year-end reporting

Prepare and distribute W-2 forms to each employee by January 31st of the following year. These forms report the annual wages paid and taxes withheld for each employee. You also need to file a copy with the Social Security Administration, along with a W-3 form, which summarizes all of your W-2 information.

11. Keep records

Maintain detailed payroll records for each employee, including their personal information, pay rates, hours worked, deductions, and tax payments. This applies even if there is only one employee on the payroll. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires keeping these records for at least three years.

12. Stay informed on changes

Keep updated on any changes in federal, state, and local tax laws that could affect your payroll process.

Calculating Gross And Net Pay

To start the calculation of gross pay, first establish the pay frequency - one of weekly, biweekly, semi-monthly, or monthly. Multiply the hourly wage by the hours worked in the pay period if your employee is hourly. 

If your employee is salaried, divide their annual salary by the number of pay periods in the year to determine their gross pay. It's important to take into account any overtime, bonuses, or other forms of additional income to ensure accuracy.

After determining the gross pay, the next step is to calculate the net pay which is the amount the employee takes home after deductions. To calculate the net pay, subtract deductions like taxes (federal, state, and local), Social Security, Medicare, health insurance premiums, retirement contributions, and any other applicable deductions from the gross pay. 

Both the gross and net pay calculations are essential for accurate payroll processing and to establish proper payment records. This will not only keep your business compliant with local, state, and federal laws, but will also ensure transparency and trust among your employees.

Processing And Managing Payment Records

Managing payment records is a crucial element of doing your own payroll. Efficient management involves organizing and securely storing relevant data, which includes hourly wages or salaries, working hours, deductions, and paid time off. 

All these records must be updated regularly, accurately, and in a timely manner to ensure error-free payroll processing. Utilizing HR software or a dedicated payroll system can help streamline the organization of this information by automating calculations and keeping a digital record for easy referral and auditing purposes.

Processing these payment records involves verifying the data, calculating the net pay, and ensuring that the payments are disbursed on time every pay period. To avoid mistakes, it's essential to meticulously cross-check the data against timesheets, absence records, and tax withholdings. 

Automated systems can perform these tasks with fewer errors and can also generate payroll reports, such as payslips, for employee reference, and payroll summaries for accounting and compliance purposes. Remember, maintaining full compliance with tax obligations is paramount in the payroll process to avoid penalties.

Consider attending one of these payroll conferences to expand your knowledge and connect with industry leaders.

David Rice
By David Rice

David Rice is a long time journalist and editor who specializes in covering human resources and leadership topics. His career has seen him focus on a variety of industries for both print and digital publications in the United States and UK.