Demystifying Taxes — What Every Employee (Nanny) Needs to Know About the Payroll & Tax Process
by Tom Breedlove of Breedlove & Associates
When a family makes a compensation offer, it is critical that you are extremely clear as to what your Gross Wages and Net Pay will be. Gross Wages refers to the amount of compensation prior to taxes while Net Pay is the amount after taxes have been withheld. Net Pay is frequently referred to as “take-home” pay because it’s how much you take home once your taxes have been taken out.
Typically, employers make offers in terms of Gross Wages. But, most families are unfamiliar with payroll and tax processes, so you should not assume anything. It’s important to clarify that the offer represents the Gross Wages. If that is the case, then you can use our Employee Paycheck Calculator to translate the Gross Wages into your Net (“Take-Home”) Pay.
If the family offers you a Net Pay amount, we advise you to convert that into Gross Wages since all compensation must be reported to the government in terms of Gross Wages – and it’s the figure that will be used to calculate all your benefits. To protect yourself and eliminate any chance of confusion by either party, it’s important to have a payroll scenario from our calculator that clearly defines Gross and Net figures.
HOW TO CHOOSE THE CORRECT NUMBER OF ALLOWANCES ON FORM W-4
Before you can run payroll scenarios, it’s important to understand how state and federal allowances work. Allowances represent general taxpayer situations; they are used to estimate approximately what your tax obligation will be so that the appropriate amount of taxes are withheld from your paycheck each pay period. This enables workers to “pay-as-they-go,” thereby eliminating a huge tax bill at the end of the year.
The IRS has a worksheet called Form W-4, which is used to determine the proper number of allowances for your personal tax situation. Again, the goal is to not owe much money at the end of the year or perhaps even get a little money back. However, because there are so many factors that affect personal income tax liability, it is impossible to manage with precision. (In fact, the IRS says taxpayers should allow for error of up to $500 — meaning you may get a refund of a few hundred dollars or you may be required to make a tax payment of a few hundred dollars). If you don’t like the idea of writing a check at the end of the year, then you should be conservative when you choose your allowances — a lower number of allowances (0 being the lowest) will slightly lower your paycheck each payday but that means you’ll get more back at the end of the year. Conversely, a higher number of allowances will increase each paycheck each payday but that means you’ll owe more at year end.
We advise everyone to be conservative. A larger-than-expected refund is much better than a larger-than-expected payment. Once you have a tax history, it is easier to get closer to a “zero balance” by adjusting the number of allowances on Form W-4 to withhold a little less or a little more each pay period.
Your employer will find copies of the federal and state Form W-4 when they register with our service. If you have any questions as you fill them out, just give us a call.
WHAT TO EXPECT AT THE END OF THE YEAR
Once your payroll is set up properly, you won’t have to worry about anything until the end of each calendar year. Your employer will remit your withheld taxes to the state and federal tax agencies each calendar quarter. In January, when the tax year is complete, your employer will provide you with Form W-2. It itemizes your gross wages for the tax year along with all your federal and state tax withholdings. You should receive your Form W-2 from your employer by the end of January, giving you plenty of time to prepare your income tax filings before the April 15 deadline.
Note: If you terminate your relationship with your employer during the tax year, it is your job to make sure that your former employer has your current mailing address so they can send your Form W-2 to you in January.
WHAT TO EXPECT DOWN THE ROAD
By the end of February each year, your employer will also have filed the appropriate documents with the Social Security Administration on your behalf. This will credit your earnings record, which will directly affect how much you are paid during retirement. The greater your earnings record, the more golden your golden years will be.