New law includes a payroll tax cut

There’s a new tax break this year, and you’ll want to update your budget to accommodate it. The compromise tax legislation passed in December included a payroll tax cut for 2011.

* How it works when you’re an employee: Your employer will deduct less social security tax from your wages during 2011. Prior to the change, your employer was required to withhold social security tax from your paycheck at a rate of 6.2% of the first $106,800 of your wages. That rate was reduced to 4.2% for 2011, meaning your take-home pay will go up – with no impact on your eventual social security benefits and no payback required.

The Medicare tax rate remains unchanged at 1.45%, which your employer will continue to deduct from your check.

* How it works when you’re self-employed: You’ll pay less self-employment tax. In the past, you calculated self-employment tax using a 12.4% rate for the social security portion. For 2011, the rate you’ll use is 10.4%. Your income tax deduction – that is, the amount of self-employment tax you subtract from ordinary income – will not be affected.

* How it works when you’re an employer: The reduced rate only applies to the social security tax you deduct from employee wages in 2011. To calculate your expense, you’ll continue to use the 6.2% rate for social security tax, plus Medicare tax of 1.45%, for a total of 7.65%.

You have until January 31 to implement the change, and until March 31 to refund any overwithheld social security tax to employees.

David Bradsher, CPA