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Before the 1940’s, taxes were only paid by the ‘Fat Cats’, and they were paid in quarterly installments. Since such a small percentage of people were paying taxes, it was easy for the government to ensure that everyone was compliant.
They assured us that only these ‘Fat Cats’ would pay --- until they 'changed their mind' to expand the tax burden to include everyone. “But it’s war time! The budget is suffering and we need your help! Don’t worry…this tax won’t be around forever!” And so we all began to pay.
What the government realized quite quickly was that they could rapidly lose control of compliance and collections since there were now so many people paying taxes. They also realized that since they were taxing people a percentage of their salary, the tax debts could add up to the point that the taxpayers just couldn’t afford to pay it back.
Taking control with “Pay as you go”: In 1943, Congress passed the Current Tax Payment Act. The idea was born from Beardsley Ruml, an executive for R.H. Macy & Co. and adviser to Roosevelt. In his experience in working with customers from Macy's, he noticed that people didn’t like big bills --- they instead liked to make partial, smaller payments. His “Pay as you go” idea grew into this act that required employers to withhold a percentage of federal income taxes from their employees wages. The employers would then be responsible for paying the government on the workers behalf.
Withholding was a great way to keep control of the masses. It’s easier to police a smaller number of taxpayers, and, employers are easier to influence as they have more at stake.
Understanding withholding and payroll taxes:
Payroll withholdings are the taxes and benefits paid by the employee and include:
Employee portion of Social Security tax - 6.2 percent
Employee portion of Medicare tax - 1.45 percent (a 0.9 percent Medicare surtax when the employee earns over $200,000)
Federal income tax
State income tax
As an employer, you are technically the 'trustee' and are holding this money 'in trust' for the government until your quarterly payment is due (4/15, 6/15, 9/15, 1/15). Technically, this is not your money... it is the governments.
The law also requires you to pay the employer's portion of two of these taxes:
a 6.2 percent Social Security tax
a 1.45 percent Medicare tax (the “regular” Medicare tax).
We have a lot of clients that are dealing with payroll tax debt. The stress can feel overwhelming, and you may make poor choices trying to solve the issues on your own. It’s a scary thing because you are talking about not only your own livelihood, but also the livelihood of your employees. Scarier still is that you are personally liable for this debt; it's not just the responsibility of 'the business' to pay it back.
In our experience, we find that 98% of payroll tax problems are caused by cash flow. Cash flow problems can easily spiral out of control, and can be caused by a client that burns you, a natural disaster, a lawsuit, or employee embezzlement, to name just a few reasons.
Unfortunately, we find that the nicest people end up with payroll problems because they may be afraid to lay any employees off. These are honest people that didn’t take the money for their own use; they took the money and put it into the business to keep the lights on, or to pay for supplies hoping to turn the business around. They are misunderstood, hard-working, and are simply trying to make ends meet.
We’ll talk more in depth in tomorrow’s article about payroll tax solutions and negotiations, but bear in mind that sometimes if you lay people off, you may be able to get your issue under control and end up re-hiring them. If you need assistance with a payroll tax debt, don’t hesitate to contact us. We’re here to help.
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IRS Medic: Parent & Parent LLP