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Trump Signs Proposed Payroll Tax Deferral Order: What it Means for Small Business Owners

by Tim AustinAugust 27, 2020 8:00 AM

On Aug. 8, 2020, President Trump signed an executive order to allow employees to defer a portion of payroll taxes until 2021. Since news of the order broke, business owners have sought additional clarity on how this payroll tax will work and how it will impact their responsibilities as employers. Let’s break down some of the specifics of the proposed pay tax deferral and what those details mean for small business owners.

A paycheck with tax deductions affected by the payroll tax deferral executive order. 

What Does the New Payroll Tax Deferral Change?

In short, the executive order allows employees who make less than $4,000 every two weeks (equivalent to less than $104,000 per year) to defer part of their payroll tax payment until 2021. According to the order, employees would have the choice to opt-in for this tax deferral. If an employee elects to defer payments, the employer must honor this decision.

Payroll taxes are defined as the FICA taxes taken out of each paycheck to fund Social Security and Medicare programs. The executive memo signed by Trump only refers to the Social Security portion of these taxes, which makes up 6.2 percent of each paycheck. As such, an employee can defer up to $2,232 depending on that person’s salary.

While both employees and employers pay these payroll taxes, the payroll tax deferral only impacts what the employee owes in taxes. Typically, both employers and employees contribute 6.2 percent of an employee’s wages in Social Security tax. Employers would still have to pay their share of these taxes even if the employee opts to defer their portion until 2021.

When Will This Deferral be in Effect?

According to the executive memo, employees can defer their payment of Social Security taxes starting Sept. 1, 2020. The deferral period continues through Dec. 31, 2020, giving employees a four-month window to push back their share of Social Security tax. 

Will These Deferrals be Forgiven?

As of yet, it appears that employees who defer their Social Security taxes will still need to pay back the deferred amount in 2021. While the President signed the executive order to defer these taxes, it’s important to note that he can only delay the payment dates. 

Only Congress has the ability to reduce taxes, meaning that the executive order in question is simply a means to push back payment of these taxes without action from Congress. As such, employees who opt to defer these taxes should prepare to owe upwards of $2,232 in 2021.

How Does This Deferral Impact Employers?

While the payroll tax deferral only applies to employees’ share of Social Security taxes, the deferral will still have a direct impact on employers. According to the order, employers must honor employee requests to defer their taxes and update their payroll process to accommodate these deferrals.

In addition to payroll system changes, there may be additional complications for employers. Employers are legally responsible for withholding payroll taxes, including an employee’s share of Social Security tax. It’s currently uncertain whether deferring these taxes would complicate IRS requirements. As of Aug. 27, 2020, the IRS and U.S. Treasury Department still have not offered guidance regarding the executive order, effectively leaving business owners in a bind.

In addition, it’s also unclear if employers could ultimately be liable to pay back deferred taxes in 2021 in certain situations. The uncertainties surrounding the executive order is a notable concern and will require clarification from the IRS and other government bodies to allow employers to fully understand how the payroll tax deferral will impact them.

How Can Small Business Owners Prepare for the Payroll Tax Deferral?

To start, you’ll want to educate your employees about the current terms of the payroll tax deferral. The decision of whether or not to opt out is up to them, but make sure that they know that whatever taxes they defer will still need to be repaid in 2021 barring Congressional action. 

You’ll also want to pay close attention to any new information from the IRS or other appropriate agencies that will help clarify employers’ responsibilities. It’s difficult to navigate these types of changes, but new details will help you and your employees understand exactly where they stand with the deferral.

While traversing these types of orders and legislative changes are tricky, you don’t have to face these questions alone. GMS can help you stay up to date with complicated payroll tax laws and other critical HR responsibilities. Contact GMS today to find out how a PEO can make your business simpler, safer, and stronger. 

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