“What is FICA, and why am I paying so much?” If you’ve ever asked yourself this question while examining your paystub, here’s your answer: FICA is an acronym that stands for Federal Insurance Contributions Act, the law that created Social Security. Your share of FICA includes employee contributions for Social Security and Medicare. Employers also pay a share of the FICA tax for each employee.
FICA is just one of many potential paycheck reducers that represent the difference between your salary, or gross pay, and the actual amount you take home, your net pay.
Calculating Your Net Paycheck
Want to know what your paycheck will look like before you take a job? There is a way to figure out exactly how much you’ll have left after FICA, federal taxes, state taxes, and any other applicable deductions are removed. You need a few pieces of information in order to calculate your take-home pay:
- The amount of your gross pay. If you earn a fixed salary, this is easy to figure out. Just divide the annual amount by the number of periods each year. If you are paid hourly, multiply that rate by 40 hours to determine your weekly pay.
- Your number of personal exemptions. When you start a new job, you fill out a W-4 form to tell your employer how much to withhold from your check.
- Your tax filing status. There are standard federal and state tax deductions that vary depending on whether you are single, married filing jointly, married filing separately, head of household, or a surviving spouse.
- Other payroll deductions. This category could include contributions to a 401(k) retirement plan, health insurance, life insurance, or a flexible spending account for medical expenses. It also may include union dues or any other garnishments that are taken from your wages. It helps to categorize these according to pre-tax and after-tax contributions, to deduct them from either your gross salary or after-tax calculation.
Calculating Taxable Income
- Calculate your FICA taxes, otherwise known as your contribution to Social Security and Medicare. Everyone pays a flat, 7.65% rate on the first $142,800 (as of 2021) of earned income. You can reduce the amount of your annual gross pay by this percentage before making other calculations.
- Subtract your standard deduction. For taxpayers who are single or married filing separately, the standard deduction is $12,400; for those who are married and filing jointly, the standard deduction is $24,800. Heads of households have a standard deduction of $18,650.
The standard deduction is higher for taxpayers who are age 65 or older, or who are blind.
The resulting number should be very close to your taxable income. This is the total that will be used to determine your federal and state tax brackets.
Calculating Income Taxes
There are several taxes that may be applied to your gross pay, including federal, state, and even local income taxes.
The amount of federal tax you pay will depend on your filing status and bracket, which you can find in the federal tax bracket tables updated annually by the Tax Foundation.
If you live in a state with a personal income tax, you will need to find your state tax bracket to determine how much will be deducted from your take-home pay. Each state has its own set of brackets, which should be available on the state government website where you live. The Tax Foundation also lists state individual income tax rates and brackets on its website.
Depending on where you live, you may also need to pay a local tax. New York City, for example, has its own tax on income. You can usually find this information on your city’s government website.
Add together your federal, state, and other income taxes, and this is the amount that will be deducted from your paychecks over the course of the year.
Other After-Tax Payroll Deductions
Again, remember also to subtract any other relevant deductions. Depending on whether they are pre-tax or after-tax deductions, you can deduct them from your salary before or after calculating income tax due. For example, if you contribute 6% of pre-tax salary to a 401(k) retirement plan, take that amount from your gross salary before calculating your taxes.
Health insurance premiums paid by you are also typically taken from gross pay before taxes are taken out. For union dues and other garnishments, you can verify whether they are taken out before or after tax or use estimates for those figures.
To determine the total amount of money deducted from your paychecks, add up the amounts you've calculated for FICA taxes, income taxes, and other deductions, then subtract that total amount from your annual gross pay. What's left is your net pay. Divide both your total deductions and your net pay by the number of pay periods for the year to determine how much those amounts will be per paycheck.
Use a Free Online Paycheck Calculator
Online resources can help you simplify the process. Once you have a sense of who exactly gets a piece of your paycheck and how much, you can easily determine your take-home pay using an online paycheck calculator.