Simple Paycheck Tax Calculator: Why is my paycheck so small?

Paycheck Tax Calculator

You have a job and you are earning money for living or as a side job while in high school or college. Now you have received your first paycheck and shock sets in with how little you ended up with. Here you will learn to use a paycheck tax calculator to fully understand how taxes are calculated.

When you get a job, the salary is always the gross amount never the take home pay (net pay). The net pay is after all taxes and deductions you choose to take out of your paycheck.

Early on these will be only deductions associated with going to Uncle Sam for the government. Later on you will deduct your contributions to retirement accounts.

For now we will focus on money you will send to the government on your behalf or to hold onto for you. Use the simple paycheck tax calculator to determine what to expect on your next paycheck.

Federal Tax

The first tax on the simple paycheck tax calculator that is cut from your gross pay is your federal income tax. It may show up as such or as Withholding tax or some derivation of that.

It is the federal income tax that everyone in the country talks about.  When they mention tax brackets, marginal tax or federal tax they are talking about this. This is the first piece of the pie. 

This determination is set by your gross pay and your withholding allowance. The withholding amount is what you tell your employer to hold your back your money. They in turn will send it to the government for you pay your income tax each paycheck. 

You will have to set this up when you get the job. Your employer will give you a form to fill out. Your employer will give you this on your first day of paperwork or have you fill out before your first day. This form is the W4 Form. 

The higher the number withholding you claim on your form means less income taxes out per check. Doing this may mean you may owe taxes when you file your taxes in April of the next year. Meaning you didn’t pay enough on each paycheck for what you should have. 

The lower the number then more taxes out per check. This may mean you will get a refund when you file your taxes. Meaning you overpaid your prepaid taxes.  

The best thing to do is get this as close to your taxes you should pay. This way you will get a small refund or pay very little when you file. You don’t want a large refund nor do you want to pay a large amount when tax day comes. This is more predictable money management you don’t have to worry about later.

Social Security and Medicare

The second tax line item you will see is the FICA tax. FICA which stands for Federal Insurance Contributions Act. This may be one line item or it will be split out into Medicare and Social Security. 

For simplicity of the paycheck tax calculator the FICA Tax for the employee is 7.65% of your gross pay. Of that 6.2% is Social Security, the remaining 1.45% is Medicare. This is set in, you cannot change it. Your employer will also pay 6.2% into Social Security tax as well, but you will pay only the 6.2% plus 1.45% Medicare tax. 

If you happen to be self-employed you will pay the employee 6.2% and the employer 6.2% totaling 12.4% into Social Security. As a self-employed person you are both the employee and the employer, lucky you. 

To a certain level as you use Medicare and collect Social Security this taxed amount will come back to you. When you can collect this from Uncle Sam that is of course. It definitely will not be the exact amount you contribute. If it were up to me, I would do away with Social Security, but that is an debate for another day. 

State Income Tax

Next up is the State income tax. This will vary from state to state. Some states will have higher rate, while others will be lower. This is typically a flat percentage taken off your gross amount. 

All three calculations are off your original gross pay individually. Then subtracted from your gross pay in the paycheck tax calculator. This will be the least of the deductions from your paycheck for tax purposes. 

Example: Simple Paycheck Tax Calculator

Let us look at an example to put into our simple paycheck tax calculator. You are single with a job salary of $50k, no kids, no retirement plan thru your employer, no health insurance.  

As of 2019 you will expect to have 2 allowances to be withheld based on the above scenario =  $3,660 Federal income taxes.

FICA tax of 6.2% Social Security = $3100 ($50,000*6.2%). 

FICA tax of 1.45% for Medicare = $725 ($50,000*1.45%). 

So, $50,000 – $3,660 – $3,100 – $725 = $42,515 is your base take home pay.

Savable and Spendable Amount 

This is what you have to save and spend for the year. You need to plan your life around this take home pay and not to the gross pay of $50,000 in this example. Refer to my previous posts about Needs vs Wants or Rich vs Poor. There are better ways to spend this money so you are not living paycheck to paycheck. 

The self-employed will have another $3,100 to pay the employer side of the FICA tax in the paycheck tax calculator. 

Again these are rough numbers for this example. Everyone’s situation is different. This will help you understand more about your next paycheck on the least that will be the tax deductions. 

Action Steps

  1. Search out your State income tax levels here.
  2. Look at your pay-stub and fully understand where each penny is going to when it goes to Uncle Sam. 
  3. Calculate your allowance to pot on your W4 form to withhold the correct amount from your paycheck.

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