What Is the Penalty for Not Paying Payroll Taxes?

Collecting, reporting, and remitting payroll taxes are some of your key responsibilities when you have employees. And if you forget or downright neglect your responsibility, your small business could receive a penalty for not paying payroll taxes.

Whatever your reason for missing your deposit deadline, not paying payroll taxes is a big deal to the IRS and other tax agencies.

Missing your payroll tax deadline is just one payroll mistake you don’t want to make.

Download our free guide to learn nine others, plus how to avoid them and what to do if you’ve already made the mistake!

Recap of your payroll tax responsibilities

You must withhold taxes from your employees’ wages and contribute taxes. Take a look at this list of employment taxes you may need to handle:

Withhold federal, state, and local income taxes, Social Security and Medicare taxes, and some state-specific taxes from employee wages. You must also contribute to Social Security and Medicare, unemployment, and some state-specific taxes.

Set aside withheld and contributed taxes for depositing. Deposit payroll taxes according to your depositing schedule.

The depositing schedule for federal income, Social Security, and Medicare taxes is either monthly or semiweekly (or annually in some cases). Your depositing schedule is based on a four-quarter IRS lookback period.

Deposit federal unemployment tax every quarter. Contact your state to find out when you need to deposit state unemployment tax and other state-specific taxes.

Don’t forget to report payroll taxes to the IRS and other tax agencies, too.

Reasons for employer not paying payroll taxes

Consider this scenario: You withhold payroll taxes from employee wages. You keep the money apart from your business’s other funds. But, you’re a busy business owner with a lot of tasks to handle. You completely forget your tax deposit due date and fail to pay payroll taxes.

Or, maybe this situation resonates with you: You set aside money for payroll taxes. But because your deposit isn’t due yet, you borrow your payroll tax funds during times of negative cash flow. When the payroll tax deposit due date arrives, you don’t have enough to pay.

There are several other reasons business owners fail to pay their payroll taxes. For example, a natural disaster might prevent you from paying taxes on time. Or, your tax depositing schedule might change.

Penalty for not paying payroll taxes

About 70% of the annual revenue collected by the IRS comes from payroll taxes. Underreported and unpaid employment taxes account for approximately $72 billion of the U.S. tax gap. That’s why there are consequences when your business fails to deposit payroll taxes.

If you don’t pay payroll taxes for your business, you’ll receive a bill from the IRS and likely a penalty, too. According to the IRS, employers who don’t follow employment tax laws are subject to civil and criminal penalties.

So, what is the penalty for not paying payroll taxes on time? The penalty the IRS charges you depends on:

  • How much you owe
  • How late the payment is

Per the IRS, take a look at the penalty for not paying payroll taxes by the number of days late:

# Days LatePenalty
1 – 5 days2%
6 – 15 days5%
16+ days10%
10+ days after first IRS bill15%

Let’s say you are responsible for depositing $2,500 in payroll taxes to the IRS. You are 16 days late. The IRS would charge you a penalty of $250, meaning you would owe $2,750 in total. Keep in mind that this does not include any state penalties you might be obligated to pay.

Penalties aren’t the only thing you have to worry about when you miss a payroll tax deposit deadline. You also face interest rates. According to the IRS, the interest rate can range from 3% – 6% of what you owe.

When you fail to pay your tax debt, the IRS could file a tax lien, which is a claim against your property.

If the IRS thinks you purposely are trying to evade taxes, you could owe a significant penalty, be subject to jail time, or both.

Keep in mind that there are additional penalties if you file your reports late, too.

Penalty exemptions

Sometimes, the IRS may waive a penalty … if you have a good enough reason. After receiving an IRS notice, you must explain why you believe you have a reasonable cause for not paying.

For example, the IRS may waive penalties if you file an employment tax return on time but miss the deposit deadline for a new depositing schedule.

Tips to avoid the penalty for employer not paying payroll taxes

If you’re like most business owners, you don’t want to deal with the penalty for not paying payroll taxes.

Here are some tips to help you stay on top of your payroll tax responsibilities.

Withhold, contribute, and set aside taxes

You must withhold taxes from employee wages each time you run payroll. And, you should be contributing each time, too.

Imagine that you wait until your tax deposit deadline to put aside your employer tax liability. Would you have enough money to cough up in one lump sum?

Create a system to help you remember that you need to withhold and contribute payroll taxes when you run payroll. You can use payroll software or set up reminders if you do payroll manually.

Don’t borrow from your payroll tax fund

It might be tempting to dip into your payroll tax fund if your business is short on cash. But, you must avoid borrowing from your fund. Otherwise, you may not have enough money to replace the borrowed funds.

Consider opening a separate payroll account for your collected and contributed taxes. That way, you can ensure you don’t use your payroll taxes to pay for other business expenses.

You can also create a cash reserve for your business. If you become short on cash, you can access your emergency funds rather than payroll tax funds.

Take advantage of full-service payroll software

Failing to pay payroll taxes on time can happen to any business owner—you have a million things on your plate to keep track of. Instead of risking it, try full-service payroll.

Full-service payroll calculates and collects payroll taxes. Then, the provider remits the taxes to the correct tax agencies on your behalf.

Want to avoid penalties for not paying payroll taxes? You need a reliable system that takes your responsibilities off your hands. Patriot’s Full Service payroll collects, files, and remits your payroll tax liability so you don’t have to. Explore our software with a self-guided demo now!

This article has been updated from its original publication date of September 19, 2016.

This is not intended as legal advice; for more information, please click here.

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