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  • 4m.

    Why Is My Paycheck Smaller Than I Expected?

    Payroll deductions and taxes can reduce the amount of cash you get to take home, so you may need to adjust your budget accordingly.
    Updated: August 2, 2016

    What You'll Learn

    • The types of taxes and deductions taken out of your paycheck.
    • The difference between federal and state withholding.
    • How a 401(k) works.
    man looking at newspaper

    Seeing your paycheck for the first time is often one of the most exciting parts of having a new job. Unfortunately, the amount may be less than you anticipated. Don't worry—your employer isn't stealing from you (probably).

    The reason for this discrepancy is that many people entering the workforce forget about the different deductions and taxes that employers take out of a paycheck. It can be a hard idea to swallow at first—you might even feel cheated. But in fact, many of these regular deductions help when it comes to maintaining your finances.

    Before you set up a monthly budget, make sure you know how much income will actually end up in your bank account. These are a few of the most common taxes and deductions you'll see come payday.

    Federal Withholding

    This will most likely be the largest piece taken out of your paycheck. Federal withholding takes a certain amount out of your wages for income tax. Your yearly federal income tax rate varies based on your income, with different brackets paying different percentages.

    When you start a job, your employer will ask you to fill out a W-9 form, which requires basic information like your name and your taxpayer identification number (also known as your Social Security number). Your employer will use that information to let the IRS know how much you've been paid and, therefore, what bracket you fall in. The IRS decides the exact boundaries of each bracket every year.

    You can change how much is withheld from your paycheck, but you’ll pay Uncle Sam either way. If you withhold more over the year, you may get smaller paychecks and a potential refund come tax time. If you withhold less, you could take home more each month—and end up with a bill on tax day. This calculator can help you determine the right approach for you.

    State Withholding

    As you might have guessed, this is income tax taken by the state, as opposed to the federal government. The rate of withholding will vary from state to state, with some states like Texas and Florida taking no income tax at all from employees.

    Social Security

    Employees and employers must both pay Social Security tax. Currently, the Social Security tax rate is 6.2% for employees and 6.2% for employers. (If you're self-employed, you're expected to pay the entire 12.4%.) The ceiling to the amount of your income that can be taxed for Social Security in a year is $118,500.


    Employees and employers both pay the Medicare tax. The rate is the same for both, currently 1.45%. This rate can be slightly higher for people who earn over $200,000 annually. (There's no ceiling on the amount of income subject to the Medicare tax.) Collectively, the Medicare and Social Security taxes are known as FICA and may appear on your paystub under that name.


    A 401(k) is a common individual retirement plan. With a 401(k), any earnings from your investment—such as interest earned over time—are taxed only when money is taken out of the account. The idea is to encourage you to save by taxing this income once you've retired, when you'll be in a lower tax bracket—which means more money stays with you.

    You must enroll in a 401(k) plan to have this taken out of your paycheck, and the plans will differ from employer to employer. Educate yourself about the specifics each time you start a job.

    Some companies may offer benefits like matching contributions that will allow you to make the most of your retirement account.


    If you wish to use your company's health insurance plan, an amount will likely be deducted from your check to pay for it. The amount varies from company to company and plan to plan, but your company probably offers a few different plans to choose from. Look over your options thoroughly before choosing one, and talk to your human resources representative if you have any questions.

    Prepare Yourself

    As you start budgeting for your salary, take some time to figure out just how much of your income will be taken out of your paycheck. Not only will you be better equipped to handle your expenses, but you'll also be able to avoid feeling disappointed on payday.

    Actualizado: 2 agosto 2016
    man looking at newspaper
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