How to Process Payroll on Your Own

  1. Processing payroll manually is not impossible, but there are a lot of steps that are involved.
  2. The first step to doing payroll yourself is collecting important tax information from employees and finding your Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS.
  3. Programs like Microsoft Excel and QuickBooks provide easy templates to complete payroll on your own.

If you run a business, you have to pay your employees. It’s that simple. How you decide to pay them, however, is more complicated. There are seemingly endless payroll solutions out there for all types of small businesses. From comprehensive solutions like QuickBooks to at-home payroll providers like Sure Payroll, it’s hard to figure out what’s right for your business. On top of all of this, if you employ only a few people, it may be worth it to work payroll out on your own.

Processing payroll by yourself can be difficult, and if it’s something you’re doing for the first time, it’s crucial that you consult with an expert before you get started. The challenge with processing your own payroll comes with what you may miss – if there are deductions or tax-related issues that you file incorrectly, you can expose your business to serious liability. However, processing payroll can still be done manually by small business owners.

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Why do you need a payroll system?

The most obvious reason is because you need to pay people who work for your company. It’s easy to pay employees once a job is completed, but having a proper system in place mitigates risk and vastly improves your business operations. It may sound counterintuitive, but payroll systems aren’t just about paying employees.

Payroll processing is a detailed documentation system that tracks who is working for your company, how long they’ve worked for you and how much money you’re spending on labor. Terms like “payroll processing” and “payroll system” can make this sound complicated, but it’s actually quite simple. If you work with a payroll provider, your “system” will be automatically set up through the company. If you’re on your own, you’ll have to set up your own system. Keep in mind the point of this system is documentation.

Here’s a list of things your payroll system should do:

  1. Track employee hours
  2. Track employee wages
  3. Track deductions and other withholdings
  4. Keep tax documents organized
  5. Track direct deposits and payments

How to create your own payroll system

Before diving into how to do payroll yourself, it’s important to review the overall process. Creating a payroll system with steps to follow is all about organization and planning. Once your system is set up, information and documentation will flow through it, and you’ll be able to report on important business aspects.

As you plan your payroll system and decide how you want to structure employee payments, keep this roadmap in mind:

  1. Gather the preliminary information you need to process payroll
  2. Set up a payroll schedule
  3. Manually process payroll
  4. Complete these follow-up tasks after each pay period

This is a general roadmap that encapsulates both your payroll system and how to process payroll. If you’ve created a system that addresses all these needs in an organized fashion, you’re on your way to handling payroll successfully.

How to do payroll: 8 easy steps

Step 1: Find your employer identification number

Your first step is to set up an EIN with the IRS. This number is issued so the IRS can identify your business. If you’re a new business, you’ll have to apply for an EIN. Applying is free, and you can apply online, by fax, mail or by phone. On the IRS’ website, you can read about how to apply for an EIN and learn more about the EIN program and process. You’ll also need to check with your state and local (city and/or county) for those tax ID numbers.

Step 2: Collect employee tax information

Once you have your EIN, you need to collect relevant tax information from your employees. This means having all employees fill out a W-4 and an I-9. If you have contract workers or freelance staff, you’ll have to collect 1099s. On these payroll forms, employees provide important legal information about their work status, elect to take out certain deductions and fill out other important information. You can’t process payroll without the details provided on these forms. There are laws around when you have to submit this paperwork to the IRS, but that will vary based on the information your employees provide. You can read more about submitting W-2s and I-9s to determine what’s required of your business. 1099s also have a different set of rules on how they’re prepared and submitted to both the IRS and your employees.

Step 3: Choose a payroll schedule

Step 4: Calculate gross pay

Calculating gross pay is the first step toward processing payroll on your own. Calculating it is simple: Gross pay is the number of hours an employee has worked in a given pay period multiplied by their hourly rate. The easiest way to track employee hours is via a spreadsheet. Once you have the total hours per pay period, multiply that by the employee’s hourly rate, and you’ll have that specific employee’s gross pay. Keep in mind that all the steps discussed here need to be completed for each individual employee in your company.

Here’s a quick example:

An employee has worked 85 hours in your biweekly pay period and is paid $10 per hour. Your pay period this time around is 80 hours. 

  1. 80 hours x $10/hour = $800
  2. 5 hours x $15/hour (overtime pay) = $75
  3. Gross pay = $875

Step 5: Determine deductions, allowances and other withholdings

One of the most important steps to processing payroll is determining each employee’s deductions and allowances. As a quick refresher, exemptions and allowances are the same thing, and they refer to how much money that’s taken out of your paycheck during the year. Allowances are specified on a W-4. Deductions, on the other hand, are specified by the employee on a 1040EZ form, and these refer to things you can deduct from your income when you do your taxes. This is where you have to pay close attention to how your employees fill out their tax-related forms and make the proper withholdings.

On top of deductions and exemptions, it’s important to factor in other aspects of payroll processing and withholdings from each paycheck. Depending on your business’s situation, you may have to consider the following:

  1. Federal taxes
  2. Social Security
  3. State taxes
  4. Local taxes
  5. Medicare
  6. 401(k) contributions
  7. Workers’ compensation contribution
  8. Other benefits

Step 6: Calculate net pay and pay your employees

After tallying the deductions, allowances and other taxes, subtract what’s being withheld from each employee’s gross pay. The resulting number is net pay.

Net pay is what each employee is paid out at the end of each pay period. This is also known as take-home pay. Make sure you create a pay stub for each employee and track what you’re withholding. Tracking payment and maintaining the right records benefit your business in the long run. It also helps you keep track of how an employee is progressing at your company.

Once net pay is calculated for each employee, pay each employee, if you can, using their preferred delivery method. Payroll is a big expense for businesses, and while using a payroll solution costs money, it can cut down on the amount of time required to handle all these steps. It also means that your employees can receive their paychecks in a variety of forms, including checks, direct deposits and payroll money cards.

Step 7: Keep payroll records and adjust to fix mistakes

Maintaining honest and organized payroll records are essential to any solid payroll system. You want to be able to reference your records if there’s ever a discrepancy between an employee’s net pay and what they expected to receive. It’s also important from a tax perspective to have these records on hand in case you have to work with the IRS.

Mistakes happen, but as long as you correct them quickly and honestly, you’ll be able to move forward. Record-keeping is also essential for any payroll taxes you have to pay out on a regular basis.

Step 8: Withhold, report and pay payroll taxes

Part of processing your own payroll is calculating payroll taxes that have to be withheld from employee paychecks. This includes Federal Unemployment Tax (FUTA), State Unemployment Tax Act (SUTA), State Unemployment Insurance (SUI) and Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA). You may also be responsible for reporting income tax, Social Security and Medicare taxes. These are all important aspects of processing your own payroll. Luckily, there are online calculators where you can crunch FUTA, FICA, SUTA and SUI numbers. Make sure you check on when you have to issue payroll tax payments in coherence with your state laws.

It’s also important to keep in mind that you’ll have to report any new hires to the IRS, and file your federal business taxes on a quarterly and annual basis.

Payroll checklist: What you need to process payroll

With a roadmap to follow and an overview of the important steps involved, it’s also important to understand exactly what you need from each employee to process payroll. Payroll is complicated, and it’s easy to get lost in the details of how everything works. Follow the checklist below as an overview of the information you should gather before you start processing each pay period’s payroll.

Tax information

  1. Employer identification number
  2. State tax ID information
  3. I-9 per employee
  4. W-4 per employee
  5. 1099 (if applicable) per employee

Employee information

  1. Hours worked
  2. Hourly wage
  3. Overtime hours worked
  4. Preferred payment delivery method (if applicable)

Record-keeping system

  1. Reliable storage for pay stubs and tax information

How to do payroll in Excel

Processing payroll in Excel may be easier than you think. Many small business owners use Excel to track budgets and other financial information, and it’s a useful tool for processing payroll as well. The first step toward processing payroll in Excel is to download Microsoft’s payroll calculator template. This template, which is free from Microsoft, has everything you need to process payroll.

You can enter employee information under the “employee information tab” on the bottom left of the worksheet. This asks for information like hourly wage, tax status, federal allowances (from W-4), state tax, federal income tax, Social Security tax, Medicare tax, insurance deductions and other regular deductions. All the information can be easily added in one place, and the math is set up automatically in Excel.

Once you have all your employees’ information in the spreadsheet, move over to the “payroll calculator tab.” Here, you can enter all the hours worked in the specific pay period. This includes regular hours worked, vacation hours, sick hours, overtime hours and overtime wage. As you enter the information, your employee’s net pay will be automatically calculated. This takes all the major legwork out of calculating payroll.

Once it’s “processed,” you can create individual pay stubs using the next tab of the paysheet. This will allow you to track how much each employee is paid each pay period.

How to set up payroll in QuickBooks

QuickBooks provides a full payroll suite that you can add to your services. Should you add this aspect to your QuickBooks accounting program, there are some easy steps you can follow to process payroll in QuickBooks and manage your financial information in one place.

QuickBooks provides a wholistic tutorial on how to set up and process payroll. The basic steps involve entering payroll setup information, adding employee information, entering a pay schedule, including the hourly wage per employee and filling out deductions. Once you’ve added all this information, you can choose how each employee will be paid. The benefit of using QuickBooks for payroll is that once this information is added, you won’t have to add it again. You can run payroll each pay period, and the software stores your information for future use.  

Choosing a payroll provider

Even if your company is small, processing payroll can be challenging. It takes time to gather employee information, calculate each employee’s gross and net pay, and ensure you’re withholding the right amount of money for state and federal taxes each pay period. It also takes a lot of time and effort to track payroll records in an organized and efficient way. If you’re a small business owner with several employees, it may be best to invest in a payroll provider that can help you manage this whole process. Payroll providers take the legwork out of paying your employees. Many also have employee access portals, so your workers can log in to view pay stubs, track deductions and make tax adjustments when necessary.

Processing payroll manually may make sense if you have a very small business with only a few employees, and feel confident in your ability to correctly calculate pay, deductions and allowances. If you run a rapidly growing and dynamic small business, it’s likely best to partner with a payroll provider. Most companies charge either a monthly fee or take a small percentage of your total payroll. There are several flexible options from a contract and term perspective, so you can find the solution and platform that makes the most sense for your business.

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