The Treasury and IRS have issued guidance on the recent order by President Trump to defer certain employee payroll tax obligations on wages paid from September 1, 2020, through December 31, 2020. Under the guidance:
- the due date for the withholding and payment of the employee’s portion of the 6.2-percent old-age, survivors and disability insurance (OASDI) tax (Social Security tax) under Code Sec. 3101(a), and the employee’s portion of the Railroad Retirement Tax Act (RRTA) Tier 1 tax that is attributable to the 6.2-percent Social Security tax under Code Sec. 3201, on applicable wages is postponed until the period beginning on January 1, 2021, and ending on April 30, 2021; and
- the deferred taxes must be withheld and paid from wages and compensation paid between January 1, 2021, and April 30, 2021.
The guidance states that it does not separately postpone the deposit obligation for employee Social Security tax. This is because the deposit obligation does not arise until the tax is withheld, so by postponing the time for withholding the employee Social Security tax, the deposit obligation is delayed by operation of the tax regulations.
In light of the coronavirus (COVID-19) disaster, President Trump issued a memorandum on August 8, 2020, directing the Treasury Secretary to use his Code Sec. 7508A authority to defer the withholding, deposit, and payment of the employee’s portion of Social Security tax, and the employee’s portion of the RRTA equivalent tax, on wages and compensation paid from September 1, 2020, through December 31, 2020. The deferral is available only for employees whose biweekly, pre-tax pay is less than $4,000, or a similar amount where a different pay period applies.
The Treasury Secretary has determined that employers required to withhold and pay the employee share of the Social Security tax under Code Sec. 3102(a) or the RRTA tax equivalent under Code Sec. 3202(a) are affected by the COVID-19 emergency for purposes of the relief described in the presidential memorandum.
The deferral applies to wages under Code Sec. 3121(a) or compensation under Code Sec. 3231(e) paid to an employee on a pay date during the period beginning on September 1, 2020, and ending on December 31, 2020 (collectively “applicable wages”), but only if the amount of wages or compensation paid for a biweekly pay period is less than $4,000, or the equivalent threshold amount with respect to other pay periods.
Applicable wages are determined on a pay period-by-pay period basis. If the amount of wages or compensation payable to an employee for a pay period is less than the corresponding pay period threshold amount, then that amount is considered applicable wages for the pay period. In that case, the relief provided in the guidance applies to the wages or compensation paid to that employee for that pay period, irrespective of the amount of wages or compensation paid to the employee for other pay periods.
Paying Deferred Taxes
An affected employer must withhold and pay the total applicable taxes that it has deferred ratably from wages and compensation paid between January 1, 2021, and April 30, 2021. Interest, penalties, and additions to tax will begin to accrue on May 1, 2021, on any unpaid deferred taxes.
If necessary, the employer can make arrangements to otherwise collect the total deferred taxes from the employee.