How to Process Payroll in 8 Straightforward Steps

Processing payroll can seem daunting, especially for small business owners. However, with a systematic approach, it can be managed efficiently. This guide will walk you through the essential steps to process payroll in the United States, adhering to IRS guidelines.

Before Processing Payroll

Before diving into the payroll process, there are several preliminary steps to ensure everything goes smoothly:

  1. Obtain an Employer Identification Number (EIN): You need an EIN from the IRS to report taxes and other documents.
  2. Check State and Local Requirements: Besides federal requirements, be aware of state and local payroll obligations.
  3. Choose a Payroll System: Decide whether you’ll use payroll software, hire an accountant, or handle it manually.
  4. Classify Employees Correctly: Ensure workers are correctly classified as employees or independent contractors, as this affects tax withholdings and filings.
  5. Collect Employee Information: Gather completed W-4 forms from employees to determine withholding amounts.

How to Process Payroll

Gather Time Card Information

Step 1: Collect time card information from employees. Ensure the data is accurate and complete, as errors can lead to incorrect payments. Most companies use time-tracking software to streamline this process. For hourly employees, ensure that all hours worked, including overtime, are recorded accurately.

Compute Gross Pay

Step 2: Calculate the gross pay for each employee. Gross pay is the total amount earned before any deductions. This includes:

  • Hourly employees: Multiply the number of hours worked by the hourly rate.
  • Salaried employees: Divide the annual salary by the number of pay periods per year.
  • Overtime pay: Apply the correct overtime rate (typically 1.5 times the hourly rate for hours worked over 40 in a week).

Calculate Payroll Taxes

Step 3: Calculate payroll taxes that must be withheld from employee’s paychecks and those that are the employer’s responsibility. These include:

  • Federal Income Tax: Based on the employee’s W-4 form and the IRS withholding tables.
  • Social Security and Medicare Taxes: Employees contribute 6.2% for Social Security and 1.45% for Medicare. Employers match these amounts.
  • State and Local Taxes: Vary by state and locality; consult the relevant tax agencies for specifics.
  • Federal Unemployment Tax (FUTA): Paid by the employer, typically 6% on the first $7000 of wages per employee.

Determine Employee Deductions

Step 4: Calculate any additional deductions from employees’ gross pay, including:

  • Retirement Contributions: Such as 401(k) or IRA contributions.
  • Health Insurance Premiums: Employee portions of health insurance costs.
  • Garnishments: Court-ordered withholdings for debts or child support.
  • Other Deductions: Such as union dues or charitable contributions.

Calculate Net Pay

Step 5: Calculate the net pay, which is the amount the employee takes home after all deductions. The formula is

Net Pay=Gross Pay(Federal Taxes+State Taxes+Deductions)

Approve Payroll

Step 6: Review and approve the payroll calculations. Double-check all entries to ensure accuracy, verifying that all hours, rates, and deductions are correct. This step may involve having a manager or a senior accountant review the payroll before finalizing it.

2.7 Pay Employees

Step 7: Disburse payments to employees. This can be done via:

  • Direct Deposit: The most common and efficient method.
  • Paper Checks: Ensure they are signed and distributed securely.
  • Payroll Cards: Prepaid cards that employees can use like a debit card.

2.8 Distribute Pay Stubs

Step 8: Provide pay stubs to employees, which detail the gross pay, deductions, and net pay. Pay stubs can be distributed electronically or as physical copies. They should include:

  • Employee details (name, address)
  • Pay period dates
  • Hours worked
  • Gross pay
  • Itemized deductions (taxes, benefits)
  • Net pay


Processing payroll involves several critical steps that ensure employees are paid accurately and on time while complying with federal, state, and local regulations. By following these eight straightforward steps, you can streamline your payroll process, reduce errors, and ensure compliance with IRS guidelines. Implementing a reliable payroll system and staying informed about tax obligations will further simplify this essential business function.