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IRS issues guidance on payroll tax deferral from presidential executive order

Employers can now defer payroll tax withholding on employee compensation for the last four months of 2020 and then withhold the deferred amounts in the first four months of 2021, confirms a recent update from the IRS. President Trump’s memorandum on Aug. 8 gave employers the ability to defer payroll taxes for employees affected by the COVID-19 pandemic in an effort to provide financial relief.

The guidance directs that employers can defer the withholding, deposit, and payment of the employee portion of the old-age, survivors, and disability insurance (OASDI) tax under Sec. 3102(a) and Railroad Retirement Act Tier 1 under Sec. 3201 from employee wages from Sept. 1 to Dec. 31, 2020.

Employers must then withhold and pay the deferred taxes from wages and compensation during the period from Jan. 1, 2021, and April 30, 2021, with interest, penalties, and additions to tax to begin accruing starting May 1, 2021. Included in the notice is a line that indicates, if necessary, employers can “make arrangements to otherwise collect the total Applicable Taxes from the employee,” such as if an employee leaves the company before the end of April 2021, but does not provide details on what that entails.

Employees with pretax wages or compensation during any biweekly pay period totally less than $4,000 qualify for the deferral. Amounts normally excluded from wages or compensation under Secs. 3121(a) or 3231(e) are not included in calculating the applicable wages. The determination of applicable wages should be made on a period-by-period basis.

Companies may choose whether or not to enact the payroll tax deferral. We are closely monitoring updates related this and other presidential executive orders and will communicate if more information becomes available. For questions or assistance with this payroll tax deferral, contact us.

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