What Is FUTA — Understanding the Federal Unemployment Tax Act

What Is FUTA
6
min read
July 22, 2022

When you run a business, you have to pay taxes on the wages you pay your employees. But, trying to calculate and track the various payroll taxes you owe can be confusing. You might even wonder, “What’s the point of all this?”

Payroll taxes support state and federal government programs such as Medicare, Social Security, and state unemployment benefits. Medicare and Social Security payments get grouped under FICA taxes, and unemployment benefits are funded by taxes like FUTA. 

Read on to learn what FUTA taxes are, who they apply to, and how to pay them. 

What Is FUTA?

FUTA stands for the Federal Unemployment Tax Act. This federal law created a fund to provide unemployment benefits to people who are laid off or fired. The federal government, however, doesn’t administer unemployment—states do. That’s why FUTA funds go toward each state’s unemployment program.

Who Has To Pay FUTA Taxes?

Only employers have to pay FUTA taxes, unlike FICA taxes (for Social Security and Medicare). In other words, you don’t withhold any FUTA taxes from your employees. 

What's more, only certain employers need to pay FUTA taxes. But are you one of them? Most likely, yes. The IRS uses three methods to decide if you need to pay FUTA taxes. It uses a general method for general employees and special methods for employers who hire household or agricultural employees.

Most small business owners fall in the general category, which says you need to pay FUTA taxes for an employee if: 

That first rule applies to individual wages, not your company’s total wages. So if you have three temp workers who each earn $1,000 per quarter, and your quarterly payroll is $3,000—you don’t have to pay FUTA taxes since none of your employees make more than $1,500.

What’s more, the general method only applies to employees that get a regular salary or W-2 wages. You don’t have to pay FUTA taxes if you hire an independent contractor.

Household and agricultural employers can use the additional tests in IRS Publication 15, Employers Tax Guide, to see if they have to pay FUTA taxes.

Self-employed individuals, such as independent contractors and freelancers, do not have to pay FUTA taxes on their income.

What Is the FUTA Tax Rate?

The FUTA tax rate is 6%, and it only applies to the first $7,000 of wages you pay an employee during the year. You don’t pay FUTA taxes on any salary after that first $7,000.

In other words, the maximum amount of FUTA taxes you pay is $420 (6% of $7,000) per qualifying employee annually. 

FUTA Tax Credit

If you pay state unemployment taxes (SUTA), you may be eligible for a tax credit of up to 5.4%, making your FUTA tax rate 0.6%. State unemployment programs are sometimes called state unemployment insurance (SUI), and your payments may be referred to as contributions. 

Generally, you can claim the full credit if you paid all your SUTA taxes in full and on time, and your state is not a credit reduction state

Well, you’re probably wondering if you’re in one of those states, eh? As of 2022, there are no credit reduction states. However, the following states are at risk of credit reductions if outstanding loan amounts are not repaid:

States can take out a Federal Unemployment Trust Fund loan if they can’t pay unemployment benefits. After two years, a state that has not paid back the loan becomes a credit reduction state until the loan is repaid.

You can check with the Department of Labor website to see if you’re in a credit reduction state and keep an eye out for states at risk for credit reduction in the current tax year.

So, let’s say you find out you’re in a state with credit reduction status. What kind of FUTA tax will you be paying? 

You’ll essentially have to add your state’s credit reduction rate back into your calculations. For example, let’s say you live in a state with a credit reduction rate of 0.6%, and you paid your SUI taxes in full and on time. 

Since you made payments in full and on time, you can take the maximum credit and subtract 5.4% from 6.0% to get a 0.6% FUTA tax rate. Then, you add back your state’s credit reduction rate of 0.6% to get a final tax rate of 1.2%.

FUTA Tax Deadline

So, if figuring out your FUTA tax rate isn’t always straightforward, at least there’s one deadline for everyone, right? Unfortunately, that’s not the case. If you have to pay FUTA taxes, your deadline depends on how much you owe. 

Here’s how it breaks down: 

Quarterly payments are due on the last day of the month following the end of each quarter. For instance, Q1 ends on March 31, so the FUTA taxes for Q1 are due on or before April 30. 

The full quarterly deadlines are:

How To Make FUTA Tax Payments

FUTA payments must be made electronically. You can deposit them using the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS), a free service offered by the IRS. 

When using EFTPS, you must schedule payments by 8 p.m. the night before the due date to give the system enough time to transfer the funds from your bank account.

Filing Form 940

Now that you’ve paid your FUTA taxes, you’re done, right? Not yet, you also have to report how much you paid. Every year that you pay FUTA taxes, you have to file IRS Form 940, also known as the Employer’s Annual Federal Unemployment Tax Return. 

For most employers, Form 940 is due by Jan. 31. However, if you sent in all your tax payments on time throughout the year, you have until Feb. 10 to file Form 940. If your due date falls on a weekend or a holiday, the due date becomes the next business day.

Form 940 can be e-filed or mailed to the IRS. To find the correct mailing address for your state, refer to the IRS Instructions for Form 940. Late filing can result in a 2-15% fee on your total FUTA tax amount, depending on how late you submit the form.

If you pay FUTA taxes in a credit reduction state, you’ll need to file Schedule A (Form 940) to calculate your rate.

Wrapping it Up: What to Know About FUTA Taxes

The FUTA tax was created to support funds for state unemployment benefits. Unlike FICA taxes, employers are responsible for paying the entire FUTA tax amount—it’s not split with employees. 

If you’re a small business with a few or more employees, you’ll most likely pay quarterly FUTA taxes. It’s easiest to pay electronically, and don’t forget you need to report that total amount to the IRS every year too—with Form 940. 

So now that you know all there is to know about FUTA taxes—all that’s left to do? Start setting those funds aside!

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