Holiday Bonus Season: How Your Holiday Bonus is Taxed

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The article below is up to date based on the latest tax laws. It is accurate for your 2018 taxes, which you will file by the April 2019 deadline. Learn more about tax reform here.

December is a time for giving gifts, and some employers give year-end bonuses to their employees to show gratitude for a year of faithful service. If your employer has promised you a bonus, you likely are already thinking of all the uses you have for the money.

However, before you get carried away, remember that holiday bonuses are considered compensation, just like paychecks, so there will be taxes withheld from your bonus. How big of a bite will these withholdings take? Let’s take a look.

Social security tax: You pay social security tax on all compensation up to $128,400 of income for the year. If you haven’t yet exceeded that ceiling, then expect your employer to deduct 6.20% from your bonus for social security.

Medicare tax: You pay Medicare tax on all your compensation so another 1.45% will be deducted for Medicare tax.

Federal income tax: The IRS typically requires a flat percentage of your bonus to be withheld when you receive it as it is considered to be supplemental income.  Under the new tax reform law, the federal tax rate for withholding on a bonus was lowered to 22%, down from the federal income tax rate of 25%.

Your employer has the option to aggregate your bonus with your regular paycheck and withhold taxes on the whole amount, which likely will result in even higher withholding than 22%. But don’t worry, the money may not be lost. Since tax rates on supplemental income may be higher than your actual tax rate based on your total income when you file at tax time, you may get some of it back as part of your federal tax refund when you file your taxes.

State income tax: If your state imposes an income tax, and most states do, state income tax will be withheld at whatever rate required by state law.

Retirement plan contributions: If you have asked your employer to withhold a percentage of your wages as a contribution to your 401(k) or another contributory retirement plan, it is likely that same percentage will be withheld from your bonus. So if you have requested that 15% of your paycheck goes into retirement, then 15% of your bonus may go there as well. This will be good news when you retire with a bigger nest egg than you would have had otherwise, but it will pinch a bit in your wallet now.

Add these all together, and that’s how much may be withheld, but the good news is you are getting a bonus and may get some of it back when you file your taxes!

Don’t worry about knowing these tax rules come tax time. TurboTax will ask you simple questions about you and give you the tax deductions and credits you deserve based on your answers. If you have questions while doing your taxes you can connect to the TurboTax Live expansive network of credentialed CPAs and EAs live via one-way video to get your tax questions answered. A TurboTax Live CPA or Enrolled Agent can also review, sign, and file your taxes.

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