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How Bonuses Are Taxed: A Complete Guide

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If you received a bonus you’re likely curious about taxes. You might be asking, “how taxes are withheld from your bonuses when you receive them?”

Receiving a holiday bonus is exciting, but it can be confusing to calculate your bonus tax. Learning how your bonus is taxed can help you determine how much money you’ll receive after taxes.The IRS views any bonus you receive as wages. This means that almost all bonuses are taxed. In this guide, we’ll discuss tips for receiving bonuses and explain how you can use our bonus tax calculator to determine how much taxes will be withheld when you receive it.

Are taxes withheld when you receive a bonus?

At the time of receipt of your bonus, federal taxes are typically withheld by your employer that can be at ahigher tax rate than your actual tax rate used when you file your taxes. 

But don’t worry, since your actual tax rate based on your total taxable income for the year could be lower, you may get back some of what was withheld from your bonus as part of your federal tax refund.

How are bonus taxes calculated?

Employers typically use either of two methods for calculating federal tax withholding on your bonus:

  1. The aggregate method 
  2. The percentage method
Graphic outlining the main differences between the aggregate method and percentage method.

Aggregate method 

If you receive your bonus along with your paycheck your employer will use the aggregate method to calculate your withholding.

With the aggregate method, your employer or payroll provider will withhold federal taxes at the same  percentage that’s normally withheld from your paycheck.

If 35% is withheld when you are paid, then your employer will withhold 35% from your bonus when you are paid your bonus.

Percentage method

When your employer issues your bonus separate from your paycheck your employer or payroll provider will withhold taxes using the percentage method.

The percentage method is the simplest way to withhold bonus taxes since your employer or payroll provider will withhold federal taxes at a flat 22% rate and not at your normal tax rate when you are paid. 

Generally, most employers and payroll providers choose to use the percentage method. Under tax reform, the federal tax rate for withholding on a bonus was lowered to 22%, down from the federal income tax rate of 25%.

Check out our updated bonus calculator. This tool answers one of our most frequently asked questions. You’ll get an estimate of how much federal taxes you can expect to be withheld from your bonuses when you receive them.

What are the pros of each bonus tax method?

The pros of each method depend on what your regular tax rate is.  If you are in a lower tax bracket with a lower tax rate, then being taxed at your regular lower tax rate in the aggregate method as opposed to the percentage method at 22% is probably more beneficial to you.  If you are in a higher income bracket and your tax rate is over 22% then having taxes withheld using the percentage method will give you more of your bonus.  One thing to remember, at tax time you may get some of what was withheld from your bonus back when you file your taxes.

 Man accepting a bonus check.

What are the cons of each bonus tax method?

There are downsides to both the aggregate and percentage methods.

The aggregate method can add unnecessary confusion to your bonus taxes because your income tax rate comes into play, which involves your W-4 form. In some cases it can lead to paying a larger percentage of your bonus in taxes which also means you have access to a smaller portion of your bonus.

If your regular tax rate is higher than the flat 22% rate used in the percentage method, then the percentage method provides you with more of your bonus than the aggregate method. However, this could result in a smaller  tax refund or possible taxes owed.

At the end of the day, the method used by your employer or payroll provider depends on if you receive your bonus together with your paycheck or separately. For a contractor bonus,  taxes are not withheld since you are considered self-employed so it’s best to use tax saving tips for contractors included here.

Graphic depicting examples of a bonus taxed under the aggregate and percentage method.

Are there any bonuses that might not be taxable?

Bonuses you receive from your employer are considered supplemental income. This means they’re taxable by the IRS. However, certain fringe benefits may not be considered taxable bonuses. This includes benefits like event tickets and gift baskets.

Other gifts received as awards may also be exempt from taxes in some cases. This might include:

  • Cash
  • Cash equivalents
  • Vacations

Are bonuses taxed federally and by the state?

Bonuses are always federally taxed, and some states may have additional taxes for bonuses. Bonus tax rates vary from state to state, so you can check your state tax regulations to determine your tax rate.

Image of young woman using a calculator and a laptop in home office.

Are there ways to minimize bonus taxes?

There are several ways you can minimize the amount of bonus taxes you owe, but it’s important to abide by federal and state tax laws. Here are some tips for minimizing bonus taxes:

  •  Ask your employer to defer your bonus until next year

What happens if too many taxes are withheld from your bonus?

If too much taxes are withheld from your bonus, you may get some of what was withheld back in the form of a tax refund once you file your taxes.

Lower the bonus taxes you owe and maximize your refund

Tax season can bring about new tax implcations, especially if you recently received your first bonus. Our bonus-tax calculator makes it easy to estimate how much taxes will be withheld from your bonus when you receive it. That way, you can get an estimation of how much of your bonus you will keep and figure out what moves you can make to help your finance and tax outcome.

Try our bonus calculator for an estimate of your bonus tax withholding. No matter what moves you made last year, TurboTax will make them count on your taxes. Whether you want to do your taxes yourself or have a TurboTax expert file for you, we’ll make sure you get every dollar you deserve and your biggest possible refund – guaranteed. 

27 responses to “How Bonuses Are Taxed: A Complete Guide”

  1. This year I received a one-time bonus, a severance package, a vacation buy out, relocation assistance, a signing bonus, and an annual Manager Incentive Plan bonus. This totaled $187K above my normal salary.

    Of these sources of supplemental wages, the only one I expect to see again is the annual MIP bonus (~$20K annually).

    Uncle Sam took me to the cleaners (at least what has been withheld). How do I income average over 5 years in Turbo Tax so that I’m not taking as big of a hit this year, and does it even make a difference?

    My base salary is about $125K.

  2. Alison, Matt & Patrick Nguyen are correct. There are a lot of misleading blog-posts out there, especially by Intuit, that lead people to believe, that, supplemental income such as bonus checks are taxed differently than regular wages. It’s the WITHHOLDING, not the actual tax liability. Look at a 1040 or a W2. Is there a box for bonus/supplemental income? The net amount in your pocket will be the same either way – after you file your return. That does not suggest that you should ignore choosing the more ideal method of withholding calculation for your individual tax situation to keep from giving Uncle Sam an interest free loan.

  3. The wording in the bonus calculator is incorrect. It says that bonuses “may be taxed at a higher rate” or “will be taxed at a flat 25% rate.” This is incorrect. The TAX WITHHOLDING is different, but the actual TAX is calculated when the return is filed.

  4. Hello,
    I earn $250K annually (w2) and received a $80,000 contract signing bonus. I am told my net bonus will only be $42,266 after taxes. This seems wrong to me.
    I live in New York State.

  5. My employee claim exempt and have the bonus payout. Should we withhold as flat rate for tax?

  6. Hello!
    I am a school teacher at a school that is closing. The school will be paying out my entire summer pay in one check. I am concerned that the tax withholding will eat into the funds that I need to sustain my household. I am in the 25% tax bracket in my pay. The lump payment will be for an entire month’s pay (two payments). What would be a “safe” amount to increase my deductions to for this payment??

  7. Hi, I will receive a relocation bonus $20K from future employer. I have an option to get that bonus now (currently live in CA) or later (when I will move to WA) – the employer is in WA. Does it make sense to wait till I move to WA before accepting the bonus (in terms of paying less state tax)? For purpose of this calculation we can use annual base salary at $160K+ (excluding this bonus, etc.)… Please advice! Thanks in advance

  8. Please this is my first time am filing, i only want to put my Wages and Federal Tax W/H…. I don’t want to include Soc Sec Wages and Medicare Tax W/H… Hope it won’t stop my payment..

  9. I purchased a travel trailer in Delaware with a bank loan. I have paid my Pennsylvania state sales tax for the purchase. I have been told that if it has a bathroom etc it is eligible for a tax deduction is this true ?

    • A travel trailer with a kitchen and a bathroom will qualify as a second home, and the loan interest would be deductible as mortgage interest. If your loan company does not report the interest on form 1098, TurboTax has a box on the screen titled “Tell Us More About Your Loan from …”. Check the box “I did not receiva a 1098. Enter the amount of the interest you paid on the next screen, then Yes on the Was This a Seller-Financed Loan? You can then enter the bank’s information on the next screen. You may need to request the bank’s Federal ID number from the bank if it is not on any of the paperwork you have from the bank.

      Mary Ellen

  10. I have a 17 yr old daughter who father has managing conservitorship of however she has lived in my home for 2 yrs now. Which i can prove with school records and medicaid. Her father hasnt lived in our city in over a yr n isnt supporting her finacally at all. He claims he can claim her on his 2013 taxes. There is nothing in our court documents stating anything regarding taxes. Can i claim her this yr? Or does he have to.?

    • You should have all rights to claim her. she lives with you. do your taxes before him and once he does his taxes, he wont be able to claim her cause you already did. good luck

  11. I am 63 and thinking of retiring next year and have a small annuity ($20,000) which has been tax deferred. How will it affect my taxes if I withdraw it all to pay off a couple of bills so I will be debt free?

    • Hi John,
      You will be taxed on the amount withdrawn and it will be added to any other income. If your contributions to the plan were included in your gross income before, then part of the distributions may be excluded from income. Here is more information on the taxation of pensions and annuities
      Thank you,
      Lisa Greene-Lewis

  12. We received a lease bonus check from Gas and Oil company of 60 thousand, does this just get added to our yearly income? How much tax would I expect to pay on $60.000, when our family only makes 30,000 a year with one dependent under age of 17, Thank you.

  13. Would love to see a calculator for the opposite. Ie., you received regular monthly or quarterly bonuses. How much will you get back if your employer uses the aggregate method and your tax rate for each bonus period was significantly higher than your regular tax rate?

  14. Way to go for perpetuating the myth that bonuses are taxed differently than regular income. The word you are looking for is “withheld,” not taxed.

    • Great point Alison. Your Tax is the same with either method. The difference is just how much you owe or get in a refund at the end of the year. The Aggregate method is the best way for you to end up owing a small amount. This is the ideal situation for most people.

      It really is bad advice to suggest that the flat 25% is somehow good for people or might save them something.