The Top Payroll Forms You Need When Running a Company

Gusto Editors

When you pay your team, it’s not all sunshine and dollar signs.

In addition to filling up all those bank accounts, you’re also responsible for filling out a menagerie of payroll forms that frankly, kind of all look the same.

We surfaced the top payroll forms you’ll need most often while running a company.

The 9 payroll forms you need: Federal edition

1. Form I-9: Download a copy here

I-9 isn’t eye-catching, but it is something to catch up on. This form verifies your employees’ identities and whether they’re legally able to work in this country. You’re required to complete an I-9 form for every employee, regardless of their citizen status. Both you and your employees need to complete the form.

Remember to hold on to a copy and its attachments in case they’re ever requested by the government. The rule of thumb is to keep a copy for either three years after the the date of hire or one year after the date employment ended, whichever timeframe is longer.  

2. Form W-2: Download a copy here

If an abacus were a payroll form, it would be a W-2. This form is used to report your team’s annual compensation and payroll taxes withheld. It tallies up all the earnings, deductions, and withholdings for each of your employees every calendar year.

You’re responsible for giving each employee a copy of the form at the end of the year, and then send it to the Social Security Administration by January 31st. Depending on your state, you may also be required to file state copies for your employees.  

3. Form W-4: Download a copy here

The W-4 is all about allowances, just not the kiddie version. This form helps your employees calculate their withholding allowances, which tells you how much withholding tax you have to deduct from their paychecks.

It’s a good idea for your team to fill out a new form each year, as well as any time there’s a change in their personal or financial situation. Be sure to store copies in case the W-4 is requested by the IRS.

Need more on the W-4? Here’s your guide to the 2020 W-4 form.

4. Form W-9: Download a copy here

Think only your employees get forms? Don’t worry, independent contractors aren’t left in the dust. Your contractor completes Form W-9 to provide you with their correct tax ID number, so you can report how much you pay them. Similar to the W-4, you should keep copies of the W-9 for at least a few years.

5. Form 940: Download a copy here

FUTA is probably the coolest-sounding acronym you’ll see in the payroll world. It stands for the Federal Unemployment Tax Act, and Form 940 is what reports these tax payments to the IRS. What exactly are these taxes? FUTA and state unemployment tax payments are funds collected from employers that give extra compensation to workers who have recently lost their jobs. Remember, this tax has your company’s name written all over it—you can’t collect FUTA tax from your team’s wages.

6. Form 941: Download a copy here

Each quarter, get cozy with Form 941, also called the Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return. As an employer, you need to file the form four times a year. In it, you’ll state how much you withheld in your team’s income tax, Social Security, and Medicare, along with your portion of Social Security and Medicare tax.

Crawl on over to your state’s labor law website to see what your state requires are on top of the federal requirements.

7. Form 941-X: Download a copy here

Too send happy? The IRS doesn’t judge. You can use Form 941-X to correct any mistakes you made in previous 941 forms. It’s white-out, in the form of a form.

8. Form 1099: Download a copy here

Use this form to report any compensation you’ve made to non-employees, or in other words, what you paid your contractors. For each contractor, you’ll fill out one 1099. This document is due January 31st each year.

Depending on your state, you may also be required to file state copies of 1099s for your independent contractors.

9. Form 1096: Download a copy here

This is the summary of all the 1099s you’ve filled out. Only have one 1099 form? Then you don’t need to send this off. Like the 1099, your 1096 is also due every January 31st.

Use the cheat sheet below to see all your due dates in one place.

2020 due dates for payroll tax forms

  • Form I-9: Immediately upon hiring a new employee
  • Form W-2: January 31st, 2020
  • Form W-4: Immediately upon hiring a new employee
  • Form W-9: Immediately upon hiring a contractor
  • Form 940: January 31st, 2020
  • Form 941: By April 30th, July 31st, October 31st, and January 31st, for the fourth quarter of the previous calendar year
  • Form 941-X: ASAP, if you make a mistake on Form 941
  • Form 1099: January 31st, 2020
  • Form 1096: January 31st, 2020

More detailed information about IRS form deadlines can be found here

There are also state payroll tax forms you’ll need to monitor. Comb through your state’s requirements right here.

Sure, forms are formulaic, but the way you keep tabs on them doesn’t have to be. Save this page and come back to it whenever you need a refresher on your payroll taxes.

Gusto Editors Gusto Editors, contributing authors on Gusto, provide actionable tips and expert advice on HR and payroll for successful business management.
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