On the 8th of August 2020, President Trump signed an executive memorandum that directed the Treasury Secretary to commence a payroll tax holiday. The title being used in headlines is quite misleading because it is not a holiday but rather a deferral. The actual title of the memorandum makes this clear. The memorandum is titled “Memorandum on Deferring Payroll Tax Obligations in Light of the Ongoing COVID-19 Disaster.” Just like the stimulus check, the payroll tax deferral is a way to ease the economic effects of the global pandemic on the workers. Even though unemployment has dropped to 8.4%, it is nowhere near the 3.5% of February. With that being said let’s get into the details of the payroll tax holiday.
The payroll tax deferral only applies to Americans making less than $104,000 a year, and it deferred four months of taxes (September-December 2020) to January-April 2021. This is just as stressful as it sounds. The tax holiday simply means you’re going to have to pay double the amount from January to April 2021. This means the social security tax percentage will go from 6.2% to 12.4%. The payroll tax holiday is essentially a zero-interest loan (without accounting for inflation).
This memorandum has drawn a lot of criticism because although the President signed it, there are no laws or guidelines that stop employers from continuing to deduct tax from the employees. Employers argue that they would still have to pay said amount even if the employee quits before January 2021. It is also important to note that for most low-wage workers, the tax holiday holds less appeal in the face of the looming payment dates in 2021. Many people would prefer the payroll taxes continue to be removed regularly as opposed to having double the amount removed in the first four months of 2021.
Even though the memorandum directed the Treasury Secretary to explore ways to forgive the taxes of the tax deferral, there have been no bills or legislation to support or discuss this. The memorandum still clearly states that deferred taxes must be paid:
“An Affected Taxpayer must withhold and pay the total Applicable Taxes that the Affected Taxpayer deferred under this notice ratably from wages and compensation paid between January 1, 2021, and April 30, 2021, or interest, penalties, and additions to tax will begin to accrue on May 1, 2021, with respect to any unpaid Applicable Taxes.”
Now you may be wondering what the payroll tax holiday means for your 2020 tax refund. Well, we’re not too sure what’s going to happen. The IRS usually starts accepting tax refund forms by February, and the deferred payroll tax will be paid from January to April.
There is a chance your tax refunds may be lower if you file early. The details aren’t clear yet because the IRS has not released a statement addressing this. We can only assume that tax refunds will be affected by the payroll tax holiday. Perhaps the deferred tax payroll payments will result in a higher 2022 tax refund.