Payroll Tax Cut Temporarily Extended into 2012

The Temporary Payroll Tax Cut Continuation Act of 2011 temporarily extended the two percentage point payroll tax cut for employees, continuing the reduction of their Social Security tax withholding rate from 6.2 percent to 4.2 percent of wages paid through February 29, 2012. This reduced Social Security withholding will have no effect on employees’ future Social Security benefits.

The IRS warned employers that they should implement the new payroll tax rate as soon as possible in 2012 but not later than January 31, 2012.  If however any extra Social Security tax is withheld in January of 2012, the employers should make an offsetting adjustment in workers’ pay as soon as possible but not later than March 31, 2012.

Workers do not need to do anything else; employers and payroll companies should handle the withholding changes.

Recapture Provision

The Act also includes a new “recapture” provision, which applies only to those employees who receive more than $18,350 in wages during the two-month period (the Social Security wage base for 2012 is $110,100, and $18,350 represents two months of the full-year  amount). This provision imposes an additional income tax on these higher-income employees in an amount equal to 2 percent of the amount of wages they receive during the two-month period in excess of $18,350 (and not greater than $110,100).

This additional recapture tax is an add-on to income tax liability that the employee would otherwise pay for 2012 and is not subject to reduction by credits or deductions.  The recapture tax would be payable in 2013 when the employee files his or her income tax return for the 2012 tax year. This may change, however, since there is a possibility of a full-year extension of the payroll tax cut being discussed for 2012.

IRS May Issue Additional Guidance

The IRS will closely monitor the situation in case future legislation changes the recapture provision.  The IRS also promises to issue additional guidance as needed to implement the provisions of this new two-month extension, including revised employment tax forms and instructions and information for employees who may be subject to the new “recapture” provision.

For most employers, the quarterly employment tax return for the quarter ending March 31, 2012 is due on April 30, 2012.