Life in the USA
Making a Living
On the Job
Social Security and Withholding
Take Home Pay. When you get your first job in America, don't spend your money before you get your first paycheck. It's a sad fact of American work life, at least if you work for someone else, that the amount printed on the check is often shockingly less than the money you thought you were going to get. Your paycheck will probably have a detachable pay-stub showing the deductions that have been made from your “gross pay” to arrive at your “net” or “take-home” pay. Your company takes a portion of your pay and pays it to various government authorities and insurance companies.
Pay as You Go. Sorry, but the government doesn't trust you to pay your income taxes when they come due every April 15th. You have to pay out of each check. When you start employment, you'll fill out a federal “W-4” form, which indicates how many dependents you have, which in turn affects how much tax you'll have to pay in advance. The bookkeeping department of your company will then follow rules laid down by the government, “withhold” a certain percentage of your income, and send it to the tax people. Federal income tax takes the biggest bite, then comes state income tax in many states, sometimes even a city income tax. Mandatory unemployment insurance and any health or other insurance plans you sign up for will take even more. You might even be required to join a union and have dues deducted from your salary (a “union shop” situation).
Social Security (FICA) deductions from your paycheck are the most consistent. Often they can exceed the federal tax deductions. The number of exemptions you claim on your “W-4” form will not affect the social security deduction; it is a set percentage of your salary up to a yearly maximum. Your employer must match the amount deducted from your paycheck and send the money to the Internal Revenue Service which puts it into the social security system. The only way you'll ever see any of the money again is if you collect social security payments when you retire. The Social Security system issues numbered social security cards which are widely used for tax and identification purposes.
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Making a Living: Chapter Home
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