Welcome to the intricate world of California payroll taxes! Whether you’re an established business owner or a budding entrepreneur, understanding the complexities of State Unemployment Insurance (SUI), Employment Training Tax (ETT), State Disability Insurance (SDI), and Personal Income Tax (PIT) is crucial for ensuring compliance and optimizing your financial strategy.

Our team at Ronald Arthur Stearns Sr. PLLC has the experience to guide you through each component with precision. Ready to secure peace of mind for your payroll tax needs? Call us at 949-676-7193 and let’s ensure your business thrives in the Golden State.

Deciphering California Payroll Taxes: An Overview

Calculator, pen and spreadsheet.In the Golden State, payroll taxes are managed by the California Employment Development Department (EDD), which oversees four distinct employment taxes. These taxes fund social security programs and contribute to the improvement of public amenities like:

  • roads

  • schools

  • parks

  • health and human services

Businesses need to comprehend these taxes well to comply with the regulations and evade penalties. Each of these taxes serves a unique purpose and is calculated at different rates.

The Fabric of California Payroll Taxes

The unique structure of California’s payroll tax system comprises four key arms:

  1. Unemployment Insurance (UI)

  2. Employment Training Tax (ETT)

  3. State Disability Insurance (SDI)

  4. Personal Income Tax (PIT)

Each of these taxes, including state income tax, plays a specific role in supporting employees and contributing to the state’s economy.

Unraveling Unemployment Insurance UI Taxes

Unemployment Insurance (UI) is a lifeline for individuals who find themselves unemployed. In California, this tax is paid by employers, providing a much-needed financial safety net to individuals during periods of unemployment. The standard UI tax rate for new employers in California typically starts at a rate of 3.4% for the first two to three years, calculated as a percentage of the first $7,000 in wages paid to each employee during a calendar year.

Different types of employers, such as nonprofit and public entities, have unique UI tax obligations. For instance, school employers can participate in the School Employees Fund, while other entities can opt for the Reimbursable Method for paying UI benefits. No matter the type, every employer’s contribution to the Unemployment Insurance fund bolsters the financial safety net for state residents during unemployment periods.

Employment Training Tax ETT Explained

Next in our payroll tax fabric is the Employment Training Tax (ETT). This tax facilitates the growth of the state’s labor market by funding training for workers in targeted industries, enhancing services, and product quality. Employers who are subject to the Unemployment Insurance tax and possess a California Employer Account Number (CEAN) with a prefix of 699 or lower are required to contribute to the ETT. This tax is imposed at a rate of one-tenth of 0.1 percent on the first $7,000 of each employee’s taxable wages.

ETT-funded training contracts can be utilized by various educational institutions, which may include:

  • Community Colleges

  • Universities

  • Adult Schools

  • Regional Occupational Programs

Private training agencies with proven history and necessary certifications can also use these contracts, contributing to the development of a skilled workforce.

Navigating State Disability Insurance SDI

The third arm of the California payroll tax structure is the state disability insurance tax, also known as the SDI tax. This program can provide temporary benefits to workers for:

  • non-work-related illness

  • injury

  • pregnancy

  • elective surgery

  • addiction rehabilitation

  • other health-related absences

In addition, California SDI benefits can ensure comprehensive coverage for employees.

The SDI program also includes Paid Family Leave (PFL), which allows individuals time off to care for a seriously ill family member, bond with a new child, or participate in events related to a family member’s military deployment.

Grasping California Personal Income Tax PIT

The final component of the payroll tax system is the Personal Income Tax (PIT). With no taxable wage limit, this tax holds a significant position in the state’s economy. Therefore, the right withholding from employees’ wages is significant for both state revenues and taxpayer compliance. Employers are responsible for withholding California PIT from their employees’ pay based on the information provided in the Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate (DE 4).

The proper amount of PIT to withhold can be calculated using either the Percentage Method or the Wage Bracket Method, guided by the DE 4 form details.

Percentage Method: This method uses the employee’s taxable wages and the number of withholding allowances claimed to calculate the PIT withholding. It applies a percentage, based on the employee’s filing status and income level, to the wages after the value of withholding allowances has been subtracted. This is a quick way to calculate withholding for employees with a straightforward tax situation.

Wage Bracket Method: This method is more detailed and involves using tables provided by the California Employment Development Department (EDD). Employers locate the appropriate wage bracket based on the employee’s taxable wages and the number of allowances claimed. The table then indicates the exact amount to withhold. This method is often used when the employee’s wages are within the range of the tables provided and can be simpler for manual payroll systems.

The amount of PIT withheld is affected by various factors such as the employee’s income level, filing status, and allowances claimed, which are reflected in the DE 4 and can be modified when an employee’s situation changes.

Employer Obligations for Payroll Taxes in California

As an employer in California, you have specific obligations when it comes to payroll taxes. For instance, you must electronically file payroll tax returns, wage reports, and pay payroll taxes using e-Services for Business. Moreover, you have the responsibility to withhold State Disability Insurance (SDI) and Personal Income Tax (PIT) from your employees’ wages.

The e-Services for Business portal allows employers to:

  • File returns

  • Make payments

  • Manage their tax account

  • Correct prior reports or deposits

  • Update business information

You can and should also follow the EDD’s deposit schedule to ensure timely payroll tax deposits.

For new employers, UI tax rates start at 3.4% for the first few years. Keeping abreast of rate changes announced every December is vital for maintaining compliance.

Penalties for Non-Compliance with Payroll Tax Laws

Non-compliance with payroll tax laws can lead to significant penalties. If you are late in paying payroll taxes, you could face a fixed 15% penalty. Furthermore, employers are required to electronically file and pay payroll taxes by certain deadlines.

Additional penalties for late payroll tax deposits range from 2% for deposits made up to five days late, to 10% for deposits made 16 or more days late. Non-compliance not only incurs penalties but also interest charges, which compound over time.

Severe legal consequences, including potential criminal charges resulting in a jail term and the ability of the EDD to seize personal assets, including homes, may also occur in the case of non-compliance.

Strategies to Manage and Submit Payroll Taxes Effectively

For employers, efficient management and submission of payroll taxes are of paramount importance. One way to minimize payroll tax errors and ensure compliance is by using online payroll software that automatically updates tax tables and rates. Additionally, setting a regular schedule to review IRS forms and updates for any changes in payroll tax laws and rates can be beneficial.

Maintaining open communication about any tax-related notices or changes in tax rates with clients or employees can prevent penalties due to outdated information. It’s also recommended to:

  • Research and find tax help that is responsive, ethical, and knowledgeable about one’s tax situation

  • Try to understand the intricacies of payroll taxes

  • Ensure you stay on the right side of the law

These strategies can help you walk through the difficulties of payroll taxes and ensure you stay on the right side of the law.

Insights into Federal and State Payroll Tax Interactions

In addition to state-specific payroll taxes and federal income tax, California employers are also responsible for federal FICA taxes, including Medicare tax and Social Security tax. The Federal Unemployment Tax Act (FUTA) establishes a cooperative system between state and federal governments for administering unemployment insurance.

Employers are responsible for paying federal payroll taxes, which include Medicare, Social Security, and unemployment (FUTA) taxes. Employers may receive a credit for state unemployment taxes paid, which can reduce their FUTA tax liability. Grasping these interactions is vital to fulfilling all your payroll tax obligations.

Common Missteps with Payroll Taxes and How to Avoid Them

Despite efforts, employers sometimes make mistakes in managing payroll taxes. Some common errors include:

  • Misclassifying employees as independent contractors, which can lead to underpayment of taxes and penalties

  • Underreporting wages

  • Having insufficient employee records

  • Failing to include taxable fringe benefits in indicated pay

All of these mistakes can result in fines, back taxes, and unpaid overtime consequences.

Businesses can circumvent these errors by:

  • Enhancing internal controls

  • Tracking compliance

  • Ensuring accurate tax payments

  • Keeping comprehensive employee records

Additionally, professionals managing payroll taxes should undertake annual training to stay current with the latest tax laws and updates, thus avoiding potential compliance missteps.

Maximizing Compliance: Leveraging Professional Assistance

Managing payroll taxes can be a complex task, and many businesses choose to seek professional assistance. Qualified tax professionals such as:

  • Enrolled agents

  • Certified public accountants

  • Attorneys

  • Registered tax preparers

can provide invaluable assistance with payroll tax compliance.

Payroll service providers may offer the following benefits:

  • Automate crucial payroll functions

  • Ensure adherence to tax laws

  • Enhance reporting capabilities

  • Assure payroll accuracy

  • Maintain awareness of regulatory changes

With the aid of professional assistance, you can guarantee your business’s compliance with payroll tax obligations and circumvent potential penalties.

How Ronald Arthur Stearns Sr. PLLC Can Help You

From Unemployment Insurance and Employment Training Tax to State Disability Insurance and Personal Income Tax, each component plays a unique role in supporting employees and contributing to the state’s economy. With the right strategies and professional assistance, businesses can effectively manage and submit payroll taxes, ensuring compliance and avoiding potential penalties.

At Ronald Arthur Stearns Sr. PLLC, we’re committed to helping our clients through the nuances of payroll tax compliance. Our team of experienced professionals can assist with payroll tax issues, ensuring compliance and minimizing potential penalties.

Whether you’re facing a specific payroll tax issue or just need guidance on the right practices for compliance, we’re here to help. Call us at 949-676-7193 for more information. We look forward to serving you and helping you through the intricacies of payroll taxes in California.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the payroll taxes in California for 2024?

Starting January 1, 2024, the highest marginal individual income tax rate for wage income in California became 14.4%, a significant increase from the previous rate of 13.3%. This change in tax rate affects payroll taxes in California.

What percentage are payroll taxes?

Payroll taxes are 7.65 percent, with 6.2 percent allocated for Social Security and 1.45 percent for Medicare. There is a maximum income level for Social Security tax, which is set annually.

What are the four state payroll taxes in California?


The four state payroll taxes in California are State Unemployment Insurance (SUI), Employment Training Tax (ETT), State Disability Insurance (SDI), and Personal Income Tax (PIT). These taxes are essential for employers to understand when managing payroll.