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QuickBooks Tips Payroll Mistakes – It’s Not As Easy As 1-2-3 – Part 2

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Payroll is an essential part of your business – not just a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly annoyance.  Payroll is the primary way that employees are rewarded for good job performance and retained.  If you are issuing late or incorrect paychecks it can lead to dissatisfied, unmotivated workers – or worse.  It’s hard to keep good employees when a company gets payroll wrong.

Common payroll mistakes during the check cutting processThe relationship between employees and employers is highly regulated by the government and many of these regulations involve payroll.  There are literally hundreds of things that you have to know, as well as hundreds of mistakes that you can make.  As a result, the payroll process is much more complicated than anyone who has never done it can possibly know.

The consequences of some mistakes can be more serious than just your paychecks simply being incorrect.  Many mistakes result in getting a very hard time from people you don’t know (and certainly don’t want to know) – the federal and state enforcement types.

Below are 7  of the most common payroll mistakes which occur during payroll processing.

1.  Poor Data Gathering

Payroll errors – overpayments, underpayments, misclassification, and job costing errors all start with the information that is contained on employee timesheets that is in turn given to the person responsible for inputting that information into QuickBooks, who then creates the final employee paycheck.

2.  Improper Overtime Payments

Everyone knows hourly employees get time-and-a-half after 40 hours of work a week.  Right?  Not always!

Employees must be paid according to all the mandates of the Labor Department and the states.  Are you calculating the overtime rate properly?

  • A very common small business practice is granting compensatory overtime or “comp time” (time off) instead of paying overtime as legally required.  This is illegal in most situations.  Under the FLSA for example, only state or government agencies may legally offer comp time and, even then, it is subject to a long list of exclusions.  Some states do allow it, but it’s certainly tricky!

Overtime is not always 1.5 times the employee’s hourly rate!

  • You may have to add in other payments, such as production bonuses, shift differentials, prevailing wage fringe benefits in order to determine the overtime rate.

You must follow any state Wage and Hour regulations if they are more generous than the federal rules.

3.  Ignoring Other Taxable Items

There will be times when you need to withhold taxes from more than just the employee’s normal wages.

All gifts, prizes, bonuses, and awards that employees receive are taxable, including the use of a company car.

Some Union Fringes are taxable, such as a Vacation or Health & Welfare fringe.  These items should be included in the employee’s normal paycheck and set up as a taxable company contribution item type.

4.  Mishandling Garnishments, Levies, or Child Support Payments

Part of your company’s payroll activities may include having to withhold and pay money your employees owe to a third party.

The government decided, long ago, that the best way to collect certain court-ordered or court determined debts was to go directly to the person’s source of income – you, the employer – and collect the money directly from the employee’s wages.

This can be a quagmire for employers of every size.  There are rules for withholding, for how much an employee must be allowed to retain, and for which one of multiple claims are paid first.  Naturally, the states do get involved, usually requiring that child support be paid first.  But, if a federal tax levy arrives at your office first, it is paid first.

5.  Mixing Reimbursed Employee Expenses with Normal Payroll

Many times I’ve seen employees bring in receipts or expense reports and the payroll clerk has added those reimbursements into the normal employee paycheck.

Don’t let yourself get caught in this situation – as you could have some “tall explaining” to do later and in some states there is a fine attached for just this sort of situation.  An employee’s paycheck is just that – his compensation for the hours that he worked for you on a weekly basis and that is what should be reflected on his weekly paycheck.

If an employee submits receipts or an expense report, cut a separate check just for that and keep that money out of payroll!

6.  Miscalculating State Unemployment Tax

State Unemployment Tax is an employer-paid but state-run program and each state has their own set of rules.

One common mistake that I’ve seen employers make when there is a delay in Intuit receiving the necessary information from the tax agency is that employers feel that they need to do a manual adjustment to increase the liability.  This is totally unnecessary as the payroll module will automatically catch up, without any additional help from you.

7.  Missing Tax Deposits and Filing Deadlines

There are substantial penalties for missing deadlines, for depositing your payroll taxes and filing the required reports.

Nearly every payroll clerk in a large company has a calendar with all the deadlines for federal, state, county and municipal tax deposits and tax filing deadlines for the entire year.  You must also report the earnings and withholdings of each employee, payment to contract workers, total withholding amounts and other information.  If you don’t have such a calendar, you can set up “Reminders” in QuickBooks; but you will have to look at them.  On a normal day-to-day basis you naturally have other things to worry about, but if you aren’t conscious of these deadlines, you’ll miss one of them sooner or later and be faced with a hefty penalty for late payment or reporting….plus interest.

You may also be required to use EFTPS (Electronic Federal Tax Payment System) for your payments.

Part 3 of Payroll Mistakes will cover common errors at year end.

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About Your Host:

Nancy Smyth, Certified QuickBooks ProAdvisor

Nancy Smyth, Sunburst Software Solutions, Inc.
QuickBooks Construction & Payroll Expert


I've been using and supporting QuickBooks products since the early 1990's. I've worked with thousands of contractors, assisting them with QuickBooks setup, Certified Payroll Reporting requirements, AIA Billing and Weighted-Average Overtime.


QuickBooks is a powerful product, but learning how to use it in your construction business can be difficult. I hope you find resources available here to be helpful.

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