The 10 Payroll Forms Employers Need to Know About

When you work with other people or businesses and pay them for their work, you take on certain tax and reporting responsibilities from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and other federal and state agencies. From the day you cut that first check, you enter a new realm full of payroll and tax forms.

As a small business owner, understanding these forms is part of your job—but it doesn’t have to be a painful part. By getting to know some of the most common payroll forms you’re likely to come across now, you’ll be better equipped to handle them when the time comes along.

With that in mind, we’ve pulled together the top 10 payroll forms you should know:

  • Form I-9
  • Form 940
  • Form 941
  • Form 944
  • Form W-2
  • Form W-3
  • Form W-4
  • Form W-9
  • Form 1095
  • Form 1099

Below, we’ll take you through the basics around what’s included on each form, how to know if you need to file it, and when each is due throughout the year.

Form I-9

Due: Within 3 days of employee start date

Form I-9 is one of the few employment forms that doesn’t come from the IRS. Instead, Form I-9 is a document that the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) requires all employers to collect for nearly all new employees. The form includes details on:

  • Employee social security number (SSN) and personal details
  • Their citizenship status
  • Eligibility to work in the United States

On the first day a new hire starts work, you’ll need to have the new employee fill out Section 1 of the form and provide you with 1-2 acceptable documents. Using those documents, you’ll fill out Section 2 of the I-9 form.

For more details on Form I-9, you can reference the full guide here.

Form 940

Due: January 31st of each year

Form 940 is a document the IRS requires from employers. It’s an annual form that deals with an employer’s Federal Unemployment (FUTA) tax.

When filling out Form 940, you’ll report all of the wages you paid to both full- and part-time employees over the course of the prior year. Then, you’ll calculate how much FUTA tax you owe, based on those wages and any FUTA tax deposits you’ve already made.

In short, if you’ve paid $1,500 or more in employee wages or had one or more employees for 20 weeks or more over the past year, then you’ll need to file Form 940.

For more detail on Form 940, the taxes it deals with and how to fill it out, check out our full guide here.

Form 941

Due: January 31st, April 30th, July 31st, and October 31st

When you pay wages to an employee, you’re responsible for withholding income and Federal Insurance Contribution Act (FICA) taxes from their paychecks—and for paying your own portion of those FICA taxes.

Form 941 deals with these taxes and withholdings. It reports the amount of income, Social Security, and Medicare tax you’ve withheld from employee pay, and is due quarterly.

For more on Form 941, including what it reports and how to fill it out, reference our full guide here.

Form 944

Due: January 31st of each year

Form 944 is a document that small U.S. employers use to report wages, income tax, and FICA tax withholding from their employees’ wages. It’s similar to Form 941 with one key distinction: it’s filed only once per year by eligible small employers.

If you paid wages to an employee, but you expect to owe less than $1,000 in withholding and FICA taxes for the year, then you can request to file Form 944 instead of Form 941. Unless you recieve written approval from the IRS to file Form 944, continue to file Form 941.

For more details on Form 944, how it works and who’s eligible to file it, see our extended guide here.

Form W-2

Due: To employees and the SSA by January 31st

Form W-2 is filed annually with the Social Security Administration (SSA), the IRS, and sent to each employee. The government uses this information to keep track of employee earnings and tax owed. Employees use the form to file their own personal taxes.

The form details:

  • Total income paid to an employee in the prior year
  • The taxable portion of that income, subject to Social Security and Medicare taxes
  • Total income and FICA taxes that were withheld by the employer

If you have one or more employees who had income tax, social security or medicare deducted from their wages, or earned at least $600 in wages over the past year, then you’re responsible for filing Form W-2 for each employee and furnishing a copy to them, too.

For more on Form W-2, check out our full guide here.

Form W-3

Due: January 31st of each year

Form W-3 is what’s known as a transmittal document. You can think of it like a cover sheet for all of the W-2 forms you need to submit. Form W-3 includes the same information as Form W-2, but it shows that information in aggregate across all of the employees you paid wages to.

In short, if you’re filing one or more W-2 forms, then you need to also file Form W-3. Form W-3 is for filing purposes and is not shared with employees.

For more details on Form W-3, including how it relates to Form W-2, you can reference our guide here.

Form W-4

Due: Varies by state (reference the state directory matrix here)

Form W-4 is a key part of all new hire and onboarding paperwork—it should be completed by every new employee on the day they begin work for your company.

The information they share on Form W-4 tells you, the employer, how much income tax to withhold from their pay. It also serves as a way to let state new hire authorities know that you’ve hired a new employee.

Form W-4 is required of nearly every employer in the U.S. If you have at least one employee, then you need to have them fill it out, and you need to file the form with your State Directory of New Hires.

For more on Form W-4, including what to do with the information and when to have employees fill it out, see our extended guide here.

Form W-9

Due: Upon commencement of work with a new independent contractor

Form W-9 is unique among payroll and tax forms because it deals with independent contractors, not employees. In short, this form is your mechanism for requesting key details, including the contractor’s tax classification and Taxpayer Identification Number.

Whenever you begin work with a new independent contractor, you should have them fill out Form W-9. From there, you’ll keep the form to reference in creating 1099-NEC forms, but you aren’t required to file it with any agency or tax authority.

For further details on Form W-9, you can reference the full guide here.

Form 1095

Due: To both the IRS and each employee by March 31st

Form 1095 is a series of documents created with the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The series includes Forms 1095-A, 1095-B, and 1095-C. These forms report on health coverage available to, and held by, employees throughout the year.

As an employer, you’re most likely responsible for either Form 1095-B or 1095-C, based on the number of employees you have. Either way, you’ll need to file the form with the IRS and furnish a copy to each employee.

For more on the Form 1095 series, including the difference between the variations and who’s required to file each, see our extended guide here.

Form 1099

Due: Varies by form and recipient

Form 1099 is a series of documents (more than 20 in all), called information returns, that deal with income earned outside of an individual’s regular salary. One of the most common variations small businesses are likely to come up against is Form 1099-NEC—this form is issued to independent contractors (instead of the W-2 form employees get).

In short, if you paid $600 or more to any individual or business who isn’t your employee, then you’re required to file a 1099 form and submit a copy to the person or business you paid.

For more on the Form 1099 series, including other variations and more details on who is required to file, check out our detailed guide here.

Know Your Payroll Forms

As an employer, there are a lot of responsibilities. By getting to know the most common payroll forms, you’ll be one step ahead come tax time.