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Calculating net pay is the single most time-consuming process in payroll. It’s complicated, unique for each employee, and frankly, easy to get wrong. Here at Eddy, we created a thorough, step-by-step guide to help you calculate net pay accurately.

What Is Net Pay?

Net pay is the portion of the salary that an employee “takes home” after all deductions and non-taxable reimbursements have been made to their gross pay. Net pay can otherwise be described as the amount of money that shows up on the employee’s paycheck or in their bank account.

Common deductions include:

  • Federal tax deductions
  • State tax deductions
  • FICA deductions for Social Security and Medicare
  • Health, dental, and vision insurance
  • 401K contributions, or contributions to other retirement plans (unless they’re considered post-tax deductions in your state)

Net pay can be confusing to employees because they’re expecting their paycheck to reflect the salary or wage they agreed to in the job offer. Instead, they’ll notice that their paycheck is much lower.

If your employee is confused, the best way to explain how deductions lead to net pay is to make sure they understand what each deduction is for, and which ones are required by law. Employees will also benefit from understanding that the company is making deductions on behalf of the employee to either pay the employee’s taxes to the federal government or pay other entities for the employee’s benefit.

Net Pay vs Gross Pay: What’s the Difference?

Net pay is the amount of money that employees receive on their paychecks every pay period. Gross pay, on the other hand, is the total compensation provided by the employer before any deductions are made.

How to Calculate Net Pay

Manually calculating net pay is an extremely time-consuming process and errors are common. Below is our step-by-step guide to calculating net pay correctly. Even with this guide, however, the process will still take a lot of time. If you’re currently running payroll manually, you may want to consider investing in payroll software instead.

Step 1: Calculate Gross Pay

The only way you can calculate the correct net pay for an employee is by first calculating gross pay. Don’t know how? Check out our step-by-step guide.

Step 2: Calculate Taxable Income

The total taxable income, also called adjusted gross income (AGI), is an employee’s gross income minus any pre-tax deductions. Pre-tax deductions are deductions that can be taken out of your income before calculating taxes.

Common pre-tax deductions include contributions for health insurance, dental insurance, 401(k) plans, life insurance, FSA accounts and HSA accounts. Whether a particular contribution is eligible for pre-tax deduction may vary from state to state, so be sure to review any applicable laws in your state.

Example 1: Calculating Taxable Income

What is the taxable income for a person who lives in Wisconsin and has a yearly salary of $48,000? We’ll assume they’re paid the first day of every month and make the following pre-tax contributions:

  • Medical Insurance: $120 per month
  • Dental Insurance: $25
  • 401(k) Contribution: $200
  • HSA: $100

Taxable Income Calculation:

  • Gross Salary: $48,000
  • Gross Monthly Salary: $48,000 / 12 months = $4,000
  • Pre-Tax Deductions per month: $120 (Medical) + $25 (Dental) + $200 (401(k)) + 100 (HSA) = $435
  • Taxable Income, or AGI: $4000 – $435 = $ 3,565

Although it’s safe to assume that the amount contributed to the HSA in this example did not exceed the maximum allowable contribution, remember that this maximum varies depending on your insurance plan. Also, it just so happens that in Wisconsin, 401(k) contributions can be treated as pre-tax deductions for purposes of state income tax. However, not all states allow this.

Once you have your total taxable income, you can calculate tax deductions.

Step 3: Deduct Taxes from Taxable Income

Once you’ve calculated the taxable income, the next step is to deduct taxes. This includes:

  • Federal income taxes
  • State income taxes, unless there is no state income tax
  • Local income taxes, if applicable
  • Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) taxes. (These funds contribute to Social Security and Medicare and 50% must be paid by the employer.)
  • State Disability Insurance, if applicable

Federal Tax Deduction

To manually calculate federal tax deductions, you will need the following information:

  • Taxable income amount
  • Marital status
  • Number of allowances claimed on their W-4

Once you have this information, you can use the tables in Publication 15-T to calculate the appropriate withholding amount.

State and Local Taxes

Each state has its own state income tax rules. Resources to help you calculate the appropriate state tax deduction can be found on your state’s Department of Revenue website.

Step 4: Calculate After-Tax Deductions

After-tax (or post-tax) deductions are deductions made after all tax deductions are made. These may include:

  • 401(k) contributions (depending on the state)
  • Union dues
  • Some pension plans

Step 5: Add in Non-Taxable Reimbursements

Reimbursements to employees are non-taxable if they’re a part of an accountable plan. Non-taxable reimbursements often include per diem gas or food, hotel expenses, transportation, or car rental fees. It’s very important that reimbursements that are a part of an accountable plan be calculated and listed separately in the employee’s paycheck so they aren’t incorrectly categorized as income.

The result of these five calculations is the employee’s net pay—and we can all empathize with the fact that it is disappointing compared to the gross pay we might have expected. Hopefully, a clear explanation takes some of the sting away.

Questions You’ve Asked Us About Net Pay

Is net pay before or after taxes?
Net pay is calculated by subtracting pre-tax deductions, post-tax deductions and tax deductions from the employee’s gross income. In some cases, net pay also includes pay for reimbursements. What’s included in pre- and post-tax deductions can vary depending on state law, employee preferences, and the company.
Is “take home pay” net or gross?
“Take home pay” is net pay. It represents the amount of money the employee “takes home” once all deductions and reimbursements have been made.
Natasha Wiebusch

Natasha Wiebusch

Natasha is a writer and former labor and employment attorney turned HR professional. Her experience as a litigator and HR trainer inspired her to begin writing about anti-discrimination laws in the workplace. As a writer at Eddy HR, she hopes to provide helpful information to both employees and HR professionals who need help navigating the vast world of human resources. When she’s not writing, you might find her cheering on the Green Bay Packers or hiking in the Northwoods of Wisconsin.

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