Celebrating National Payroll Week w/ Christine Stolpe
Owner & CEO
No matter what type of work you do, you have something in common with every other member of the American workforce: you’re getting a paycheck. Most people are glad when they get their check, but they don’t think much about it. But people like Christine Stolpe know that a lot of work goes into making sure that employees across the country get paid accurately and on time. This week Christine, owner and CEO at Wages Creek, joined us for the HR Mavericks podcast to tell us what Payroll Appreciation Week is all about and how employers and employees alike can get more informed about their paychecks.
Christine and I discussed:
- Why we have Payroll Appreciation Week—and why it’s for every member of the workforce
- The payroll processes that go on behind the scenes
- How payroll is like a blender
- What paycheck literacy is and how to foster it in the workplace
- The things an employee should understand about their own paycheck
- Tips for choosing tax withholdings that will benefit you most
- How the COVID-19 pandemic shook things up for payroll professionals in the U.S.
- Why it’s important for small business owners to be informed about payroll
Episode 60 Transcript
You’re listening to HR Mavericks, a weekly podcast, featuring leading small business HR professionals who share their experiences and insights to help you know how to turn your HR processes and employee experience into a strategic business advantage. Let’s get into the show.
[00:00:00] Garrett Jestice: Welcome to the next episode of the HR Mavericks podcast. I’m Garrett Jestice. Today, I’m joined by Christine Stolpe, who’s the owner and CEO at Wages Creek in Nevada. Christine, how are you doing?
[00:00:14] Christine Stolpe: I’m great, Garrett. Thank you for having me.
[00:00:16] Garrett Jestice: It’s great to have you on the show. I know that you have this wealth of knowledge and experience, especially when it comes to, to payroll. And we’re excited to get into that and tap into that. But before we do tell our listeners just a little bit more about you and what your company Wages Creek does.
[00:00:33] Christine Stolpe: Absolutely. little bit about me. I am the epitome of payroll nerd. I came to payroll by way of human resources, which is why I still very much consider myself a member of the human resources community. It just turns out I had a flare for numbers and people, which is really where payroll needs to sit. It’s not just a numbers game, it’s a numbers and people’s process.
and what wages Creek does is comes in and helps clients streamline their processes, make sure that they’re compliant. Go through policies and procedures. I even provide support. while a client is in between, while they’re trying to find their next director of payroll, I can come in and, and keep the lights on if you will.
until they’re able to find the candidate that’s best for them. so it’s, it’s contracting, it’s not temporary work because. Then that client is someone who can then turn to me with other questions. So I, my, my book of knowledge is my network and it is extensive and continually growing.
[00:01:33] Garrett Jestice: Awesome. Well, that’s so great. And it’s great to have you be a member of the HR Mavericks community and to be here and share some of your knowledge about this important topic of payroll with us, because it’s one of those topics that man, it impacts every person at every company. Right. And so it’s one of those things that you might not think about.
But I think, you know, I, I, I may be biased in this, but I think payroll experts are really some of the most undervalued people. We have, we have a payroll team at our company, Eddy, because we offer that service also similar to what you do, outsourced full service payroll rate, and man that is a hard role because there are very few roles where, you know, if you make one minor mistake, the impacts are so big and everyone’s gonna know, right.
And so man, if, if, if anyone listening just can go say thank you to their, whoever their payroll person is it’s needed because they put up with a lot, they work a ton crazy hours to get everything right, and be a hundred percent accurate with everything. So shout out to all the payroll nerds out there because we need more of ’em.
[00:02:42] Christine Stolpe: Exactly exactly. Which actually brings us to why I am with you.
[00:02:47] Garrett Jestice: Yes. Tell us more. What we, you, you and I talked about, you know, what should we talk about today? And you kind of threw out this idea of national payroll week, tell us a little bit more about that.
[00:02:59] Christine Stolpe: So every year, like you said, right, payroll is the unsung hero, right? The only time that our phones ring is when something is wrong or when someone thinks something is wrong, whether it’s wrong or not. When someone feels that their paycheck has been affected negatively, they become pretty negative. Right.
They’re defensive. And they go on the offense to, to get what they want. And that’s totally understandable. It’s human nature. What’s what’s forgotten is that the, that the person who processed the check is also A, a human and B an employee. They, they get paid too. Their check is one of the checks that gets processed.
So when there’s a system wide error, it affects that individual as well. So what we as an association and then I, and my, by that, I mean, I am an active member of the American payroll association, who has not sponsored this in any way, shape or form. but I, I am a paid and loving, caring, very active member of the association.
And every year labor week, they always choose labor day week because it’s so important to focus on the fact that what we do is support everyone else who comes to work. So that’s why our theme for so many years has been America works because we’re working for America. And that’s what national payroll week is.
It’s not only about celebrating the payroll professionals. It’s not only a day for the payroll professionals to come out of their caves, if you will, and hand out payday bars to make everybody think that they’re a nice person. That’s not really what it’s all about. That’s a lot of what we do celebration wise.
But that’s not what it’s about. We’re celebrating the fact that everybody gets up every day and goes to work A, for personal fulfillment and B, for financial reason. There’s a paycheck at the end of that effort. And at the beginning of that paycheck, there is a process. And at the end of that paycheck, like I said, there’s a person, right?
So processes and persons and, and that’s kind of what I was saying earlier, why human resources and numbers and payroll are a good fit for us payroll nerds, because we are paying people. So that’s what national payroll week is about, is about educating our clients, our customers, those that we serve and are a member of the same community.
Even though we do something different, we see it very differently as payroll processors, we still get a paycheck too. So it’s kind of our way to saddle up to people and say, Hey, I get a paycheck too. Let me, let me explain to you why yours looks the way it looks. So maybe then you can bump into somebody else and say, oh yeah, payroll’s great.
They sat me down and explained it to me. They’re really nice people. Right. And, and so to kind of soften that and, and the more we bring that about, so this is actually the 10th year that I have participated in national payroll week. So it’s.
[00:06:00] Garrett Jestice: It’s so great.
[00:06:01] Christine Stolpe: It really is, and it’s a whole week and then a big day of education on Friday.
so like I said, it’s, it’s not just about celebrating payroll. It’s about celebrating the people who, who get paid.
[00:06:11] Garrett Jestice: Yeah. Good. Yeah, that was kind of my next question. Is, is this national payroll week really about, or is it really for those who are doing the payroll or is it for everyone else to celebrate and thank those who are doing the payroll, right? Or is it both.
[00:06:29] Christine Stolpe: Well, it’s a lot of both, because payroll professionals are, are very, very, very good from here to here as far as like rubbery and, and extended. Cause we have to do a lot of this, right. Cause no one else is doing it for us. National payroll week is the week that we get to come out and, and do this in the public side.
as well as educate, right. Bring more people into payroll’s rapport if you will. Right? Because the more people who understand payroll or understand that payroll is a thing, then the more people who will not have those frantic Friday mornings: “Wait a minute, why isn’t my direct deposit there?”
[00:07:09] Garrett Jestice: Totally.
[00:07:09] Christine Stolpe: They’ll know before they go to bed on Thursday, what’s going on because they have educated themselves or been educated or come into rapport, if you will, with the payroll team.
[00:07:21] Garrett Jestice: Yeah, I I’ll just share from my perspective. I know I shared a little bit of this already, but since I joined Eddy a little over a year ago, and we have a payroll team who runs payroll for a lot of our customers right. Working closely with that payroll team has just opened my eyes. Right. And I’m, I’m so grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to work closely with Tarey and Lauren and so many others on our payroll team who do such a great job.
It really is one of those roles that if you don’t rub shoulders with those people regularly and kind of see the ins and outs of what they do, you might forget about it, but it’s so crucial and so vital. And like I said before, it’s one of those roles that they have to be accurate 99.9, 9% of the time, right?
And the 0.00, zero 1% of the time where there might be a mistake. Sometimes it’s not even their fault, but man, they have to deal with people who are upset because it really comes down to pay. Right. And so understanding that and what they go, the ins and outs of what they go through and then all the legal and the tax implications you think of like year end and everything else that they go through to help, you know, people just get paid.
One of the reasons why they show up to work and make sure that they can, you know, file their taxes in the right way at the end of the year, those types of things is it’s just so crucial and so important to every single business out there.
[00:08:40] Christine Stolpe: It really is. It really is. And I, I used the word mosquito not too long ago when I was talking to somebody about payroll. because you know, there’s a joke out there now that, you know, if, if someone’s coming after you for time cards or some sort of thing at work, it’s probably human resources and payroll that’s coming after you for it.
And it, it always just cracks me up because I’ve always told people, if you don’t give me your time card, what am I supposed to pay you?
[00:09:07] Garrett Jestice: Yeah.
[00:09:08] Christine Stolpe: Help me help you, right. Not to borrow the line from Jerry McGuire, but it’s very true. Payroll payroll doesn’t make up the numbers. Payroll doesn’t make up the tax codes.
Payroll doesn’t decide how much goes to 401k or to your section 125 benefits. We don’t decide any of that. We are told, we are told what to pay people. We are told by the employer how much to pay the employees. And we are told by the employees how much to pay uncle Sam or their local state governments and the 401ks and the section 125s that they tell us those things.
So that’s, that’s the other thing to remember is that payroll is just the blender.
[00:09:53] Garrett Jestice: mm-hmm.
[00:09:54] Christine Stolpe: Really honestly, data is coming into the blender for two weeks. You push the button. Payroll does this to it. And then we have to pour that out into a bunch of different cups. And if we don’t have enough for everybody’s cup, we’re gonna have problems.
[00:10:08] Garrett Jestice: Yeah. Yeah.
[00:10:10] Christine Stolpe: new analogy that I just came up with. But Hey, well, welcome to smoothie land.
[00:10:14] Garrett Jestice: Hey, I, I love the payroll smoothie analogy. I think we’re gonna use that going forward. So, you know, it brings me to the kind of the next point. I know that part of this national payroll week is paycheck literacy, and there’s some of that that’s talked about. Right. So exactly. Kind of in your analogy when an, when an employee doesn’t understand the ins and outs of what goes into payroll and how to really read.
What’s on their paycheck. Sometimes they don’t understand why payroll needs your time card or other factors of that. So talk to us a little bit more about one, what paycheck literacy means and two, why it’s important.
[00:10:52] Christine Stolpe: So literacy means the ability to comprehend, not just read. so when I talk about literacy, I mean, you’re getting a paycheck slip or stub or advice, there’s lots of different things that employers are calling them these days. statement, I think is another one that they’ve come out with.
but they’re, they’re all the same thing, their information that the employer is giving to the employees so that the employees know what they made versus what they get to take home and why there is that difference, right? Who is FICA and why is he taking 6.2 and 1.4, 5% of my check every two weeks.
[00:11:33] Christine Stolpe: So you, you have the information in front of you as an employee. It’s just knowing what to do with that information or what it means. So that’s what paycheck literacy means is understanding what it is that the employer is giving you. And being able to read it, comprehend it. And, and the reason that’s important is because that gives the employee the financial freedom to make their own decisions.
Right? Once, once an employee understands that the W-4 is their document, it doesn’t belong to anybody else. It’s their document and they can turn it in and tell their employers, this is how you’re going to tax.
[00:12:13] Garrett Jestice: Mm.
[00:12:13] Christine Stolpe: That’s what that form is, right. If you don’t turn it in, you’re gonna tax it the highest amount.
But if you turn it in, we’re gonna tax you how you tell us to. And if you tell us that you are exempt, okay, then we have to believe you, right? And, and at the end of the year, you get a W2 and there’s no income tax withheld on it. We haven’t done anything wrong. You checked the box and you said that you were exempt.
If you didn’t know what that meant, why did you check it? So that’s why it’s important, right? Those are the things. So I, I like to get out in front of high schoolers and college students, new people into the job field, new people, about to enter the job field and really explain to them that they have this financial freedom.
The IRS has given them the tool to say, this is what you’re taking from my check. You get to tell your employer that.
[00:13:04] Garrett Jestice: Awesome. So important. And I think there’s so many people out there who need to know more about this topic. And so that’s part of what national payroll week does right. There are some, are there courses or trainings on this topic that people can participate in? Tell us more.
[00:13:20] Christine Stolpe: Well there’s many manners national education day, which is really geared for the high school students. and there are thousands of American payroll association volunteers going out every day, next week, all the way up to and including Friday. I know in the Silicon valley specifically where I have some deep roots and some very good friends, one of my colleagues will be presenting to the, technical classes that the, the work study groups at six different high schools throughout the course of the week, because those are the, those are the students who already have a job.
So we’ve created that partnership with a teacher who teaches kids work study, and we come in as payroll professionals and say, here’s what we need from you. And here’s what you need to understand about us. So we’re setting this groundwork for a really great employee, right? An employee who knows who to ask the questions of.
The employee who says, yeah, there’s this form that someone wants this crazy lady came into my school and told me how to fill it out. And I do remember she said not to use any colors, if that’s all they remember fine, because how many times have you gotten W-4s filled out in blue and blue, not blue or black ink.
And we’ve had to send them back for just that reason. They’re not wrong. We just can’t accept it. It’s a legal form. You can’t fill it out in purple. Sorry. Even if you are using Adobe, you gotta use blue or black, please. So, but yeah, it’s, I love getting out there. and then for those who are already in the world of payroll or already getting paychecks, you know, like yourself, people who’ve been in the, in the job force, as long as I have right.
This isn’t something that we would think we need to see. Right. I’ve been getting a paycheck for a really long time. I understand it. You would be shocked how many of the grownups in the back of the room at these classrooms that I’ve gone to have come up to me and said, I had no idea. I wish someone had told me that when I was 18, here I am.
You know, I’m 58, I’m retiring in five years and I didn’t know any of that. And I could have saved myself a lot of headache. So, so yeah, it’s, it’s important for us to get the messaging out through podcasts like this with you guys. the American payroll association has a couple of different officers that are appearing on various, TV shows in their local areas.
I know, we’ve got someone in Missouri. We’ve got someone down in Texas, cuz I’ve seen them on LinkedIn posting that they’re being interviewed. so yeah, we just do everything we can to get out there and get the word out that we have messages for you. We have booklets, we have eBooks. We have all kinds of white papers.
We have us, right. You can ask us questions. on, on LinkedIn alone, there’s there’s me and at least four other members of the social networking committee at the American payroll association who offer public speaking, you know, we’ll come out and we’ll do the anatomy of a paycheck. Well, we’ll do, why is it important to understand payroll?
Because we’re that passionate about making sure that everybody understands why they’re being paid, what they’re being paid.
[00:16:22] Garrett Jestice: Yeah, such an important mission too. So thank you to you and everyone else. Who’s gonna participate this next week to volunteer and help the rest of us really get it right. And, and make sense of it. So thank you. You know, that you kind of hinted at something that I want to, I wanna dive into a little bit more and it’s really outside of this national payroll week that we have coming up here soon, what else can employees or employers do to improve that paycheck literacy? Like you talked about.
[00:16:54] Christine Stolpe: Orientation when you put a new hire through orientation, right? there’s an employee handbook or there’s some sort of documentation that you’re gonna be going through, and obviously they’re gonna be filling out a W-4. Take the time to let them ask the questions about the w four, right. With the payroll people.
Because the first thing the person’s gonna tell you is I’m sorry, I can’t give you any tax advice because that’s the thought that’s, that’s just the law. I am not a CPA. I am not a registered agent of the IRS. I am not allowed to give tax advice. I am a CPP. I am allowed to give payroll advice. I am allowed to give payroll, you know, consulting, if you will.
What I can tell people about the W-4 is it’s your way to tell your employer how much to take out of your check to pay your taxes.
[00:17:43] Garrett Jestice: mm-hmm.
[00:17:44] Christine Stolpe: So if you are getting a gigantic refund every year and that’s $2,000 over the course, of what 24 26 pay cycles that could have been in your savings account, earning 1.5%, even 1.5%.
It would’ve earned over those 12 months, 200, you know, $2,000 divided by 12. Instead of having it be withheld from your paychecks and held at the IRS, and then sent back to you in April. I, you, you should be trying to break even every single time, don’t over withheld on your taxes because you like the big refund.
There’s no interest on that free loan to the IRS. None, zero. And it’s not, it’s not working for you. It’s working for nobody, right? The IRS is gonna leave it there until they have to give it back to you. So it’s not working for anybody. And, and the IRS would really rather people have their money working for them.
They don’t like to issue.
[00:18:45] Garrett Jestice: mm-hmm
[00:18:45] Christine Stolpe: They really don’t but they also don’t like to come out and try to collect. So it’s important not to under withhold at the same time. So during employee orientation, that’s when payroll comes in and explains that to people, right? You gotta figure out, you’ve gotta do the math, go online, do the math.
What do you make per year? What does your math make per year? What did you owe last year? Right? And then do the math. How much do you need to have come out of each one of your paychecks in order to cover the taxes for the rest of this? That’s what you’re doing. That’s what the W-4 is.
[00:19:16] Garrett Jestice: Yeah,
[00:19:17] Christine Stolpe: So it explaining that to people during new hire orientation, right.
That cuz that’s the first time you’ve got somebody, right. That makes you the employer that enlightened them.
[00:19:29] Garrett Jestice: Yeah, so good. And I, I would say even outside of that orientation, just as reminders, right? As, as life circumstances, as, you know, pay rates may change to revisit that as you’re talking through this, I’m thinking. Man, when was the last time I looked at that, I need to go double check after this and make sure that I’m withholding the right amount.
Right. So, so thank you for the reminder. It’s been a couple of years and I need to recheck it. Right. I think that, I think we all do.
[00:19:54] Christine Stolpe: if it’s been a couple of years, it’s going to be a lot different. In 2019. That’s the last time we had the W-4s that asked for allowance numbers. Now, 2020 forward after the tax cuts and jobs act, there is no allowances. You can give us your status, right? You still have to tell us if you’re single or if you’re married, or if you’re the head of household.
Now, if you’re married, but you wanna claim single, just click single. There is no married, but withholding act single. You just click single, right? The, the rest of the form. Is only if it applies to you, do you fill it out. So that’s where you’ve got, childcare credits or dependent care credits. You can take those over the course of the year instead of having them be a big refund at the end of the year.
Right? So by taking them as a credit throughout the year, now your taxes on each of your paychecks are coming down and your take home each pay day is going up by that same amount that you would have gotten as a refund. So if you make the trade off, that’s the other thing to remind people now you’re not gonna get the refund, so please cut it out of your budget.
[00:21:01] Garrett Jestice: Yeah. Yeah, that’s a good point. Really, really good. So that kind of leads to the, the next question I have for you is, you know, what are some of the impacts or changes that we’ve seen, specifically to payroll that have been affected by the pandemic and everything that’s happened in the last few years?
Cuz I know there’s been a lot. So tell us, tell us just at a high level, some of the things that have happened.
I will tell you that in early 2020, we had a, massive, massive retirement from payroll, early retirement for some, because they, they saw what was coming. And they were just like, nope. and it happened throughout the course of 2020, actually. I’d say most of it happened probably at the beginning of 2021, because that’s when we had to file the taxes for 2020, and we had to do all the rebalancing.
[00:21:46] Christine Stolpe: So every time that an employer was offered the employee retention credit or ERC payments, they would say, okay, I had a biweekly payroll, I have seven employees. This is how much I was paying them, you know? So I’m gonna apply for this loan. And then they would use that loan money to continue making the payments to the employees.
At the end of all of that, right, that loan may or may not have to be paid back, but every penny that was paid out as PPP dollars had to be tracked. Every dollar had to be tracked that it came from one of those relief loans, right. In order to, so those ERCs, those employer retention credits were coming through as tax rates. Instead of as funds coming in. So that’s employers had to file their 941s a certain way in order to get the free money by taking a credit where they would have paid taxes. They, they got to say, this is what we would’ve paid, but we’re taking a credit as, as if we had paid it, but we are, we’re not really paying it.
Right. So that’s what the employee retention credit was all about. So that created a whole level of reconciliation that had to be done at the end of 2021. And now rolling into 2022, the other one was the deferral amounts. Employers were allowed to defer the social security that they contribute towards your social security.
So that 6.2% that comes out for social security or O A S D I, whatever they call it on your paychecks. That 6.2% is only half of the social security contribution. Your employer is also putting in six and a half, 6.2%, but during COVID, they were given the opportunity to defer those contributions. Until 2022 and then 2023.
[00:23:43] Garrett Jestice: Mm-hmm
[00:23:43] Christine Stolpe: So payroll had to help with financing, with finance to, accrue how much of the social security from each of the affected pay cycles. And then 50% of that was due along with their annual 2021 filings. And then next year, the other half will be due along. Whatever they end up awaiting for their 2022 filings in 2023.
So that’s, I mean, it’s still an issue to this day, right? We still have unemployment things coming up and smacking us in the face. Right. We, we weren’t, we were told to just approve every single, you know, unemployment claim that came through. They, they weren’t even gonna send them to us. They were just gonna approve everything.
Well, as payroll, we knew we were losing complete vision of our experience rates. Right. That’s something else that we’re tasked with. We have to know what our unemployment rate is and why is it that? Right. So now we’re tax experts too.
[00:24:44] Garrett Jestice: Yeah.
[00:24:45] Christine Stolpe: And, and then there was the whole, you know, we weren’t deemed essential. The, the dis the country of Australia was the only country during the entire pandemic that said that payrolls should be an essential worker.
[00:24:58] Garrett Jestice: Ugh.
[00:24:58] Christine Stolpe: Here in the U.S., we were not allowed to go into the offices. We were not allowed to leave our homes. But we still had to get people paid.
[00:25:05] Garrett Jestice: Yeah.
[00:25:06] Christine Stolpe: So if you got a paycheck during the pandemic, you have three times more reasons now to make sure that you are reaching out to your payroll pros during national payroll week and letting them know that, you know, you are grateful and that they are recognized and that they’re, they’re important that they matter.
[00:25:25] Garrett Jestice: Amen. I think I, I think it’s such great context. Anyone who’s listening, who doesn’t do payroll full time should probably hear what you said the last few minutes and be like, I need to go find my payroll person and thank them for everything they’ve done, especially the last few years. So this is awesome.
I’m super excited for national payroll week coming up so we can celebrate, you know, those awesome people. I mentioned, we have an amazing payroll team here internally at Eddy, and I know that you and so many others have worked tirelessly to continuously help us each get paid and help it be accurate and navigate the craziness of the last few years with the pandemic and everything else.
That’s impacted that. So thank you. And thank you to all the payroll experts out there. I think this has been an awesome conversation and looking forward to national payroll week, next week. So we are recording this on, it’s still in August, but it’s coming up here soon. and we will, be publishing this episode.
So hopefully most of you’ll be listening to this during national payroll week. So it’ll help you remember and find those people to. To thank so, Christine, this has been an awesome conversation. As we kind of wrap up here, I wanna switch directions just a little bit with one of the last questions I ask you, because I really like to get the unique points of view of some of our, our guests that we have on the podcast sometimes.
And so one of the ways I do that is, is with this question. So I’m curious, what’s a commonly held belief regarding payroll that, among small businesses, especially since that’s the majority of our audience, a commonly held belief that you disagree with. Tell us more about that.
I would have to say the lack of education. small business owners know that they don’t know a lot. Right. Cause they’re, they’re learning as they go. But when it comes to payroll, you don’t know what you don’t know until someone figures out that you did it wrong. So it’s, it, it may not seem like a big deal, but it’s better to ask the question than to make the error.
[00:27:31] Garrett Jestice: Great point. I totally agree. And so, and to that point, you know, reach out to the experts like Christine or those, that awesome payroll team that we have at Eddy, reach out to those people who are ready and willing and waiting to help you, because it’s one of those things that as a small business, you don’t wanna mess up.
Early on, right. It’s one of those things that you want to get, right. And it’s, it’s hopefully not trial by error, right. Or learning by, by errors that you make. Hopefully it’s something that you can get right in that process. Right.
[00:28:03] Christine Stolpe: Exactly.
[00:28:05] Garrett Jestice: Awesome. Well, Christine, last question I have for you is if there are listeners that want to connect with you and ask questions to follow up based on the conversation we had today, or to learn more about working with you, what’s the best way for them to do that?
[00:28:20] Christine Stolpe: The easiest way is LinkedIn. it’s Christine Stolpe, S T O L P E. I, I do have CPP on there as well. certified payroll professional. If, if you earn the initials might as well brag about ’em. and I also have a website for my business, which is triple W’s wagescreek.com,
[00:28:35] Garrett Jestice: Perfect. We will drop the links to both of those in the show notes. So you can find them there. Christine, thank you so much for joining with us today and hope you have a great rest of the day.
[00:28:43] Christine Stolpe: Happy national payroll week!
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