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What are the FICA Taxes?

Written by Nickel - 32 Comments

Have you ever wondered about those pesky FICA taxes that show up every paycheck? These are federal payroll taxes collected under the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA). These taxes are used to support Social Security and Medicare. My employer denotes them as FICA-OASDI (Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance) and FICA-HI (Hospital Insurance), respectively.

Calculating Your FICA Taxes

The Social Security portion of the FICA tax is a flat 6.2% of gross compensation for wage earners, whereas the Medicare portion of the tax is 1.45%. These taxes are levied on both the employee and employer so, for every dollar taken from your paycheck, your employer is also paying a dollar. Of course, if you’re self-employed, you are both employer and employee. As such, these tax rates are effectively doubled to 12.4% and 2.9% for Social Security and Medicare, respectively.

The good news here is that, if you make enough money, the Social Security tax goes away. In 2006, the Social Security threshold was $94,200. In 2007 it was $97,500, and in 2008 it was $102,000. Thus, every dollar over $102k that you earned in 2008 is free of the 6.2% (or 12.4%) FICA-OASDI tax, though it’s still subject to the 1.45% (or 2.9%) FICA-HI tax.

While your employer should be aware of this cutoff and automatically stop withholding FICA-OASDI when you pass the threshold, you should keep an eye on them just to be sure. Also, if you work multiple jobs, or change jobs mid-year, you have to be especially careful, as each employer has no idea what’s going one elsewhere. If you pass the threshold in aggregate, they’ll withhold too much. The good news is that you can claim the overage back when you file your income taxes.

FICA Exemptions

While nothing in life is certain except for death and taxes, it’s actually possible to get out of paying FICA taxes, but only under very specific circumstances. As it turns out, students that are enrolled half-time (or more) at a university and who are also working part-time for that university are exempt from FICA payroll taxes. Aside from that, you’re on the hook for these taxes.

Published on January 6th, 2009
Modified on June 23rd, 2011 - 32 Comments
Filed under: Taxes

About the author: is the founder and editor-in-chief of this site. He's a thirty-something family man who has been writing about personal finance since 2005, and guess what? He's on Twitter!

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32 Responses to “What are the FICA Taxes?”

  1. 1
    Eric J. Nisall Says:

    Very thorough and informative explanation, especially pointing out the student/university employment relationship-I don’t think it is something that is widely known. One thing to add: cafeteria/Sec 125 plans are one way of reducing the tax liability since contributions to these plans are made pre-tax.

  2. 2
    Erich Says:

    Another exception to FICA is working for the government. Not all government workers mind you, but some. I work for the state of Illinois, and I pay 8% of my wage into a retirement plan set up for state workers. This is not optional, but is in lieu of FICA and is a better deal (IMO).

    Regards,
    Erich

  3. 3
    philip Says:

    Thanks for the explanation, I was attending and working at a university and saw that it was charged on one paycheck for some reason, but then never again so I did not worry about it. I just knew that generally I never paid all of it and my check was a little better each week.

    I actually thought that it was all university employees, not just ones that are students also, now I won’t sound like an idiot when talking to someone else about this.

  4. 4
    nickel Says:

    philip: If you work over the summer and don’t take classes, you’re not exempt during that time period. Maybe your one aberrant check happened during a period when you weren’t taking classes?

  5. 5
    thomas Says:

    I believe I paid FICA when in the military. That’s a gov’t job.

    I never noticed the designation OASDIA until I saw it on my wife’s pay stub (she’s a teacher).

    Wouldn’t it be great to check a box that said “no thanks” and get to keep that money to invest on your own?

  6. 6
    Craig Says:

    I always just look at it every pay check and see how much money is being taken out. Never had a real understanding behind it. Thanks for clarifying that in a simple manner for me and everyone.

  7. 7
    doug Says:

    ‘These taxes are levied on both the employee and employer so, for every dollar taken from your paycheck, your employer is also paying a dollar. ‘

    :::

    No, the employee pays ALL that payroll tax (15.3%).

    Employer pays none of it, but merely with-holds that 15.3% from the workers paycheck… and hands it directly to the government taxman.

    An employer hiring an employee always calculates how much that new employee is gonna cost in total compensation. If the taxman demands 7.65% from the employer for each employee, the employer simply reduces the direct pay offered to the employee in hiring & promotions … by 7.65%. The worker never sees that money/tax — and is deceived in believing his employer is generously paying half his FICA/Medicare taxes.

    It’s pure FlimFlam.

    This issue comes up here periodically… thought we brought the truth to light previously ??

  8. 8
    nickel Says:

    doug: Tomato, tomahto. It’s part of your total compensation, the same as the employer contribution to things like health benefits. In fact, you could further argue that the employee is paying their own share of the electric bill, rent, etc., since those sorts expenses arguably keep the employer from paying the employee a higher salary. If it makes you feel better to say it your way then, by all means, do so. The point here is that there’s an “invisible” contribution that doesn’t come out of your stated salary (or wages, as the case may be), but… If you’re self-employed, then you need to explicitly account for that additional amount out of the money that you’re taking in.

  9. 9
    SimplyForties Says:

    Thanks for this information. My son just happens to be a full-time college student working at his college. I’ve passed the tip on to him.

    Unfortunately, as a self-employed person, I am aware of how much I pay, but I’m glad he’s getting a break!

  10. 10
    Eric J. Nisall Says:

    Also remember that even though you may be self-employed, the same limits apply to you as well.

  11. 11
    Tung Says:

    You can also avoid that by using your health spending acccount and/or dependant care. So on top of your tax rate, you’re saving an additional 7.65% off your taxes. Please use your spending account if you have it, especially the dependant care if you haev kids in day care!!!

  12. 12
    BillMcg Says:

    What if you decide to take reduced benefits at 62 but continue to work… do you still pay into FICA-OASDI? It would seem nuts since you would get a rebate on those payments when you do you taxes!

  13. 13
    samantha Says:

    I have a question about FICA and FICA-OASDI taxes. I am a graduate student, but working as an intern for a county (government). I am wondering if I am excempted for the above two tax deds. They always show up in my paycheck ?

  14. 14
    Diana Says:

    My son attended a state college in MA. and also worked for the same college for two semesters, they did not take out these taxes and when I did his taxes I was unaware of this exemption and figured he owed taxes because they did not take them out, can he file an amendment to get his money back????

  15. 15
    Bevy Says:

    Still the rich get richer while the poor get poorer! No way out. We live in America where the Gov. rules.

  16. 16
    Wayners Says:

    The article leaves out another way to get out of FICA entirely. If you can live entirely on Capital Gains and Dividends from buying and selling just about any asset, you don’t have to pay FICA at all. Only people that work JOBS pay FICA. The real rich (idle rich) don’t work JOBS and don’t pay in. Instead they collect assets, collect lease money, and buy and sell assets and don’t pay a dime.

  17. 17
    Abe Lincoln Says:

    You are also exempt from this if you are Amish. Seriously. It is against that religion to pay into any insurance program because it is an attempt to deny God’s will.

  18. 18
    Al Oglethorpe Says:

    My wife works in Afghanistan for civilian contractor. The first 91,400.00 is exempt of fed. income tax. Does that also include FICA-OASDI & FICA-HI tax?

  19. 19
    Stef Elington Says:

    FICA is not Social Security, its just another income
    Tax – ponzi scheme – Read Income Tax: Shattering the myths by Dave Champion

  20. 20
    Stef Elington Says:

    Furthermore none of the income tax BS ever applied to
    the vast majority of people living and working in
    the 50 states – 99% plus – read the tax code you wont
    find any part that makes you liable- Non resident aliens and their withholding agents are liable but not
    you–read the tax code and then read Income Tax: Shattering the myths by Dave Champion.

  21. 21
    CriticalThinker Says:

    While I’m sure the Dave Champion book is entertaining anger fodder, I’d recommend reading this before deciding not to “volunteer” to pay your taxes:
    http://www.irs.gov/taxpros/art.....c224375578

  22. 22
    Stef Elington Says:

    Good luck in finding anything in the Federal Tax code
    that would make a guy selling hot dogs in Boston Mass liable – You become liable when you open a bank account
    with a Federal tax ID – fill out forms etc…
    The government can only tax a privilaged activity like
    selling tobacco or beer-(thats in the constitution)
    Congress was never granted the power to tax the wages
    and earnings of state citizens.
    Screw the Irs, The UN, the Federal Reserve and the Queen of England.

  23. 23
    Sandy Says:

    Every single one of these oafs that rant against the government are the first to stand in line demanding they get the disability benefit owed to them — even if they made minimum wage their whole life and, between medicare and disability, will receive 100x more than they paid.

  24. 24
    Harry Says:

    since I’m retired [72] and still doing part time work should I be still paying fica and medicare since it doesnt add to my benefits? or should it be returned with my income tax?

  25. 25
    Barbara Says:

    I am a single mother of two children, i do get a little help with my rent through gov. But I am denied of any futher help for where im employed I make to much and going by my gross income! With all taxes including this FICA I get well over $100 taken from me weekly. I am barely making it fica takes 22 dollars a week I could really use that to pay bills feed my children and or get them finer things but cant…my point is whats im trying to get across is single mothers that want to work for a living should also get a break from all this tax including fica taking from us. And one more things I tried to get help with food from signing up 45 to and hour wait then my 30 minute interview I was denied and was told my son he was getting cut off medicaid!!!

  26. 26
    justin Says:

    I love that statement. Why can’t single mothers be exempt well that’s probly because they get assistance with more than they should. I think its absurd that single fathers like myself fight for any type of help with our kids because were the wrong sex. I recive no help or assistance of any kind it requires me to work multipule jobs just to make sure my daughter is taken care of, so I’m sorry if i have no support to a sex that gets everything on a silver platter and feels its there right ill agree with helping single parents. But just single mothers that’s not equality wich there is no more.

  27. 27
    Brett Says:

    The problem here is blaming others who read their pay stubs every week. The real boogeymen are the crap-shoot capitalists on wall-street who don’t clock in and out everyday for a wage or salary. The devils who lobby to have their capital gains taxed at nothing next to an honest days work. The fact that someone privileged enough to make more than $105k doesn’t chip in in times of economic uncertainty. Dont blame the single mother, disabled, retired…blame the man upstairs who doesn’t pay his fair share… Who knows when you might need it, too.
    EAT THE RICH!

  28. 28
    SMB Says:

    I have a good question, why would this not be taken out of a truck driver paycheck? I am not an owner-operator (therefor independent) but am just a company driver. I worked in a payroll dept at one previous job, so when I noticed this not being taken out, I wondered, but have yet to call and ask.

  29. 29
    Carrie Says:

    It this tax taken out every year?? My husband reached his amount so the last two checks did not have any amount taken out so does it start over at the beginning of next year?

  30. 30
    Carrie Says:

    I am answering my own question: Yes you have to pay this every year even though it will not be their for me when I need it when I am old enough!

  31. 31
    Lyman Anderson Says:

    I retired from teaching this year, but was hired back on a contract basis for the new term.
    There are no taxes or OASDI being withheld from my paycheck – (I receive the gross pay).
    I know that I have to pay state and federal income taxes, but I am confused as to whether I have to pay OASDI, since I am retired; and if I do, what percentage? And also, what would be the payment schedule and where to send it?

    Thanks

  32. 32
    Turk Talley Says:

    Is there any way I can see any of the money I put in on FICA OASDI?

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