What is FUTA Tax?

By Sarah Davis
Advertiser disclosure

If you are an employer, then you had best get familiar with the Federal Unemployment Tax Act, abbreviated as ‘FUTA’. All employers have to contribute to this tax, to assist in the unemployment account of the Federal government. FUTA is not relevant to employees.

When an employee is fired from a company, these funds are used as a form of compensation at the Federal level. States can also apply to this Federal fund if they have a high rate of unemployment and cannot cope. They must then repay the Federal government or face penalties.

What is FUTA?

FUTA is often discussed in tandem with the State Unemployment State Act (‘SUTA’) and the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (‘FICA’), both of which are explained in detail below. FUTA payments are often coordinated with SUTA taxes when a worker loses his or her job. The main requirements for FUTA are that:

  • You run a business in the United States.
  • You paid more than $1,500 in wages during any quarter in the past year.

The reason that SUTA taxes are often mentioned alongside FUTA is that SUTA payments are deductible from FUTA. So if you pay into SUTA your liability can be reduced all the way down to 0.6% for FUTA payments, with a  maximum 5.4% reduction. But if you don’t make SUTA payments on time, your FUTA obligations will increase.

Important Note: You cannot reduce your FUTA liabilities using SUTA payments in a credit reduction state. This is where a state borrowed funds from the Federal Unemployment Trust Fund and did not repay it by the due date. The result is that you may not be eligible for the full tax reduction of 5.4% until your state repays the funds it borrowed. As of Nov 2019, the Virgin Islands was the only credit reduction state.

FUTA and  SUTA funds are designed to protect the unemployed. Payments to these funds are labeled as ‘contributions’. Note that there are different requirements to meet each tax. For more details on SUTA contributions, you will need to locate your state employment department for further details. Both FUTA and SUTA were created together in 1939, as a response to an unemployment epidemic reaching 25%.

How is FUTA Calculated?

The FUTA tax is based on the wages and salaries of your employees. The rate is 6% on the first $7,000 of income for every employee. However, the effective rate can run as low as 0.6% in many instances. This is because SUTA taxes can be offset against FUTA taxes, to a maximum of 5.4%.

Most businesses will be paying the full amount of SUTA taxes. This means that the effective FUTA tax will be only 0.6%. To avail of this rate, the SUTA payments must be made on time.

Businesses who are not required to pay SUTA (for whatever reasons) will also get the lowest FUTA tax.

Calculating FUTA tax obligations is more straightforward than you might think. Let’s say you have 3 employees, John, Mary, and Frank. During the last quarter, you paid $10,000 to Mary, $5,000 to John, and $1,000 to Frank. Your total obligation is $13,000 (Only the first $7,000 of each employee is considered, so the max per employee per quarter is $7,000.)

The total amount subject to FUTA tax in this quarter would be $13,000 ($7,000 + $5,000 + $1,000 = $13,000).  At a minimal tax rate of 0.6%, the FUTA deposit would be $13,000 * 0.006, for a total of $78. As this is less than the minimum of $500, no funds would have to be deposited, unless the previous quarter had a weight greater than $422.

Exemptions to FUTA Payments

There are a number of payments made to employees that do not qualify for FUTA contributions. These payments will include:

  • Life insurance benefits.
  • Payment for dependent care.
  • Fringe benefits – travel expenses, health plans, lodging, flight tickets, etc
  • Contributions to retirement accounts such as 401(k).

Outside of these areas, all areas of employee wages (including bonuses and promotions) are subject to FUTA. A full list of FUTA exemptions can be found on the official IRS 940 FUTA tax return. Remember that even if your business closed or was sold last year, you still have to take care of FUTA and other tax obligations.

Regardless of business size, FUTA is a necessity. If you are a small, medium, large, or corporate entity, FUTA must be paid, along with SUTA, Social Security, Medicare, Sales Tax, and any other necessary items. 

How and Where Do I Pay FUTA Taxes?

The IRS encourages people to file their FUTA taxes (and, indeed, all taxes) electronically. And it’s a lot easier to file electronically than by mail. For more information on electronic filing, see this site. A table of mailing addresses for paper filing is outlined below, for those who do wish to opt for the traditional filing route.

Location of Business ResidenceFUTA Form Without PaymentFUTA Form With Payment
Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, WisconsinDepartment of the Treasury Internal Revenue Service Kansas City, MO 64999-0006Internal Revenue Service P.O. Box 806531 Cincinnati, OH 45280-6531
Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington, WyomingDepartment of the Treasury Internal Revenue Service Ogden, UT 84201-0046Internal Revenue Service P.O. Box 932000 Louisville, KY 40293-2000
Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin IslandsInternal Revenue Service P.O. Box 409101 Ogden, UT 84409Internal Revenue Service P.O. Box 932000 Louisville, KY 40293-2000
Location UnlistedInternal Revenue Service P.O. Box 409101 Ogden, UT 84409Internal Revenue Service P.O. Box 932000 Louisville, KY 40293-2000
EXCEPTIONs – >  for tax-exempt organizations, federal, state, and local governments, and Indian tribal governments, regardless of your locationDepartment of the Treasury Internal Revenue Service Ogden, UT 84201-0046Internal Revenue Service P.O. Box 932000 Louisville, KY 40293-2000

When Do I Pay FUTA Taxes?

To pay FUTA taxes, you will need to familiarize yourself with the IRS Form 940, mentioned above. This is one of the most common tax forms, along with Form 1040 and Schedule SE.

IRS Form 940 contains all of the relevant details with regard to FUTA. If your FUTA tax obligations were more than $500 in any given quarter, then you must file the relevant paperwork on the last day of the month after that quarter.

If your FUTA obligations are less than $500 in any given quarter, then you file in the next quarter when the obligation is above $500. The table below lists the FUTA dates.

Undeposited FUTA tax more than $500 on: Deposit Tax by:
March 31April 30
June 30July 31
September 30October 31
December 31January 31

What Constitutes An Employee for FUTA Taxes?

All full time and part-time employees are to be included in FUTA calculations. But this only applies to employees and not other workers types. This is a huge relief to businesses that make extensive use of freelancers/independent contractors, as well as consultants. For businesses that are run as a partnership, the partner does not qualify as an employee under FUTA.

If you employ a household worker (somebody who performs work in a home or college club/fraternity) then you can either file the typical IRS Form 940 or the standard Schedule H. Household employers that paid more than $1,000 in any given quarter to an employee will be liable under FUTA.

What Organizations Are Exempt from FUTA Calculations?

A number of businesses are exempt from FUTA payments, as listed on the IRS Form 940. All organizations set up under section 501 (c) of the IRS tax code are exempt. This includes religious, scientific, educational, charitable, and other non-profit institutions.

Many Indian tribal governments are also exempt from filing FUTA IRS Form 940s (i.e. from paying FUTA taxes). However, there are certain conditions that need to be met. The Indian tribal government must have participated in the state unemployment system for the preceding year and be in compliance with the provisions under section 3309(d).

While some organizations are exempt completely, others will have special requirements due to their unique circumstances. For businesses in the agricultural industry, the wages of $20,000 per quarter are the minimum threshold for the purpose of FUTA. 10 or more employees will need to have been working at the same time.

The State Unemployment Act (‘SUTA’)

Every state has an unemployment fund, mandated by the State Unemployment Act. While FUTA is easy to understand with a single 6% rate paid quarterly, SUTA can get complex. This is because each state will have special requirements. The rate may change each year, and so can the total taxable minimum income. In addition, certain industries could have different rates, depending on how well they are doing.

This means that a business could be required to pay more than the 0.6% as stipulated under FUTA. But they will never pay less than it unless they are exempt for some particular reason. Another item to keep in mind is that states use different names for their SUTA obligations. Some states call it a re-employment tax, others refer to it as State Unemployment Insurance (‘SUI’), and more label it the Department of Unemployment Assistance (‘DUA’) payment.

Exploring FICA and SECA

FICA is the most common social welfare tax. It consists of taxes to pay for Social Security programs (housing projects, veterans, disability, retirement, etc) and Medicare. There is no way to avoid paying these contributions.

The higher the wage of the employee, the higher FICA will be. FICA rates are set annually, though they can remain the same (the current 2020 rate is the same as for 2019). FICA is paid by both employers and employees.

Self-employed business owners pay a Self Employment Tax (‘SECA’) consisting of Social Security and Medicare. To simplify, employees pay FICA while employers pay SECA, which are the same thing (Medicare and Social Security). However, employers pay half of the employee FICA, which can make things complex.

Social security contributions do have a max limit, after which no further contributions need to be paid. Presently, the max limit for social security contributions is $137,700. There is no max for Medicare contributions, however.

Important Note: On March 27th, President Trump signed a CoronaVirus stimulation package. Employers can defer half their social security obligations until December 2021 with the other half to be paid in December 2022.

As a simple example of a self-employment tax contribution. A business owner that earned $250,000 would pay 6.2% for social security (on $137,700) and 1.45% for Medicare (on $250,000). The total would be $8,537 for social security and $3,625 for Medicare, summing up to $12,162. The employer would then have to pay FUTA and SUTA separately and match the Medicare contributions made by employees.

Best Ways to Minimize FUTA, SUTA, and FICA Obligations

The best way to reduce all of these obligations is to make use of independent contractors as much as possible. It is Federally mandated that employers pay for FUTA, SUTA, and FICA taxes. These taxes really add up – especially when taking into account all the other considerations like hiring and interviews, insurance, training, recruitment, etc.

Other than this, there is no real way to reduce these obligations. The best thing to do is to get a good accountant who can give you advice and fill in the relevant documentation on time. The sloppier you are with filing tax returns, the bigger they will get. As a rule of thumb, it’s better to file quarterly so you can manage cash flow. It’s never nice to have to pay a large sum of money to the tax office near the end of the year.

Self-employed individuals will need to file a Schedule C (also known as IRS Form 1040 ) each quarter. In addition to this, self-employed persons must file a Form SE. Schedule C is useful in determining your tax obligations. Penalties and interest will accrue on all tax payments that are late.

FUTA & General Taxes Comparison Table

The major taxes that employers have to pay include FUTA, SUTA, Sales Tax, Medicare, and Social Security. All of these taxes are outlined in the table below. These are the official rates, but be mindful that there are always going to be subcategories, deductions, and other factors that can increase or decrease your liability.

TaxPercentageConditions
Sales Tax (’VAT’)10%Applied at final point of sale (retailer, wholesalers, etc excluded)
SUTAVaries by State. Generally 2%-5%Employers only.
FUTA6%. Can be reduced to 0.6%Employers only
Medicare1.45% (matched by employer)Employers and Employees. Rate can go to 2.4% for employees earning above $200,000.
Social Security6.2%Employers and Employees

The Bottom Line

FUTA is a necessary tax that does not amount to much for small business owners. But it still helps to understand this tax and its relationship to SUTA and FICA. FUTA and SUTA obligations alone will total 6%, which is a hefty quarterly tax on the first $7,000 of employee wages. It can also hit small businesses disproportionately to large enterprises.

FUTA FAQs

What is the FUTA tax in brief?

The FUTA tax is a mandatory obligation on business owners with employees, who paid more than $1,500 in wages in a given quarter. These taxes go to a Federal fund to assist the unemployed.

What is the FUTA tax rate?

The FUTA tax rate is 6% as a default on the first $7,000 earned by an employee. However, there are significant tax deductions available down to 0.6%.

How do I avoid paying this tax?

There are no ways to avoid paying this tax unless you do not have any employees or you are an exempt entity as described under the IRS Form 940 guidelines. You can greatly reduce FUTA by paying your SUTA obligations on time or by using independent contractors.

What payments are exempt from FUTA tax?

Life insurance, retirement contributions, fringe benefits, and dependent care payments are exempt from FUTA calculations.

When is FUTA tax due?

The FUTA tax deposit is due the last day of each quarter (March, June, September, December) where the total obligations exceed $500. Whenever the FUTA obligation exceeds $500, a FUTA deposit is due on the last day of that quarter.

What is additional Medicare withholding?

Employees that earn more than $200,000 are subject to an additional 0.9% tax on top of the 1.45%. This additional tax is withheld by the employer for payment.

Sarah Davis
Sarah Davis
Sarah Davis is a business executive specializing in mergers and acquisitions, corporate finance, and international law. She achieved her MBA from Cornell University after completing a legal undergraduate at UC Berkley. Sarah runs her own business consultancy firm in tandem with working alongside the FinImpact team.