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Withholding Tax Deposit Deadlines and Late Payment Penalties updated 3/3/15

See IRS Publication 15 (Circular E)

Deposit requirement

Employers are required to make deposits against liability for quarterly employment tax returns (form 941) for each payroll period. Deposit frequency is determined based on the amount of withheld income tax and social security liability for a 12-month "lookback"" period" for each calendar year ending on the prior June 30

Taxpayers must make deposits using electronic funds transfers (EFT). The penalty for failure to use EFT is 10%. Reg § 31.6302-1(h)(2).

The timeliness of EFT deposits is determined by the date received by the depository. ETA, Electronic Tax Application, payments are deemed paid when received by Federal Reserve Bank.


Penalty amounts under IRC § 6656

Pyramiding of penalties

Once a taxpayer is behind in payments, penalties can "pyramid". E.g., assume a $10,000 employment tax deposit is due January 15, but only $5,000 is actually paid. Additional deposits of $10,000 due on February 15 and March 15 are each actually paid in full. Under the old statute, the IRS would apply $5,000 of the February deposit to the January shortfall (creating a February shortfall), and, in turn, $5,000 of the March deposit to the February deposit resulting in a march shortfall, causing a 10% penalty to be incurred in each of the 3 months in question.

Designating the period to which penalties are applied to in order to reduce penalties

In contrast, penalties may be reduced by designating the period payments are to be applied to under the Internal Revenue Service Restructuring and Reform Act of 1998. For the above example, the taxpayer could designate the February and March deposits be applied in full to those months, rather than letting the IRS automatically apply payments to the oldest outstanding deposit obligation (and creating further shortfalls and penalties). This designation of payment application results in a 10% penalty for the month of January only. Taxpayers generally have only 90 days after notice of a penalty is received to designate the period to which a particular penalty payment is to be applied.