Payroll Accounting

(Last Updated On: April 24, 2017)

Lesson 12 in the Basic Accounting series

Small Business Accounting Payroll Examples

Payroll accounting involves both expense and liabilities accounts such as FICA Taxes Payable, Federal and State Income Tax Payable, Health Insurance Premiums Payable, etc.

Accounting for those taxes can get a little complex. This article will show you examples of small business accounting payroll entries.

Let me start out by saying payroll is one area of small business accounting that I recommend getting professional help or using payroll software.

There are many federal, state, and local laws that regulate payroll.

Keeping up to date on all of them can be a hard task.

There can also be fees and penalties for improperly handling your payroll.

However, even if you have a payroll service provider, it is important to know the basics of payroll accounting as you are the one that is ultimately responsible for your payroll.

Payroll Accounting vs Accounts Payable

To begin with, let me point out the difference between accounts payable that we discussed in the previous accounting lesson and payroll.

Accounts payable is a current liability account in your chart of accounts that accounts for invoices that your business owes and pays. 

Payroll is defined as the cost that your small business accrues as part of paying your employees. It is a current liability account too, but is recorded separately from accounts payable entries. 

Payroll is not just one account. It is made up of expenses and payroll payable accounts, such as;

  • wages
  • salaries
  • payroll taxes
  • payroll withholding

Payroll Accounts

Small business accounting payroll involves both expense and liability accounts.

Gross earnings are recorded using expense accounts such as salary or wage expense. Net pay for your employees is recorded using liability accounts such as net payroll payable, wage payable, or accrued wages payable.

Payroll liability accounts such as FICA (social security and medicare) tax payable and federal income tax payable are used to record withheld amounts owed to third parties.

The following is an example of some of the accounts you may set up to manage and record your payroll:

  • Salary or Wage Expense
  • FICA (Federal Insurance Contributions Act) Tax Payable
  • Federal Income Tax Withholding Payable
  • State Income Tax Withholding Payable
  • 401K Payable
  • Health Insurance
  • Wage Payable (employee’s net pay or take home pay)

Payroll Accounting Examples

In this section of small business accounting payroll , we will use a fictitious company to provide examples of journal entries to record gross wages, payroll withholding, and related payroll costs.

These journal entries can be used in a manual accounting system and also in a computerized accounting system such as QuickBooks. (For QuickBooks, simply click on “Company” then go to “Make General Journal Entries” and enter your payroll accounting journal entries.)


ABC Company has one employee, Mary Smith, that is paid weekly. The examples below are a typical weekly payroll journal entry which includes her gross wage, payroll withholding, and ABC Company’s cost.

Journal Entry #1:


Account Names                              




Wage Expense



FICA Tax Payable (7.65% x 720)




Federal Income Tax Payable


State Income Tax Payable


Health Insurance Payable


Wages Payable


When ABC Company issues Mary her paycheck, they would post the following entry to decrease (debit) the Wage payable account balance and decrease (credit) cash. (In computerized accounting systems such as QuickBooks…you will credit the bank account you are paying your employee from.)

Journal Entry #2:


Wage Payable        






In addition to the wages and withholding in the previous payroll  journal entries, ABC Company has incurred additional expenses that must be recorded.

These expenses include their share of Mary’s FICA, ABC Company’s estimated cost for unemployment tax, worker compensation insurance, and ABC Company’s portion of Mary’s health insurance.

Journal Entry #3:


ABC CO FICA Expense                                     



Unemployment Tax Expense



Workers Comp Insurance Expense


Health Insurance Expense


ABC Co FICA Payable


Unemployment Tax Payable


Workers Comp Insurance Payable


Health Insurance Payable


When it comes time to pay the payroll payable such as FICA and Federal Income Tax Payable, you would simply debit the payable accounts you are paying and credit cash.

Previous Section: Sales Tax Accounting

Get our FREE Accounting Spreadsheets Now!