The maximum amount of earnings subject to the 6.2% Social Security payroll tax climbed to a record $132,900 in 2021.
In other words, those lucky enough to have jobs and earn $132,900 or more will have to pay $8,240 a year in Social Security tax. This tax would be fine if Social Security was fully funded, but at the current rate, retired citizens will only get about 70% of the expected payout by 2040.
But of course, you can’t forget about Medicare, which is 1.45% of all income earned. And Medicare doesn’t have an income cap. So the reality is that a $132,900 a year laborer will have to pay $8,240 in Social Security tax plus $1,927 in Medicare tax for a total of $10,167 in 2021. That total taxation number is likely to go up in 2021 and beyond.
If you are “unlucky” enough to be your own boss, you’ve got to pay the 6.2% Social Security tax + 1.45% Medicare tax times two (employer plus employee)! In other words, a self-employed individual making $132,900 will now have to pay over $20,300 a year in Social Security + Medicare tax.
And the great irony is, good luck trying to collect unemployment benefits if your business goes bust.
Out of the estimated 173 million workers who will pay Social Security taxes in 2021, about 12 million (7%) will be paying more. But as I’ve shown you before, anybody who makes between $100,000 – $200,000 and lives in a large city is considered middle class. Therefore, we can conclude the middle class is getting punched in the face even harder.
Don’t forget, there’s also the 0.9% Additional Medicare Tax on employees that went into effect in 2013. If you make more than the below thresholds, you’ve got to pony up 2.35% in Medicare taxes (1.45% standard + 0.9% additional).
The semi good news is if you’re self-employed, the employer Medicare rate stops at 1.45% and is exempt from the additional 0.9% even if you make more than these thresholds. The bad news is these income amounts aren’t being adjusted for inflation, so more and more people are getting subject to the additional 0.9% every year.
It’s important to always look at the bright side of higher Social Security and Medicare taxes.
1) The more taxes we pay in, the higher the chance we’ll actually receive the full amount of Social Security and Medicare promised to us. Hopefully most of us have already completely written off any sort of Social Security benefits by the time we reach our 60s and 70s. It’s always good to have low expectations of government promises.
2) We insure that more working people pitch in to pay for our great country. It’s very hard to avoid payroll taxes. Yes, if you do the math, 173 million workers who will pay payroll taxes equals only 54% of the estimated 319 million people in the United States. But 54% of the nation paying taxes is better than a sharp stick in the eye! The other 46% of the population are too young, too sick, too poor, too unwilling, or too old.
3) The government controls more people by making them afraid of becoming free thinkers who are independently wealthy. Why do you think the first thing Chairman Mao and Fidel Castro did when they got into power was confiscate land from the wealthy and send them to farm? Having to pay 7.65% in payroll taxes as a laborer is already painful. To pay 15.3% in payroll taxes as an entrepreneur is oppressive. The less people realize the massive upside of being an entrepreneur, the less people will threaten government.
4) Higher taxes encourage people to make a whole lot more than $132,900 to get a “bargain” on every incremental dollar earned. The tax cuts that went into effect in 2021 have practically abolished the marriage penalty tax, eliminated the top 39.6% tax bracket, and raised the income threshold for the highest 37% marginal tax rate. The only problem is that SALT deductions have been limited to $10,000, which is a blow to expensive coastal city inhabitants.
If you’re stuck in the rat race, there’s really no way around paying Social Security and Medicare taxes. If you’re earning close to the maximum income of $132,900 subjected to Social Security taxes, it’s not like you’re going to tell your boss to give you a pay cut. Instead, you’re going to continue kissing butt in hopes of getting that amazing 3% pay raise next year just so you can afford to pay for the tax hike!
If you’re self-employed, you’ve got more flexibility. You could choose to pay yourself a lower wage and give yourself more in distributions, which aren’t subject to payroll taxes. For example, let’s say you brought home $200,000 in operating profits (revenue – operating expenses) before taxes.
You could theoretically pay yourself $30,000 in wages and give yourself a $170,000 distribution so you’re only paying $4,590 in Social Security and Medicare taxes ($30,000 X 15.3%) versus taking home $200,000 in wages and $0 in distributions and having to pay $15,772.80 SS ($127,200 X 12.4%) + $5,800 Medicare ($200,000 X 2.9%) = $21,572.80. That’s a huge $16,982.80 in tax savings!
If the $200,000 entrepreneur was a W2 employee instead of being self-employed, his/her tax bill would be $7,886.4 SS ($132,900 X 6.2%) + $2,900 Medicare ($200,000 X 1.45%) = $11,40. So it’s hard to call $16,982.80 a complete “savings.”
The risk of paying only 15% of your operating profits as a salary is that you might get audited. How much an entrepreneur with an S-Corp can pay himself in income and distributions is a gray area. I’ve argued for a ratio of no greater than 50/50.
Finally, the absolute best way to counteract ever-rising payroll taxes is to simply earn income that is NOT subject to payroll taxes! What types of income are not subject to payroll taxes? Here’s a list.
* Dividend income
* Bond income
* Rental income
* Venture debt income
* Private equity income
* P2P income
* CD interest income
* Capital gains
* Student income, ministerial income, exempt wage income
* Real estate crowdsourcing income – I’ve personally invested $810,000 in real estate crowdfunding to invest in lower valuation, higher net rental yield properties across the heartland of America. There is a multi-decade trend of workers and companies moving away from the expensive coasts thanks to technology and the rise of remote work.
What’s also good about investment income is that you may get some tax breaks on income and capital gains. The tax rate on long-term (more than one year) gains is 15%, except for high-income taxpayers ($400,000 for singles, $450,000 for married couples) who must pay 20%. High-rate taxpayers will typically pay the healthcare surtax as well, for an all-in rate of 23.8%.
Qualified dividends have a tax rate of 15%. Meanwhile, there are no federal taxes due on income produced by municipal bonds. For those who invest in their own state’s municipal bonds, there isn’t state income tax due either.
Knowing the government will never efficiently manage other people’s money, I started building a passive income portfolio in 2000 so I could have more of my money back. As soon as you can make enough passive income to cover all your living expenses, you are not only free to do whatever you want, you’re also free of the 7.65% payroll tax for employees and 15.3% payroll tax for the self-employed!
Because the government is always going after income, wealth is much more important for financial freedom. For example, you could be worth $10,000,000 and not have to pay payroll taxes or income taxes since you can live off your investments. You could also partake in subsidized healthcare under the Affordable Care Act. Further, your kids could get 100% of their college tuition paid for by universities given they determine grants by income and not by wealth.
The more you work, the more you have to pay in taxes. Instead, work smarter by focusing on building more investment income or equity in a business, especially as corporate taxes are getting cut. You can build wealth up to $11.4 million as an individual or $22.8 million as a married couple before the estate tax kicks in.
From now on, really think about how all your income sources are taxed. Do you really want to work all day for the privilege of paying federal income tax, state income tax, city income tax, Social Security tax, Medicare tax, and so forth? Just like inflation, tax increases will never end.
Updated for 2021 and beyond.