Introduction to Payroll Accounting

Payroll Accounting is the method of accounting for payroll. Payroll is the aggregate expenditure on wages and salaries incurred by a business in an accounting period. It can also refer to a listing of employees giving details of their pay.

Payroll includes the gross pay due to the employee and employer taxes. The gross pay is divided into net pay actually received by the employee and deductions made from the gross pay for employee taxes and other deductions such as pension contributions.

In payroll accounting it is important to distinguish between employee taxes which are deducted from the employees gross pay and are therefore paid by the employee, and employer taxes which are in addition to the gross pay and paid by the employers.

Both payroll taxes are usually collected by the employer and paid over to the relevant tax authority.

The analysis of payroll is shown below:

Payroll Accounting
Gross Pay Employer tax
Net pay Employee tax Deductions Employer tax

Payroll Accounting and the Recording of Payroll

Different Countries have their own employer and employee tax situations and the taxes and deductions may have different names, but the basic payroll accounting procedures are the same.

As an example of payroll accounting, if gross pay is £2,000 and employee tax is £600 with no further deductions, then the net pay due do the employee is £1,400. The payroll accounting journal entries would be as follows:

Payroll Accounting – Gross pay
Account Debit Credit
Gross Wages 2,000
Employee tax 600
Net Wage Control 1,400
Total 2,000 2,000

The gross wage is the cost charged to profit and loss. The employee tax control is a balance sheet control account representing the amount due to the tax authority, and the net wage control is also a balance sheet control account representing the amount due to the employee.

In addition the employer tax liability needs to be recorded with the following payroll accounting journal entry:

Payroll Accounting – Employer tax
Account Debit Credit
Employer tax 300
Employer tax control 300
Total 300 300

The first entry is the cost charged to the profit and loss, and the second entry is the liability to the tax authorities recorded in the balance sheet.

When you pay the employees using cash, the entry is to the net wage control account

Payroll Accounting – Gross pay
Account Debit Credit
Cash 1,400
Net Wage Control 1,400
Total 1,400 1,400

Any difference on this account should be reconciled by the payroll accounting team, as it means an employee has either been underpaid or overpaid.

Finally the tax authority is paid and the tax control accounts are cleared using the following payroll tax accounting journal.

Payroll Accounting – Payment to tax authority
Account Debit Credit
Cash 900
Employee tax control 600
Employer tax control 300
Total 900 900

Again the control accounts should net to zero after the payments have been made, and any difference needs to be investigated before completing that periods payroll accounting.


Unpaid wages are wages which have been earned by an employee during an accounting period but which remain unpaid at the end of the accounting period.

Under the accruals basis of accounting an adjusting entry needs to be made to provide for the unpaid wages based on the hours worked and the wage rate.

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