Welcome to the workforce, new workers! Whether you’re beginning the career of a lifetime or just earning some extra money for the school year to come, there is one question that is likely to hit you when you see your first pay stub: “What is the FICA, and why is my paycheck less because of it?”
Generally, employers are required to withhold Social Security and Medicare tax from a worker’s paycheck. Your employer matches the amounts you pay in Social Security and Medicare taxes. Usually the money we withhold is referred to as “Social Security taxes” on the employee’s payroll statement. Sometimes the deduction is labeled as “FICA taxes,” which stands for Federal Insurance Contributions Act, and sometimes OASDI, or Old Age Survivor and Disability Insurance. Name aside, what’s important is how that money is being used, and what’s in it for you down the road.
The taxes you pay now translate to a lifetime of protection, when you eventually retire or if you become disabled. If you die, your dependent children and spouse may be able to receive survivors benefits based on your work. Today you probably have family members — grandparents, for example — who already enjoy Social Security benefits that your Social Security taxes help provide.
You may be a long way from retirement now, so you may find it hard to appreciate the value of benefits that could be 40 or 50 years away. But consider that your Social Security taxes could pay off sooner than you think. Social Security provides valuable disability benefits — and studies show that a 20-year-old has about a three in 10 chance of becoming disabled sometime before reaching retirement age.
Don’t be tempted if you’re offered a job “under the table” or “off the books.” If you work for any employer who pays you cash, you’re likely not getting Social Security credit for the work you’re doing and potentially missing out on future benefits.
Want to learn more about Social Security and what it means to young workers? If so, we invite you to enjoy an online video: Social Security 101: What’s In It For Me? The webcast will fill you in on the details you should know to get the most out of Social Security. Check it out at www.socialsecurity.gov/webinars/social_security_101.html.
Here’s another tip: open a my Social Security account so that you can access your Social Security Statement. That will allow you to make sure your earnings are recorded properly each year — and you can get estimates of what your future benefits may be. You can easily open a my Social Security account at www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount.
If you have questions about Social Security, the best place to go is www.socialsecurity.gov.