How to Read Your Pay Stub

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While there is no set template for how employer's format their pay stubs, the following information provides a general explanation of the names, abbreviations, dates and amounts included on your paycheck.

Check Portion

The check portion may look similar to the image below.  If no amount is listed on the face of the check and the amount area is "starred" through, this indicates that the check was either deposited via direct deposit or there were no net funds after taxes and deductions to issue as a payment.  For example, servers who receive cash tips each night only pay taxes on those tips at the time of payroll and may find their hourly wages are exhausted by the taxes alone of those tips & wages.

Your address should be listed on the front; please update it with your employer if it is not accurate.  An accurate mailing address will insure your W2 is delivered without delays at the end of the calendar year.  Your employer's address should be listed at the top left of the check and your employer's bank listed on the top right side of the check.  The check date listed is the date the monies should be released to you, and/or funds will be deposited if the payment was issued by direct deposit.  However, be aware that direct deposits can be delayed if your employer's payroll was not processed more than 2 business days in advance of the check date.  If your deposit was delayed, please contact your employer to inquire about the timing of the deposit.

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Check Details Portion

The Check Details Portion (circled in yellow in the below image) shows the Pay Period Begin & End Dates, along with the Check Date again.  Pay Period Dates indicate the period of time over which you worked and accrued earnings.  Check Date is the date on which you were paid -- pay day. Your Hire Date is also listed in this section, as well as the Check Number or Deposit Transit Number if paid via direct deposit or net-zero check.

The Earnings Portion displays a detailed listing of any Earnings, Deductions and Payroll Taxes for the current paycheck, along with your Year-to-Date Earnings, Deductions and Taxes by type.  

In the following image, the amount in parenthesis corresponds to the paycheck's taxable wages, which are used when determining how much withholding and other employment taxes should be deducted from your wages.  If you suspect too much or too little withholding was taken, use the IRS Tax Withholding Estimator to determine if changes need to be made to your W4.

Full net pay for the paycheck and other summary information is listed along the bottom of the pay stub.  In the sample below, the combined net pay is $773.31, which was paid via a split between two direct deposit accounts: $618.65 and $154.66.

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Tax Names and Abbreviations

Employers also have unique naming methods for Earnings & Deductions, which makes decoding all those names and abbreviations on your paycheck a challenge. When in doubt, as your manager for clarification.

General Pay Stub Tax Abbreviations:

  • OASDI -  technical name for Social Security taxes, Old Age Survivors Disability Insurance
  • Medicare - tax type by the same name
  • Fed - Federal withholding, aka income taxes
  • CO - Colorado State withholding taxes; some states may have additional tax types listed beyond withholding, such as Occupational Privilege Taxes (OPT) 
    • Important: If you do not see "Fed" or "CO" or any state listed under your tax deductions, taxes were not withheld from the paycheck for those tax types. Review your W4 election to ensure the appropriate tax amounts are deducted from your paycheck.

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Disclaimer: This information is provided as a self-help tool and does not constitute legal or financial advice. Laws, regulations and lending products are changing daily and decisions as to whether or how to use this information and/or what actions to take are solely those of the reader. The providers of this information disclaim any and all responsibility and liability for its accuracy, completeness or fitness for your particular purposes.