Payroll is one thing that every business has to get right — not only to keep employees happy but to stay out of trouble with the IRS (Internal Revenue Service). The laws and regulations governing payroll-tax withholding, deductions and reporting are extremely complex, and the penalties for noncompliance are steep. The rules do not stay the same, either; every year, the IRS finds new ways to get its due. Staying on top of these ever-changing rules is a full-time job in itself.

Fortunately, there are resources you can use to make sure you are in compliance and to answer questions that may arise about how to treat various forms of compensation .

The IRS Web Site

The IRS's official Web site is the ultimate source for all matters relating to payroll. From the site, you can download current guidance on many payroll matters, including:

  • Publication 15 - Circular E, Employer's Tax Guide
  • Publication 15-A - Employer's Supplemental Tax Guide
  • Publication 15-B - Employer's Tax Guide to Fringe Benefits
  • Publication 505 - Tax Withholding and Estimated Taxes
  • Publication 509 - Tax Calendars (when to file what)
  • Publication 521 - Moving Expenses
  • Publication 525 - Taxable and Nontaxable Income
  • Publication 553 - Highlights of Tax Changes
  • Publication 910 - Guide to Free Tax Services

The IRS Web site also has PDF copies of all the forms that you need to file.

The APA (American Payroll Association)

The APA's (American Payroll Association) Web site is also an excellent tool for finding answers to specific payroll questions. A one-year new membership costs $230.

The Weblinks page provides instant access to state and local tax laws. You can also find books, resources and information regarding educational events to hone your tax-compliance knowledge.

The Members Only section of the site is full of helpful tools. One of the greatest strengths of the site is the ability to network with other payroll professionals. You can find multiple ways to do just that, including:

APA Listserv : This email service lets members post questions about their payroll-related issues, many of which relate to tax compliance. Fellow members who are knowledgeable will post responses. Even if you do not have a question, you should read this list every day to expand your payroll expertise.

Chapter Network : This link allows you to find local chapters of the APA, find out about local and regional meetings, locate a CPP (Certified Payroll Professional) study group and learn how to start a local chapter. Chapter connections are especially valuable when dealing with state and local payroll-tax issues.

Member Search : Using this feature, you can locate other APA members by searching company name, payroll software used or location. You can also look up vendors if you need payroll software. Most members include an email address and phone number, which makes contacting them easy. When you have a payroll-tax-compliance question specific to your industry of locality, this feature is extremely helpful.

Online Hotline : APA's Online Hotline allows members to submit payroll-related questions and volunteer their expertise. You can enter a question and your email address. The question will then be routed to an APA Hotline member with knowledge in the subject area you indicate. APA Hotline members are committed to answering questions quickly and clearly.

Forms, Publications and Information Page : This page has direct guidance from the IRS and primary-compliance information, including late-breaking information on:

  • Draft forms and instructions
  • Tax forms and instructions updated annually by tax year
  • Tax forms and instructions not updated annually
  • Nontax forms and instructions
  • Publications updated annually
  • APA allowance tables
  • Per diem rates
  • Guidance - DHS, IRS and SSA

Payroll Currently : This links you to the APA's newsletter, which discusses payroll legislation and regulatory changes. You can read the current issue and research payroll questions in archives dating back to 2003.

Government Relations : Members can read about tax-compliance lobbying efforts undertaken by the APA's Washington D.C. bureau.

Job Digest : Find a job or an employee in the fields of payroll, HR , finance , benefits and accounting .

The APA is a strong, national association of thousands of payroll professionals. It is an invaluable resource for staying abreast of changing laws and regulations.

PPC's Payroll Tax Deskbook

From the publishers of Thomson Reuters Tax & Accounting resources comes a unique software guide to payroll-tax compliance issues. The Payroll Tax Deskbook costs $215 for a stand-alone version that you can download. Multiuser versions are available by contacting a sales representative.

This easy-to-understand product identifies and solves many of the trickiest questions encountered when preparing payroll and informational forms for the IRS. It helps payroll practitioners understand the complex, ever-changing payroll rules. It also contains specific line-by-line guidance for preparing and filing the most common payroll and information reporting forms, including Forms W-2, W-4, W-5, 940, 941, 943, 944, 945, 1040 (Schedule H), 1099 series and 8027.

The Deskbook includes the latest judicial, legislative and regulatory information needed to comply with all federal withholding, deposit and reporting requirements. It also provides coverage of other important topics such as worker classification, Section 530 relief and paying workers who work abroad. The Deskbook includes tax calendars, withholding tables and filled-in forms to help you understand the concepts involved.

When you need answers to federal-payroll-tax questions quickly, PPC's Payroll Tax Deskbook can supply it. But it does not deal with state or local issues.